Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Lübeck Irish

Few Irish footballers have attempted to conquer German football. None have succeeded. Noel Campbell is arguably Ireland's most successful fußball export, while Patrick Kohlmann's success in Germany's lower tier has been aided by his German birth.

Most Irish exports to the continent have gravitated toward France, Spain, and the Netherlands, but two players who did try their luck in Germany were an obscure League of Ireland striker nearing the end of his career and an Irish international defender trying to break out of the domestic league. Both spent a season in Germany before coming home. 

Eddie Byrne
NASL Soccer Philadelphia Fury 78 Head Eddie Byrne
1978 : Philadelphia Fury (U.S.A.)
1980 - 81 : VfB Lübeck (Germany)

If some players are simply made for domestic Irish soccer, then Eddie Byrne is one of them. A decent striker with some talent, this Dubliner played for 6 teams in Ireland before hanging up his boots in 1986 at the age of 35.

He began his career with Shamrock Rovers where he met and played with a young defender named Eamonn Gregg. In 1976 Byrne joined up with Bohemians for a second time, and also for a second time linked up with Gregg. Together the pair won 2 major domestic trophies, and were integral to a talented Bohemians side that dominated Irish soccer in the late 1970s. Byrne was unfortunate to never earn a cap for the Republic of Ireland, and in 1978 he jumped at the chance to move to America and try his hand in the NASL.

He signed for the Philadelphia Fury franchise, and was teamed up with Irish legend Johnny Giles at the club. In fact Philadelphia hosted a noticeable Irish contingent that season. Joining Byrne and Giles were Irish international John Dempsey, Fran O'Brienand Pierce O'Leary who had come with Giles on loan from Shamrock Rovers. The side's first manager was Englishman Richard Dinnis and the team that year was a highly talented one. Included were English World Cup winner Alan Ball and Chelsea legend Peter Osgood.

Philadelphia were a brand new franchise in NASL, having been just set up earlier that year. They played home games at the colossal Veteran's Stadium in the city, and were preparing for their maiden season in the NASL in 1978.

The Fury were drawn in the NASL Eastern Division along with Noel Cantwell's New England Tea Men, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. This meant that Byrne & co. would be playing against the likes of Gerry Daly, Rodney Marsh, Mirandinha, George Best and Ian Callaghan.

In spite of their fine squad, the season was utterly disappointing for the Fury as they lost 18 matches, winning only 11. This left them bottom in the Eastern Division. Coach Dinnis resigned in mid season, and Alan Ball replaced him at the helm as player-manager.

The play-offs also ended disappointingly as they were knocked out in the first round by Trevor Francis' Detroit Express. Ball was named in the Team of the Season, but otherwise Fury won no other accolades. Byrne played solidly enough however. Deployed mainly in midfield, he notched up 18 games for the club and scored one goal. After the season ended, he joined Shamrock Rovers for one year, but was released in the summer of 1980.

Eamonn Gregg

1980 - 81 : VfB Lübeck (Germany)

A defender, Gregg also began his career with Shamrock Rovers, where he and Byrne met. He joined Bohemians in 1972 and enjoyed a hugely successful time at Dalymount Park where he picked up 2 League medals, 2 League Cups, 2 Leinster Senior Cups, and an FAI Cup. While with Bohs he also won all 8 of his international caps, beginning with an outing against Poland in 1976.

Heavily linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur in England, Gregg instead moved to Germany in 1980 to sign with Oberliga Nord side Lübeck. In Germany, he linked up for a third time with Eddie Byrne.


Reformed in 1945 out of the ashes of a predecessor club, VfB participated in post-War regional leagues with moderate success. In 1963 the Bundesliga was reformed, but Lübeck were forced to play in the second-tier Regionalliga Nord. After just missing out on promotion to the Bundesliga in 1969, they eventually found themselves in the Oberliga Nord (the Northern segment of Germany's third tier) by 1980. The club has no major honours to date. 

In spite of their modest size and status, the club's home stadium is the rather large, 17000 capacity Stadion an der Lohmühle which they have used since 1924. Although Gregg played during the League of Ireland's heyday in the 1970s, his new home ground would still be one of the biggest he'd play in. Having played in the mega stadiums of American sports, the grounds in this league would seem tiny to Byrne's eyes.

Both Byrne and Gregg were signed by coacJürgen Brinckmann who had been appointed in July after the club had gone through a host of managers in under two years. While Byrne was merely a League of Ireland regular, Gregg was an Irish international, and was the club's most high profile signing in a long time. 

Sadly however, their time in Germany was nothing remotely resembling a success. Brinckmann was sacked in February after winning only 4 of his 21 games in charge. He was replaced by Rolf Oberbeck who failed to invigorate much form into the team. VfB finished in 12th, just one place above relegation to the abyss of German amateur soccer. Neither player had made much of an impact, and both left the country after one season.

Byrne's career petered out with Shelbourne, Athlone, and Longford before he hung up his boots at the end of the 1985-86 season. Meanwhile Gregg stayed in the game much longer. He moved to Dundalk where he would win his third League of Ireland title in 1982. After stints with St. Pats and Kilkenny, he retired from playing in 1990. He moved into coaching, where he took Bohemians to the FAI Cup in 1992, before leaving football for good in 1994.

Of all the European leagues where Irishmen try to succeed, our record in Germany is the worst. If this league is the league of the future, then we might want to see more Irish players give it a go in the Bundesliga. Currently youth international Selcuk Tidim is knocking about with Hansa Rostock. Here's hoping he might succeed, both at club and country level, where others have failed.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Travis Binnion

2008 : IFK Mariehamn (Finland)

Born in Derby, England in 1986, Travis Binnion was a talented full-back whose promising career was cut short by injury, forcing him to retire at age 22.

Although born and raised in England, Binnion qualified for the republic of Ireland through family and represented the Under-19 side 5 times in 2007. He came through the youth academy at Sheffield United and was with the Blades when he earned his call ups to the Irish team. In 2006-07 despite a serious knee injury, he broke into the reserve squad at Bramall Lane and his early career had been progressing well.

In January 2008 it was decided that the defender needed a loan spell away from Sheffield in order to gain first team experience. Rather than the usual destination like a League One or Two club in England, Finland's IFK Mariehamn expressed an interest in the Irishman, and he was loaned out straight away.
IFK were founded in 1919 in the southern Finnish town that bears its name. Mariehamn is in fact located in Åland an autonomous Swedish speaking island under the sovereignty of the government of Finland. The town consists of roughly 11000 inhabitants and is the capital of Åland. Since 1932 IFK have been playing home games at the Wiklöf Holding Arena a multi-purpose ground that holds 4000 fans. Their nickname is Grönvitt (meaning Green White) reflecting their home colours and they have played a majority of their recent history in Finland's Kakkonen (Second Division). In 2005, they gained promotion to the Veikkausliiga, or Premier Division, and were still in the top flight when Binnion arrived.

Although Binnion had been loaned out from a team then playing in the English Championship, his move to Mariehamn did not see him playing in a completely undeveloped and crap league. He was training alongside talented footballers such as Finnish internationals Jani Lyyski and Paulus Arajuuri, and Kenya goalkeeper Willis Ochieng. Binnion wasn't the only British/Irish member of the squad either. Fellow Sheffield United youngsters Jordan Eagers and Scott Boden had also made the journey from Bramall Lane to Finland, lessening the potential for homesickness. Team-mate Jani Lyyski's father, Pekka, was the club's manager and had brought Mariehman from the third tier to the top flight in under three years.

By moving to Finland, Binnion had taken an unusual step for an Irish footballer, but he wasn't breaking new ground. Pat Walker had played in the country in the early 1980s before becoming a managerial legend in Sweden.

Wearing the number 16 shirt, the Irishman made just 6 appearances for the grönvitt that season. Finland's domestic season runs from late spring, through summer and early autumn. The country's cold, near-Arctic climate make winter football impossible. Thereby arriving in January meant that Binnion was arriving in pre-season, ready for a full 2008 campaign.

In April, before the season had even started, he and team-mate Eagers were informed that they had been released by Sheffield United, complicating the manner of their loan to the Finnish side. However, Mariehamn were unperturbed and were considering keeping the Irishman on with a full-time contract. Binnion himself was content with staying in the country, but for the time being his contract was short-term.

Later that month, he made his debut for a Mariehman side on the loosing end of a 0-2 home defeat to giants HJK Helsinki. The following month he was part of the squad that defeated FC KooTeePee 4-2 at home.

His time in Finland began promisingly. However, pretty soon his career-long knee injury caught up with him and he was sidelined for months. While he was out of the team recovering, the club went on a massive losing streak, and were soon battling relegation.

He returned from injury in August. playing in the 0-0 away draw to VPS. A few more games were to follow, and Mariehamn finished the season in 12th place, just about avoiding relegation in a 14-team league. For Binnion though, his time in Finland and as a footballer was over. On medical advice he was forced to retire from playing. It was a quiet end to a brief but promising career. 

Following his retirement, Binnion went into cricket and played a single A-Match for Nottinghamshire in 2003. Later he turned to coaching, and is now involved with the youth setup at Sheffield United. Mariehman still play in the Veikkausliiga today, and in 2013-14 qualified for the Europe League.

Three years after Binnion left Finland, Shane Robinson would arrive to play for and captain FC Haka.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Martin Bayly

1988 - 89 : Figueres (Spain)

Bayly is a member of a prominent League of Ireland family. His older brother Ritchie was a midfielder with Sligo in the 1980s, while his nephew Robert has played for Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and (as of 2013) Shelbourne.

Martin was born in Dublin in 1966, and at the age of 16 went to England to join the ranks of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Between 1982 and 1985 he made 10 appearances for Wolves before leaving the club at the end of the 1984-85 season to join Coventry. However, he failed to settle in the West Midlands, and by the time he was 20 he was back in Ireland where he linked up with brother Ritchie at Sligo.

In the 1986-87 season the midfielder was named as the PFAI Young Player of the Year before a brief and unhappy spell with Derry City in 1988. After leaving Brandywell and with no club attachments, the 22 year old left Ireland once again, and this time went south to Spain. He signed with Figeres.

Unió Esportiva Figueres hail from Catalonia in eastern Spain. Situated roughly 140 km from Barcelona, the town of Figueres is an historically significant settlement of 45,000 inhabitants. The club were founded in 1919 and their home ground, Vilatenim, holds just under 10000 fans. Having played most of their history in Spain's third tier or various regional leagues, the club were naturally in the shadow of rival Catalan sides like Barcelona, Espanyol, and Sabadell. 

In 1987 they gained promotion to the Segunda Division (Spain's 2nd tier) for the first time in their history, and were still playing at this level when the Irishman arrived a year later.

The squad around Bayly featured a number of talented footballers such as former Barcelona star Pere Gratacós, Espanyol legend Tintín Márquez, and Spanish international García Pitarch. His new coach was former Spain 
midfielder Peiró, who had played for Atletico Madrid, Roma, and Internazionale where he was a two-time European Cup winner.

Peiro, Bayly's coach at Figueres
Bayly made his Spanish football debut on September 4th away to Castellon in the league. He was an 86th minute substitute for own-goal scorer Martin Dominguez. Figueres won the match 1-2.

In October he picked up an injury that kept him out over the winter period, but once regaining fitness in spring he began to earn starting XI status as the team went on a rich run of form. Some of the bigger names that the Dubliner lined out against that season were Racing Santander, Rayo Vallecano, and Barcelona B (where he played against future Barce manager Tito Villanova in a 2-4 loss)

Bayly scored his first goal for Figueres in May at home to Mollerussa. The away side had gone up 0-3 inside the opening 36 minutes before the Dubliner ignited Figueres' comeback. His goal in the 39th minute was the first of four for the home team who went on to an incredible 4-3 victory.

His second goal for the club came less than a month later when he scored in a convincing 3-1 victory over Eibar. 

By the end of the 1988-89 season, Bayly had made 11 appearances with 2 goals to his name. Not a bad start to life in Spain. Figueres finished the league in 9th place, not good enough to compete for promotion by very much safe from relegation.

Vilatenim, Figueres' stadium
The following season saw Figueres make a slow start and record some damaging home losses. After a poor 0-1 home reversal to Recreativo Huelva and a 5-0 hammering away to Burgos, the Irishman was one of the players to pay. He lost his place in the starting XI and struggled to gain it back. He did feature as a 64th minute substitute in an October 1-0 home win over Espanyol, as well as another against Racing Santander later that month, but his days in Spain were numbered.

In winter 1989 he had his contract mutually terminated with Figueres and returned home to Ireland. His last game in Spain was a 1-1 draw with Levante (who would later have Ian Harte in their team), where he picked up a yellow card.

Figueres went on to finish in 12th that season. In 1994 they would slip back down to the Spanish 3rd tier where they remain today. 

Bayly enjoyed a successful career in Irish football over the next six years. he represented a number of clubs on the island, most notably Monaghan United and Linfield (where he won a league medal in 1993).

Martin Baly was one of a number of Irishmen to ply their trade in Spain in the late 1980s. It is curious that Ashley GrimesJohn AldridgeAlan CampbellKevin Moran, and Liam Buckley should all have chosen to try their hand in the country in a six year period, and yet in the 22 years since Aldridge left Sociedad, only a handful of Irishman have played in the country (only two in la Liga). Some of this can be explained by the ban on English clubs' participation in UEFA competitions in those days, but given the state of Irish football at the moment, perhaps we could do with a few more Aldridges, Morans, and Baylys.

Not a success, but he tried.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Mike McCabe

1984 - 88 : Vard Haugesund (Norway)
1988 - 90 : Tromsø (Norway)
1991 - 93 : Viking FK (Norway)

Born in Waterford in 1964, Mike McCabe was an aggressive striker who played all of his professional football in Norway. At the age of 15 he moved to London to sign as a schoolboy with Tottenham Hotspur. 

While at the club he played for the Ireland Under-16 and Under-19 teams, but was refused a call-up yo the Under-21s due to a back injury he sustained.

Although at White Hart Lane for just over four years, he never made a senior appearance for Spurs, and was released just short of his 20th birthday.

In 1984 at the age of 20, he moved north to Norway and signed for Vard Haugesund. 

Founded in 1916 and based in the southern Norwegian city of Haugesund (a settlement of roughly 34000 people), Vard have played most of their seasons in Norway's 2nd tier. They reached the final of the Norwegian Cup in 1962 and 1975, but have no makor trophies to their name. Their home ground, the Haugesund Stadion has room for 8000 fans.

At the time of the Waterford man's arrival, Vard were languishing in Norway's 3rd tier, the 3. Divisjon. With his goals they finished in 1st place and earned promotion back to the 2. Divisjon. McCabe would spend another three seasons with the club, in which time they would never finished lower than 9th in the third tier. In 1988 he was snapped up by 1. divisjon side Tromsø.

One of the country's most famous clubs, Tromsø also hold the position of being the most northerly located top-flight club in the world. Tromsø is Norway's 7th largest city (with a population of 69000 people) and the 2nd largest city in the Arctic Circle (after Murmansk in Russia). The club was founded in 1920 and when McCabe arrived they had just moved into their new stadium, the 7000 capacity Alfheim Stadion. Nicknamed Gutan (the boys), Tromsø only had one Cup title to their name by the time the Irishman came.

His new coach was former Sweden international Tommy Svensson, who would later coach his country to 3rd place at the 1994 World Cup. 

Tromso's Alfheim Stadion
He made his debut on May 1st for the club, away to Djerv 1919, a match that ended 1-1. His first goal came later that month when he scored in a 2-2 draw with Vålerenga. He also received a yellow card in that game. His next goal came in mid-June to help Tromsø to a 4-2 win over Nor Narvik in the Cup.

At the end of the season, Tromsø finished in 5th, a good 14 points behind winners Rosenborg. In the Cup they fared no better than the last 16.

In his second season with the club, Tromsø finished in 3rd. The Irishman had scored 10 goals, just eight behind the league's top scorer. This made him the club's top scorer, a feat he would repeat the next season. In McCabe's last season at Tromsø, they finished a remarkable 2nd in the 1. divisjon with the Irishman netting 13 goals.

It had been an amazing turnaround for a club that just 7 years before; had been playing in the Third Division. In all he made 71 appearances and scored 35 goals in four years at the club.

In 1991 he made the final move of his career when he signed with Viking FK. 

This is one of Norway's most successful clubs with 8 League titles and 5 Cups to their name. They are also, alongside Rosenborg, one of the country's most prestigious name throughout Europe. The man that signed McCabe was ex-Fulham player Benny Lennartsson. The club are from Stavanger, Norway's third largest settlement in the south of the country. Founded in 1899, they play home matches at the 16000 capacity Viking Stadion, but in McCabe's time Viking played at the 18000 capacity Stavanger Stadion.

Although he managed to make 63 appearances for De mørkeblå (The Dark Blues) McCabe's time in Stavanger was riddled with back injuries that he had picked up while with Tromsø. This greatly affected his playing ability, and he only scored 9 goals in 2 years with the club before his back caught up to him, and he collapsed during a match. As a result he had to retire at the age of just 28. He did importantly however, play a key role in Viking's league title win in 1991, scoring some crucial goals at the tail-end of the season. This was his only major winners medal from his short but eventful career.

Today he still lives in the country, working as an English and P.E. teacher in Sandnes. He is still remembered in Norway for his technicality and speed, as well as his good attitude and good understanding of the other players' patterns and movements.

Although Mike McCabe is a name that will not be well known to Irish fans, he is one of those rare footballers who is better known in a foreign land. Bizzarely, McCabe's name still commands respect and admiration in Norway. Tromsø regularly describe him as a hero, and he retains a close relationship with the club today.

In 2008, McCabe was named as one of the 50 Best Foreigners to ever play in Norway. This is a huge honour, and places in him in a category with the likes of Magnus Svensson, Tobias Linderoth, Christian Wilhelmsson and Joachim Bjorklund. Players eligible for this list were those deemed to have "impacted importantly to their teams pursuit of success and played at a high and stable level over several seasons". For the Irishman's entry, it simply says :

"Important, loyal cog in the offensive part of Viking's last triumph"

Quite an honour for a man that many Irish soccer fans will never have heard of. 

To Mike McCabe, a respected Wild Goose...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Tony Dunne

1979 : Detroit Express (USA)
1982 - 83 : Steinkjer FK (Norway)

One of Irish football's most decorated winners, Tony Dunne won 5 top flight trophies in a 21 career. He was born in Dublin in 1941 and played for local side Shelbourne as a youngster. At the age of 19 he moved to Manchester United were he established himself as the club's left-back and first XI starter for over 13 years. With United he won 2 League titles, 1 FA Cup, and a European Cup in 1968. Part of a highly talented United team in the 1960s, Dunne is still considered today as one of the greatest full-backs in Man Utd’s history.

He earned the first of his 33 Republic caps in 1962 at home to Austria. Over the next 13 years he would captain his country on 4 occasions and often played at centre-back for Ireland. 

When he left Manchester in 1973 he was 32 years old. He signed for Bolton in England's Second Division. With the Trotters he returned to the top flight in 1978, and then spent one more year at Burnden Park. Finally, in 1979 he made the final move of his playing career, to North American Soccer League (NASL) side Detroit Express. He was 38 years old.

Detroit were a new side that had been formed the previous year. Based in Michigan's largest city and playing at the massive 80,000 seater Pontiac Stadium, Express had come 1st in the Central Division of the NASL in 1978. For 1979, the roster included Dunne, English star Trevor Francis, and Scottish internationals Ted MacDougall and Jim Brown. Meanwhile the coach was former Darlington and Watford defender Ken Furphy.

Dunne was handed the no3 shirt, the first time in his career that he'd have a fixed squad number. 

The season was not a success for the Express. They finished 3rd in the Central Division behind Houston and Chicago, but ahead of 4th place Memphis. As a result, they still managed to qualify for the Championship play-offs but were pummeled there by the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Dunne had made 12 appearances at contributed 2 assists to the cause. 

This was Dunne's last stint as a professional footballer. Nearing 40, he finally hung up his boots after a long, successful and noble career. Immediately he returned to Bolton to take up an Assistant Manager role under former team-mate and boss Ian Greaves.

He was still at this job when Norwegian club Steinkjer came calling and offered him the job as manager of their first team. The club had just done away with the services of previous coach Bill Foulkes, who had played with Dunne at Old Trafford.
Steinkjer are an old club, having been founded in 1910. For most of their history they have been a yo-yo club, bouncing between the country's top two leagues. By the time of Dunne's arrival, they were playing in Norway's second division.  He was succesful and managed to get the club to the play-offs for a spot in 1983's 1. divisjon (First Division), but they were defeated twice and lost out. The following season his team failed again to reach the 1. divisjon and Dunne stepped down.

In later years Irish goalkeeper Gary Hogan would line out for Steinkjer.

His two seasons in Norway were Dunne's last in football, and the 42 year old Dubliner retired from the game. He currently lives in Sale, England and owns a driving range.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Graham Stack

2002 - 03 : Beveren (Belgium)

Graham Stack is an English-born goalkeeper who played for 10 clubs between 2000 and 2013. Born in London in 1981, he began as a trainee with Arsenal. He spent six years with the Gunners but only featured in the League Cup making 5 appearances. Leaving them in 2006, he went from Reading to Barnet, via Plymouth and Hibernian. 

As he is London born-and-bred, you may wonder why Stack makes it to the Wild Geese list. 

"You can hear me," he once said. "I am definitely not from Dublin. I am a London boy and was brought up here.

"But my mum was born in Glenamaddy in Galway, so was my Nan and Grandad plus half a dozen of my aunties and uncles.

"I made a decision at 16 or 17 to play for Ireland and it has been a great privilege to play for a great country. The people are so passionate about their football. I have not looked back."

Prior to joining Hibs in 2009, most of Stack's game time had been restricted to loan spells while with his various parent clubs. One of these spells occurred during the 2002-03 season while he was with Arsenal, when he spent the season with Belgian club K.S.K. Beveren.

Beveren hail from East Flanders, and were founded in 1934. Little Anderlecht, as they are known, are two time winners of Belgium's League and Cup. When at home, they have played at the 12900 capacity Freethiel Stadion since 1938.

Stack showed an adventurous zeal in choosing to join the Belgians, a quality rare in British/Irish players. "I could have gone out to a number of English clubs in pre-season but that was the easy option," he said at the time.

"I have a chance now to play 30 First Division games in Belgium with all the pressure and all the attention that first-team football brings.

"The fact I have had to cope with living away from my family and girlfriend in a foreign country will help me as well.

"This year at Beveren will set me up for the rest of my career

He arrived with fellow Arsenal loanees John Halls and Steve Sidwell, although the latter would only last a few weeks in the country.

That season, Beveren were playing the Championnat de Belgique (today known as the Pro-League), Belgium's top division. Under coach Herman Helleputte, they had a decent squad. Two players of note were a young Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. Eboue would later be permanently signed by Arsenal, the only player to do so during the two club's partnership. Toure would go on to play for Barcelona and Manchester City.

Stack made his league debut on August 10th. At home to RAEC Mons, the 20 year old kept a clean sheet as Beveren won 3-0. He also kept goal later in the season, in a record 6-1 home win over KV Mechelen. However, some awful results came his way too. These included 7-1 and 7-2 defeats to giants Anderlecht and Club Brugge respectively. He was also one of two Beveren players sent off in May, during a 0-3 home loss to Gent.

Generally he put in a series of fine performances which impressed the Arsenal scouts. Yet Stack is best remembered in Belgium for a November incident in the derby with Antwerp. After two opposing fans invaded the pitch and attacked him, the Irishman responded by dealing one of them a hefty slap, knocking him down. The clip became a Eurosport hit in the pre-youtube days, earning him continental renown and a place in Beveren folklore.

Stack battles two Antwerp fans

"Everyone seems to have seen it at this stage," admitted Stack.

"My mum and dad are living down in Spain at the moment and I think they nearly fell off the couch when they saw it on Eurosport.

"It did get a lot of attention, but thankfully people are also t
alking about my football here as well. We've kept three clean sheets in the last five games now so that can't be bad."  Little Anderlecht won the game 3-1.

While at the club Stack won the first of his 7 under-21 caps for the Republic of Ireland under Don Givens

Beveren finished in 11th, one place above rivals Antwerp. In the Cup, they had been put out in the last 16 by K.Bochotler V.V. Stack made 24 first team appearances, and all-in-all the first team experience was a valuable gain.

This wasn't enough to impress Arsene Wenger at Higbury however, and Stack was sent on further loans to Millwall and Reading, without ever really settling. He became a journeyman goalkeeper before joining Hibernian.

Today, he plays for non-league club Barnet.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Patrick Kohlmann

1993 - 07 : Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
2007 - 08 : Rot-Weiß Erfurt (Germany)
2008 - present : Union Berlin (Germany)

The son of a German father and an Irish mother, Patrick Kohlmann is one of a handful of Republic of Ireland players to have been in German football over the past 90 or so years.

Noel Campbell, Joe Kendrick, Ben Hannigan, Tim Pilkington and Selcuk Tidim are the only other Irishmen to have this honour. Although, Campbell is the only of the above 5 to have made a name for himself at senior level.

That Kolmann has played all his career in Germany, shouldn't be surprising since he was born there, in Dortmund in 1983. At the age of ten, he began playing with local giants Borussia, where he would spend the next 14 years.

One of German football's biggest clubs; Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund were founded in 1909 by local athletes. Since its establishment Die Schwarzgelben have won 8 league titles, 4 Super Cups, 3 German Cups, 1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and 1 UEFA Champions League. Borussia play at the Westfalenstadion which, with an 80000 capacity, is German football's largest. They are known for their passionate fans and the South Stand which is Europe's largest terrace.

The young Kohlmann spent nine years rising through the club's youth ranks before emerging as a reserve team player with Dortmund II in 2002. He would make over 100 appearances for Dortmund's second team between then and 2007, mainly operating as a central defender. Reserve teams in German football don't play in a reserve league, as they do in England. Rather, like Spain, they play independently in the various lower tiers of the country's football pyramid. Dortmund II play most of their football in the Regional Liga West.

Because of his impressive spells with the German club, he was well-spotted by Irish youth manager Brian Kerr who invited him to an Under-16 training camp in Rotterdam in the mid-1990s. “I think Brian Kerr knew I played for Borussia, he didn’t know me, but decided to invite me along,” he told the Meath Chronicle in 2010. The experience went well, and from then on; Kohlmann would declare for the country of his Mother. 

He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s in August 2003 against Poland and would go on to earn 5 caps for the side. Really, agreeing to play youth football for Ireland was a win-win situation for the young man. If Germany did eventually come knocking, he could always switch his allegiance if he wanted to before getting a senior cap. If not, he would still earn caps with Ireland. But it seems the young player was more keen on a green jersey than a white one.

In 2004, his hard work had paid off and the defender was finally drafted into the Borussia senior squad for the upcoming season. Under manager Bert van Marwijk (who had previously managed David Connolly at Feyenoord), Kolhmann would finally be representing his boyhood club in the Bundesliga alongside the likes of Roman WeidenfellerDédéTomáš Rosický and Jan Koller
Kohlmann with Dortmund

However, misfortune was to play a harsh trick on the Irishman's rise at Dortmund. On November 13th 2004, the was handed a starting role in a crucial Bundesliga game away to Kaiserslautern. Playing at right-back, Kohlmann made his senior debut in front of 34700 spectators. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a knee injury just 43 minutes into the game, and was substituted for Marc Kruska. It was a disaster for player and club. Kaiserslautern won 1-0, and Kohlmann was forced to sit out the rest of the season on the injury table. He would never make a senior appearance for Die Schwarzgelben again.

He did however, stay at the club for another two seasons, putting in some quality performances for the second team. However, by 2007 he was 24 and realising the need to leave in order to secure first team football. 

So it was that he dropped a crushing three tiers into the Regional Liga, with ambitious outfit Rot-Weiß Erfurt. Rot-Weiß hail from the central German city bearing their name and were founded as a cricket club in 1895. Between 1945 and 1990, Erfurt was in East Germany and competed in that country's league, which they won twice in the 1950s. Since reunification, the club has not appeared in the Bundesliga, but diminished to being a regional side, apart from a brief stint in the 2. Bundesliga in 2004. Their stadium is called the Steigerwaldstadion and holds 20000 people.

When Kohlmann arrived in 2007, the club was knocking about in the Regional Liga Nord. His new manager was German tacitician Karsten Baumann, who had played for Dortmund when Kohlmann was a youth player there. Most of the side were German, with a Brazilian, a Filipino  a Frenchman and an Albanian joining the Irishman. Kohlmann would wear the no.4 shirt.

Speaking on his switch to Thuringen, Kohlmann said, "there were several key factors that made me move here: the positive discussions I had with the manager and coaches, the ambitions of Erfurt, the environment and also the very beautiful city.
Kohlmann makes the front of Erfurt's
program for a match against Dortmund II

It was hard to leave friends and family. But I was looking for a new challenge, and the decision to join Erfurt was just right. "

His first goal came on March 4th in a 3-0 win against Wolfsburg II, and two weeks later he played at home against his old team-mates, when Erfurt took on Borussia Dortmund II. 

In his only season with the club he played 25 league matches and scored 1 goal as they earned promotion to the 3. Liga, Germany's third tier. 

As the club were not in the top two tiers of the German league system, they were not permitted to play in the DFB-Pokal (German Cup). Rather they played in the regional Thüringenpokal. As the rest of the competition was fairly weak, they steamed into the final against ZFC Meuselwitz, who they beat 1-0 after extra time.

The Irishman had been crucial to the side's promotion push, and his performances at the back earned praise. 

Such it was that the next summer, fellow 3. Liga team Union Berlin snapped him up.

The lesser team of the German capital, 1. FC Union Berlin has spent most of its history in the shadow of Hertha. Founded in 1906, Union have played home matches since 1920 at the Alte Försterei, which can hold just under 20000 fans. Known as Eisern Union (the Iron Union), the club is one of two clubs called Union that split from each other after the Second World War. While the other Union was in West Berlin (and competed in the West German leagues), this club were in communist East Berlin. They were runners-up in the Weimar German Championship of 1923, and won the East German Cup in 1968. After a final appearance at the German Cup in 2001, the club played in the 2001-02 UEFA Cup, where they reached the 2nd round. When Kohlmann arrived in the summer of 2008, they were in the 3. Liga (Germany's Third Division).

Union Berlin would be facing some formerly big names in German football, such as Eintracht Braunschweig, Dynamo Dresden, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Kickers Offenbach. Fallen giants also keen on promotion and resurrection. Bayern's, Stuttgart's and Werder's second teams were also in what was a tough league.

His coach was Uwe Neuhaus, another manager with Borussia connections, who had coached Kohlmann at Dortmund II between 2004 and 2006. I think its probably a testament to how valued the Irishman was at the Westfalenstadion's academy, that he has been signed twice by coaches who knew him there. Turkish under-21 international Kenan Sahin and Algeria international Karim Benyamina were two of his prominent new teammates, but most of the squad were lower league journeymen. Kolhmann would wear the number 7 shirt.

German seasons begin early, so his debut for Union came on 27th July, in the league's opener away to Bayern Munich II. Up against future stars Burak YilmazHolger Badstuber and Thomas Muller; Kohlmann's team lost 2-1. His first home match came six days later against VfB Stuttgart II. Deployed as a left winger, he helped Union to a 3-1 win.

On December 6th, he returned to the Steigerwaldstadion with Berlin to face his old club, Erfurt. The match ended 1-1. He again faced Erfurt on May 16th, at home, coming on as a substitute for Michael Parenson. Once more, it was a 1-1 stalemate.

Again, as Union were not in the top two divisions of the German game, they wouldn't play in the DFB-Pokal, but the Berliner Landespokal. Reaching the final, they saw off Borussia Berlin 2-1 at the Freidrich Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark. This was Kolhmann's second regional cup medal.

An ankle injury hampered part of his season in March, but he made a strong comeback to the first team in May and made 26 league appearances in total. Overall, Berlin triumphed. Only losing 4 games they finished 1st and gained automatic promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. 

With some new signings for the 2009-10 season, Berlin prepared to face Kaiserslautern, Alemannia Aachen, Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich. They got off to a great start by hammering Oberhausen 3-0 away, with Kolhmann playing at left-back. Impressive results followed, and it was October by the time Union lost their first game. The Irishman would miss the last three games of the season through injury, but would put in 30 appearances in total, becoming a vital component of a successful team. Berlin ended in 12th, a fantastic finish for a promoted side.

2010-11 was even better for Union, and they finished in 11th. The previous season, Hertha Berlin had been relegated from the Bundesliga, setting up a capital derby for the first time in generations. Kolhmann played at right-back as the two sides drew 1-1 at the Alte Försterei. But the zenith of Union's season, came at the Olympiastadion in the corresponding fixture. In front of 74000 screaming fans, Kohlmann and Union pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win over their rivals. A bitter sweet aspect of the season for the Irishman came on August 22nd, when he scored his first goal for Union away to Osnabrück, only for Union to lose 4-1

Kohmann scored a 30m cracker, but Union lost

Altogether, he put in 28 appearances for Eisern Union. In the Pokal, Union went out in the first round to Hallescher FC in Leipzeg.

Improvements were made again in 2011-12, with new faces joining the team. Finishing in 7th place, Union had shown that 'second season syndrome' would not be a problem, and they established themselves as a stable 2. Bundesliga side. The Irishman played in all but one of the team's games. They were again knocked out of the cup in the first round.

By 2012-13, Kohlmann had been at the club for four years, by now becoming a permanent squad member, synonymous with the club. He struggled with injury at the beginning and end of the season, yet still represented Union 23 times in the league. They finished 7th again and reached the Second Round of the cup where they were put out by Kickers Offenbach.

As of May 2013, Kohlmann remains at Union Berlin, where he is a respected figure, beloved by fans. On May 25th 2013, Dortmund reached the final of the UEFA Champions League. For the previous two seasons they had been Bundesliga champions, and even had a Pokal to their name. One wonders, if Kohlmann hadn't been injured all those years ago, could he have survived at Borussia and been a key member of their squad since, just like past teammates Roman Weidenfeller and Sebastien Kehl.

At the age of 30, his Ireland career is most likely over. However, it shouldn't be. Plenty of footballers from England's Championship are routinely called upon to represent the Republic, so one wonders if Kohlmann shouldn't have been given the chance over the past three years.

“It would be a big dream for me. To play for Ireland is still the dream,” Kohlmann admitted recently. “If I was told to come over and join the team of course I would, I always look out for the results because my eyes are always on the Irish national team.”