“The team is a focal point for new people arriving in London”
In the fourth of our weekly interviews on Generation Emigration, Jack O’Connell speaks about setting up a football team for Irish men in London.
In the fourth of our weekly interviews on Generation Emigration, Jack O’Connell tells Ciara Kenny about setting up a football team for Irish men in London.
WHEN I moved over to London in 2007, I was one of the first of my friends to emigrate. I had been on a graduate programme in an investment bank in Dublin since finishing my degree in law and German in University College Cork in 2005, but I couldn’t see my future with that company.
I wanted a challenge and to experience a new city, so when I was offered a job as a commercial manager with O’Neill and Brennan Construction in London, I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back since.
When I arrived here, a few lads I knew from the UCC soccer club asked me to join their team, Wandsworth Celtic. It is very hard to meet people in London unless you have something organised, so playing soccer regularly was a great way to socialise.
But at the end of my first season with them, a number of the older players decided to hang up their boots, and the team fell apart. They were starting families and didn’t have time for Saturday matches anymore. Five or six of us were without a team but still interested in playing, so we decided to set up our own team in June last year. Present that day were Paul Irwin, Steve Tangney, Paul Williamson and myself. We had all gone to UCC, so we decided to call the team the UCC Diasporas.
Each of us knew a few people who were moving over to London around that time, and we advertised too, and about 35 lads turned up for the first training session, which was a fantastic start. We soon had about 70 registered players, about 40 of whom came regularly to training, so we set up two teams for the first competitive season. The first team won the first division of the Wimbledon and District Football League, and the second team finished around mid-table in the third-division league.
This success meant that we had something to build on for the future. We had a core group of players we could rely on, with everyone keen to get involved.
We’ve got the website off the ground now this year (uccdiaspora.com) and we are using Facebook and Twitter too, which we hope will help to spread the word about the club. We have also linked in with UCC FC back home, so if they know of any guys who played for the UCC team who are coming to London, they let them know about us.
WHILE THE MAJORITY of our players are from Cork, we aren’t exclusive. We have a few guys from Dublin, Galway, Athlone and Limerick, and we even have two English lads playing with us now. The club is all men at the moment, but we would be open to joining up with a similar ladies team if the opportunity arose.
We train in the Aspire Centre in Southfields, which is close to Clapham Junction, every Wednesday at 8pm. There are a lot of Irish people living in Clapham, so it is handy for most of the team. We also play two matches every Saturday near Wimbledon and Clapham.
This season, we are getting at least one or two new people arriving to the training sessions every week, which is some reflection of the number of Irish moving to London these days. We cater for as many people as are interested in playing, and will be creating a third team for next season.
One of our committee members, Paul Wycherley, is a Uefa B-licensed coach who also used to play and coach for UCC. He has two other aspiring coaches helping him, Moshe Golstein and Mohammed Ali. Players of all levels can join, so we have lads who have been playing for years, and others who just come to kick a ball around and meet new people.
Every Saturday after our matches we go for a drink together in the Kilkenny Irish pub nearby. Even when you know people in London, the city is so big that it is like travelling to another county if you want to meet someone for a drink if they don’t live in your area. That is one of the reasons why we started the club, as a regular social event for us, and as a focal point for all the new people arriving in the city.
There’s a few older lads who have been in London for 10 years or more and don’t have time for training, but they help out at matches and participate in the social events. Some of them are high up in big companies here, so they are good people for the new arrivals to mingle with. Some people have been offered jobs through the connections they have made.
I was married two months ago to a UCC girl, Karen, and my brother Bryan also moved over about two years ago. It is great to have family over here with me. My sister also loves London, so there could be three of us here soon. You do miss your folks, but the beauty of London is you can just hop on a flight and you’re home.
– In conversation with CIARA KENNY
For more information about the UCC Diasporas, see www.uccdiaspora.com, follow them on Facebook www.facebook.com/groups/151374488218232 or on Twitter @UCCDiaspora. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.