‘No club in Wexford has a history to match the Vols’
AS ST. JOHN’S VOLUNTEERS PREPARE FOR A 125TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, CHARLIE GOLDEN RECALLS THE RICH HISTORY OF THE WEXFORD TOWN CLUB
A FOOTBALL Club that is older than the state has unearthed fascinating photos capturing its rich 125-year history.
Wexford town’s St John’s Volunteers is warming up for its mega anniversary bash on November 10. Ahead of the celebration, club veteran Charlie Golden has recalled how the game has evolved over the past century.
Speaking from his home in Coolcotts Lane, Mr Golden said: ‘I’m always preaching about the history of our club. There’s no team in Wexford that has history like the Volunteers. It’s drowned in history. The younger generation don’t really want to know about history, but I’m always preaching, you should be proud to wear that jersey.’
The St John’s Volunteers club was established in 1893. A few large families were enough to field a team at that point.
Charlie, 83, was a child during its golden era from 1939 to 1943 when ‘the Vols’ won five football titles in a row. This winning streak began when a strong minor side nabbed the 1935 title, captained by former Tánaiste, Brendan Corish.
In 1945, Wexford won a Leinster football title backboned by Vols greats Willie Goodison, John O’Connor, John Morris and Timmy O’Leary. Charlie can recall the club’s humble beginnings.
‘Way back in the ’40s, during the war, we used to be up on the Green playing football. I would have been about eight or nine years old. At the back of the Municipal Building, that was the only field the Vols had at that time.’
Players could make and repair the balls themselves.
‘Times were different that time, the ball was brown leather and it was laced, it wasn’t like the one at the present time.
‘You’d be playing on the green and the ball would burst and I’d bring them down to the workshop with me and I used to repair them myself.
‘Turn it inside out, stitch it on the inside, put the bladder back into it, lace the ball, leave the neck sticking out, pump it up with a hand pump, put the neck back in, tighten the laces and off they’d go.’
The club’s crest features the image of a cock, but most don’t know its meaning.
‘Years ago the cock was in John’s Street, that was where people got their water from. There was actually a reservoir up there on John’s Road where the old fire station used to be and the water used to come down there to the cock on John’s Street and people used to collect it there, because there wasn’t many taps in town at that time.
‘There was no water in the houses that time. And it was an old saying that if you lived above the cock you were a great footballer, not so good if you were below the cock.
‘Well it’s just a saying, the Goodisons come from below the cock and they were all brilliant footballers.’
The focus is always on family. Charlie said: ‘I played with my two sons, Cathal and Len, you have to remember the Volunteers in John’s Street was all families.
‘There were six of the Goodisons played with the Volunteers, six of the McGraths played with the Volunteers, five or six of the O’Learys played.
‘They were all families. Two families would make a team in that time.’
His fondest memory is the day he first lined out for the senior team. ‘We were all playing football in the Nun’s field, just across from the monument there in Wygram and poor John Morris was chairman of the club and he got up on the wall and said ‘come on lads are you coming to the match or what’ and we got on the bus and we were playing Camross down in Gusserane and I was handed a jersey to play senior football.
‘I think I might have been about 18 at the time and that was my greatest thrill because there was some brilliant men there that time and how I was handed a jersey, I don’t know. But I was never taken off the senior team.’
Charlie has cherished photos documenting tales of times gone by. The oldest photo was captured in 1904.
‘It was taken in the back of Nellie Walsh’s pub in Wygram, because that was a great establishment for the Volunteers. I remember Mike Flusk, Christy Walshe, Dan Morris, Jack Walsh and Bob Butler, they’d have been very old in my time.’
Another photo dates back to 1909.
‘That would be well before my time, but Tom McGrath was there that time. He played in the goal for Wexford. I think he had four All Irelands.’
Fast forward to 1952, and there is a black and white shot of Charlie captaining the minor team to a league final.
‘That was the minor team, they run a league in Wexford that time. There was six teams in it. We bet all six teams in the beginning and they said we had to play a final.
‘We played the Harriers in the final and we thought nothing only we’d go out and beat them, but the Harriers had done their homework and they beat us in the final.
‘Frank Morris was centre field for the Volunteers that time, along with myself, playing minor football, but we still didn’t win. I was probably one of the lucky ones to be chosen to be captain when there was so many good players.
‘I was honoured to be captain for about ten years. I thought they were going to give me a pension. Mannix Place was called the Plots back at that time. ‘Tommy Sanders was secretary of the club at that time. We used to go in through his house and train on the Plots.’
Times are changing rapidly and now club chiefs are eager to throw the doors open for new members.
The club’s dinner dance on November 10 in the Clayton Whites Hotel is a chance for newcomers to come and mingle, secretary Brian McGrath insists.
‘We are all really looking forward to the night and we want to reiterate that this is not an event just for members. Everyone is welcome and we would love to see some new faces.’
Tickets cost €30 and are available from Brian on 0864076422. ‘Wrecking Ball’ will play on the night and will be followed by a DJ.
The St. John’s Volunteers team of 1983.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Charlie Golden at home in Coolcotts Lane.
The Vols team line out for a match in 1953.
The Volunteers team of 1904.
How the Volunteers looked in 1909.
Charlie on Vols duty in the 1950s.