The passing of Dave Bacuzzi recalled many poignant memories of the Londoner’s contribution to the history of Cork soccer, writes Plunket Carter...
CHERISHED sports stars and heroes of our youth can, after retirement, become half-forgotten memories of adolescence long past.
There are exceptions and one in particular star was former Cork Hibs player-manager Dave Bacuzzi (79) who was called to his Eternal home last week during this challenging period in our history.
When the news of his passing was announced Twitter lit-up and hundreds of messages of condolence poignantly referred to his vast contribution to Irish soccer and in particular to Cork Hibs and Home Farm with whom he will be forever lovingly associated.
Looking back on those memorable days provides the warmest of feelings when fans flocked to Flower Lodge in record numbers to support Bacuzzi’s wonder team.
Dave was one of the most respected player-managers in the country and his popularity transcended the deepest most partisan footballing divisions.
When referring to Bacussi as player-manager it should be ‘Player’ with a capital ‘P’ as in his four seasons with Hibs he lined out 176 times, second only to the almost ever-present John Lawson.
Mention Cork Hibs and Dave Bacuzzi, a man revered in our city, is guaranteed to be the topic of conversation.
He was born in London into a family steeped in soccer history. His father JD was a quality full back with Fulham and between 1946-55 played more than 200 times with the Craven Cottage club.
Bacuzzi senior gained deserved international recognition and wore the English shirt in 13 “war time” internationals.
At an early age Dave’s talents were recognised when he was chosen by the English Catholic Colleges for internationals against Belgium and France.
These were just the forerunner of further representative honours as he was capped seven times by England at youth level.
He made his debut for Arsenal in 1961 and after 46 appearances moved on to Man City for a fee of £25,000.
It turned out to be a great career move for the Londoner as he was ever-present on the Man City team that won promotion back to the first division.
Midway through the following season Bacuzzi fell out with City boss Joe Mercer and moved nearer home to join Reading.
He made 107 appearances for Reading and was about to finalise a move to Club Bruges in Belgium when Hibs swooped.
Dave was planning to take up a coaching appointment in Belgium when he was invited to Cork for talks concerning the vacant player-manager position at Flower Lodge.
Out of curiosity rather than anything else he accepted the invite and then the job.
Hibs invited him for a four-day stay but it turned out to be four years during which time he became the most popular player-manager in the club’s history.
Dave showed that he had lost little of his full-back skills and the League of Ireland selectors honoured him for matches against the English and Lega Nazionale.
Dave inherited a good squad as the foundations had already been laid by Amby Fogarty and Austin Noonan.
Bacuzzi was a tremendous pro and after a hectic 1970 pre-season in which they took on Scottish Champions Celtic and Linfield he began moulding the squad into a fighting force of considerable strength and skill.
It was Dave who turned the pages as Hibs entered the most glorious chapter in its history.
His refreshing training and thorough match preparation soon paid rich dividends as Hibs were involved in a thrilling title race with Shams.
They met in a crunch tie at Milltown in early march. After a tense and dramatic match, which ended scoreless, the title seemed bound for Cork.
Bacuzzi was sent off following what looked like an innocuous push on a Rovers forward.
John Herrick was furious and encouraged Hibs to leave the field in protest which triggered a mini-pitch invasion.
Common sense eventually prevailed when after a fairly lengthy delay the game resumed and Hibs held on for a vital point.
Hibs dropped a point in the last league game against Shels which necessitated a play-off at Dalymount for the title with Shams.
Hibs fans travelled in their thousands and out-roared the home supporters at a throbbing ‘Dalyer’ where 22,000 paid £7,000 for the privilege of seeing Cork Hibs crowned Champions of Ireland.
Billy George, writing in The Cork Examiner, best sums up the historic victory.
The headlines read ‘HIBS CLINCH IT IN STYLE’ and ‘League title for Cork at last’ and, Billy continued: “Now, at last, the banners can be unfurled — Cork Hibernians are champions.
“They brought a long exhausting campaign to a victorious climax at Dalymount Park yesterday where they crushed their most persistent challengers Shamrock Rovers.
“Hibs can walk tall today. When it came to the crunch they were not found wanting. When the pressure was at its highest point they reacted with a performance of such consistent brilliance and even the loss of a 35th minute lead to a typical Mick Leech goal 20 minutes into the second half could not interrupt their victory march.
“They were calm, they were assured, and they were individually and collectively so much on song that the wonder is that Rovers were not swamped.”
The historic season ended disgustingly for which the blame was laid at the door of Linfields dreaded supporters.
Hibs made the long journey to Windsor Park, Belfast, where they held Irish League champions to a 1-1 (Marsden) draw in the first leg of the Blaxnit All-Ireland Trophy.
The second leg at Dalymount was marred by crowd trouble precipitated by disgraceful Linfield supporters. Linfield outplayed Hibs to take the trophy on a 2-1 (Wallace) scoreline after a tough physical game.
Saturday’s Cork Examiner described the disgraceful scenes: “In the cauldron of hate that was Dalymount Park, last night, some of the worst soccer crowd incidents ever witnessed in the Republic took place.
“Disgraceful scenes of violence, both on the terraces and outside the ground, ruined the Blaxnit final and let there be no doubt about it the whole cause of the trouble can be laid fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the foul mouthed Linfield supporters, who shouted the most denigrating, disgusting and obscene slogans mainly directed against the Pope and the Catholic Church. Union Jacks were waved provocatively and there were violent clashes with gardaí.
“Hundreds of Linfield supporters went on a rampage through the Phibsboro area brandishing bottles and sending everyone scurrying for cover.”
Fortunately events like these were a complete rarity and in complete contrast to the delightful experience witnessed at the European Championship first leg at the Lodge in September where Hibs were outclassed and beaten 5-0 by the polished Germans, easily the best team ever to play in Cork.
The long-haired Gunter Netzer enthralled Hibs fans, of whom Billy George wrote in The Cork Examiner: “He had the delicate touch of Joe Davis and stroked the ball around with as much accuracy as if he had been using a billiard cue.”
Borussia were no one-man team as others who made the struggle unequal included Vogts, Muller, Bonhoff, Heynckes.
The German newspapers all predicted a landslide victory for Borussia in the second leg, one reckoning 11-0 would be the scoreline, another less cruel suggested 10-1.
To the Germans’ astonishment Hibs led 1-0 at half-time through Miah Dennehy and, though eventually losing 2-1, they were cheered by the 10,000 German crowd who came expecting a slaughter.
Seven days in April 1972 will be forever indelibly engraved on the memories of all those who attended either the Championship decider at the Lodge or the following weeks FAI Cup final at Dalymount.
Arguably the most talked about game in Bacuzzi’s four-year tenure was the virtual league decider versus Waterford in ’72.
By the end of that season Hibs still had a chance of retaining their title.
Their concluding game was against leaders Waterford at Flower Lodge. It was a clash of giants — Hibs had scored 68 goals and conceded only 14 while Waterford were unbeaten since Christmas and only needed a draw to regain the title.
The consistency of both sides had been staggering and not surprisingly all attendance records were shattered as 26,000 crammed into the Stadium to witness the summit meeting of two major footballing powers.
The tension was unbearable, the atmosphere incredible and Hibs supporters were delirious as at half-time they led 2-0 and were confidently looking forward to another Championship play-off.
Goals from Lawson and Wiggy provided the comfort although it must be said that prior to Lawson’s goal the linesmen had indicated that the ball was out of play before the pass leading to the score was made.
Waterford were reduced to 10 men when McGeogh and Morrissey went off injured but they would not lie down and produced one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game to score three times in a sensational last 12 minutes.
Carl Humphreys, Man of the Match, gave them a glimmer of hope when he reduced the deficit.
John Herrick handled in the box and Johnny Matthews rattled the net from the penalty spot.
Then the drama intensified when Jackie Morley, another Corkman, wearing the blue and white of Waterford appeared to have handled in the box but the screams for a penalty fell on deaf ears.
Irish international Alfie Hale, who many years earlier had been on Hibs books, added a third to clinch the trophy for the Blues.
It certainly was a Golden era, performances on the pitch were marked by displays of fanaticism on the terraces, cloning was only a word in the dictionary and tribal songs were unheard of, even the old favourite ‘you’re Not Singing Anymore’ wasn’t yet in the charts.
After the misery of that galling defeat by Waterford we could have sung ‘Que Sera, Sera’ but not even Hibs most optimistic fans could have predicted the transformation the immediate future brought.
On Sunday, April 23, the memory had been erased when Miah Dennehy blasted himself into the record books by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in an FAI Cup final.
Fittingly it was champions Waterford who were on the receiving end of a 3-0 drubbing and at the end the cheers rang out for at least two minutes in salute to history-maker Miah.
Hibs became the only team apart from Shams to retain the cup when they beat Shels 1-0 after a replay in ’73.
The game was made memorable by two outstanding individual performances, keeper Paddy Roche for Shels and that of Denis Allen for the winners.
Allen teased, probed and tormented Shels and his display was one of the best seen at the venue in years.
Despite Cork’s dominance they had to wait until the 83rd minute for the winner when Carl Humphreys ran to the near post to flick home a Dave Wigginton cross.
Despite injury problems and the sending off of Eric Barber Shels made it tough for Hibs who had to endure some nail biting minutes until the final whistle.
“The feeling was nothing like after the ’72 victory,” admitted manager Bacuzzi.
“We were relieved to get a draw at Dalymount and then take on Shels on our own pitch.”
During the lean years local derbies in Cork were the lifeblood of the game and when it became much more than just bragging rights the rivalry intensified as Leeside teams fought for valuable league points or advancement in the FAI Cup.
During the Bacuzzi era it became fever pitch as attendance records were regularly eclipsed.
Tony Tobin’s ‘Ode to Cork Hibs’, sums it all up perfectly.
“Celtic on the south side, Hibs on the north side, Halcyon days for soccer on Leeside.
“Kids in school and men down the pub, Would debate for hours, which had the best club.
“Twenty thousand or more on derby day, To watch their heroes enter the fray.
“One side depressed on Sunday nights, The other side elated with the bragging rights.”
In 1974 an accumulative 32,000 watched the local derbies — 14,000 at the 'Box' and 18,000 at the Lodge.
At the Cross, Hibs scored twice in the closing 15 minutes of the game to win a contest that was white hot with intensity.
It was rugged, it was hectic, and it was do-or-die stuff as Hibs powered their way to a win that kept them top of the League.
Four players were booked, three from Hibs — Sheehan, and Sweeney and Noel O’Mahony (remember ‘Those Boots Are Made For Walking’) as well as Fury of Celtic.
Indeed, a few others were lucky to finish out the game and could have joined Celtic’s Bobby Tambling who went off injured after a heavy challenge.
There were one or two skirmishes on the pitch and on the terrace behind the goal as the tension heightened.
Celtic were worthy of their lead goal netted by Barry Notley in the 28th minute. Hibs poached an unpredictable equaliser in the 64th minute when Lawson from an acute angle managed to lift the ball over Alex Ludzic.
Celtic were caught napping in the 77th minute allowing Lawson to play a free kick wide to the overlapping Bacuzzi who passed to Allen, the latter placing Sweeney to fire Hibs into the lead.
The points were wrapped up four minutes later, when after another delightful move, Coyne almost broke the net, once more being set up by Allen.
Afterwards Celtic manager Paul O’Donovan angrily proclaimed: “We were kicked out of it.”
The second local derby of the competition had been the topic of conversation for months.
A new attendance record for a derby and gate receipts were set when 18,000 spectators paid £5,400 to see the game which was billed as the ‘Game of the Season’.
Before the match the teams were introduced to the Lord Mayor Cllr Pat Kerrigan and seated in the directors box next to Hibs secretary John Crowley was leader of Fianna Fáil Jack Lynch.
Billy George summed it up correctly in The Cork Examiner when, following a headline which proclaimed: ‘Celtic take over top of League’, he added: “Bravo Cork Celtic, decisive winners of this local derby spectacular!
“They showed a nice sense of the occasion by beating Cork Hibs for the first time in the league since 1968.”
Cork Hibs grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons when they sacked outstanding manager Dave Bacuzzi — his contract was unexpectedly terminated at the end of that season.
Football events were completely overshadowed by the fans expression of support for Bacuzzi.
A protest march departed from the City Hall to Flower Lodge where a meeting took place outside the stadium prior to the last league game against Shams.
The demonstration passed off, happily, without any serious incident. The players paid their own tribute with a bright and entertaining performance that was too good, too effective, and too polished for Shams.
Hundreds of Hibs supporters remained on after the final whistle and shouldered the manager around the pitch.
The decision to sack Bacuzzi was taken after a split vote and in the absence of director Bobby O’Leary a known Bacuzzi fan.
Hibs finished the season without a trophy and the question posed by many was: 'Did this cost the manager his job?'
Hibs directors said no more than what was contained in the brief statement released to reporters and which stated that: ”After four years it was considered desirable to make a change.”
Bacuzzi’s record with Hibs was magnificent — two FAI Cups, a League Championship, Blaxnit All Ireland, two Dublin City Cups, Shield and three Munster Cups.
Yet, the directors were not pleased and Dave was sensationally sacked at the end of the 1973-74 season.
The reaction in Home Farm to Dave Bacuzzi’s sacking was immediate.
Dave’s home in Cork was phoned and within days he had agreed terms with the Dublin amateurs.
His one great regret, on becoming manager of Home Farm’s all amateur set-up, was that he would be forced to retire as a player.
By the end of the season Home Farm created soccer history by becoming the first amateur team in 40 years to win the FAI Cup when they beat Shels 1-0 in the final. Peter Byrne in The Irish Times paid Dave this tribute: “Through it all ran the unmistakable strategy of Dave Bacuzzi in his first year as manager of Home Farm.
“He called most of the shots that mattered and eventually reduced the Shelbourne challenge to a situation in which desperation superseded inspiration.”
On a personal note, along with Neil White and Jim Forbes, we produced a fortnightly 36-page booklet Cork Soccerscope which retailed for just 10p and not alone was Dave one of our voluntary columnists but his company Tara Travel also took a full page advert in the modest publication.
He penned some lovely articles and in one issue kept readers informed with funny tales from his weekly training log about the excuses those Hibs lads tendered when missing sessions — which wasn’t very often.
“One player clutched his stomach and said, ‘I think I have cancer boss’ — how he managed to keep a straight face I’ll never know.
“The best one ever was the guy who turned up very late for a morning session. The poor fella was helping his father convert the attic into a bedroom and slept there for the night.
“In fear of missing my (Bacuzzis) training session he put an alarm clock inside a saucepan so he would have to hear it.
“He did, but when he jumped up he whacked his head off a rafter and knocked himself out. Of course when he turned up at the Lodge there was no medical evidence, not even a tiny bump to verify his story.
“My life would have been a lot simpler if laws were introduced ensuring that all weddings, christenings and funerals could only take place during the summer.”
Bacuzzi’s qualifications and his recognition as an authority on football was taken a step further by his appointment as manager of the League of Ireland representative sides and by the National Commission for Amateur Football who asked him to manage their side for the Olympic Games tournament.
Dave went on to become one of the longest serving managers in League of Ireland soccer when his stay with Home Farm lasted for 10 years.
Cork said: “Thank you Dave Bacuzzi” when in 2008 he was selected as a Legend of Cork Soccer and his name was ceremoniously added to the illustrious scroll which included legends such as Noel Cantwell, Charlie Hurley, Frankie McCarthy, Donie Leahy, Jackie Morley and Austin Noonan.