A BIG CLUB WITH A RICH HERITAGE
The journey from a pub in 1975 to a soccer club boasting 23 teams
ALTHOUGH they are not the oldest soccer club in Wicklow Town, since their formation in 1975 Wicklow Rovers have created a legacy in local soccer.
This week we talk to club president and founding member Anthony Earls (AE), founding member Teddy Dunne (TD), club chairman and small-sided fixtures secretary John Frazer (JF), former chairman and senior fixtures secretary Paul Delaney (PD) and director of coaching and head groundsman Johnny Dunne (JD).
We will be discussing how a group of lads going out for a drink turned into something very big, where the club is at today and the future hopes among a host of other things.
AE: “It all started in 1975 with one team. A group of us were sitting down having a drink together in the pub and Jimmy Culbert came up with the idea of starting our own team and a new club, at the time there was only one team in the town.
“Wicklow United had just folded and a few of their ex players were involved in the making of this new team. The founding members were; myself, John 'Spud' Murphy, Teddy Dunne, Noel McVeigh, George Porter, Jimmy Crofton, Billy Dunne and Michael Loughlin. Jimmy Culbert bought the club's first ever set of jersey's with money he won on the slot machines and out of that our club was born.
“We then entered the Wicklow Junior Football League and we had to play our first eight games away from home while we were in search of a ground to call home.
“We did finally find a place to play our home games, we approached the council and the land we now know as Whitegates was acquired.”
PD: “The name Whitegates derived from simply as their was a double White Gate on the Station Road, where the pitch is located. The name Whitegates just stuck and if a day ever came the ground got name sponsorship, I'm sure all the locals would still know it as Whitegates.
“The ground itself has seen major developments since I was young. The pitch used to be just a ploughed field with that many stones on it, it resembled a beach.
“The work done has been phenomenal, we now have filter pipes under the surface of the pitch, our own clubhouse, a five aside all weather pitch, a full size car park, a fence around the perimeter of the ground, gates and as recently as last summer dugouts.”
TD: “The first cup won was the Giff Cup and we won that in 1978. The club has won five Wicklow Cup's in its history. We won our first Premier League title in 1980. Red Jack Byrne scored Wicklow Rovers' first ever goal.
“The first team in the club's history consisted of; Peter 'Chico' Murphy, Cha Byrne, Nobby Brian, John Clarke, Tom Murphy, Jack Byrne, Mick Doyle, John 'Spud' Murphy, Noel McVeigh, Jimmy Byrne, Dennis O'Brien, Billy Dunne, Billy Kavanagh and I. Jimmy Culbert was the gaffer.”
JD: “We never conceded a goal in all of our Wicklow Cup finals. I was playing sweeper so we didn't need a goalie and the right and left backs may as well have gone to the pub (jokingly).
“Our most famous win was over Gorey Rangers. They had won it the three years previous and were chasing four in a row so we went in as the underdogs. We won the game 3-0 capturing the Wicklow Cup and bringing it back to county Wicklow. We won the Premier Division that same year.”
PD: “In recent history our first team won the Lanigan Cup in 2009/10 and in 2011/12 they joined the ranks of Leinster Senior League intermediate level.
“This year our under-17s, managed by Jimmy Nolan and Brian O'Connor, won the clubs first youths title in many a year. We have had a number of teams that have done well in the National Cup's too, reaching last 16 and quarter final stages, as well as winning silverware locally. All of the endeavours and hard work of the founding members and past committee members well and truly has the club the way it is now and the future is looking bright!”
JF: “At the moment we have eight hard working committee members; myself as chairman and small sided fixtures secretary, Jimmy Nolan as PRO, Johnny Dunne as director of coaching and chief groundsman, Paul Delaney as senior fixtures secretary, Franny Copeland as club and 11 aside secretary, Joe Neilan as treasurer and Willie O'Brien and Jason Harris as committee members.
“We also have Maria Lewins as our child liaison officer and Debbie Bouchier as our safety officer. Anthony Earls is lifetime club president and is always available to give a hand in any way, whether it's helping the construction of the new dugouts or just being present at games, Anthony is always there!”
JD: “We started our academy 16 years ago for kids ages three to eight. This is a huge step in their player development for the future. The club runs four soccer and fun camps each year, one at Easter and three over the kids summer holiday's.
“These camps are also used to develop players while having fun. The whole aim is to get lads and girls ready for under 8's football and above. Wicklow Rovers has produced players that have gone on to play at professional level; Danny Earls and Davy O'Sullivan are examples. This shows the system in place works”.
JF: “We have 23 teams in the club in total from under-8s right up to senior. Our under-8s and 9s are constantly improving and working hard towards the days they will be playing for silverware.
“John Gerard McGettigan has done a fantastic job introducing girl's football in Rovers, the under-13 girls recently reached the Subsidary Cup final, a competition which features many top clubs in Dublin and other counties. Our under10B, 11C and 14B teams have all achieved promotion this season. Our 11As won the premier division and went 14 months unbeaten in all competitions. Many of our other schoolboy teams are involved in Shield and Cup finals as well as chasing league titles.
“Last season we won Premier Shields at under12, 13, 15 and 16 levels as well as cups and leagues in various age categories and divisions. There is a lot of talent in the club at schoolboy and girls level which will make for good senior teams in years to come.”
PD: “Our second team are currently in a relegation battle but we are confident they can pull through. They experienced a managerial change mid season, Pat Ffrench came in and re-structured the team based on youth, and they're getting better.
The first team are mid table in Intermediate 1B with three home games left, Eamon Delaney and Jason Bushe came in just after the season's start and took over the reigns. As previously stated the under-17s won the WDFL Development League and are in a Cup final, which is a fantastic achievement considering at one stage last summer they only had six players”.
JF: “In the next couple of years we hope to get floodlights in Whitegates, In the near future we are going to be looking for another ground and to expand our teams. At the moment we have two girl's teams and in the next few years we'd like to have more and possibly a ladies senior team.”
JD: “In the future I'd hope to have all the best players in Wicklow playing for Wicklow Rovers and for our first team to be playing at a higher standard than Leinster Senior League intermediate level, possibly League of Ireland.”
PD: “We hope to get our Second's up to Saturday Major in Leinster Senior League and maybe for them to win a National title like the FAI Junior Cup.
“It'd be nice to form a third team to enter into the Wicklow League but we'd need a good manager. This would feed into the teams above.”
JF: “Over the last few years our schoolboy's have been very successful in all age groups and the development of all teams in Wicklow Rovers will continue to sustain the senior end of the club. This policy will also help to form under-17s and youths teams.
“We also hope to keep up our current traditions such as; the annual under 14 trip away to England for coaching and to watch a Premier League match, our awards nights, our Easter and summer camps and so on. We would like to create new traditions to add to the already long list”.
The under-17 team that won WDFL U-17 Development league last month, first Youths League title in many a year for the club.
Committee photo (left to right): Willie O'Brien, Franny Copeland, Anthony Earls, Jimmy Nolan, Paul Delaney, Jason Harris, John Frazer, Joe Neilan and Johnny Dunne.
A view of the entrance to the Whitegates.