Footballing Memories

James Nolan
Jimmy, one of our founder members, recalls the early days of Lourdes Celtic Football Club 

Published: September 2022

How did you get involved in schoolboy football?

Back in the '50s there were a lot of children that left school very young. I was lucky I was an only child and was sent to the Christian Brothers in James’s Street and got a good education. Sadly in those days it wasn’t uncommon for some children to leave not knowing how to read or write and there was not a lot for them to do. Some as young as 13 became messenger boys, others went to Liverpool or London where older brothers or sisters married and settled over there. Some were lucky to start a trade when they got a little older but there wasn’t much for children to do. I think that is why a lot of people were appreciative of what myself, Bower (John Bradley), Sunboy (Liam O'Connor), and Jimmy (James Addie) did starting a team called Lourdes Celtic.

I met Bower when I lived in Braithwaite Street. I had friends there also but I used to go to my Aunt Molly most days after school. She lived in Rosary Road. The tenement I lived in was knocked down and we were moved to Rialto, Dolphins Barn when I was around 16 but I still went down to the lads. My Dad's family lived in Cork Street near Bower on Lourdes Road, and Jimmy was from around Maryland. We’d play football on the streets, or head to the canal to swim or use barrels as floats. But we loved football. Our football was a pig’s bladder, not uncommon at the time. When I’d get home my mam would give out about the smell. There were proper footballs but we didn’t have one as they were too expensive. But there were lots of slaughter houses and piggeries in the Coombe. 

A while after I left school, Bower and I decided to make a team for the local lads. I had been in the same class as Fran Ray – we all loved football. Fran went on to be very involved with the School Boys League, the DDSL. Our first team was U13s and I was their coach/manager. We had an U18s team too – they were nearly the same age as me as I was three years younger than Bower. The U18s had a few bangers on it but the U13s were legit. We all had a great knowledge of football, but Sunboy – he could see potential talent and this helped us along. 

We all had a great knowledge of football, but Sunboy – he could see potential talent and this helped us along.

The lads played near a building, word got out that they broke something and Bower said to me you better get the pen out Jim. So, I wrote a letter, we apologised explaining it was an accident. The owner, he ran the Tintéan society which was like a building society or credit union. He was surprised to receive a letter saying how sorry we were. He acknowledged what we were doing with the kids and we sorted it out. He wouldn’t take the money from us and said if we wished we could use the hall every week, so we’d rent a room and met there. The only rule, no gambling was allowed. You see some of the U15s would gamble. So, I made sure that we left it the way we found it every week. There was never any trouble. The lads loved it and we’d light a fire, we became a real team/club in the community. 

Sometimes, they’d play pool or cards in the club. I was always grateful to him, he thought Bower and I were helping to keep the lads out of harm’s way. They were a great bunch of lads, we’d never any trouble. He always showed an interest in our teams. Bower was always saying we should write it down. He’d call the lads a bunch of rogues. They were great lads, full of life. The stories we could have told. We both lived for the club then.

Jimmy Nolan, right, at one of the club's first games.

What are some of your favourite memories during your time with Lourdes Celtic?

There is so much going through my head at this time it is impossible to get it all out. There are so many memories. Myself, Bower, Sunboy, and Jimmy had a great time together. 

Sunboy lived for football. He wasn’t very well educated but his knowledge of the game was really great. He could spot talent and he’d tell myself and Bower to go out and watch someone play. Bower would ask where is he? Sometimes he’d tell him we’re not going out there, it’s too far to look. But Sunboy did and sometimes one of us would go with him. He was our scout. 

He was looked after and when it came to trips we couldn’t do without him. He knew so many young lads and he was always talking about lads from Donore Avenue or the flats. They came to Lourdes Celtic and we nurtured them when they played for us. Sunboy was a great skin and like the rest of us he just loved football. Children loved him too. Mr Timmons called him a boomerang as he’d go off but always come back with talent. He was as well known around the area as Bang Bang. He got his name because he was always tanned, always out in the sun. He’d walk to Hong Kong to watch a good player.

Some of the boys on my team were really good. One of the lads was scouted and asked to go over and do two weeks trial with Man United, but his Dad told him, "You can see him play now, you want him – you sign him now". It broke our hearts because this man threw that boy's chances away. Manchester United just said 'okay' and moved on to other clubs they had come over to look at. He remained with us for a while but lost the spark and left. I often think about that. But maybe it would have been tough on him going away so young, but that was the way then. 

We’d a few other great players, Rogers was one of them – I think it was Eamonn. He played with us very briefly and went off to England and got signed. His younger brother, Johnny, played with us as well, but not for long. He went far but didn’t reach the heights of his brother but he was a great player and won plenty of awards. The lads that remained with us were great and they played out of their skins – the talent, skill and friendship. Some of them were incredible but they’d suddenly peak, didn’t progress, you’d have thought they’d have made it and vice versa. Others would surprise you, what they could bring to a game. But for me every lad on the team was treated the same. To get a place and play a game on our teams back then you only needed to love football and want to play – and play with heart. No matter what your skill, you’d get a rub of the green. The boys were all great, each lad brought something.

To get a place and play a game on our teams back then you only needed to love football and want to play – and play with heart.

I remember a French team coming over to play, we all went out to watch them, I can’t remember if it was Nice or Lyon but everyone loved the goalkeeper’s sweater. I told my mam and she was great with the needles. She knit him one the same and we were the talk of the place. Mam was a great bit of stuff as she used to wash all the jerseys for me every week by hand. She washed them using a washing board and Lifebouy soap and put them through a mangle to get most of the water out. The lads always looked the part.  

We used to get the best gear. It was from a shop in Parnell Street. We wore the dark knicks and socks and the stripe back then, not at all like the jersey now. At the time I didn’t mind what it was like once we got the gear and we looked as good as any other team kitted out.

We used to pay a deposit to the FAI for a ball. I brought back our first leather ball from Sitges in Spain. I went there on my honeymoon with Eileen. The lads couldn’t believe it when I brought it home and gave it to the club to use. A few years back now, I saw my grandson play against Lourdes Celtic in their ground, he used to be the goalkeeper in Rathcoole Boys F.C. at the time and we went into the clubhouse and looked at the trophy room, my daughter asked could I go in but they wouldn’t allow it. We could see someone had written '1957' on the ball I’d brought home. I was happy to see it still remained with the club. I also saw my photo from the distance with my first team. It was wonderful to see all the trophies and cups the club has won down through the years.

I remember going to Blackpool with the team, I couldn’t go on many of the trips because I was working. But I was the organiser for all of them and I’d book the boat, where they’d stay, make sure all the lads had their gear, and if some where short I’d get them sorted. I suppose I was the treasurer, secretary, the man with the pen – as Bower would say. He always asked me to write all this down and I regret I didn’t because there was a story in it, about the club, the area, and all the lads our first teams. A great bunch of lads. We never thought it would survive longer than us. 

There was a lad on a team, I can see his face but unfortunately I cannot remember his name but he had a glass eye. When things weren’t going his way during a particular match, he popped the eye out, shot his hand in the air, "Ref, Ref, I lost me eye". The match was stopped and everyone searched and he was laughing. It was in his hand and he’d pop it back in. He didn’t get away with that again.

A great bunch of lads. We never thought it would survive longer than us. 

Mr. Timmons was a great input, a great help getting things done, and throwing in a few quid. I’d be organising the trip and you’d need some money for it and most of the parents said as it was far away they’d pay up closer to the time – and they did, but he would give us a bit of a hand out because we needed to pay up now. He had two or three trucks and subbed them out, coal and logs and all that sort of stuff. He was very supportive and interested in what Bower and I were doing for the area even though two of his sons played for Donore, John, and Mick. I palled with Mick and so did Bower. They were all a bit older than me. He would back everything if you were short for some of the events. We’d often get lifts on the trucks to get us to the matches.  

We used to pile onto the buses as well. The bus men were great, they never made me pay the full fare for all of the lads. They’d say, throw us whatever and nod them on. We used to travel a fair bit on the buses and far enough too. If our game was cancelled, and it was a home match I’d make sure I told the ref. I’d cycle out to him in the lashing rain because we’d no phone and we didn’t want him arriving out and he never forgot that. Bower used to say 'is our ref on this week?'!

They were great times, happy memories. The thing is people were interested in the club and more people joined as time passed, Eddie Roche being one of them. We were liked minded people. We were all part of the club giving our time and it was great to see how all the kids were getting on. Seeing them grow up and getting married. 

Committee meetings back then usually happenend in one of the pubs. Morrissey’s up off Cork Street was great because they allowed us to fund raise and we chatted about the matches in there. It wasn’t about drink, in fact I didn’t drink in those days. Sometimes we’d have meetings in the room we rented in the savings club I mentioned earlier. After Eddie joined the club, we moved the committee meetings to his house.

Jimmy, centre, with his daughter Janice (right) and her son Samuel (left).

It was sad to leave but the memory lingers on, happy times, happy memories. I got married in 1964 and in the '70s we got a house in Tallaght and life moved on. We’d four daughters so I hadn’t got the time that was needed. I left but never forgot, it was a sad time for me. Even after I left the club in the early '70s I still followed Lourdes Celtic from a distance. I always went straight to the sports section results pages in in the Evening Press newspaper and when that closed – the Herald, to see how the club was doing and delight in so many new teams. I would read about the club going from strength to strength. They were winning many trophies and cups, and more and more players were getting contracts in premiere clubs, League of Ireland, and English clubs. I watched with pride as the club grew even though I was no longer there. I still felt the same love for the club as I did when Bower, Jimmy, Sunboy, and myself decided to start a team in the '50s and Lourdes Celtic began. They have turned out so many great players down through the years but to see ex-players come back and become managers is fantastic. It shows how happy they were as youngsters.

...To see ex-players come back and become managers is fantastic. It shows how happy they were as youngsters.

What would you wish for the future of the club?

I wish nothing but the best for Lourdes Celtic and if it gives those involved even half as much happiness and great memories that it brought me, they will be lucky. It’s just amazing to see what has sprouted from the club, as the old saying goes, from small acorns grow big trees. I enjoyed all of it. I get very emotional when I think about it. The era when I was there is totally different than today, I just hope it is still fun for the boys and girls. I am delighted to share some of my memories from the '50s, '60s and '70s. I know I haven’t been part of the club for many many years but they were the best of times the happiest of times for me.

Published with thanks to Janice Nolan-Palmer.