Football at Cobh Ramblers, Ireland
Jim Stewart heads to the Titanic’s final port of call to watch Cobh Ramblers
A Titanic history
Many days in the Irish summer the sun almost disappears from the harbour town of Cobh. A large shadow looms large over the colourful buildings lining the waterfront and leading up the hill in this gentle corner of County Cork.
No, it’s not just a dark cloud hovering into view to provide some more traditional ‘summer weather’ in Ireland. It’s because Cobh finds itself on the cruise ship circuit. Thanks to the harbour being one of the biggest in the world the gigantic super liners can pull right up to the centre of the small town. As dusk falls the 1,000 + passengers who have spent the day roaming the streets set off on the next leg of their adventure. It leaves Cobh to the locals and the day trippers who have arrived here by land.
Ocean liners loom large in every sense when you refer to Cobh, and not always in a good way. It was April 1912 when the world’s biggest ship made a brief stop just outside the town. 123 people boarded the ship at Queenstown, as the town was known in those British colonial days. All but 44 never reached the USA. The boat was Titanic.
Just three years later the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, killing 1,200 of the 1,900 passengers on board. The survivors, and indeed the dead, were brough to Cobh and 100 are buried in the town cemetery. These are terrible stories indeed, but ones that naturally capture the imagination. The White Star Line building, where those final Titantic passengers left from, is now home to the Titanic Experience. Further along the front at the railway station is the excellent and thought-provoking Cobh Heritage Centre. This shares the tale of those dark days and of the town’s maritime heritage.
Cobh rises steeply from the waterfront. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the football ground of Cobh Ramblers is perched atop the hill. You could walk up there. I wouldn’t, particularly after a few beers and a slap up meal. So a five euro taxi ride takes us to the turnstiles of St Colman’s Park.
Manager Stephen Henderson has been back at the club a decade after his first, hugely successful period in charge. That’s when he guided Cobh to the title, their first ever major silverware, and promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in more than a decade. After relegation, he left and had a spell at Waterford United before returning to the hot seat at Cobh 18 months ago.
Cobb Ramblers joined the League of Ireland in 1985 after decades in the Munster Senior League and many of their fans recall with affection the run to the FAI Cup semi-final in 1983. That tie against Sligo went to an incredible three replays before Rovers won 3-2. When it comes to the league, they have spent four years in the Premier Division but other than have been First Division stalwarts. This was aside from a four year period from 2008 when they failed to gain a league licence and had to play in the A Championship.
Anyway, on to matchday. St Colman’s Park seems to be on a different eco-climate to the waterfront, it’s a few degrees cooler, and i’m reliably informed it can get a bit nippy up here on an autumn day. For this one the spectators are largely in shirt sleeves for the clash of Ramblers v Athlone Town, at the time the bottom side in the second tier of Irish football.
St Colman’s Park is a small, compact, friendly ground. There are covered seats in a main South Stand up one side of the pitch, with the Cobh Ramblers Ultras gathering towards the far end of it. There are further seats in the far East Stand although these weren’t brought into use for this match. Along the left is a long, narrow terrace, with a concrete wall separating the club and fans from the houses behind. You’ll still get a fairly decent view of the action from the bedroom windows overlooking the wall, mind.
Ramblers v Athlone
Let’s make no bones about it, the attendances at this level aren’t ever going to be that big. Shelbourne’s continued residency in the second tier can lead to some decent sized crowds, but for most games it’ll be a few hundred coming along to watch and it’s about 200 tonight. Athlone is some three or four hours away in the middle of Ireland, so understandably only a smattering of their supporters had made the journey down. However, they had something to cheer about when Ronan Hanaphy equalised an early Ramblers goal from Charlie Fleming.
That’s the way it stayed at half time, so it seemed the right time to check out the clubhouse. Now every trip I’ve ever made across the Irish Sea always has a comedy moment – usually more than one – and this was where we had another.
Heading inside, we veered left into a function room style lounge and ordered the obligatory pint of the black stuff. Just as we were taking our first sup, a lady wandered over and asked us if we were there for the reunion. Nope, we replied. A minute later, another popped across and asked the same question. Nope – what reunion? Apparently it was the town’s girls school get-together of the class of 1979 which, funnily enough, wasn’t the reason for us three chaps, barely old enough to watch Grange Hill on telly 37 years ago, to be there.
A football clubhouse did strike me as a somewhat unusual place to hold a girls school gathering. Particularly on the night when there’s a game on. Anyway, we left them to their festivities. On the way out there was time to glance over some of the photos adorning the walls of players past. One face looked vaguely familiar. It was a Cork lad who ran out for the Ramblers for a season before being coaxed across to England. His name was Roy Keane.
Tale of two penalties
The second half was a lively affair. With the Rams in their claret and blue attacking the clubhouse end, they won a penalty with an hour gone. Cue the Athlone keeper Seam McGrane to employ every time wasting trick in the book. In fact his tactics may even have included reading a book.
They certainly entailed checking the penalty spot, tapping both posts, taking water on board and doing up his bootlaces. What’s more it worked – he pulled off a great save from Shane O’Connor’s kick to keep the score at 1-1.
However the keeper didn’t bank on his team conceding a second penalty all of five minutes later, which saw Joe Maloney sent off for his second yellow in just a few minutes. Once more McGrane treated the crowd to his full repertoire – but this time Conor Ellis took the kick and made no mistake. He even had a moment to share his joy with the keeper on his way to celebrate. Not that McGrane appreciated it much.
Athlone had a few more chances but Cobh survived the late scares to cling on to the precious points. It saw them in fourth, still hoping to land a play-off spot with a chance of promotion.
With the full time whistle we headed out and were offered a welcome lift back down the hill to the town. As it happens, this was regatta weekend in Cobh complete with music throughout the town. On Saturday the party atmosphere was in full swing well into the early hours. Being Ireland, I suspect it always is.
This feature first appeared in Football Weekends magazine, a UK-based magazine for football fans who enjoy travelling throughout Europe. Magazines are posted worldwide: for details visit www.footballweekends.co.uk