Tag Archives: Cork City FC

Two cities, two clubs – but only one Alan Bennett…

A piece I worked on with AFC Wimbledon captain Alan Bennett earlier this year about his time at Cork City FC and the Dons, amongst other things…

Two cities, two clubs – but only one Alan Bennett…

Founded in 2002, AFC Wimbledon is a well-known name to anyone interested in the issue of Fan Ownership in football. The Dons hold the distinction of being promoted five times in nine seasons and will ply their trade once again in League Two – thanks in no small way to former Cork City FC centre half Alan Bennett.

A central element of CCFC’s League-winning squad in 2005, 31-year-old Bennett is captain of AFC Wimbledon for the new term, and took some time out to catch up with City Edition.

“When asked about my CCFC days, I always wonder should I start with following the team of ‘93 from a grassy bank at Turner’s Cross, watching Derek Coughlan’s header in Dalymount Park or going to reserve games in Ballinhassig?

“For me personally it started with a youths game in which my local club, Richmond, played against Cork City youths. I was asked to come in after that, and what followed was a great year as our group won the league, national cup and some additional silverware under Paul Bowdren and Stuart Ashton.

“My senior debut came in the Intertoto Cup against FK Liepajas Metalurgs. I brought my boots ‘just in case’ so coming on as second half sub was incredible. There was a header at the back post that I might have scored and for the away game in Latvia, I played in midfield due to my energy and running ability.

“The club was moving forward into a professional era at that stage. The collapse of the ITV deal meant younger players were being released and coming home from the UK. It meant no more smoking on the bus, no more gravy at pre-match meals, a slight increase in money and full-time training for some.

“I learned to work hard in every training session under Murp (Liam Murphy) and that graft also gets you a long way. Pat Dolan took over in 2003 – and love him or loath him, he was brilliant entertainment. Training was never dull and we made strides in Europe with trips to Malmo, Nijmegen, Nantes, Limassol, and Belgrade. The home games for those fixtures were magic: the energy in Turner’s Cross was incredible and the passion of people immense.

“Pre-season 2005, and Pat was replaced by Damien Richardson. The next season was steadier and with the groundwork in place, we went on to win the league and should have claimed the double. The final game will always be a beautiful memory for me. My grandfather – in his elder years – tore onto the pitch at the final whistle with family, friends and loved ones. Celebrations in the Shed End, fans and players in it together – only people there that night understand how special it was.”

So, the move to Reading?

“In December 2006 Damien asked me to his house in Bishopstown. I sat in his back garden – he talked, and I got a dictionary out. In hindsight he was telling me to prepare for a move to the UK, though at the time I thought he was sharing the secret of life!

“The move itself was done during the last days of the window. Damien called me to his house and I took his dogs for a walk. I left them off the leash and while one stared at me, the other shot off into the fields. Damien wandered out to find me missing a dog, and 15 minutes of whistling later, the suspense ended and I was told that I had been sold to Reading FC.

“We played Man United in my first game that summer. I also got called into the Irish squad and played during a tour of the US. A difficult loan move to Southampton followed, before another loan move to Brentford FC – where I won a league winners medal. I was also promoted with Wycombe and later reached a play-off final with Cheltenham.”

Next stop, AFC Wimbledon and the captain’s armband…

“In January of last season, having captained Cheltenham to the play-off final, I got a call from Neal Ardley (the Wimbledon manager). I wanted to return to London as that’s where I’m based and although it was going to be a massive challenge to get a team in the bottom two out of the relegation zone in half a season, it was an offer that suited me perfectly.

“The history of the club is everywhere and the passion of the people who run it and follow it became evident during the final run in when we were desperate for results. Fans openly voiced their concerns after some bad results, but the support for the club is incredible for a League Two team with average gates of between 4,000-5,000.

“For me, Fan Ownership is an effective way to maintain common sense at a football club, within an industry that lacks common sense. It’s democratic and supporters get to make decisions with regard to all aspects of the club; the only issue being that it’s a lot to ask fans to contribute to the budget and to pay to support the team as well.

“There are obvious similarities between Cork City and AFC Wimbledon. They are fan owned, both are former glories ripped apart by greed, both are being rebuilt by the people for the people, and with past players now managing the clubs, both are now looking optimistically towards the future.

“The season ahead will be AFC (A Fans’ Club!) Wimbledon’s third in the Football League. We, as a group of players, have a duty to preserve and move this club forward and that’s the plan for the season. There are a few rebel Wombles in the crowd and I do recognise the odd ‘Come On Benno Boy’ in the unmistakeable Cork accent. Of course, a few more are always welcome when the league of Ireland wraps up!

– Benno

Following in family footsteps…

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I always feel a tug on my heart every time I leave Turner’s Cross for the last time at the end of each season. Last Friday night was no different, though it was that little extra special to watch the game with my brother (a rare enough occasion these days, as he’s exiled).

Our Dad grew up on Derrynane Road, and it was his Dad that first encouraged us down to the Cross to watch City. We waited three entire games for our first CCFC goal (a Kelvin Flanagan penalty), and we whole heartedly agreed with Grandad’s theory that if you stood in, in front of, or near the Shed, you would at least get a few laughs from the crowd if the game wasn’t great.

The last time I spoke to him before he died, City had secured the result they needed to take their League challenge down to the wire (2004) and I rang in to update him after the full-time whistle blew. On the night he died, after a brief illness, the squad was being presented with their runners up medals. He was never a fan of Pat Dolan (too much talk!), but did believe that the same squad had real potential, and would be proved right the following season.

As we move into November, he’s nine years gone and yet the banter, the craic and the memories still seem like yesterday.

My Grandmother passed on a couple of years later, and while I was helping my own Dad clear out their house, we came across a number of keepsakes: an old edition of a Stanley Matthews’ biography, a history of Cork soccer book and a huge stack of old programmes and news clippings.

We also came across some of my early attempts at being a football journalist and some hand written notes underlining the importance of having an opinion – though an opinion backed up with logic and reason.

He was a trade unionist, a keen follower of politics, a lover of all things Cork, a story teller and a family man. He would sneak me the odd €20 ‘for a couple of pints’ whenever I was setting off down to hill to the Curragh Road, and more than anything – as a man who believed in people power – I believe he would be fully behind and proud of what we’re trying to achieve with Cork City FC, through FORAS, today.

That’s what football is and should always be about – family, and following in their footsteps…

The (non-alcoholic) football hangover

You know the feeling: your head is groggy, it’s hard to leave the comfort of your bed and face the world and you just can’t shake that black cloud sitting over your head all day.

No, not a hangover from a pint too many – but the feeling to be overcome when your team has a particularly bad day at the office and you’re left to cope with the fallout. Welcome to the world of being a football supporter!

Whether it’s conceding a late equaliser, watching your team capitulate without a fight or realising that your hope is just that (hope, rather than reality) – little else can affect the emotions and well being of a football fan more.

If you believe and support a cause to the degree that you spend thousands of euro each year traipsing around the country, then the delight of success and disappointment of failure are, unfortunately, entwined in the experience.

I still remember the disappointment of having Alan Bennett leave Cork City FC in 2007. A key part of the League-winning City side in 2005, other players had moved on before him. But Alan was the quiet hero – the type of player that fans only really appreciated when he wasn’t playing – and the fact that he too could move on to better things was a moment of stark clarity.

City had claimed a title with a fantastic team, yes, but with that same success came agents, overseas managers and the reality that players will always go if they have the chance. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with that but as a supporter, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with at times because we never ‘move on’. There is nothing better out there than our own club.

In sharp contrast was the night in 2011 when, surrounding by family, long-time friends and many, many Cork City fans I’ve known for years, I witnessed Cork City reclaim a place in the Premier Division in spectacularly dramatic fashion. Graham Cummins’ 94th minute winner against Shelbourne at Tolka Park and the hours that followed will always be very special. It was the culmination of months and months of work by many people – and the emotions were many: pure joy, relief, pride, a sense of togetherness and achievement, unity… the list could go on and on.

The rollercoaster ride also continues relentlessly each and every season. In facing huge challenges and obstacles (such as Coventry City’s proposed moved away from Coventry for instance), supporters become united behind one goal or objective. When a situation is less critical, fans are pre-occupied with other matters, usually diverse and numerous in nature but no less important at that time and place.

Last night Cork City FC overcame the defending League of Ireland champions Sligo Rovers 3-1 at Turner’s Cross. There were many things to admire – the team’s fight and spirit, the performance of debut boy Ciarán Kilduff, the continuing return to form of Daryl Horgan, the fact the club won a game on TV (!).

The humour of supporters leaving the ground was equally telling. There was a bounce in everyone’s step, the mood was upbeat with talk of ‘pushing on’ from here. Go back a few weeks to the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final draw with Shamrock Rovers at Turner’s Cross though, and there was a sharp, sharp contrast to be seen.

City played well for most of the game and, justifiably, looked to be on their way to an All-Ireland Cup final in Tallaght. Cue a last minute equaliser and the sudden and devastating (well, it felt that way at the time) realisation that not only had we been caught late on (again), but we were also out of the competition altogether, having been the better of the teams over the two legs. I was a grump for days after that – and non-sports people just don’t have any understanding as to why a particular result either way can have such an effect.

Each football fan will have their own moments of heaven and heartbreak. Speaking to a Malmo fan recently and he recalled the time his team narrowly missed out on European qualification. He rang home to hear his son in tears and his wife saying: ‘See what you have done’.

The people around us – friends, family and fellow fans – are usually a central element, but one thing is for certain: you cannot have passion without emotions and you cannot have football without supporters. They are the Heart of the Game and they are always behind their team – throughout the celebrations AND hangovers…