The Interwar Years

by Plunkett Carter

Fordsons were Cork’s original standard bearers. Founded in 1922, they entered the League of Ireland in 1924 after earlier contesting the Free State Cup final as a non-league team. They won the FAI Cup in 1926 when, against all the odds, they defeated Shamrock Rovers in a sensational final.  Fordsons had previously failed to score in nine outings against Shams and leaked scores ranging from 7-0 to 3-0. Local stars Paddy Barry and Jack Sullivan along with outsiders Sally Connolly, Frank Brady, Frank McLoughlin and Charlie Dowdall represented Fordsons on Irish International teams; while Davis, Blair, Heinneman, Kelly and Owens were selected on the League of Ireland representative teams. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, they did not have any financial difficulties. Even so, they were self-sufficient, and regular top-four finishes provided the cushion of healthy gate receipts. However, at the end of the 1929/30 season, Fordsons, who had their own enclosed ground on a site where the Pic Du Jer housing estate now exists, were informed by the management of Henry Ford that they could continue as a factory team only and compete in local leagues. 

So a name change was necessary, and Cork FC, originally nicknamed the ‘League of Nations’ because of an over reliance on foreign imports, was founded. Cork FC didn’t have the use of Fordsons’ Ballinlough ground which was vacated by the motor company so they became tenants at the Mardyke. Two years later in 1932 Cork Bohs, three times winners of the FAI Intermediate Cup, whose origins dated back to the early days of that century were admitted to the league.

At that time the world was still reeling from the Great Depression following the Wall Street crash, and the Irish Free State was feeling the pinch from the effects of the economic war being waged by Britain. Bohs, taking a leaf out of Cork FC’s notebook, augmented local talent by importing players from Northern Ireland and England. Included in their team were many former and future internationals. After an encouraging start attendance-wise — for example, 15,000 people watched the local derby v Cork FC — they were forced to release eight professionals, and finished fourth from the bottom. The 1933/34 season proved to be a lean one for all the Free State clubs and for none more so than Cork Bohemians. Travelling to fulfil away fixtures drained their meagre financial recourses and there was little by way of replenishment forthcoming from receipts from home games, attendances at which were dwindling weekly. Bohs fell behind in their 5% of gate receipts payable to the league and were thus suspended. Within a week the requisite amount was scraped together and the suspension lifted. It was but a temporary relief as the storm clouds were gathering and, after failing to raise £15 which would have enabled them to fulfil a fixture with Dolphin at Harold’s Cross on 28 April, they notified the league of their withdrawal from football.‌

 Cork FC (1930-38) won FAI Cup in 1934.
Cork FC (1930-38) won FAI Cup in 1934. (Source: Plunkett Carter)

Cork FC won the Cup on Saint Patrick’s Day 1934, defeating Saint James’s Gate 2-1. Over 5,000 supporters, frenzied with delight, swarmed on to the pitch at the final whistle and carried their heroes shoulder high to the presentation stand. Even more tumultuous were the scenes the following night when the victorious team came home. An estimated 25,000 thronged the streets as a vast procession with five bands escorting the players’ waggonette to their club-rooms in Prince’s Street. Cork’s form slumped dramatically the following season when they suffered the ignominy of having to apply for re-election after finishing in last position with only 10 points from 18 games. The team was in turmoil and they suspended four of their Inter-League stars for a breach of club discipline — the breaking of a rigid rule requiring players in away games to return to the team hotel before 11.30 p.m. Three of the offenders, unhappy with the punishment, left the club along with some other first-team players. That year was an eye-opener for the Cork directors as it became obvious that their fans were only interested in supporting winning teams. They say every picture tells a story and the Cork Examiner classic showing Corkonians on the Mardyke perimeter wall peering over the railing and a lower tier of financially strapped fans viewing the game through the legs of those above typifies an occasion when more people viewed the game from free vantage points on Mardyke Walk, on St Vincent’s Bridge, on nearby elm trees, and in Shanakiel. Inside, a tiny crowd watched Cork defeat Fearon’s Athletic in a mid-week FAI Cup replay. There was very little any of the Cork clubs could do about that source of lost revenue which was a feature of most Mardyke games. 

In an effort to increase gate receipts, Cork signed the brilliant striker Jimmy Turnbull, whose goal-scoring exploits had the fans flocking back to the Mardyke in their thousands and the large attendances inside resulted in hundreds of paying patrons climbing on to the railing for a better view thus obstructing those trying to watch from outside.

Turnbull’s drawing power got Cork out of the financial mess into which it had languished in the previous season.  Talking about shooting yourself in the foot – before the new season began the Cork directors inexplicably refused to pay Turnbull a £50 signing-on fee and he was snapped up by Belfast Celtic who couldn’t believe that a player who had scored 68 goals in a season was released so easily. It was a decision for which Cork probably paid the ultimate penalty as 1936/37 was the leanest season yet for Cork; gone were the stars and gone too were the crowds that flocked to see Turnbull in the previous year.  If that season was bad, the following one was even worse when Cork, now almost totally dependent on local talent, attracted fewer and fewer people to their games. Only a whip-round among members enabled a fixture in Dublin to be fulfilled. Shortly afterwards, another away-fixture loomed and efforts to raise travelling expenses failed. The ‘well was dry’ so the unthinkable occurred when they were forced to give Shelbourne a walk-over. An FAI Cup run was their only lifeline but their demoralised team, paying their own train fares, were defeated 3-0 by St James’s Gate at the Iveagh Grounds. Enough was enough and after an EGM on 8 February 1938 it was announced that Cork FC was going into voluntary liquidation. Some of the famous names to have played with Cork FC included Johnny Paton, Owen Madden, Fox Foley and Timothy Jim O’Keeffe.

 Cork City FC 1939
The only successful team Cork City ever fielded, winners over Limerick in the Munster Senior Cup in 1939. (Source: Plunkett Carter)

 Soccer in Cork was saved when the FAI allowed newcomers Cork City fulfil the remaining fixtures of the defunct club. They spent freely in an effort to restore the pride of the city’s football team. Internationals Tommy Davis, Hughie Connolly, Owen Madden, and Fox Foley all returned. City made a promising start and inflicted on Shamrock Rovers the heaviest defeat (7-0) in their history. Despite the reputations of their signings the team never gelled; on paper they looked very formidable but you don’t win matches on paper and they were dubbed the Mardyke team because of their inability to win away – beating the best and losing to the worst. Attendances averaged around the 4,000 mark with double that number paying to see Dixie Dean (scorer of 437 goals in his English career) lead the Sligo attack in an FAI Cup match. Towards the end of the season the directors made the decision to cut the players’ wages, resulting in several key players bidding farewell. They began the 1939/40 season by changing their colours from red–yellow–black to the traditional green, and persuaded Jimmy Turnbull (who married a Cork girl) to return. However, his best days were behind him and CorkCity’s depressing form continued. If they had agreed to his demand for the £50 signing-on fee four years earlier they wouldn’t have been in the perilous financial position that led to their expulsion on 30 January 1940 because of their refusal to pay a £10 fine imposed on them as a result of their failure to pay Shelbourne a share of the gate receipts from a match at the Mardyke.

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