Nestled in the south west of Ireland, the City of Limerick prides itself on being Ireland’s sporting capital, at least in an unofficial capacity. It boasts a world-class rugby team, with a stadium to match, and a hurling team that has delighted all with recent success in the all-Ireland and national league championships. Proudly positioned within the finest sporting campus a university has to offer this side of the Irish Sea, is one of only two Olympic size swimming pools Ireland has to offer. Even the city’s richest man, one-time part-owner of Manchester United JP McManus, earned his fortune through sport, albeit through sports trading. The multi billionaire now supports the city’s GAA teams through his non-commercial entity ‘Sporting Limerick’.
For 83 years Limerick was also the home to a football team.
The first Limerick Football Club was founded in 1937 and has had a number of guises throughout its history, rising like a phoenix from the ashes at different stages to be known as Limerick, Limerick United, Limerick City and Limerick 37. Twice league winners, the Super Blues also competed in European competitions on six occasions. In 2019, however, they were forced to wind down due to debts of around £400k.
Teams die. But unlike the demise of Bury in the UK, the disappearance of Limerick FC this time around was not met with faux funeral processions. There were no major protests. No tears. Undoubtedly those close to the club were inconsolable, but the anger never spread. No social media campaigns to save the club. Nothing. A void. No Big Sam-shaped hole in the wall of this great sporting city.
Football has always been a poor relation in a city full of sport. For an outsider, the easiest way to sum up the importance of the different codes is to look at their respective stadiums. The Munster rugby team have Thomond Park, a 25,600 seater world-class stadium, as their home, while the GAA teams reside at the Gaelic Grounds, boasting a capacity of 49,866. The team formerly known as Limerick FC always had a nomadic existence, but their spiritual home was always said to be Markets Field, a 5,000-capacity stadium in the city centre. For one season Limerick did play their home games at Thomond Park, in what was the sporting equivalent of a turkey spending their gap year on Christmas Island.
But this story may not have a sad ending after all. It may not even be an ending, but the start of a new beginning. Out of the demise of the Limerick side of 37 entered Treaty United. Following the former club’s liquidation in 2019, the idea of a new team in Limerick arose. At first, it was to be called Limerick United but was forced to be changed due to threat of legal action from Limerick FC, because they had previously had that name. The women’s team entered the league in 2020, with the men’s side following suit the following year, making it one of the first teams in the world where a men’s side evolved out of a women’s team.
This is not a simple phoenix club story either, with the original Limerick FC still going in the youth leagues. And although pretty much all the supporters went over to a team they could not go to watch at first – because of Covid rules – the team ended the home season with a crowd of 3,000 against University College Dublin. The new side now plays in different colours – red and white – as an ode to the same colours first worn by the Limerick teams of the 1930s. They complete the Atlético Madrid look with blue shorts and socks which also reflect the blue kits worn by previous Limerick clubs over the decades. But they too now call the Markets Field home, meaning football in Limerick is back at its spiritual home.
The 2022 league season kicks off on 18 February with nine teams competing in the second tier as Treaty United look to go better than their maiden season where they reached the play-offs. Last year, Treaty finished fourth in the table, losing out to UCD in a two legged play-off with the Dublin outfit going on to win promotion.
So while football will always remain the lesser watched game in Ireland’s sporting capital, the future looks bright on all fronts and anticipation is already growing for the new year.