"This club has a remarkable history; for a long time its members and its followers were like one of the lost tribes of Israel." - Con Houlihan on St Patrick's Athletic.
"Though we're apart, we'll always be together, forever in love, what do you say when words are not enough?" - Bohs anthem
The clash between the canals. Despite fan bases long since scattered beyond the pale, forced into exile by a cruel, unrelenting housing policy, the marching armies of St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemian FC descend upon Lansdowne Road on Sunday.
Such a Dublin derby final is beyond rare. St Pat’s and Bohs have never faced off in an FAI Cup final.
Not once. Until now.
Both save their bitterest rivalry for Shamrock Rovers, with all forms of conflict resolution currently abandoned, as they duel for the last trophy on offer this season.
Rovers and Shelbourne have their league titles, but the romance of the cup offers flowing poetry from the pen of Con Houlihan about the river Camac’s relentlessness to Johnny Logan’s song to be sung up Phibsborough way.
“I hope we win on Sunday but losing will have no repercussions whatsoever on how our club will operate financially.”
That’s Daniel Lambert, Bohs’ chief operating officer, a professional chameleon who shifts between Bang Bang café - named after the wonderfully eccentric Dubliner Thomas Dudley - and managing Kneecap, the Belfast hip hop trio, while previously working in the conflict resolution unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Because European football is attached to it, if we win the cup it is worth a minimum €400,000 to us, and probably €700,000,” says Lambert. “Not so long ago that would have been all or nothing. If we don’t win now, nobody’s budget will be cut, nobody will have to go. There’ll be none of that.”
The presumption that a disconnect would exist between COO and first team manager dissolved on arrival at Bohs’ new offices in Phibsborough shopping centre last Wednesday as Lambert and Keith Long were separated by a desk in their open plan HQ.
A stroll around the corner, into Dalymount Park, revealed a club humming with the excitement of cup final week. As ticket sales swelled towards a record 40,000, Lambert silenced all the exterior noise for an hour of reflection in a room beneath the Jodi Stand.
“We don’t need to get into Europe,” he explains. “It will bring added revenue but we are operating right now in a safe place without that. I think that too many clubs in the league build a fan base and finances around the club trying to get to a certain level, to get money in, which ends up destroying them.”
Sustainability is a byword for how fan-owned Bohs and privately-owned St Pat’s have developed distinctly different business models.
“When I joined the board in 2011 the club was bankrupt,” says Lambert. “As a club we were in a bad place. We moved from Pat Fenlon to Aaron Callaghan and the budget dropped by 90 per cent.
“There was no prospect to win any trophies, that was for sure. The most glaring thing at that stage was the negative perception of the club. Pat’s are great at community work but for most League of Ireland clubs people would say ‘they play football’ end of. That has changed for us now. As a members owned club you need to engage with people a lot deeper than ‘we need to win or lose a football game.’”
There are multiple strands to Bohs social conscience. The interactive ‘Bohemian Way’ from the Phoenix Park to Dalymount is happening thanks to their climate justice officer Seán McCabe securing €190,000 in Government funding, to their admirable drive to raise €75,000 so 2,500 children living in direct provision get a Christmas present worth €30.
“Get people who were already supporters of the club with a passion and expertise in a particular area and give them ownership.”
Take the biggest stain on modern Irish life. The very worst of us all. Nobody likes talking about direct provision, yet Bohs have waded into the conversation.
“In 2014 Kevin Brannigan was walking around the bar with a bucket. I didn’t know what direct provision was back then. Not a clue. He was educating us, collecting enough money to bus in people from centres in Clondalkin and Finglas for Bohs matches.
“You are seeing the people and chatting to them and we began to realise how important this was. So, as a club, we began to fund some of the buses ourselves and began to work with MASI.
“These are football fans who live really close to Dalymount Park. They might not speak English but they can see ‘Refugees Welcome’ [the mural on entering the ground].”
“Many of Patrick’s most passionate followers are elderly people who are not overendowed with the earth’s riches - it would be hard to exaggerate how much the club means to them,” wrote Houlihan in 2013.
St Patrick’s Athletic possess an unimpeachable attitude when it comes to their wide-ranging community work in a catchment area that stretches from Inchicore to Leixlip and into County Meath. Any form of self-promotion for helping disadvantaged children and other groups across west Dublin, they feel, would be the height of hypocrisy.
This is not to be confused with St Pat’s taking issue with the way Bohs go about their business but the club, owned by businessman Garrett Kelleher since 2007, is staunchly apolitical.
The working theory is that football players have a cachet that teachers, social workers and Gardaí will never possess, so St Pat’s feel that it is their responsibility to be altruistic in a constructive, yet private, manner that can be financially assisted by Dublin City Council.
A parallel motive of their ‘Saints in the Community’ programme is strategic. The long term sustainability of the club depends on continuing to be relevant in their sprawling area, as they build an academy system.
“I really don’t think the pool of players or the finance exists in Ireland to have 20 club academies,” says Lambert. “I think there can be max five. We could have two, maybe three in Dublin, with two regional academies but if we are going for this UK model of full time education and professional coaching, you are into hundreds of thousands really quickly.
“I think clubs can be much broader. Think about it, we play in a pretty bad league in a pretty small country. I am not being negative. I love the league and I hope it will grow but you can try to engage people on a values basis because you act and behave in a certain way, like the brilliant work that Thomas Hynes, our community rep, does in Mountjoy Prison.”
The proof is in the membership numbers, with Bohs holding steady at 2,000, having dropped to 350 back in 2013. Lambert previously said he would give back the 2008 and 2009 league titles as the cost of silverware almost devoured the club.
“I really do think that Bohs can be a brilliant force in Irish sport. We can win trophies, for sure, but outside of sport people can look at the club and say it does no harm. Everyone owns it equally.
“Personally I wouldn’t work for a bank or anything, that is just the way I am, but there are no negatives with Bohs. There really isn’t. It is not making money for somebody living in Dalkey. The money that comes in is reinvested in football, the bulk of that goes to the first team, but it really shouldn’t be just about the first team.
“We can act in a way that is good for Phibsborough, is good for Dublin and even on bigger issues like the ‘refugees welcome’ shirt means we can have an even bigger impact than just Ireland.
“The charity work makes the club more resilient.”
By tapping into Dalymount’s historic nights, from Bob Marley’s last outdoor gig to the zenith of Thin Lizzy, Bohs have become a hipster’s paradise and much like other gentrified areas of Dublin, the traditional fan rubs shoulders with a nouveau crowd.
“Back in 2012 when I started doing the marketing for these bus stop posters I was asking myself ‘Why are people not coming? What is the average football fan into?’
“They are into big football stars, so I got a poster with Van Basten, Pele, Charlton and Best and it said at the bottom, in really small writing without our crest, ‘They have all been to Dalymount, have you?’”
In this sense, capturing the zeitgeist is the challenge Bohs have laid at the feet of Pat’s and Shels.
“What I love about Pats is they are very similar to Bohs. Going to either ground, they are both in behind red brick housing. Both inner city clubs really. Both inside the canals and that is very unusual as, internationally, grounds like ours get bought by a developer and you are gone.
“There is a great sense of history around the two clubs. When you go into Inchicore and up into that building it feels like a football club. Some of those bigger stadiums it feels a bit soulless.
“Pats and Bohs have a lot of soul about them.”