Bratislava, Welsh Cup final, the Tigers and FIFA: Bobby Toland reflects

Bobby Toland.


Heard the one about the summer cup final in Donegal that was almost subjected to a FIFA enquiry?

Bobby Toland has.


It’s just one of the priceless stories from Toland, now 83, but with the mind as sharp as a razor blade and with a treasure trove of anectodes. A former manager of Finn Harps, Toland has been there, done that and surely has several t-shirts to prove it.

Along with Paddy McDaid and Paddy McFadden, Bobby is credited with the formation of Kildrum Tigers in 1948. The name of the Tigers would quickly become synonymous with the summer cups of the time.

Paddy Crerand was just one of a number of international stars who donned the colours. The likes of  Jody McIntyre (Ayr United), Ian Hunter (Falkirk), Hughie Higgins (Hibs), Charlie Tully (Celtic), John McCole (Leeds United), Denis Hatsell (Preston North End), Alex Greaves (Bolton), Bobby Browne (Motherwell) and Bobby Forker (Ayr United) all appeared at different junctures for the Tigers and other local teams of the era.

Toland worked on the bread run and got to know these players very well. Some of them were like blood brothers and Toland, who had been a boarder at St Columb’s College in Derry during his youth, kept a close watch on them.

It was common practice in those days for players of such esteem to grace the pitches of Donegal. No-one batted an eyelid.

A week before the final of the Raphoe Cup in 1961, Toland was dealt a hammer blow to his hopes of capturing the silverware. His key player, Crerand, was unavailable to play in Raphoe.

He’d gone and been called up to the Scotland squad for a World Cup qualifer against Czechoslavakia in Bratislava. As it happened, Crerand was sent off in a 4-0 defeat for Scotland but, in Donegal, Toland was unhappy at the double booking.


In the Derry Journal of the time, Toland bemoaned that he wouldn’t be at full-strength on Sunday ‘because of the international match in Bratislava.’

It seemed, for a short while at least, that a formal protest – on the proposal of Mickey Joe O’Kane – would be lodged with FIFA.
The matter never made it to Zurich, the more conservative folk on the Tigers committee not keen on rising a hassle with the world’s governing body.

Bobby Toland was a man who was before his time.

He’d played in goal for the Ireland junior team at Fir Park, Motherwell and in the 1962/63 season he played for Newport County in a Welsh Cup final that is forever etched in football folklore. Toland’s Newport lost 2-1 in a two-legged final to Borough United.
Part-timers Borough subsequently became the first Welsh team to win a European tie when they beat Silema Wanderers of Malta to set up a huge game against Slovan Bratislava, losing 1-0 and 3-0.

Jozef Venglos, a former Celtic manager, and Jan Populhar, who played in the 1962 World Cup fianl, played for Slovan.
Back to Borough and that Welsh Cup final.

Toland was understudy to Len Weare at the time. Weare, who died just last September, remains Newport’s record appearance holder (525), but Toland stepped in to play in the final. It was not a happy experience.

“I only played for one match, the Welsh Cup final, and didn’t I go and get my shoulder dislocated,” he says.

“A big centre forward came in and clattered into me. You could charge the goalkeeper at that time. Boy did he hit me hard.

“I learned a lot at Newport, mind you. Billy Lucas was the manager and I played alongside some very good players and got some good tips from them.”

Junior football was Toland’s love, though.

He had a chance, during the war, to pop in and train with Derry City, as a centre-back, but passed up on the chance.

He won the FAI Junior Cup with Swilly Rovers in 1962. “The Ramelton days were great value, especially the nights away,” he says.

“There were some great rascals on that team. Aubrey Finlay was an Irish international cricketer of the time and he played for us. Jesus, we had some craic with him.”

Upon his return to Donegal, Bobby met up with Fran Fields at one stage and he was invited up to train Finn Harps.

Brian Wright tells the story of Bobby’s training and still winces to this day. “When Jimmy Hill was manager in Derry he brought to Derry these shuttles and they were really hard bit of training and hard on you,” Wright says.

“Of course I made the mistake of telling Bobby about them.  He nearly killed us with them!  I trained as hard with Finn Harps as I trained with anybody.”

During his travels and steady involvement in the game, Toland educated himself about the injuries, the cuts and the bruises.
He remembers, later in his time at Harps, Declan McIntyre having gone off with a bad gash on his right arm during a game in Athlone.

“I fixed him up as well as I could, but he couldn’t use it,” he says.

“God Rest Pauric Gallagher was a sub that day and he went into goals.

“I was last out of the dressing room because I had a few things to put away. Pauric had got a cut above the eye the night before and I had put a plaster above his eye. Fran called me back: ‘Willie (Fran called everyone ‘Willie’), is the eye bad on him, I see him away with a patch?’

“He didn’t even know we had a different goalkeeper on!”

A master of the goalkeepers’ union himself, Toland takes great delight in telling the tale of the moment, during the 1969/70 season when Harps ‘keeper John Young managed to score: “John Carpenter was refereeing and he told us that, with the bad weather conditions, there’d be little break at half-time. There were no lights and the light was fading you see. It was just a cup of tea and away back out to Kilcohan Park again.

“Anyway, Sean Ryan and some of the reporters of the time weren’t at the match and they were down in a wee pub, The Bridge Bar. We had a hotel booked after the match for food. The boys had to do reports, but they wouldn’t believe that John Young scored direct from a kick out.

“The wind took it over their goalkeeper’s head and into the net. They wouldn’t believe Patsy when he gave them the run-down, but they must have verified it somewhere because it was plastered all over the next day’s newspapers.”

Toland accompanied Patsy McGowan to watch games across the land and they snapped up some of the greats of the time. Toland remembers the lanky striker scoring twice for Oxford in a 6-2 defeat. The boy who scored the two was a man by the name of Brendan Bradley.

The record goalscorer in the League of Ireland, Bradley’s record has been intact for some time now. Toland believes he’ll ‘never be caught’ but wears a proud smile as he talks of the exploits of Kevin McHugh.

“I would love to see Kevin up the charts further,” he says. I introduced him to the game up at Killea and got Charlie McGeever to sign him at that time. He’s a hard worker and a hardy wee lad.”

They landed others, too, like Charlie Ferry and Jamesie Nicholl. Coleraine was a favoured destination of theirs and it was here they signed a man by the name of Peter Hutton.

During a game in the 1970s between Bohemians and Harps, Hutton received a lenghthy ban for an alleged headbutt on the referee, Pat Kelly. Charlie O’Leary was the referee inspector at the game and the report was damning.

Toland’s recollection is interesting.

“Peter was suspended sine die for hitting a referee, but he never hit the referee.

“He made at him with the head but he never actually hit him. The referee was Pat Kelly, whose son Alan is a big referee in the League of Ireland now. He never touched Kelly and I always thought that it should have been let settle until the following morning.”

Toland remembers a time when the League of Ireland was fashionable, 38,000 turning out to watch Harps take on Cork Hibs and the train in Sligo having to wait for extra carraiges to be hooked on for the waiting passengers.

He remembers Harps staying in a five-star hotel on one jaunt south and tucking into a steak dinner at half past midnight; or there were the trips when the players had to club together to foot the bill in whichever establishment they had dined.
wee tin box

Football during his time was a different operation to what it is now. He tells the story of a young Gerard McHugh, the well-known Ballybofey photographer, accompanying Fields to a summit at Merrion Square: “One particular occasion the FAI was meeting Jack Charlton and Fran was the Chairman of the FAI at the time. He gave Gerard a wee tin box to hold and said: ‘A lot of men’s money is in there, son, so don’t let it out of your sight’.

“Gerard was scared to leave the place and watched this box all night. The FAI signed Charlton and no money was involved. In comes Fran and he says: ‘Throw out that box to f***, there’s nothing in it anyway’. It was all a bluff.”

It’s just another of the little anecdotes that mark Bobby Toland out as one of the unique characters of his time. The passion for the game remains as strong as ever, the views on referees as damning as they were in his playing days and the frustration with the money that has ruined the beautiful game now reaching a breaking point.

You just wonder what he’d have had up his sleeve had that protest gone FIFA’s way all those years ago.

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