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23rd Feb 2018

‘The prisoners in Mountjoy were banging on their cell doors when Paddy Kavanagh scored for Bohemians’

Jack O'Toole

League of Ireland preview

When Bohemians midfielder Paddy Kavanagh raced in behind the Shamrock Rovers defence and smashed the ball past Hoops goalkeeper Kevin Horgan and into the roof of the net last Friday night; Dalymount Park erupted.

Bohs fans standing in the Jodi Stand had been whipped into a frenzy by Kavanagh’s strike and the player and his teammates ran towards the corner flag to celebrate with the fine ladies working inside the club’s chip van.

The celebrations, however great, were ultimately short lived, as Dan Casey scored three minutes later and wrapped up a well deserved 3-1 win for the Gypsies, but it was Kavanagh’s goal that had inmates jumping up and down inside Mountjoy Prison just 500 metres down the road.

“The whole prison were banging on their doors when Bohemians scored,” said Thomas Hynes, President of the Bohemian Foundation.

“There were others there that were banging when Rovers scored too, but that didn’t go on before, there wasn’t the same level of interest inside the prison.

“Now Oscar [Brennan] goes into the prison once a week and they’re calling him ‘Butcher Boy’ [for his display against Rovers] or the ‘Face of Finglas’ [for his regular appearances in local newspapers].”

Brennan, Hynes and goalkeeper Shane Supple visit Mountjoy prison once or twice a week to train and coach inmates in preparation for the Conway Cup, a triangular tournament involving inmates and local sides that was named after the patriarch of the celebrated Bohs supporting family where no less than six Conways – Pat, Ronnie, Graham, John, Thomas and Terry – wore the famous red and black shirt.

The early Cup games were first played inside the prison, often against some Bohemians squad players, while in recent years the prison service has granted inmates temporary release to play matches at Dalymount Park.

This year’s match will see a team of ex-inmates play a team of current prisoners signifying the remarkable strides of the program.

Some ex-inmates have also gone on to play in an Ireland representative team at an international seven-a-side tournament for reformed prisoners, while others have continued, or at least resumed their football careers in the Leinster Senior League.

The Conway Cup was first introduced to Mountjoy prison because the Bohemian Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation spearheaded by Hynes, who also serves as public relations director of Bohemian FC, wanted to make a difference in their community and they saw football as a legitimate avenue for change.

“There’s players who have played for this club that have said that they probably would have ended up in prison if it wasn’t for football,” added Hynes.

“You could go into Mountjoy seven days a week and you still don’t really know what’s happening. You get feedback from the guards, and all that is fine, but what happens afterwards?

“Now we know that guys are out and they haven’t re-offended, they’re playing football, they’re getting married and they’re coaching kids because they went on to do their badges.

“The success of the foundation is that we’ve been able to turn people’s lives around. I was amazed by it. Absolutely amazed.

“Also, our fans love being associated with Bohs now because of the work we’re doing. They can be proud of it.”

You won’t find many fans at the club that are as proud of Bohemians as Dan Lambert. A Bohs fan since the age of two, the club’s strategic planning executive is trying to create a unique identity and foster a local culture at the club.

He recently took me out onto the pitch at Dalymount Park and asked me to have a look around.

“Do you notice the advertising boards?” Lambert asked rhetorically.

“Almost all of them are local. We have DHL there, who we have had for years, but nearly all of our sponsors are local. What does that tell you? It tells you that we’re a local club.”

Lambert spearheaded the popular #TerracesNotTV campaign and is adamant that League of Ireland clubs should prioritise creating a culture and an identity at their club, rather than focusing solely on trying to attract fans through on-field success, as some League of Ireland clubs have tried and failed spectacularly with in the past.

“I started working on a strategic plan with the club about three years ago,” said Lambert.

“The key part of that plan was to try and establish a vision of what Bohs was. A lot of clubs in Ireland make the mistake of – and the FAI do this all the time – of trying to market the league through its football.

“If you’re just going to market League of Ireland football, you’re going up against Sky Sports and the machine of the Premier League, which you just won’t beat.

“More kids know Sergio Aguero now than they do Dinny Corcoran. That’s just the reality of it.

“In my opinion, and in the club’s opinion now, it’s a mistake to try and market a core football message so we looked at the club and asked ‘what are Bohemians about?’

“Not as a team, but as a club. The club is a lot more than just one team. There’s 20 kids teams, there’s an amputee team and there’s a huge membership base. There’s young and old so we looked at what Bohs represented.

“Inherently Bohs represents a socialist model – a one member, one vote model – where if you pay your one euro a day, any man or woman can own the club and then everything is done in a democratic fashion.

“It’s the opposite of what’s happened in England where Premier League clubs are bought by large companies and are traded on the stock exchange; we couldn’t be further from that.

“A club like ours is a little left leaning, it naturally kind of is in that it operates under a socialist model, but it also has to be a big part of the community to sustain itself. It just has to.”

Walking around Dalymount with Lambert, he looks at vacant walls around the grounds as opportunities for local graffiti artists to add to the club’s culture.

The dilapidated terraces near the ‘Tramway End’ now have the letters ‘BOHS’ painted in red and black on top of one of the stadium’s old entrances, while next to the chip van, there are two murals.

The first mural is of Phil Lynott, the former Thin Lizzy frontman who played at Dalymount in 1977, while the second mural is of reggae legend Bob Marley, who played at the venue in 1980.

The two stand side-by-side and are honoured by a ground that was once regarded as one of the biggest music venues in the country at one point in time.

Both murals were painted by local artist Niall O’Lochlainn, who completed the Lynnott mural after its designer Colin McGinley sadly passed away at the start of last year.

Bohemians are doubling down on establishing a local connection and the results are paying off with attendances up by 22% from last year.

The club bring in local artists to paint murals. They bring in local bands to play music in their club bar. They import local beer, with ‘Bohemians Red Ale’ specifically brewed and branded by the Porterhouse Brewery for the club. They work with local advertisers. Their players offer their time to help out at local schools, and indeed, the local prison.

And, as you may have guessed, they appeal to the local football fan.

This is a football club based in north Dublin, but ideally, this is what every club in the League of Ireland should look like.

Last year former Sunderland and Ireland striker Stephen Elliott, who was playing for Drogheda United at the time, went on Newstalk’s Off The Ball and spoke about how the FAI needed to do a better job of marketing their players and that they needed to foster a ‘celebrity’ image around the league’s stars.

Kavanagh’s goal in the Dublin Derby last week was scored just a matter of hours after he completed a 7-4 shift as an electrician. He’s a sparkie, not a celebrity.

Why market Seanie Maguire, Daryl Horgan, Richie Towell, Andy Boyle and countless others just to watch them bolt to England as soon as they show the first sign of promise?

Bohemians have learned from their mistakes in the past and they are looking to create a more colourful future with the knowledge that while their supporters may know that Sergio Aguero is a better striker than Dinny Corcoran, they also know that they can identify with Corcoran, Kavanagh, Supple and Brennan on the pitch, and with what the club is trying to achieve in their community off the pitch.

Bohemians is a part-time club with a much better appreciation of the bigger picture. A vision with a lot of colour.

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