PhD in History, Independent scholar
UEFA EURO 2020, Michel Platini’s monstrosity, was odd in more ways than one. It was not only that it was well-nigh impossible not to qualify for the championship, and that it included matches played on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean. It also retained the denomination of 2020 despite being played in 2021.
Among the thirteen cities that were awarded matches during this championship was the Irish capital Dublin, where four matches were to be played at the Aviva Stadium. However, given the restrictions on crowds imposed in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, UEFA decided to move the matches from Dublin. Memorable readers may recall that Sweden had planned to have its European Championship base in Dublin and would have played its matches in Dublin and Bilbao, not Seville and St. Petersburg as it turned out.
An unintended result of Dublin being chosen as the venue for European Championship matches is the book Soccer and Society in Dublin: A History of Association Football in Ireland’s Capital written by Conor Curran. It has its origins in one of the historical or cultural heritage/memorial projects that have become mandatory of late when major sporting events are organized (and thus justified), this time at the behest of Dublin City Council. When Covid-19 redrew the playing-field Curran adapted to it, and instead of an exhibition and related lectures around the city’s libraries, he came up with Soccer and Society in Dublin, which shows both ball sense and understanding of the game.
Overall, Soccer and Society in Dublin provides an extremely empirical picture of the history of football in Dublin. However, it is also the book’s great weakness – there is too much soccer at the expense of society.
The purpose of the book is to tell the history of football in Dublin from the late nineteenth century until the beginning of the 2000s. The book is traditionally arranged chronologically and thematically in eight chapters. After an introductory chapter exploring the origins of association football in Dublin, three chapters study club football and competitions in the city, followed by four thematic chapters.
The chronological review of club football in Dublin is periodized in an easily comprehensible way. The first chapter spans from 1893 to 1921, from the commencement of operations of the Leinster Football Association, formed in October 1892, to the division of the island, when a Football Association of Ireland was formed since the Irish Football Association of 1880 had its seat in Belfast. The next chapter extends to the end of the Second World War in 1945, after which the third follows club football until the turn of the millennium in 2000.
The historical chapters are followed by four thematic chapters. The first deals with Dublin football’s relationship with football clubs in the rest of the world, naturally enough in the UK but also, among other things, their results in European cup tournaments. This is followed by a chapter on football in the city’s education system, followed by two chapters on footballers from Dublin. The first is about players from Dublin in Irish football, and the second a review of players from Dublin in other professional leagues. As the book does not embrace the last few decades, AIK’s Dublin-born winger Zachary Elbouzedi is unfortunately not noted.
Overall, Soccer and Society in Dublin provides an extremely empirical picture of the history of football in Dublin. However, it is also the book’s great weakness – there is too much soccer at the expense of society. It becomes a problem for the general sports reader who has no connection with the Irish capital. The incredible wealth of detail means that the reader risks drowning in a torrent of unfamiliar names and places An example can be taken from page 60, in the chapter on club football in Dublin from 1893 to 1921, where there are over 30 people and places mentioned as well as a dozen points of time, which in no way constitutes an extreme case. For readers unfamiliar with the book’s gallery of characters, and who are not familiar with Dublin’s geography, it becomes difficult to navigate and far more confusing than keeping track of the names in a novel by Dostoyevsky.
The serious-minded reader may thus find problems with the book’s excessive attention to detail and unwillingness to say too much about anything other than football and Dublin. However, there is no getting away from the fact that analyses made on shaky empirical grounds are largely devoid of value, while solid empirical studies not only satisfy those who have a special interest in the phenomenon in question, but also constitute a life-giving source for all who in the future take on said phenomenon. Conor Curran’s Soccer and Society in Dublin: A History of Association Football in Ireland’s Capitalthus has all the prerequisites to become a compass that helps future researchers who want to tackle football in Dublin and in Ireland to keep their direction, much in the same way as Bill Mallon’s and Ture Widlund’s The 1912 Olympic Games: Results for all competitors in all events, with commentary is an obvious guide for all serious attempts to take on the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912. It could also be a building block in future comparative studies on the development of football in European capitals. This is not bad for a book that has its roots in the willingness of local politicians to justify the use of public funds to finance the excesses of the global sports complex through historical or cultural heritage/memorial projects. Dublin thus got something of value out of EURO 2020, despite Ireland managing the feat of not qualifying for the championship.
Copyright @ Hans Bolling 2023