While I am far from the first emigrant to discover this, my sense of Irishness has undoubtedly been heightened by travelling abroad. Very often it comes to the surface in more subtle settings, in places we deem it unlikely to find Irish people. Accents heard walking through lobbies on Wall Street or large St. Patrick Day Parades in cities like Savannah, Georgia or Scranton, Pennsylvania, cities that aren't frequented by modern day Irish ex-pats. Each time I encounter such a thing I am reminded that while the (positive) stereotype of Irish people working in the construction or hospitality industry is prevalent, as a people we have never set barriers on what we can achieve. All of which leads me to talk about the positive steps that were taken to recognize the role of Irish people in the promotion of soccer in New York.
Modern day soccer in New York City is overtly represented by three Irish clubs, NY Shamrocks based in Woodside, Queens, Manhattan Celtic and Lansdowne Bhoys, based out of Yonkers. All three clubs were established by Irishmen keen to promote the game of soccer within their own communities. Each of them partake in the New York/New Jersey based Cosmopolitan Soccer League which is regarded as the best amateur soccer league in the United States. The quality of soccer in this league is substantial with lots of former professionals and a large amount of ex. college athletes making up the playing ranks. The other teams in the league display the melting pot that is New York City; NY Greek Americans, NY Croatia, CD Iberia etc.
The CSL is a microcosm of American society, clubs are proud of their lineage but not limited to it and are inclusive of all others who have come here and made it their home.
All of the Irish clubs have many nationalities representing them, from throughout European to the Caribbean and to Africa. These clubs are encouraging other nationalities to play with them whilst promoting Irish culture. This is not about keeping tradition alive but about educating others of our tradition and watching it develop over time. Can the GAA in America say the same? Have they tried to promote the game and in turn Irish culture, outside the confines of the diaspora? The role of Irish people in soccer is not exclusively based within the Irish clubs either. New York Athletic Club, Manhattan Kickers and Clarkstown Eagles, amongst others are all proudly represented by Irish emigrants. The university system is filled with Irish players and coaches including the prestigious NYU.
All three clubs operate under substantially less publicity than local level Gaelic Games. The New York Championship is covered by all Irish American media outlets and the opening round of the All Ireland Championship which takes place in New York gets extensive coverage. Comparatively the Irish soccer clubs get little or no recognition. Without the tireless work of Jay Muamba at the Irish Echo the results of how the teams faired would not even be reported in the Irish American press. This year Lansdowne Bhoys have progressed to the Eastern region of the US Open Cup meaning they are within touching distance of playing one of the professional Major League Soccer clubs.
This achievement should be celebrated by the Irish American community but has not been able to garner much interest aside from a piece in the Ireland based Irish Examiner.
On Wednesday night the pillars of this community were formally recognized by the formation of the Irish American Soccer Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was set up by the collective efforts of Manhattan Celtic, NY Shamrocks and Lansdowne Bhoys. The event was hosted in the New York Irish Consulate and Deputy Consul General Peter Ryan was key in its formation. From the off, the cooperation between the three clubs was testament to the collective effort this required. While on the field all three clubs are bitter rivals, they were able to put petty rivalry aside and work on this initiative together.Without this unity this event would not have been possible. Compare this with the biggest Irish sporting body in the United States, the Gaelic Athletic Association, where scores are settled off the field and a collective unified front is near impossible to form. On the night the inaugural inductees to the Irish American Soccer Hall of Fame, were all worthy candidates. Ian Woodcock a native of Bray, County Wicklow was the founding member of the Manhattan Celtic club. Pat Diamond from County Derry moved to the United States 40 years ago and has volunteered at sporting clubs in the Bronx ever since predominantly at the Lansdowne Bhoys. David "Scotty" Shovlin is a stalwart at the NY Shamrocks club for the past 30 years.
Tommy Smyth was the most high profile inductee, being the voice of soccer in the United States with his role as a color commentator on ESPN for over two decades. His role should never be understated and yet it is. There are very few Irish accents on national television in the United States, non so as pronounced as his. Tommy is also very generous with his time to all callers and his role in Irish American society should be treasured.
As Irish people we are very quick to pigeon hole our role in American society. However if emigrating in our droves to the United States has taught us nothing it is that we go far and wide and fulfil many roles. The Irish American Soccer Hall of Fame has only focused on New York but I'm sure the same role is evident in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
On a recent trip to Denver, I learnt of Denver Celtic an Irish soccer club established in metropolitan Denver. The role of Irish people in soccer deserves more spotlight and credit. It may never have the romantic pull of Gaelic Games but it deserves to be celebrated. The establishment of the Irish American Soccer Hall of Fame is the beginning of process to formally recognize this role. It is but a step in the right direction.