Cork Business League: Team work key to 70 years of soccer success

'The old Cork Shipping League has massive potential to grow over the next 10 years, as the amateur game in Ireland is changing.'
Cork Business League: Team work key to 70 years of soccer success

Current champions Doolan's Cow celebrate winning their third Sports Gear Direct Premier Division title in 2018/19 following their win over Healy O'Connor Solicitors at Garryduff BL

AFTER nearly 70 years, the Cork Business League, or the Shipping League as it is affectionately referred to, continues to provide junior football for teams that represent their workplaces.

What started out with eight teams in the first league championship, in 1953 (which was won by the Cork Harbour Commissioners), has now increased to 24 teams across two divisions.

The league’s secretary, Peter Travers, says that the addition of seven new teams to this year’s league might be a reaction to the boredom of the pandemic lockdowns and restricted activity.

“Before Covid-19, we noticed that the industries of Cork had a huge workforce that we could delve into, which the league may have been missing since the early noughties,” said Travers.

“We were worried that the pandemic would affect growth, but, in actual fact, we were successful in attracting seven new teams to join us for this season and I think, overall, the pandemic has given people a huge hunger to get involved.

Peter Travers in action for UCC BL
Peter Travers in action for UCC BL

“As a league, our principal objective is to build and maintain a Cork-based business association football league, which promotes positive employee health and well-being, while fostering and improving commitment and dedication amongst employees in the workplace through the medium of team sport.

“The CBL has massive potential to grow over the next five to 10 years, as the current state of amateur football in Ireland is changing.

Many young footballers want to play soccer at a high level, however, cannot commit to training two to three times a week, so, therefore, will happily move to a club in our league, where they can play with their work colleagues or friends from home.

“This was one of the reasons that I see the gap in how we can market ourselves to the Cork footballing community.”

In the early days, the membership of the league was dominated by shipping companies and traditional industries, such as Ford’s, Dunlop’s, Doyles Stevedores (the dockers), and Innisfallen, before meat-processing companies, like Denny’s, Lunhams, Farmer’s Union, and Evergreen Bacon Factory, began to dominate in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The football bug began to work its way into the inner city, through teams like Postal Workers, The Cork Examiner, CIE, and Youghal Carpet Yarns, before the banking industry, through Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland and the department store, Roches Stores, began to take up the mantle in the late 1970s.

Postal Workers are the league’s most decorated team, winning an incredible 29 trophies in their 50-year tenure.

Postal Workers, the most decorated team in BL history with 29 trophy successes L to R (Back): Tom Barry, Connie O'Callaghan, John McGrath, Sean O'Donovan, Pat Lester, Tom Archer, John Reid, Denis O'Leary, John Browne. L to R (Front): Pat Hurley (committee), Tim McCarthy, John Roche, Tony Daly (committee), Tony Guest, Jerry Browne, Timmy O'Donovan, Harry Harte (committee), Mick Mooney (committee & BL chairman). BL
Postal Workers, the most decorated team in BL history with 29 trophy successes L to R (Back): Tom Barry, Connie O'Callaghan, John McGrath, Sean O'Donovan, Pat Lester, Tom Archer, John Reid, Denis O'Leary, John Browne. L to R (Front): Pat Hurley (committee), Tim McCarthy, John Roche, Tony Daly (committee), Tony Guest, Jerry Browne, Timmy O'Donovan, Harry Harte (committee), Mick Mooney (committee & BL chairman). BL

The representation of computer and pharmaceutical companies reflected the changing winds of industry in the 1980s, with the emergence of firms like Pfizer, Novartis, Janssen, Concurrent Computers, Motorola, and EMC.

Today, teams representing the computer and pharmaceutical companies are more common: TELUS International, UCC, Trend Micro, Satellite Taxis, Cork County Council, and Doolan’s Cow Bar, to name a few.

In fact, the change in the membership down through the decades has reflected the broad trends in the economic life of the Cork region.

The waning of a company’s prominence was often mirrored in their departure from the league.

The uniqueness of this league is the bond it creates among work colleagues and as former Roches Stores player Finbarr Buckley once said: “The Business League allows for the post mortem to continue right through the working week, which helps to create a bond of friendship, not alone among teammates, but also among opponents.

“Wherever would a sales assistant have the opportunity to get the better of a member of the gardaí, or a docker come face to face with a banker for up to an hour and a half?

“Many teams brought members of various departments together, forging lasting friendships, inside and outside the job.”

Travers, the current secretary and executive committee member of the MFA, only took up playing while at University College Cork and is thrilled to see such a growth in the league, which he believes will only get stronger in the coming years.

Cork Harbour Commissioners (first league winners, 70 years ago in 1952/53): L to R (Back): P. Murphy, J.Egan, M. Flanagan, T. Power, D. Lyons, J.O'Driscoll, D. O'Sullivan, J. Hourihan, M.O'Leary, W.Ryan. L to R (Front): M. Fitzgerald, D. Murray, T.Murphy, J. Hurley, E. Gayer (president), JJ McCullagh (capt.), Michael Warner, G. Slocum, JB Donoghue. BL
Cork Harbour Commissioners (first league winners, 70 years ago in 1952/53): L to R (Back): P. Murphy, J.Egan, M. Flanagan, T. Power, D. Lyons, J.O'Driscoll, D. O'Sullivan, J. Hourihan, M.O'Leary, W.Ryan. L to R (Front): M. Fitzgerald, D. Murray, T.Murphy, J. Hurley, E. Gayer (president), JJ McCullagh (capt.), Michael Warner, G. Slocum, JB Donoghue. BL

“From having the experience of playing across all four league organisations over the years, the CBL was a fresh feeling playing against teams that I would never have heard of, as they wouldn’t be your household names around Cork.

“I thought, at the start of my CBL playing career, that there was a strange sort of dedication and commitment all players had which I had never seen before. I was intrigued.

“Since we rebranded in 2019, and improved our online presence, we have had a high number of new clubs registering with us, bringing a huge influx of players to the league for the first time in over a decade.

For the first time in years, the average age of players competing in the CBL dropped to below 30 in 2020. This shows that we are in a transition period, where we have more teams joining, with younger squads.

“This, hopefully, will translate into a higher standard of football being played. Competitiveness in the CBL has always been around, but because of new ways of monitoring it (social media, website views, new clubs), we feel the next five to 10 years will be exceptional.”

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