By Gerry Moran
At last it has come round, the famous, or rather infamous, Qatar World Cup; the most written about World Cup in Christendom, and in Arabdom, I guess, and it hasn’t even kicked off (at least not as I write) This Qatar World Cup comes to us under a cloud, not of desert dust, but a cloud of racism, homophobia and financial shenanigans.
Be that as it may I want to write about another World Cup – the World Cup of 1966 played in England and which England won (under a cloud also but I’m not going there). I have written about this before and aired it on national radio but I never tire of retelling it, and never will.
It was the summer of 1966 and, just as this World Cup holds us in thrall, World Cup soccer held the nation in thrall back then thanks to the arrival of black and white television which introduced us kids to such soccer legends as Bobby Charlton and Eusebio. As school boys we were not just intoxicated with soccer, we were inspired to form our very own football team, EMFA, a team that, 21 years later, would win the League of Ireland First Division Shield, beating Finn Harps, 4- 2, in Oriel Park and a team, subsequently renamed Kilkenny City, that reached the semi-final of the FAI Cup, in 1991, losing to Shamrock Rovers in Tennypark by the only goal of the game.
But those ‘glory’ days were decades into the future, a future that few of us school kids could have envisaged back in 1966 when, thanks to the World Cup on TV and the enthusiasm, and leadership, of our school mate, Jimmy Rhatigan, we formed a soccer team and entered the U18 Kilkenny & District Youth League; one small step for a soccer team but one giant step for a bunch of pimply, soccer-mad, teenagers.
But first, our newly formed team had two urgent requirements – a name and some jerseys. Yours truly suggested EMFA, a combination of the first two letters of Emmet Street and Fatima Place where many, though not all, of the team hailed from. And EMFA we became.
Acquiring jerseys, however, proved more challenging. Having zero funds in the kitty (there was no kitty) to purchase any, someone suggested that we wear all-white on the assumption that everyone could come up with a white T-shirt. So white it was. And we were happy in white as Leeds United, riding high in the English First Division at the time, togged out in an all-white strip also.
Indeed, our goalkeeper, John Cleere took it upon himself to write to Don Revie, the then manager of Leeds United, enquiring if there was any old gear going a begging. To this day, John wryly remarks: “Don Revie hasn‘t answered me yet.” That all-white strip later changed to claret and blue and to black and amber, true Kilkenny colours, when the team was renamed Kilkenny City AFC.
I played at outside right with EMFA until studies in Dublin took me away. I did, however, return home regularly to play for the Kilkenny B team in James’s Park alongside my old maths teacher, the late Tony Henderson.
Never comfortable calling former teachers by their first name it was not unusual to hear me shouting: “Down the left wing, sir”, or “Down the middle, sir.” much to the bemusement of the onlookers (all 20 or 30 of them).
EMFA didn’t win much, won nothing actually, in those first fledgling outings in the Kilkenny & District Youth League but I have fond memories of a team that sported characters, personalities and some great players. One of those characters was the late Billy Cleere, one of four brothers involved with the club. Billy manned the EMFA goal and was renowned, not so much for keeping his net in tact but, for keeping a comb at hand to keep his hair intact!
Local author and sportswriter Enda McEvoy published a fanzine about EMFA with the tongue-in-cheek title based on the letters EMFA – Every Man A Football Artist. And we were, each and every one of us, in our own peculiar way! Indeed down the line five players would go on to represent Ireland at U21 International Junior level. EMFA, later Kilkenny City, resigned from the League of Ireland in January 2008 after 42 years of soccer; years of ups and downs and memorable achievements and all thanks to a bunch of school kids who dared to dream.