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  • Common Read

1899 - The Mystery Team

Updated: May 24, 2019

The Common Read detectives solve the mystery of the mysterious team who played in Dublin in 1899. It was a first for Dublin.

"Any ideas guys? I have no idea of history of this photo or how I obtained it. Only clue is the D'Arcy Grafton Street on the mount and the shirt badges (although the badges are hard to see clearly) ”

The Photograph

So read the message posted on social media by @abacus_2000. Michael's profile states he is a football memorabilia collector, based in Northern Ireland, doing stadium tours for Linfield FC and, from the tone of the message - completely stumped. Us football historians, being equally curious and kind, took on the challenge and, eventually, solved the mystery. This is the story of this team of players, who they played in Dublin and the football lived they enjoyed. It is as much a story of the hidden inter-connectivity of lives as it is a small part in the history of football on these islands.

D'Arcy: The Photographer

Our first clue is that the writer mentions the name of the photographer: D'Arcy, and his street address: Grafton Street, Dublin. This places the photograph in the Dublin metropolitan area: it would be unlikely that the photographer would travel far (Belfast, for example) in the course of his work, a local photographer would be used. By referring to the list of commercial photographers we could find that there was a photographer of that name operating out of a Grafton Street premises in Dublin. He was Frank P. D'Arcy whose studio was located at 90 Grafton Street from 1898 to 1906 before moving to 64 Dawson Street from 1906 until 1912. This was a high-profile address on Dublin's swankiest streets - the dates D'Arcy operated from there, gives us our second clue - the date-range: 1898 to 1906.

Association football in Dublin had, by this time period grown rapidly since the first teams were formed in 1883. By the time this team posed for the photograph, twenty or so years later, there were an estimated eighty or more teams playing the games weekly during the football league season. In the Leinster Senior League the main civilian teams in this period were Bohemian FC, Freebooters FC, Shelbourne FC, Tritonville FC, Richmond Rovers FC with military teams representing the various regiments stationed in Dublin or Leinster. There was also a Junior League and an Intermediate League and a number of football cups and contests for works teams - teams representing a particular employer or factory. And there were also inter-provincial games, friendly games and charity games featuring combinations of players from various teams. 

​Coupled with the vast number of teams over an seven-year period and the dearth of exact information about the club or team colours, in theory the task looked daunting. But let's go back to the photograph again. What clues were to be mined?

Clues in the Photograph

The socks. The crest. The colours. The mustaches. The bicycles. The ball. The wall. Having examined many team photographs from this era there are a few features in this photography that stick out. Why are the socks non-uniform? Why do some shirts have a crest but not others? Why does the goalkeeper seem to have a different crest? The 1897 Corinthians FC team photograph sees a high degree of uniformity. Yet, the players and the uniform is similar. Why would this team not adhere to the uniformity? Perhaps this is a combined team from different clubs and they wore what was available to them - white shirts, some with a crest and dark shorts. Perhaps the goalie is wearing his club jersey. Lets look at the crest. It resembles a St. George's cross, but it is unclear if the cross is red or grey or some other colour. The goalkeeper's crest is all together a more elaborate affair - and very different. The ball seems to have the word 'international' printed on it. Is this a brand? Or does it indicate it is an international match?

The colours are reminiscent of the famous gentlemen amateur clubs - Corinthians FC and Casuals FC - both of whom wore white shirts, dark socks and shorts. However, it is neither of these - they did play any games in Ireland in that period of time. The mustaches (and they are fine examples) combined with seven clean-shaven players is common in that period where the Victorian-era manly beard or mustache was in vogue a long side the fresher-faced image we see at this time.

They were - yes, distinguished looking and in good physical shape - signs of a good upbringing. And they must be noteworthy and worthy of photographing for history and posterity. But who were they?

And then we got a bit of luck.

A Lucky Break

Every detective needs some luck in solving a crime. And luck came. It was known that the Freebooters FC, an amateur club of Irish Catholic gentlemen wore white shirts with green shorts. Could this be them? Rummaging through the archives an unusual game - not featuring the Freebooters but some of their players caught our attention. The names of the teams in various reports were sketchy and contradictory but a lot of the details were adding up. An English team. Playing in Dublin. Some famous players. The Irish opposition players were of international standard. 1899. Amateurs. Gentlemen. And there it was - the clincher - 'colours, white shirts, blue knickers'.

But who were they? Ah - this is where it gets a little complicated.

Arthur Royston Bourke's XI

Dublin had not hosted an English team since the earliest days of association football in 1884 when a Trinity College team welcomed the Cambridge University team some 15 years earlier. When it was announced on March 1st, 1899, following Leinster Football Association meeting that a grant of £30 was to be set aside to bring over a team from England, our visitors were heralded as Mr Royston-Bourke's XI to be called 'London Wanderers'. Other reports list the team as South of England XI.

Arthur Royston Bourke was a London Football Association member and founder of the Referees’ Association in England in March 1893 and, as well as being an administrator and referee was, unusually, a man who assembled amateur teams for challenge matches. London Wanderers it seems was a nom-de-guerre. For example, a London Wanderers team, with entirely different personnel, toured the Nederlands the following month. Nor does London Wanderers refer to an earlier London team Wanderers FC who were five times winners of the FA Cup in the 1870s.

Whatever the name of the team, reports indicate that the visit was much anticipated so that followers of the association game in Dublin could become acquainted with cross-channel play.

The first of its kind: Dublin v London

The opposition for our London Wanderers was alternatively recorded as an Leinster Football Association (LFA) approved 'representative' Leinster XI , 'Co. Dublin' and as a 'Dublin' team in contemporary match reports. A sum of £30 was assigned by the Leinster FA to finance the hosting of the game and was billed as the first of its kind. From a Dublin perspective, this was a big deal.

The development of the game in the city largely revolved around playing each other in the Leinster League and Cup, occasional friendlies with teams from Belfast, Derry and the northern counties and some military teams. There were in 1899, no professional teams or players playing in Leinster: while the northern teams had, with exceptions such as Cliftonville FC, followed the professional pathway that was dominated the game on the island of Britain since it was allowed in 1885. Although, all the London players were amateur, this was still heralded as a significant sporting event: the first cross-channel team to play in Dublin and a chance to measure the progress of Dublin football. International caps were rare for Dublin-based players though intra-provincial games provided quality games against the best of the northern teams and the visit of a team from the 'mainland' with players of reputation was a significant moment in football in Dublin.

The Leinster or Dublin XI Team

While the London Wanderers pedigree was much lauded in the press, the Leinster team was experienced, containing four current or future Irish internationals in their line-up. The match was played in the middle of that year's Home Nations internationals and Phillip Meldon (Freebooters FC) had scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory for Ireland against Wales just two weeks earlier. He was to score a brace against the visitors.

Meldon (pictured right) served in the Boer War where he was thrice wounded, on the Military Control Commission in Germany from 1918 during World War 1 an, previously as a professor of artillery in Kingston, Canada in 1913 and 1914. He died as a POW in 1942 in Germany. He was also an cricket player of note playing internationally for Ireland.

Dr George Faber Sheehan (Bohemian FC) and Meldon were to start in 1-9 defeat away to Scotland one week later in the first of three international games Sheehan played in. Sheehan was one of three brothers who played for Bohemian FC and he was to captain Ireland versus England in the first international match played in Dublin in 1900. This was a 2-0 loss, he was also on the losing Bohemian FC side that was defeated by Cliftonville in the Irish Cup final of the same year. For the Wanderers game Sheehan played up front in the inside-right position.

He was a medical doctor by profession, educated in Belfast and Dublin.

The Leinster centre-forward that day was Harry O'Reilly (Freebooters FC) who was to become an Irish International in 1901. He scored two of the goals in this game versus the London Wanderers. Indeed, he was prolific for his club side also which led to him being capped three times for Ireland between 1901 and 1904. Harry was one of three brothers who played for the Freebooters FC originally from San Souci, Blackrock, a wealthy are of Dublin from where Henry worked as a land agent. O'Reilly was also a keen and accomplished cricketer.

In goal, the Leinster team named ex-Corinthian FC, Sligo-native Willie Campbell who had considerable cross-channel experience winning the Charity Shield versus Aston Villa FC with the gentlemen amateurs: Corinthians FC. He had also toured with the Corinthians in 1896-1997 in South Africa (see photograph above). Playing most of his football in Britain, Willie Campbell played for both Bohemian FC and Freebooters FC in 1898 and 1899. While he was named in all starting lineups before the game, reports give two different mames of the person who played in the match - adding more uncertainty.

Joseph Ledwidge certainly played that day. Joe was in 1899 beginning a stellar one-club career with Shelbourne FC and was to be capped by Ireland three times as a no-nonsense centre-back some seven years later in 1906. In 1905 he represented the Irish League in a match versus the English league at Hyde Park in Manchester. (Ledwidge can be seen in the team photo blow, last on the right, standing).

Keogh of Richmond Rovers FC, the two Finney brothers, Cecil and William (both Freebooters FC) and captain for the day, Simon Scroope (Freebooters FC and ex-Bohemian FC) were already Leinster inter-provincial players. Scroope was actually called into the Irish squad that was to travel to Scotland for that heavy defeat, but did not play. The other players representing the Irish team versus Wanderers were : Carpenter (Shelbourne FC) and Byrne from Richmond Rovers FC.

The London Wanderers Team

As a young twenty-year old, Stanley Briggs was already well-known for his football skill and prowess and, as an amateur, was not tied down to playing for one team. By the time of his visit to Dublin, he had already played for Tottenham Hotspur, Woolwich Arsenal, Millwall Athletic and Corinthians FC.

Later in 1899, Briggs (as a Clapham FC amateur) would take part in another overseas football adventure, representing an all-conquering English FA XI on a tour of Bohemia and Germany, considered this an unofficial England tour.

Thomas Tindal Fitchie a Scottish. commercial traveller dealing in sports goods had played as an amateur for Woolwich Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham, Brighton and Norwich. He would go on to play for Queen’s Park in Scottish Cup ties in seasons 1904/05 and 1905/06 although returning to play for Arsenal in 1908. Tom was capped four times for Scotland, one of these as a Queen’s Park player against Wales in March 1907. He scored the only goal of the game in Scotland’s defeat of Ireland in March 1906 in a match were he was reunited with Joe Ledwidge who played on the Irish side that day.

In 1909, Tom travelled to America with the English touring side The Pilgrims with ex-Bohemian FC player Elmer Cotton in the ranks.

Charlie McGahey (right) was an all-round sportsman who toured Australia in 1902 playing two test matches for the English national cricket team. McGahey was associated with Tottenham for much of the 1890s, initially as a player and later as a committee member.

A native of Bethnal Green, he played for the amateur club City Ramblers, represented the London FA and turned out on occasion for Millwall and Woolwich Arsenal and for Clapham FC.

Walter Miecznikowski was a Anglo-Jewish, London east end amateur with Pemberton FC and Clapton FC who appeared for Fulham, Portsmouth and Fullham.

Wilfred Hugh Waller (right) was twenty-two years old when he played in Dublin and had arrived from South African and played goalkeeper for Richmond Association FC, Corinthians FC, Crouch End Vampires FC, Bolton Wanderers, Queens Park, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Watford. He is the first recorded South African to play in the English Football League making his debut in 1899, the same year as his visit to Dublin.

The other players representing London Wanderers that day were: Cook (Clapham FC), Cone (Crouch End Vampires FC), Evans (QPR), Steven (West Norwood) and Critchley (Richmond Association FC).

The Game

The game itself was played at the Catholic University Grounds in Sandymount on March 18th in front of either 3000 or 5000 spectators (depending on the accuracy of different reports) . The London Wanderers scored two goals in the first half, being pegged back each time for a 2-2 scoreline at half-time. That was as good as it got for the visitors as the Leinstermen pushed on to secure a 5-2 victory 'to the satisfaction of the large crowd'.


The London Wanderers players took lodgings in the Royal Exchequer Hotel and its relatively salubrious surroundings were as good as it got for our visiting footballers. While Sandymount was an exquisite suburb, Dublin as a city was generally a mix of urban squalor and commercial activity. The tram from the centre of Dublin led to the quiet village of Sandymount travelled over the canal, down Bath Avenue and through Ringsend to the playing grounds on the sandymount Road that were far below from the standard of London sports grounds they were familiar with. The ground for the game would not contain a pavilion until it became the home of the Freebooters FC some three years later, and this photograph memorialising that day gives a tantalising glimpse - the only glimpse on record - of their surroundings. They faced an experienced and talented side from Dublin that day, and despite their own London experience were to come out well-beaten on the day.

This photograph exists only because of the auspiciousness of the occasion - the first visiting team from England to play in the second-city of the Empire. That it was discovered amongst other football ephemera in Belfast suggests it was considered of providence by the Irish Football Association based in Belfast. A small piece of Dublin football history found and solved.


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