Thursday, 8 December 2011

Jim Donnelly

The Kadıköy King

1929 - 1931 : Građanski Zagreb (Yugoslavia)
1933 - 1935 : Güneş (Turkey) 
1935 - 1938 : Fenerbahçe (Turkey)
1936 - 1937 : Turkey

James Elliot Donnelly is not very well known either in Ireland or around Europe. Yet, he ranks among our finest Managerial talents in the history of the European game. His career as a player would take him from Blackburn Rovers in England, to Güneş in Turkey. As a Manager, he would coach at the highest level, both in Turkey, and internationally at the Olympics. He won league titles and managed some of the finest players in Eastern Europe in his time. Yet, Donnelly is a lost legend. 

He was born in County Mayo on 18 December 1899. In World War I, he would serve with the Royal Artillery in France, playing football with his regiment. After the war, he was signed by Blackburn Rovers as a full-back and his career would continue to Accrington Stanley, Southend and Brentford between 1920 and 1929. In 1929, after being released by Brentford, Donnelly was signed by Yugoslav outfit Građanski Zagreb, a predecessor of the modern day DInamo Zagreb. Građanski were the champions of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia but had just lost their Hungarian coach Jesza Poszony, so they hired Donnelly as player-manager.

Donnelly, far right, with Građanski in 1930

Although Građanski were the league champions when Donnelly took over, they were a club in trouble. Financial problems that had begun in 1924 were beginning to hamper their business, and Građanski lost most of their key players before Donnelly had arrived. His first season was one of the most notorious in Yugoslavia's history, as strained relations between Zagreb and Belgrade meant that games and meetings were often marred by intense clashes. This centred on the rivalry between the Croatian teams, Hajduk Split and Građanski on one side, and the Serbian teams, BSK Beograd and SK Jugoslavija on the other. BSK finished the season as Champions, but because they had fielded an unregistered player, lost their crown to Hajduk following an FA meeting. The fact that the Yugoslav FA was based in Zagreb led many Serbs to suspect foul-play, and subsequent meetings to settle the dispute never proceeded well.

For Donnelly, the season was a disaster. Građanski lost in the Cup final, finished last in the League and were relegated to the Zagreb Municipal League. They bounced back though, achieving promotion in 1930 and coming 3rd in the 1931 Yugoslav First League. This was not enough for Donnelly to keep his job however, as his strict use of the Schweizer Riegel (a Swiss style of play noted for being dull and highly defensive) had driven away many supporters. A change in the League system also affected Građanski's finances badly, and assisted in his sacking in 1931.

He returned to England to play for a new league club, Thames in the 1932-33 season, before returning East to end his playing career with Turkish side Güneş in 1933. Güneş played in the Istanbul Second division, then regarded as the de facto second tier of Turkish football. He retired in 1935, and would then pursue a colourful and successful career in coaching.

In January 1935, he was offered the job at Turkish giants Fenerbahçe. In his first season in charge at Kadıköy, he guided them to the 1934-35 Istanbul League title. The same year, Patrick O'Connell guided Real Betis to the La Liga title in Spain. Football in Turkey in the mid-1930s was mainly centred around Istanbul, and Donnelly's team can therefore be considered as Turkish champions.

Donnelly's Fenerbahçe side before beating Galatasaray 15 March 1935

The 1935-36 season would see Donnelly's Fenerbahçe win the newly formed National Championship. The season included a memorable 6-1 win over fierce rivals Galatasaray on February 23. Fenerbahçe would finish the season as Champions, on 65 points, 9 ahead of Galatasaray. 

Donnelly's Fenerbahçe players in 1937, celebrating a treble of titles

In 1936, while still Manager of Fenerbahçe, Donnelly was selected as Manager of the Turkish National side. Managers in the 1930s were not employed full time and were usually only hired on a short term basis. The squads were also usually chosen by a panel of selectors within the FA. Donnelly's main role with Turkey therefore was as the trainer, Head Coach, who would also decide on the starting XI.

The first of his three matches in charge was a July 1936 friendly against Yugoslavia at the Taksim Stadi in Istanbul. 8,000 Turks were present to witness an exciting 3-3 draw. A month later, Donnelly coached Turkey at the 1936 Olympic Games Football Tournament in Berlin, Germany. They performed badly however, loosing 4-0 to Norway in the First Round. The tournament would be won by Italy, who were then world champions.

Donnelly's Turkey squad at the 1936 Olympic Games

He would manage Turkey once more, in a 3-1 friendly loss to Yugoslavia in Belgrade in 1937. 2 of Yugoslavia's goals were scored by players of Donnelly's old club, Građanski Zagreb. Another Irishman would not coach a foreign nation again until Frank O'Farrell went to Iran in 1974.

Back at Fenerbahçe, he guided them to two more league titles in 1937 and 1938. By the end of his career at the club, Donnelly had won 2 Turkish Football Championships, an Istanbul Football League, a Turkish National League and an Istanbul Shield. He is one of the most successful managers in the club's history and his successor, the Hungarian Joszef Svenk who continued the clubs dominance into the 1940s.

Searching for what happened to Donnelly, where he ended up, where he died and when has so far yielded 0 results. The history of football it seems is too long and too wide to accommodate every former manager from is early days. So, sadly, Donnelly is another ghost in the story of football. But he should be credited and remembered as one of the few Irish coaches who truly achieved greatness in foreign lands. Its rather strange that the three most successful Irish managers in the continent; Jim Donnelly,  Jack Kirwan and Patrick O'Connell won their trophies over 60 years ago. This is certainly an area where Irish football is no longer punching its weight.

To Jim Donnelly, the King of Kadıköy.


  1. hi Phil, I'm in the midst of research about Jim Donnelly at the moment, is there an email address I could contact you on?



  2. Hello,

    James Donnelly has been a staff member at Ambrosiana-Inter in Milan from October 5, 1937 to March 1938. He was hired to report on opponents, travelling around Italy to watch their games and tell manager Armando Castellazzi about their weaknesses, playing style and so on. He was released because in March 1938 he was hired by the Austrian federation to be the coach of the national team; unluckily enough, the German reich annected Austria in the same period (Anschluss) and the Austrian national team disappeared.

    Donnelly may also have been the manager of Taranto during the 1946-47 Serie B (second level), for the first 12 games. He is reported as "Usbey Donneuy", but this is quite an unlikely name. "Usbey" is a Turkish name, and Donnelly spent part of his career in Turkey so he may have used it as a pseudonym; "Donneuy" may have been a misspelling or just a wrong interpretation of his surname.

    I also link you some sources, all in Italian.

    James Donnelly hired by Ambrosiana-Inter:

    James Donnelly hired by the Austrian federation:

    there is also a picture of Donnelly here, with the Ambrosiana-Inter reserve team, which he coached during his (first?) stay in Italy:

    Hope this helped.

    Andrea Ridolfi Testori, Italian football researcher