Tag Archives: Waterford United

Anatomy of a Football Ground: Turner’s Cross, Cork

Our notions of what constitute a historical site can be limited, and limiting. As Shane Faherty has previously shown here on The Dustbin, landscape and memory intersect in remarkable fashions. Following on from this, I am going to consider the interaction of landscape and memory of a football ground in the heart of Cork. Since I moved to my current residence in Cork, I have been closer than ever to two of the city’s most active sports grounds – Musgrave Park, Munster’s second home and Turner’s Cross, home ground of League of Ireland football club, Cork City. Being so close to both, I take advantage regularly and watch games at both grounds. Turner’s Cross is a particularly interesting football ground so here’s a look at how the ground has changed, both physically and in usage, over the years.

OSI Historical 25" Map of Turner's Cross.

OSI Historical 25″ Map of Turner’s Cross.

There was a time, before the First World War, when to play football ‘at the Cross’ in Cork meant something rather different than it does today. Prior to the outbreak of that war, football’s home in Cork was the grounds at Victoria Cross, rather than those which are now the home of Cork City Football Club at Turner’s Cross. This ground at Victoria Cross was in use from about 1909 when a team calling themselves Cork City opened the ground – Victoria Cross would continue to be used right into the 1920s, often for big games, like when Cahir Park of Tipperary were beaten by Cork Bohemians 2-1 in front of a crowd of roughly 6,000 in the Munster Senior Cup final.

Athletics Ad, Turner's Cross from Irish Independent, September 1906

Athletics Contest, Turner’s Cross from Irish Independent, September 1906

John Bale’s work Landscapes of Modern Sport identified ten views of the sports landscape including viewing them as artifacts, history, and place. His work along with that of Simon Inglis’ on the football grounds of Britain have previously shown the deep historical layers of the football ground – as a place of history and memory in its own right as well as one that is a  part of the historical process of modernisation; you need only think of the impact on surrounding areas in the wake of a grounds’ construction. Mike Cronin and Roisín Higgins contend  that sporting grounds require a rethink with regards to heritage – its is not merely a matter of built heritage, but for many sports grounds they suggest ‘are important for the games that were played there, the historical forces that shaped them and the people who played and watched.’¹Above in the very first picture, we can see Turner’s Cross before it became a football ground, where it is simply a recreation ground with a cycling track around it. Initially it was used by rugby club, Cork Constitution, who had been founded as a cricket team for staff of the Unionist newspaper by editor Henry Laurence Tivy in 1892 and who took up rugby in the winter months to maintain their fitness. At the same time as it was being used for rugby it was also being used for GAA. For instance in 1901, the Freeman’s Journal reported of a match between Constitution and Cork on April 6th that was witnessed by some 2,000 spectators, while a Gaelic football match between two representative sides of Cork and Tipperary had been reported by the same newspaper back on January 15th the same year. It would take some time before this ground was changed into anything resembling the football ground that exists there today, before it could become the kind of football ground where in the words of JB Priestley, you pushed through the turnstiles ‘into another and altogether more splendid kind of life.’

Even after the period 1914-1921 in which the demographic make up of football in Cork changed considerably, with the haemorraghing of its military base, Turner’s Cross was not necessarily the premier soccer ground in the city – as it had been previously, it was used by a variety of sports. For example in the space of a fortnight in September of 1923 it was used, according to reports in the Irish Independent for both hurling and soccer matches.  UCC’s Mardyke grounds would for many years also be an important site of football in the city, with many clubs playing their football there, including Cork’s first League of Ireland club, Fordson’s. As it happens when this club became Cork FC in the 1930s they played games in both the Mardyke and also at Turner’s Cross.  For instance, that ground was used for a rare home international in 1939 that took place outside of Dublin, as Ireland took on Hungary. John A. Murphy notes in his history of the Mardyke, Where Finbarr Played, that football was one  sport that managed to see an interaction as it were between ‘town and gown’ when soccer was played at the Mardyke, as  when Cork’s League of Ireland sides was Cork Athletic.² As well as the Mardyke, another ground, this one in the Ballintemple area of Cork,  was also an important football ground: Flower Lodge.³

Best FL

George Best runs out for a game at Flower Lodge

Flower Lodge, at one time home to Cork Hibernians is no more, instead it it is now Pairc Uí Rinn, the second home of GAA in Cork after the much larger Pairc Uí Chaoimh and named for Cork’s most famous hurling son, Christy Ring. During the 1970s when Cork Hibs were at their height, there were two big sides in the city, the others being Cork Celtic whose home was in Turner’s Cross, who made it their home from 1959 to 1979. The new Cork club, Cork City FC founded in 1984 played their football in Flower Lodge until the owners of the ground, the AOH, sold it which saw Cork City move to Turner’s Cross in 1986.

Flower Lodge

Grounds where Flower Lodge were built on OSI 6″ Map

FL 2005

Aerial view Flower Lodge (now Pairc Uí Rinn) in 2005

Now with only one senior team playing in the League of Ireland, football in Cork did eventually settle in its home of Turner’s Cross. And so as well as being the home of Cork City FC, it is also the home of the Munster Football Association, the regional body in charge of the game in the province and organisers of the Munster Senior Cup, Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Senior League.

The turnstiles of Turner's Cross with MFA above it, before this sign was done up recently.

The turnstiles of Turner’s Cross with MFA above it, before this sign was done up recently.

Brilliant rare footage of Turner’s Cross as it was in the 1970s is available to us through In My Book We’re Ahead, an RTÉ production that followed Dublin football club, Shelbourne FC, during the 1975 season (see especially 7:00 to 10:30 in the video below):

Of course, the ground is rather different today to how it appears in the documentary and has gone through many structural changes since the early 2000s. As you can see from these two aerial shots below, even in a five year period the ground changed considerably – seating was installed in the ‘away’ end, behind the left-hand goal as we are looking at it here, and as well as the main Donie Forde stand being roofed, so too now was the smaller stand on the opposite side of the pitch, even though the ‘Shed End’ remained intact.

Aerial View of Turner's Cross in 2000

Aerial View of Turner’s Cross in 2000

Turner's Cross in 2005 before the redevelopment of the Shed End (righthand side behind goal).

Turner’s Cross in 2005 before the redevelopment of the Shed End (righthand side behind goal).

The Shed too though would change after 2005, covering as it does now the whole of that end of the ground:

Turner's Cross after redevleopment of Shed End.

Turner’s Cross after redevleopment of Shed End.

More recent improvements to the ground include the building of a roof on the away end so that now all four stands in the ground have roofs. Of course, that is only part of the story – the structural story of the grounds development from the recreational origins and its cycling track to what it is now. It has another story of development too – a more personal, qaulitative one that is harder to pin down – one of memories – of sporting triumph and tragedy which is much harder to track than any structural changes. My own memories of Turner’s Cross vary – Waterford United’s 3-2 victory over Cork City in the 2011 season stands as one of my most enduring and treasured, but I have also enjoyed many nights where I can cheer on Cork City quite untroubled by the implications, since the outcome in no way affects my support for Waterford United or their own progress in Irish football. Through this I finally understand Nick Hornby’s feelings toward football in Oxford when he was a student, away from his beloved Arsenal in Fever Pitch.

The Shed at Turner's Cross before redevelopment.

The Shed at Turner’s Cross before redevelopment.

An anatomy of a football ground is one thing from the outside and of course another from the inside – inside the ground there is on match day the colour and noise of the Shed End and the colour and noise of the Family Enclosure with their flags, trumpets, and drums, the power of the floodlights, such a feature of Irish football now, bearing down on the pitch. Turner’s Cross too has a slightly raised pitch, and slightly sank stands, so that you always feel close to the action no matter where in the ground you are. The story of Turner’s Cross and its varied usage is a perfect example of how an Irish sports grounds can offer a way into our complex historical and sporting heritage, where different sporting and political traditions were played and played out on the same blades of grass, surrounded by the same banks of earth, echoing from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.

The Shed refurbished at Turner's Cross on match day

The Shed refurbished at Turner’s Cross on match day


¹ Cronin, Mike and Roisín Higgins, Places We Play: Ireland’s Sporting Heritage, Cork: The Collins Press, 2011, p.84

² Murphy, John A., Where Finbarr Played: A Concise Illustrated History of Sport in University College, Cork 1911-2011, Cork: UCC 2011, pp.100-117 for a full rundown of the links between soccer, the Mardyke and UCC.

³ For a comprehensive history of the move from Flower Lodge to Turner’s Cross see Carter, Plunkett, From the Lodge to the Box, available in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room.

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Filed under Landscape, Sports History, Twentieth Century

The Football Man: Willie Toms, 1910-1983

History for me is a deeply personal business – my profession, but also my passion. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. I have written on this site already before about other family members: books belonging to my grandfather William Power, and  my grandmother Sheila’s brother, Paddy Neary. This post is about another relative – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Willie.

“The club director is the person in whom the fanaticism of the terraces and the urge for authority fuse. He is imbued with a desire to manage,  yet is activated principally by his partisan local involvement and the moral approach he brings to the wider issue. ”

– Arthur Hopcraft , The Football Man (1968), p. 140

Arthur Hopcraft was writing about the game in England when he penned those words, but he might well have been talking about the directorate of any of the League of Ireland’s clubs in the same era. Hopcraft’s book was published in 1968, the year Manchester United became champions of Europe for the first time. When the draw was made for the first round of the competition in 1968/69, a small city on the south-east coast of Ireland, with a long footballing tradition, recently crowned champions themselves at home could hardly believe their luck when they were drawn against the mighty European champions from across the Irish sea. Neither I’m sure could their board, including a relative of mine, Willie Toms.

Waterford v Manchester United at Lansdowne Road Programme

Waterford v Manchester United at Lansdowne Road Programme

When you begin work on a PhD where a large amount of that work is based in your own locality, and in the twentieth century, it is reasonable to expect that you would come across family members from time to time in the course of your research. They may even warrant a brief inclusion in your work as a nifty footnote if you’re feeling cheeky. But, for me, as my interest in the history of soccer in Waterford developed – moving from the period of its fruition in the 1920s right into the 1930s (although this was not in the end a part of my PhD thesis itself) it became obvious that from the 1930s on Willie Toms was no mere footnote to the history of soccer in Waterford – he was a vital part of it.

In this, the 30th Anniversary of his passing, I want to write about this man who I never knew personally, but having read his words in newspaper reports, in the archives, having heard stories about, and whose image is burned deep into my imagination, I feel a deep connection to. This connection started way back in 2006 for me, when as an eager Leaving Certificate student in  St. Paul’s Community College in Waterford, I decided for my special history topic I would research the founding of the Waterford and District Football League.

Arthur Hopcraft's classic, The Football Man.

Arthur Hopcraft’s classic, The Football Man.

I learned then, and have continued to learn, that in sports history, primary material can be extremely difficult to come by. I contacted the League, and was met by then secretary Jimmy O’Neill, who brought me into the back room, the meeting room, of the League in Ozier Park. They had little in the way of minute books or the like to offer me but they did have newspaper clippings from the Waterford News and Star in the 1970s – it was a series celebrating 50 years of football in the city. The clippings, I learned, had been collected by my father’s uncle, Willie, whose photographic portrait was one of those that adorned the walls of this room in Ozier Park. Some of the work I did for that special project remains a part of my PhD thesis now seven years on, though I would have scarcely known where to begin on that little project but for those clippings Willie Toms gave for safe keeping to the Waterford and District Football League. Willie Toms evidently understood the value of history, by keeping those newspaper clippings and sellotaping them as he did to giant white boards for safe keeping.

It never occurred to me that it would require explanation to anyone as to why it was important to research or study the history of sport in Ireland. It seemed to me to be obviously important – it formed (and continues to form) such a large part of life for many people I know/knew and for myself. Most people have greeted it with bemusement and wonder, but a sense that I must be really lucky. But like playing sport, researching its past is a deadly serious, and important endeavour to my mind. Journalist Rob Steen wrote in a guide book to budding sports journalists that ‘sport, in most cases, is full-contact ballet. In all instances it is the art of competition. At bottom, in its demands on body and soul, on head, heart and spirit it is a celebration of human possibility.’ Sport matters – for both its own sake and for what it can tell us about the world. I’ve never felt a need to justify my own interest in it – it’s  importance as a way of socialising remains self evident for me.

History also matters,  even if not to everyone it is nonetheless for everyone. Here one of the great sports historians, Richard Holt comes into his own writing that ‘history crudely weighed down with the apparatus of theory and couched in specialist language spoils the enjoyment of a subject without enhancing our understanding of it.’ This is part of what interests me so much in being part of a collaborative history blog. Making history through so open a medium seems as necessarily important as does say, Thompson’s instruction to rescue from the condescension of posterity. As my professional interest in history has developed, so too has my interest in reading the reflections of those in the historical profession. Some of the best history writing I have encountered in my reading is that history writing that manages to combine the historical and the personal – books like Eric Hobsbawm’s Interesting Times, Tom Dunne’s Rebellions, JH Elliott’s recent History in the Making  and others besides. One of the best exponents of this reflective writing, Tony Judt, in his wondrous and moving book The Memory Chalet commented ‘my latest writings have a far more inductive quality to them. Their value rests on an essentially impressionistic effect: the success with which I have interwoven the private and the public, the reasoned and the intuited, the recalled and the felt.’ (p.11) In my own extremely modest way, I hope this post will manage a similar interweaving of the private and public, reasoned and intuited, recalled and felt.

Chain Smoker: Irish Times, January 30 1954

Chain Smoker: Irish Times, January 30 1954

Willie Toms was born in Waterford in 1910. An able and intelligent student in Mount Sion school, where he played hurling, Willie won a wide variety of scholarships to carry on his studies past primary school –  he was one of just seven boys to win a massive £120 scholarship, £30 a year when he did his intermediate certificate in 1926 in which he got passes in subjects like English, History, Geography, Physics, Mechanics and Honours in Irish, Arithmetic, Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry and the general Mathematics course . In 1928 as well as completing clerical civil service examinations and beginning a life working for the Waterford Corporation, he was also a cadet in the National Defence Forces, listed as an officer-in-training in the local newspaper on the same day the results of his civil service exams were published in the same paper. His most well-known role in the Corporation was probably that of Truancy Officer. Willie was instrumental in the establishing of proper schoolboys football in Waterford in the 1930s and to many young boys, truant and otherwise, his was a well-known face. He was later to work as Housing Officer for the corporation, a job which one brief portrait of him in 1956 described him as completing with ‘commendable tact’.

In The Public Gaze: Munster Express, 10 February 1956

In The Public Gaze: Munster Express, 10 February 1956

Well-known though he was throughout his life as a face in the city’s corporation, it was through football that he gained his fame. He began life playing the game with St. Joseph’s Boys’ Club, set up in 1924 by then Bishop of Waterford Bernard Hackett to cater for precisely the kind of boys who Willie would have had run-ins with as Truancy Officer. As well as sport, St. Joseph’s taught boys plenty of useful skills including woodwork and raffia-work. The boys set up a soccer team, much to the chagrin of some Irish-Irelander commentators in the local press. Willie Toms was strongly nationalist, and like much more well-known figures like Oscar Traynor, saw little or nothing wrong with the choice of sport he played as regards his nationalism. Indeed Willie was willing to conduct the affairs of the Waterford Football League through Irish at one point while he was secretary if it was to the satisfaction of those for whom such things mattered.

Willie was a skilful footballer, opening as he did the scoring  when St. Joseph’s beat Tramore Rookies 5-1 in the 1930 Infirmary Cup final. But, it would be in other areas of football that he would excel. Willie took on all of the jobs in football – referee, secretary, treasurer, chairman, director – which are usually derided but without which there would be no leagues, cups, no matches. Among the more ‘glamorous’ matches he refereed were the 1933 final of the George French Shield, a competition initiated thanks to the generous donation of the English music hall singer. It was in all of these duties that Willie showed himself to be a true football man. With a cigarette always drooping from his lips (he was an inveterate chain smoker), he was either on the pitch, the sidelines, or in the stands – it is evident from a trawl through the local and national newspapers that Willie was football to the core. When Waterford were chasing the FAI Cup in 1979, Peter Byrne of the Irish Times interviewed Willie, who recalled the 1937 win:

I still remember Eugene Noonan putting the ball in the net immediately below us for one of two goals which gave us the cup.  And later, there was the excitement of the homecoming as the team, on an open lorry, crossed the bridge on the way into the city.  So vast was the crowd that turned out to welcome the team that at least one person was injured as the people of Waterford gave vent to their feelings.

Waterford wouldn’t win the cup in 1979, having to wait another season to win it again. His career was wide and varied – as well as his work for his own club, St. Joseph’s, Willie in the late 1930s ambitiously tried to expand the remit of the Waterford and District Football League by establishing the newly-minted Waterford and North Munster Football League to widen the base of competition and offer clubs on the fringes a chance to join a high quality league. He was in the same period a member of the Junior Committee of the Football Association of the Irish Free State, and would end up on their selection committee for internationals. As well as that, in 1948 he was first elected a member of the board of Waterford Football Club   in the League of Ireland, acting as their League representative, as well as being a director of the club. He was even honoured in the mid-1950s with the position of President of the League of Ireland.

Willie Toms' Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season. Author's family collection.

Willie Toms’ Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season. Author’s family collection.

Willie Toms' Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season inlay. Author's family collection.

Willie Toms’ Junior Committee, FAIFS badge, 1937-38 season inlay. Author’s family collection.

One of the most remarkable things about Willie’s career in football is its length – Willie was still involved in the game right up to his last moments. When Waterford AFC sought voluntary liquidation in 1982, Willie was one of those who put up the money to have the club re-established a new limited company, Waterford United Football Club (1982) Ltd. The club would remain Waterford AFC for one more season before switching to the name which they currently retain of Waterford United. Willie was still involved in the club and in the game in Waterford right up until his death on 9 December 1983, when the news was reported in the Irish Independent the following day they noted that ‘for the past nine years he has been a Waterford delegate on the Management Committee of the League of Ireland.’

When he had taken ill while on a visit to his brother in London, the Munster Express wished him a speedy recovery, but by the time that day’s paper was read in the city, he had already passed away. Willie wasn’t just a football man either, a former president the Mount Sion Past Pupils’ Union, he had also served as president of the Catholic Young Men’s Society in the city and had remained a trustee of that organisation right up until his death. At the CYMS’ annual general meeting in January of 1984, Mr Acheson the Society’s treasurer recalled with sadness the recent passing of Willie. Introducing The Football Man, Hopcraft wrote that

no player, manager, director or fan who understands football, either through his intellect or his nerve-ends, ever repeats that piece of nonsense trotted out mindlessly by the fearful every now and again which pleads, “after all, it’s only a game.” (p.1)

Willie would I’m sure have agreed with the sentiment. My professional development as a historian is intertwined with my discovery of Willie, his story and the telling of it. Few men can claim to have had such a long and lasting impact in the game of football locally as Willie Toms did. A true servant of the sport in Waterford, he really was the football man, the sort no doubt that Arthur Hopcraft would have recognised. An opinion more intuited than that normally presented in traditional history writing perhaps, but one keenly felt nonetheless.


Filed under Irish History, Memory, Sports History, Twentieth Century