Irish boy jailed for playing football

I was shocked and puzzled when I made this particular discovery. There does not seem to be any sub-story or political overtones about this grievous offence. It’s as straightforward as the headline. A schoolboy plays football, and is charged with the offence of playing football, and ends up in prison alongside hardened adult criminals.

Here’s the offence as written by the prison clerk upon the poor lad’s admission to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. 1907 playing footballJohn Honer was a 15 year-old lad in November 1907. He was just four feet, five and a half inches tall, and weighed in at a worryingly undernourished 77 lbs. Despite all this, the local constabulary, and the judiciary, and the prison service, thought it right and proper that this tiny schoolboy should be removed from Dublin’s streets to make it a safer place for the law-abiding majority. In court, he was fined one shilling and sixpence when convicted of his misdemeanor. Obviously, the boy was not carrying this amount of cash, so he was thrown into jail sharing cells with drunkards, beggars and fighting men.

Thankfully, the family of young John Honer soon paid for the release of the dangerous footballer. Hopefully, he was not scarred for life by his experiences at the mercy of the custodians of pre-Free Irish State law.

1907 Prison Register (crime of playing football)

                    There’s young footballer John Honer … on the bottom line

You would be forgiven for thinking that this sad event was linked to the British authorities’ ban on the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and their ancient Irish sports. The Brits suspected that GAA sports meetings were also used to rouse anti-British feeling and recruit rebel soldiers – and their suspicions were right, of course. But GAA games were never banned outright, and it was as late as 1916 when a decree from Dublin Castle insisted that permits must be sought for organised competitions. The GAA ignored the order and, in an act of outright defiance, increased the number of official fixtures on the following weekend. An estimated 54,000 GAA members played their beloved games on Gaelic Sunday [August 14] 1918. I hope “big” Johnny Honer was one of them.

 

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Happy Birthday to Football

As the 20th staging of the FIFA Word Cup international football tournament finals gets underway today in Brazil, I thought it appropriate to combine my interest in genealogy with the great sport of [Association] Football – or soccer as it is known in countries such as America and Ireland where native team game players of old stole the football name before it could be copyrighted (yet perversely all other versions of football involve moving the ball by hand, mainly).

Even Football Clubs have birth certificates, strange as it seems – and some clubs are “getting on a bit.” Most established English clubs are now older than the oldest living Englishman. The FC birth cert below shows that one of England’s most successful teams, Liverpool Football Club, celebrated its 122nd birthday just last week. As with traditional vital records, this particular birth cert records the name of the proud father of the new arrival. In a bizarre twist which amuses football fanatics on Merseyside, Liverpool FC was spawned by its long-time arch-rival, Everton FC. In 1892, Everton was a popular and strapping 14 year-old. As genealogists know, in Victorian times it was quite common for teenagers to enter fatherhood or motherhood. Amazingly, LFC’s father, Everton is still going strong and rather cheekily keeps making comeback appearances which threaten to destabilize the red team’s recent domination of the soccer-mad city of Liverpool in terms of on-field success.

1892 LFC birth_certificateAs a consequence of sharing my life with a Red Scouser, Liverpool FC have become my second favourite domestic side. I will never abandon my “first team” though, after my father dragged me along to become a spectator of my first professional football match as a schoolboy. 1875 BRFCAncestrally, my family developed an unbreakable affinity with Blackburn Rovers Football Club which is even older than Liverpool FC and its daddy, Everton. As the club badge shows, Blackburn Rovers was baptized as a club in 1875, although this was a delayed christening after other nicknames had been adopted and rejected by the new kid on the 1870’s football scene.

Even BRFC was a relative youngster when it came into formal existence. The honour of elder statesman in English professional football ranks goes to Notts County FC. In November this year, Notts County will be 152 years-old having played about 4,750 Football League matches. County is still capable of showing some young upstarts a thing or two about the beautiful game, although the old man has not been fit enough to compete in the top division for 20 years. “At the end of the day, the legs have gone, late in the game,” as a semi-literate TV pundit will probably say more than once during the next glorious month of World Cup highlights.

The first FIFA World Cup Final tournament was held in South America in 1930, so it’s appropriate that the same continent hosts the finale of the 20th competition. My beloved BRFC was already in late middle age by then, and County had even become a pensioner. It’s a funny OLD game.