The Football Man: Willie Toms, 1910-1983

History for me is a deeply personal business – my profession, but also my passion. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. I have written on this site already before about other family members: books belonging to my grandfather William Power, and  my grandmother Sheila’s brother, Paddy Neary. This post is about another relative – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Willie.

“The club director is the person in whom the fanaticism of the terraces and the urge for authority fuse. He is imbued with a desire to manage,  yet is activated principally by his partisan local involvement and the moral approach he brings to the wider issue. ”

– Arthur Hopcraft , The Football Man (1968), p. 140

Arthur Hopcraft was writing about the game in England when he penned those words, but he might well have been talking about the directorate of any of the League of Ireland’s clubs in the same era. Hopcraft’s book was published in 1968, the year Manchester United became champions of Europe for the first time. When the draw was made for the first round of the competition in 1968/69, a small city on the south-east coast of Ireland, with a long footballing tradition, recently crowned champions themselves at home could hardly believe their luck when they were drawn against the mighty European champions from across the Irish sea. Neither I’m sure could their board, including a relative of mine, Willie Toms. Continue reading “The Football Man: Willie Toms, 1910-1983”


Sex & Docks & Roll & Roll! Paddy Neary and the National Seamen’s Reform Movement

In 2010, a play was performed in Liverpool, written by  former Chumbawamba frontman Allan Whaley, called Sex & Docks & Rock & Roll. The play, a comedy with musical numbers, concerned the activities of the McDermott family in 1960 as they found themselves caught up in the protests to free imprisoned strike-leader Paddy Neary.  A piece that appeared in the Liverpool Echo notes of the play that “Against a backdrop of picketing, marches and jailings one local family, the McDermott’s, fight, laugh, lie and sing their way through these challenging times.” The events that inspired Whaley’s production though were no laughing matter. And, unlike the McDermott’s, the Neary family was very real indeed, as was the jailing of Paddy Neary in Brixton prison for seven weeks in August of 1960.. This was a serious stand-off between workers and their cosy-with-the-bosses union leadership, especially union secretary Sir Thomas Yates. The seamen wanted a guaranteed 44-hour working week and were willing to fight for it. Continue reading “Sex & Docks & Roll & Roll! Paddy Neary and the National Seamen’s Reform Movement”

Steadfast and True: A Book Endures


One of the great things about studying history is that you can bring your historical knowledge and understanding to bear upon your own personal, family history. You can give context to your family’s past. And yet, history can remain something deeply personal. The best history is usually about people, their lives and times. I recently attended a symposium in the National Library of Ireland, hosted jointly by the National College of Art and Design and IADT. The topic for the day was “Small Histories”, the history of material culture that made up the everyday lives of people in the period 1870-1921. I gave a paper on Dick Fitzgerald’s How to Play Gaelic Football, but the personal nature of some material put me in mind of a book which my family still have that belonged to one of my grandparent’s when they were young, growing up in the 1920s. Continue reading “Steadfast and True: A Book Endures”