Friday, 5 October 2012

Michael Kelly

1948 - 49 : Marseille (France)

Very little information exists about this particular footballer from Ireland's forgotten fourties. Michael Kelly played for nine years in England before heading off to France for the last year of his career. His impact in Ligue 1 was minimal.

Born in 1921, he moved to England at the age of 18 to sign for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He started brightly, however his career though, like so many other footballers of his time, was damaged heavily by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, as league football in England went into hiatus. 

To replace the national league during the war, the FA organised a series of regional league and exhibition matches. As he was from neutral Ireland, Kelly was free from the prospect of conscription which took many of his team-mates to the war. When the Football League resumed in 1946; Kelly was released by Wolves. He signed for Crewe Alexandra in the Third Division and made 15 appearances for the Railwaymen in two years with the club.

In July of 1948, he transferred to France, signing with Champions Olympique de Marseille. His arrival in the country came a year after Bernard Williams' retirement, and Kelly became the fourth Irishman to grace Ligue 1.

Marseille's old logo
One of France's biggest clubs, Marseille were established in 1899, 2500 years after the city itself was founded by Greeks. The name Olympique was adopted as a salute to the city's founders. When he arrived, the club were France's champions, winning their second Ligue 1 title that summer. Kelly replaced Englishman Cyril Thomas as the club desired to experiment with another 'British' style midfielder.

The club were then managed by Italian-Hungarian tactician Giuseppe Zilizzi and the team had a distinctly Italian/Hungarian feel. Team-mates included the Italian duo of Cesare Benedetti and Angelo Bollano, Hungarian Andrej Nagy and the Morroccan Abdesselem Ben Miloud, one of the league's first black players. 

The season started well for Les Phocéens as they hammered Colmar 7-2 at home. Gradually however, results became rather mixed and the club began to fall behind.

Stade Velodrome as it looked in Kelly's time
Kelly would have to wait three months however to make his senior debut for the club. On November 14th, he lined out in Marseille's colours to face Red Star Paris. In front of 20,000 fans at the Velodrome; Marseille drew the match 1-1

This however would be Kelly's only match. In those days, substitutions were not allowed, so he never had another chance to pull on the blue and white shirt again. The league was won by Stade Reims, while Marseille finished in a disappointing 3rd place.

He ended his career the following summer, and retired at the age of just 28. After this, Kelly disappears from footballing records. Another ghost in the history of the game. 

Over forty years later, another Irishman would arrive at the Velodrome, and become a club legend. As for Kelly, we can only hope he lived out the rest of his life in happiness. A decent talent, impeded by war.

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