How Cork City thrived in dark times for football in Cork 

'Cork City were founded in 1984 in the depths of the city’s economic malaise, just two years after Albert Rovers were expelled over debts incurred from a friendly against Manchester City...'
How Cork City thrived in dark times for football in Cork 

Cork City icon Patsy Freyne takes on Derry's John Coady and Felix Healy in the FAI Cup final.

THERE were many moments and days during the 1980s in Cork when all hope seemed to be lost.

The news was dominated by talk of unemployment, immigration, and the collapse in living standards across the country. Almost everyone knew someone who’d packed their bags and left without looking back.

The bite was worsened on Leeside by the closures of Dunlop, Ford, and Verolme; three companies that employed more than 2,000 people.

Sport gave people some respite during this era – Cork beat Kerry in the 1983 Munster final to end an eight-year losing streak against their eternal enemies and the hurlers won the 1984 All-Ireland championship in Semple Stadium in Thurles.

In the long-term vacuum created by the economic depression, a group of teenagers longed for something to pass the time. In the fissure of nothingness, a newly established League of Ireland club stepped up to fill the void for the disenfranchised youth on Leeside.

Cork City were founded in 1984 in the depths of the city’s economic malaise. Their creation came just two years after Albert Rovers were expelled from the League of Ireland over debts incurred from a friendly against Manchester City.

When the club played their competitive game in August 1984 in the Munster Senior Cup, crowds were paltry against Avondale United.

Morty McCarthy, who is best known as the drummer for the band Sultans of Ping FC, was a just teenager during this period. He was living in Ballyphehane and when he wasn’t playing music, he watched Cork City.

He saw the dole queues and heard the bad news all first hand. It was a terrifying time for his home county.

“I think there was a real identity crisis in Cork,” he remembered.

“We were a heavy industry city and then suddenly everything went. That caused an economic crisis. 

"I think at the time, unemployment was at 25% which was really, really high. One thing to remember that is good about times of unemployment is that creativity thrives.

“Rents in Cork were very cheap and it was easy to get a band space. A lot of people were out of work and a band gave them something to do.” 

With open spaces ripe and young minds angry, a music scene was born in Cork. This era birthed bands like the Sultans and the Frank and Walters, who made the smash hit Afterall.

The bands practiced daily and at the weekends when there was nothing to do, they went to out to watch Cork City play.

In 2020, McCarthy told The Echo about this mix of music and football, which propped up the Rebel Army in their early years.

They all went to Sir Henrys on a Friday and Saturday night and to the Cross on Sunday. That is something everybody did. 

"A lot of people involved in bands would also drink in the Liberty Bar on South Main Street. They were all big football fans and there was nothing to do on Sundays apart from mass so we used to all meet our mates on a Sunday in the Shed.” 

The final of the 1987-88 League of Ireland Cup consolidated this newfound City support. 

That season; the Rebel Army overcame Waterford, Cobh Ramblers, Kilkenny City, Limerick, and St Patrick’s Athletic to reach their first national cup final.

Standing in their way of glory was Shamrock Rovers, who were challenging for their fifth consecutive league title. 

They also came to Turner’s Cross on the back of a hat-trick of FAI Cup victories from 1985 to 1987.

The decider saw 3,500 fans turn up to Turner’s Cross and they saw a second half strike from Kieran Myers give City a 1-0 win.

This success caught the imagination of the city’s youth and the club were then adopted by the masses in Cork.

“That was the first time that they got a young following,” McCarthy recalled.

“Previously to that it was all older guys who supported Hibs or Celtic. Those were older guys that were going along. Suddenly my generation had football to go to.

“Like, I followed City from when they first started in 1984. In the first three or four years, there were four or five hundred people going to games. Suddenly there were loads of guys like me who were 17 or 18 and they could go to games on their own.” 

Penalty shoot-out between Sultans of Ping and Frank and Walters at CCFC training ground which ended up as Sultans of Ping winning by 4-3. Picture: Gerard Bonus
Penalty shoot-out between Sultans of Ping and Frank and Walters at CCFC training ground which ended up as Sultans of Ping winning by 4-3. Picture: Gerard Bonus

This was just the start of a long romance between the youth of Cork and the Rebel Army.

City built on their League of Ireland Cup success, which incentivised more people to come and watch them play. 

They also won their first Munster Senior Cup that year by beating Cobh Ramblers 1-0 in the final. The following year, City reached the FAI Cup final and there they played treble chasing Derry City. 

After holding them to a 0-0 draw at Dalymount Park, the Candystripes won the replay 1-0.

Their FAI Cup journey was rewarded with a place in the European Cup Winners Cup, where they were drawn against Torpedo Moscow.

By 1993, the club had won four Munster Senior Cups and they had drawn with Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. 

Throughout this period, more and more teenagers from across Cork went to watch the Rebel Army play. 

At the end, the 1992-93 season, everything came together when City won their first Premier Division title after coming through a tricky three-team play-off.

“The Derry cup final match was crucial a lot of young people met at that,” Morty explained. “City winning the league in 1993 was the accumulation of everything. 

"That was a whole new generation of Cork people who were hooked on soccer. For anything to happen, you need so many elements to fall into the right place at the right time. Everything fell into place.”

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