With Limerick FC about to fetch up in Thomond Park for the season, Aidan Corr looks at the different grounds they’ve called home over the years
THE founding fathers of Limerick senior soccer in 1937 faced a number of challenges but they were fortunate to have a ready-made venue. The Markets Field was already providing a home for Garryowen FC, it hosted local, provincial and All Ireland GAA games and was to become one of the country’s best known dog racing tracks.
After a 23-year residency, Limerick AFC broke the mould in 1960 when they moved their European Cup first round tie against Young Boys of Berne to Thomond Park and they later played league and cup games, a European Cup Winners Cup fixture against Italian side Torino as well as a memorable pre-season game against Tottenham Hotspur at the rugby venue.
Other ‘home’ games moved from the Markets Field were the European Cup ties against CSKA Sofia in 1965 (Dalymount Park) and Real Madrid in 1980 (Lansdowne Road).
Circumstances forced the club out of the Markets Field in 1984, the result of an unsavoury legal battle for ownership, with the High Court eventually ruling in favour of Pat Grace. With the name changed to Limerick City FC, League of Ireland soccer moved to a new home in Rathbane, the former Old Crescent RFC ground.
These were exciting days for local soccer fans. The name change also resulted in a colour change to yellow and green, a number of Limerick United players moved with them and the new club won the League of Ireland Shield and the Munster Senior Cup in that 1984/85 season.
Former Northern Ireland, Burnley and Oxford United star Billy Hamilton was recruited as player/manager in 1987 and Sam Allardyce got his first taste of Limerick senior soccer in 1991/92. The current West Ham boss remainded in Rathbane for one season and after his departure the club was taken over by local curate Fr Joe Young.
Relegation and financial problems followed and local junior club Pike Rovers stepped in with an offer that saw Limerick play their league fixtures in Crossasgalla at the start of the 2000/2001 season.
A return to Rathbane followed as Danny Drew took over as club chairman and in 2007 Limerick 37 was formed after a deal with the local Limerick District Management Committee ensured that the new club would play their games at the LDMC headquarters, Jackman Park in Carey’s Road.
Indeed the club’s name has changed regularly too. First it was Limerick AFC, then Limerick United, then Limerick City followed by Limerick FC and Limerick 37 and now back to Limerick FC as the history of this famous local senior soccer club continues to fill the history books.
In the 1950s there was even suggestion by local bookmaker K E Lawson that they should be called Limerick Thistle and move to a proposed new development in Hall’s Quarry in Edward Street. That fell on rocky ground!
This Sunday though the wheel goes almost full circle with Limerick FC kicking off their season at Thomond Park and hopes still high that this will lead to the eventual return of League of Ireland football to the spiritual home of Limerick soccer, the Markets Field.
Currently in the hands of the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership (LEDP), the future of the Mulgrave Street venue is still unsure but with the support of the JP McManus Charitable Foundation, the dream of an 8,000 capacity, all-seated stadium may yet come to fruition.