1974-1977 – De Bow-ez (clap-clap-clap)
Once I started watching Bohs I was quickly hooked, not only on the football and the atmosphere (‘De Bow-ez, clap-clap-clap; De Bow-ez, clap-clap-clap!’) but also on the elusive concept of the Perfect Weekend, in which Leeds won on the Saturday and Bohs won on the Sunday. That would set me up for an idyllic week, in which it did not matter how many times we were slapped by Christian Brothers with leather straps known as Excalibur. And, while I could not have known it at the time, 1974 was the perfect time to start following Bohs. Below the radar of my early childhood support for Leeds, Brazil and Ireland, my new local heroes had steadily transformed themselves from an amateur club that had last won the league in 1936, to a part-time professional club that had won the cup in 1970 and had finished the next four league seasons in fourth, third, third and second.
In my first season watching Bohs, manager Billy Young went that crucial step further by leading us to the 1975 title. We finished nine points ahead of second placed Athlone, and conceded only twelve goals throughout the season. My highlights were beating Shamrock Rovers 2-0 at Dalymount, a bizarre fight between almost all of the players against Home Farm, Gerry Ryan scoring his first goal for Bohs against Dundalk, Bohs winning with a late penalty against Shamrock Rovers at Milltown, and Sean Sheehy’s goal against Athlone that won the league with three games to spare.
I also watched Dalymount transform into two different planets for Ireland games: in October, I squeezed into a deliriously crammed shed end to watch Don Givens score a hat-trick as Ireland beat the Soviet Union 3-0; a few months later I stood freezing on an almost-empty terrace to see Ireland beat the West German B-team. And I suffered the worst evening of my childhood in May 1975, when Bayern Munich beat Leeds in the European Cup final. It is the last time that I can remember crying after a football match.
The following season, 1975-76, despite Bohs being champions for the first time in 29 years, I saw the start of a pattern that would soon become familiar. After a few bad results, club captain Johnny Fullam had to ask the fans, and more particularly some of the club members, ‘if they would kindly give the players their backing rather than their abuse’. We ended up fourth in the league, but we won the FAI Cup. A late goal by Niall Shelley against Drogheda, thumped home from the corner of the penalty area at the shed end, sent us all home ecstatic. We added to the sense of occasion with the sophisticated celebratory chant of ‘Drog-hee-da, ha ha ha! Drog-hee-da, ha ha ha!’ I also saw Bobby Charlton play for Waterford against Bohs (he was turned inside out by Tommy Kelly), but I missed seeing Georgie Best and Gordon Banks turn out for Cork Celtic and St Pats respectively.
Being a football fan is great, I thought. You turn up every week, and you see your team win a trophy every year. What can go wrong? I found out the next season. Bohs lost the 1976-77 league title by one point to Sligo Rovers, and St Pats knocked us out of the cup. In television land, Leeds finished 10th in the English league, and Man United knocked them out of the cup. It was the first time since 1973 that none of my teams had won a major trophy. To make things worse, Bohs captain Johnny Fullam had jumped ship and signed for Shamrock Rovers, and Man United had snatched Ashley Grimes, a gangly young midfielder with a powerful shot and an exciting future. Grimes was the third Bohs protege to go to Old Trafford in recent years, following in the steps of Mick Martin and Gerry Daly. So, another reason to hate Man United. Roll on, next season.