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Sligo Rovers History 1928-40

[Football comes to Sligo] [Embryonic Reds] [Rovers enter Senior football] [Champions 1936/37]
[Championship defence] [Dixie's cup final] [The end of the first decade]

Football comes to Sligo:

It is likely that the game of football was played in the town of Sligo prior to the end of the nineteenth century. Football was introduced to this island in 1878 when James Mc Alery organised a game between the Scotish clubs Queens Park and Caledonian at the Ulster cricket ground. Mc Alery went on to form Cliftonville a few months later and they played the first documented game of football between two Irish sides on October 11th 1879 against a team made up of local rugby players. The rugby men won the game and the following year the Irish Football Association was formed. The first football matches played in Sligo occurred just before the end of the century. The games were between two British army regiments stationed in the area. It is reputed that they marched from their barrackes to a pitch at Forthill at mid-day for these games. The locals took an interest in the game and junior soccer became prevelant at the turn of the century. The name Sligo Rovers first appeared around 1908 and a junior team bearing the name competed in the Junior cup in 1910 and 1919. There is no further record of a club bearing the name until 1928 when the Rovers as we now know them were formed.

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Embryonic Red's:

Sligo Rovers was founded in 1928 from an amalgamation of two junior sides Sligo Town and Sligo Blues. They were formed on September 27th 1928. Their first game was a 9-1 win against Ballyshannon on September 23rd 1928 in the first Connaught cup. They eventually went out of this competition at the semi-final stage to Athlone Hibs. In the clubs formative years they played in junior football circles. In their first season as a junior club they won what was arguably the hardest trophy in the country to win. This was the Irish Free State junior Cup in which they defeated the Dublin club Grangegorman in the final at the Showgrounds in front of a crowd of 3,000. The final took place on Sunday May 5th and Rovers were victorious on a 3-0 scoreline. This was followed by the Connaught Junior Cup in 1930 and the Miller Shield and Sunday Alliance league in 1932. A number of the Rovers players of this era represented Ireland at Junior level. These included Terry Rooney, Paddy Mc Gowan, Johnny Mc Manus, "Bunny" Fallon and "Guy" Callaghan. From their formative years the club has played it's games at the Showgrounds

In August 1932 Rovers entered the Leinster senior league. In their first season they finished third with notable victories against the Champions Brideville (twice) and Bohemians 'B'. Rovers record in their first season in the Leinster senior league was

P W D L F A Pts.
30 19 3 8 89 53 41

Rovers played in the Free state senior cup in 1932 and beat Brideville 3-1 before losing to Shelbourne in the second round. The most successful season in the club's formative years was 1933/34 in which they won three trophies. In the Intermediate Cup (the junior equivalent of the FAI Cup) Rovers defeated Tramore Rookies 5-1 in the final. They won the Leinster Senior League after a play-off in which they held on to beat Distillery 3-2 after holding a 3-0 lead and added the Metropolitan Cup for good measure, beating Queens Park 3-0. Following on such success it was inevitable that they would apply for entry to the Football League of the Irish Free State. Their application was accepted and they were elected to the league at the AGM on June 28th 1934. The 1934/35 season saw Rovers along with Waterford, make their entry into League of Ireland football.

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Graduation, 1934 - 1940:

For their first season in the league Rovers employed Englishman Bob Preston as their coach. Preston had previously coached at Shelbourne and Bray Unknowns. This first season in the league proved to be quite successful. Their first competitive match as a senior team was against St. James Gate at the Iveagh Grounds in Crumlin and resulted in a 3-1 defeat in the shield. Tommy Callaghan became the first Rovers player to score in senior football. A week later the first home match was played at the Showgrounds and Dolphin had an easy 4 - 0 win over Rovers. It took five games in the shield before the Rovers registered their first win in senior football against Cork. Two goals from Gerry Mc Daid and one from Paddy Monaghan helped Rovers to a 3 -2 win. Rovers eventually finished ninth in the shield and looked forward to the start of their first league campaign.

The first league match played by the club was also against St. James Gate on October 28th 1934 and resulted in a 3-2 defeat with Gerry Mc Daid scoring the first league goal for Rovers and James Mc Cann adding the second. Their first league win came on November 11th when Mc Daid scored four times as Rovers beat Waterford 8 - 2. In this first campaign Rovers eventually finished third behind Dolphin and St. James Gate eight points behind the winners and seven points adrift of second place. This first season yielded 44 goals from 18 games. The 1934/35 seasons Cup campaign was also reasonably successful. Rovers beat St. James' Gate 3 - 1 in the first round replay after a 1 - 1 draw in the original game. A crowd of 16,000 turned up at the The Iveagh Grounds in Crumlin for the first game. Cork were thrashed 5 - 1 in the second round, again at the Showgrounds. The club was eventally eliminated at the semi-final stage of the cup by Dundalk (0-2) who in turn lost the final to Bohemians.

Rovers finished off their first season in senior football by finishing second in the Dublin City cup, losing out to Dolphin. In March Rovers winger Paddy Monaghan was chosen to play for the Irish league against the Welsh league. He followed this up by in May of 1935 by becaming the first and so far the only Rovers player to be capped while playing with the club. He was awarded two caps against Switzerland in Basle on May 5th and Germany in Dortmund On May 8th . Unfortunately both games ended in defeat 0-1 and 1-3 respectively.

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James Mc Cann was appointed player coach for the second season in the Free State league. The team opened the shield campaign with an 8-2 victory against Bray Unknowns in front of 2,000 people at the Showgrounds. Rovers started their second season in fine form. In the shield they had six wins and four draws losing a single match. In their eleven games they scored 33 goals conceding only sixteen. This form was not good enough to win the shield, however, and they eventually finished third, two points behind winners St. James Gate and one behind runners-up Druncondra. The second league campaign in 1935/36 started with a 1 - 2 defeat to Dolphin. Up until Christmas Rovers form was not good with only two victories. This run also included a 7 - 0 defeat against Bohemians.

There was an individual honour in December for Rovers full back Gerry Westby. He was chosen as first reserve for the international team for a game against Holland, but he was not called from the bench. Rovers poor form was mainly due to injuries and by the new year the squad had been strengthened. The result was an improvement in form which saw Rovers win four games in succession including the first round of the cup against Hospitals Trust (5 - 2). The run was ended when Drumcondra defeated Rovers 3 - 2 in the second round of the cup after two replays. Rovers finished off the league campaign as they had started with mixed form which eventually saw the club finish in eight position in the league. On this occasion the goal scoring return was 48 from 22 games an average of 2.18 goals per game. Rovers were eliminated in the second round of the Dublin City cup by Cork 1 - 0 after receiving a bye in the first round.

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Champions 1936/37

Rovers shield campaign of 1936/37 gave no indication of what was to follow. Only two wins, four draws and five defeats left Rovers in tenth place. But as the campaign was unfolding Rovers had been slowly but surely assembling the side which they hoped would do better in the league. Jimmy Surgeoner was given the job of bringing in the new players who would challange for the league.

Rovers started their third league campaign in blistering form winning their first eleven games in a row leaving them well clear at the top of the league at the half way stage. The run was eventually ended by their nearest rivals, at this point, Waterford who hammered Rovers 8 - 2. Their form dropped slightly in the second half of the season where they secured five wins, two draws and three more defeats. The league title was clinched in the second last game of the season with a 4 - 3 win away to Cork on April 11th. This was good enough to secure the club it’s first league championship eventually finishing ten points ahead of second place Dundalk. A week after the Cork game the league trophy was presented to the club at the league match against Bray Unknowns. To put the championship victory in perspective Rovers had become the first club to take the league title outside Leinster. Rovers first eleven for the championship season was:

  Robert Blair
Jimmy Surgeoner                      Willie Nash

     Freddie Dykes    Pat O'Kane    Billy Miller

           Lewis Hughes         Jimmy Duncan

Robert Gourlay                                     Paddy Monaghan

  Harry Litherlan

The final league table in their championship winning season was:

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
Sligo Rovers 22 16 2 4 68 30 38 34
Dundalk 22 10 4 8 41 34 7 24
Waterford AFC 22 12 0 10 59 49 10 24
Bray Unknowns 22 10 4 8 30 39 -9 24
St. James Gate 22 9 5 8 63 43 20 23
Drumcondra 22 10 3 9 41 47 -6 23
Bohemians 22 10 2 10 54 56 -2 22
ShelbourneB> 22 9 3 10 53 48 5 21
Shamrock Rovers 22 8 3 11 46 55 -9 19
Dolphin FC 22 7 4 11 33 59 26 18
Cork FC 22 7 3 12 51 60 -9 17
Brideville 22 6 3 13 32 51 -19 15

The Rovers secured their second trophy of the year when they beat Dundalk 2-0 to win the Dublin City Cup. Litherland put Rovers in front after he received a pass from Hughes and beat four Dundalk layers before scoring. Hughes added the second when he got on the end of a cross from Paddy Monaghan. In many ways this was a record breaking season with the final goal tally of 68 goals from 22 games a club record to this day. Centre forward Harry Litherland’s haul of 19 league goals also remains a club record. Added to this record wins at home (Dolphin 9-0) and away (Shamrock Rovers 6-1) capped a truly remarkable season. The record away win was to last until the 1951/52 season when Shamrock Rovers were again the victims (6-0).

How the 1936/37 Championship was won

In fact the only disappointing aspect of the season was the cup where Rovers beat Bohemians in the first round 6 - 1 only to lose to St. James Gate 6 - 2 in the second round.

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Championship Defence

The 1937/38 season saw the championship squad breaking up. Of the team which lined out for the opening game of the season in the Dublin city cup only Lewis Hughes, Billy Harrigan and Paddy Monaghan remained from the side which had been so successful the previous year. Former Rangers, Chelsea and Cardiff player Bob Mc Auley was appointed as player coach as Rovers set out to defend their championship. Mc Auley had also won three caps for Scotland. Bohemians knocked Rovers out of the Dublin city cup in the second round after the team had beaten Bray Unknowns in the first. Rovers finished ninth in the shield after an up and down campaign. They lost their first two games and then won five in a row to move into a challanging position. Then five defeats in a row saw them drop down the table. Mc Auley left the club during the shield after he wa forced to serve a suspension for a sending off. He was replaced as player coach by Billy Miller a, a veteran of the championship side.

The champions started the league campaign in poor form suffering defeat in the first three games which meant that they had now lost a total of seven games in a row. They soon stabilised the situation and eventually finishing sixth in the league. They did however maintain their impressive goalscoring form scoring 55 goals in 22 league games. Rovers defence of their first championship was to be very disappointing. They eventually finished fifth but this only told half the story. They were thirteen points behind champions Shamrock Rovers and eight points behind fourth placed St. James Gate. Crowda were poor during the season and Rovers finances were in the red at the end of the season. This situation would repeat itself many times during the club's history. Rovers went out of the cup in the first round to Dundalk after losing 2 - 0 in a replay after drawing 1-1 in the Showgrounds in front of a crowd of 5,000.

The second world war broke out in 1938 leading to the suspension of most of Europe's football leagues however Ireland's neutrality meant that play continued in the League of Ireland. Rovers started the season by exiting from the city cup to Bray Unknowns. Rovers shield campaign saw them unbeaten in their first six games, but they faded during the rest of the tournament to finish off the pace..

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Dixie comes to Town

In the 1938/39 season Rovers league form was again very good on this occassion they finished second nine points behind the eventual winners Shamrock Rovers. This was however a remarkable season for the club as one of the most enduring pieces of the club's history was about to unfold. Though they opened the campaign with a defeat to Shelbourne they then had a six match unbeaten run. Rovers couldn't find a settled side during this period with chopping and changing in almost all positions. The club then shook the foundations of Irish Football to the core. In January 1989 Rovers announced that they had signed William Ralph Dean known to the football world as ‘Dixie’. Dixie was generally regarded as being the best footballer of his generation as his career which had started with Tranmere Rovers took him to his beloved Everton before ending his career in England with Notts County. For a player of his stature to sign for Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland was sensational. The railway station was packed as the former England international arrived in town for duty. His first appearance saw him score as Rovers beat Shelbourne 3 - 2. In his seven league games for Rovers Dixie scored ten goals including five in a 7-1 win over Waterford which remains the clubs record goals haul for a single game. Rovers eventually finished runners-up in the league nine points behind the winners Shamrock Rovers.

Dixie also played in four FAI Cup games for Rovers. Rovers beat Cork in the first round by two goals to one before defeating Distillery in the second round by the same score. Rovers then had their first ever cup win against Dundalk in the semi-final to qualify for their first ever cup final. A crowd of 36,601 turned up for the final. With two minutes to go to half time Dean headed Rovers into the lead. Shelbourne equalised straight from a corner with only ten minutes left to leave the score at 1 - 1. The replay was won by Shelbourne by a slender 1-0 margin when "Sacky" Glen scored from a free kick and success in the blue riband would have to wait. 28,369 spectators turned up to watch the replay.

Rovers team for the final was:


Mc Daid							Livesley


		Hay				 Burns

Began								Monaghan

		O'Connor			Johnston


For the replay Graham replaced left half Burns in the Rovers team.
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The End of the first decade.

The 1939/40 season was again reasonably successful for Rovers. They went out of the city cup in the first round after a defeat by Shelbourne. Rovers then won six of their shield games, drawing two more, to finish top with Bohemians. Rovers lost the play-off for the shield at Shelbourne park, 3-2, with Rovers goals coming from ex-Celtic player Mattie Began and Jimmy Connor. Rovers started the league campaign strongly and lost only two of their first eleven games. They eventually finised third in the league eight points behind the winners St. James Gate and two behind second placed Shamrock Rovers.

Rovers opened their cup campaign with a 3 - 2 win over non-league Cobh Ramblers. Rovers then defeated Brideville 2 - 0 in the second round to reach the semi-finals. Rovers then defeated league leaders St. James Gate in the semi-final to reach their second Cup final. The goals were scored by Sam Prout (a penalty) and Matt Began, in front of 22,751 fans at Dalymount Park. 38,500 fans turrned up for the final at Dalymount Park but once again there was heartbreak as Shamrock Rovers won the final comfortably 3-0. Rovers team in the final was:


Thompson							Powell


		Mc Cann			Peachey

Began								        Prout

		Gregg				Connor

		Mc Aleer

This was to be Rovers most consistent decade in the League of Ireland.

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