Newtown United FC come out of their Shells
A football game occurred on Sunday the 22nd of February 2015. It was played like your average regular game. Ninety minutes long, eleven men on each team side. Football matches occur every day. It’s a sport played in many countries worldwide. It seems like it would be a difficult task to make one game something particularly different or spectacular. But this day that began like any other, was different for a team from a small county Wicklow village.
This was a game that defined a team, made those players into heroes. They had the full support of a crowd of dedicated local fans. A village was in a bustling buzz for a month leading up to the match said a young teenage fan. A crowd that leapt with emotion when that ultimate winning goal was scored in the 88th minute. The mesh of fear, excitement and passion was one when the crowd of individuals became a solid unit.
The game was described as ‘a modern day David versus Goliath’ by local media and this isn’t too far from the truth. Shelbourne FC are a well established team, formed in 1895, and have won this, the Leinster Senior cup, nineteen times. They are currently competing nationally within the Airtricity League of Ireland and were founder members of the League in 1921. Newtown United FC were created 45 years ago in 1970 and are seen to be having made history by becoming the first Wicklow League team to reach this latter stage of the Leinster Senior Cup.
A statement from the club about the game said ‘Brilliant performance. The way they handled themselves from start to finish have made the previous 45 years, the hardship of getting started, the bad days and the bad results worthwhile for everyone ever connected to the club. We can’t thank them enough”. So I sat down with Paul Lee who is the Chairman of the club and has been heavily involved with Newtown United FC since 1980 playing himself and managing teams, and this is what he had to tell me about the historic day.
Would you say the win over Shelbourne FC at Tolka Park is the biggest to date? “Absolutely”, he beamed, “for a team of our stature to beat a League of Ireland team is unheard of”. He continued saying “for us who have never played outside the Wicklow league, to beat them, it really is.. it’s beyond belief”. In the beginning three representatives had to go to the FAI offices which was the first time Newtown United had ever been there in an official capacity. “To be in the same draw as all the famous names in Irish football and to hear Newtown United coming out of it– that was the start”.
“We came back and told the lads rather than over the phone and there was a huge cheer from everybody there”. Paul explained to me that Shelbourne FC wanted to know if they’d be interested in hosting at home but that wouldn’t have been possible. “It would cost us because we’d have to hire facilities as our pitch wouldn’t be up the League of Ireland standards. This chasm between the two clubs, shows the difference between them as regards facilities”.
For six weeks beforehand there was an extra intense training session each week, in toning up of fitness levels. Joint manager, Rory Hackett wanted “The real deal because then victory would taste all the sweeter”, while team Captain Shane Mooney wanted to “beat the best”. With bookmakers marking the Shelbourne team as the likely favourites for the match, Paul suggested that ‘Really we shouldn’t have even been on the same pitch”. Doubts and the unlikeliness of victory came through with the Captain knowing “They’re obviously a good standard better than us, that’s a fact”.
On the morning of the game the team met for breakfast. Paul said “The excitement was building although we thought we were going to be well beaten. We thought as long as we didn’t embarrass ourselves, there was no pressure on because nobody expected us to win”. Paul described this as the first time he had ever been as nervous as that, like as if he was back in his playing days getting nervous before big games but this was the biggest one ever, “the pressure of being hammered was the one thing that was worrying most of the lads”.
The lads were excited to be there at Shelbourne’s own Tolka Park, which Paul described as “one of the iconic stadiums of League of Ireland football”. It was thought that maybe a hundred supporters might go but an estimated over 400 people from the Newtown side came. This overthrew Shelbourne fans in a ratio of 10:1. Players, with the oldest on the Newtown side being 37 and the youngest 16, were described as “a little bit star-struck”.
Paul told me “We got a little bit of luck with the goal but I think overall on the second half performance and for the effort that the lads put in, I think we did deserve it”. There was a small pitch invasion that was extraordinary for the League of Ireland clubs as the crowd took to celebration which the Captain of the team described as “Amazing, a spectacle”.
Paul said of Shelbourne that “They got a bit of a shock, we were better than they thought”. Lots of well wishes on social media began as word spread with immense reaction and many thanks to all that made it possible. Local media acted very supportively and even local TDs came out in support. Other local sports teams within the county were congratulating the team on their success via social media, the local paper and on radio.
‘Should they manage victory, they might just write their names into folklore’ was a line printed in the local paper before the match and this shows the enormity of the event itself to which Paul responded saying “I don’t think we’ll ever do this again”.