A brief history of the Shed End Invincibles

The below is taken from an old SEI website and documents the origins of the group.

The Shed. A rusting relic of the mediocre years of Saint Patrick’s Athletic. Offering undoubtedly the worst views of the pitch from anywhere in the ground. Out of alignment to the pitch since the slope went. Currently in a moribund state, with its glory days a fading memory and expected to last for only a few more years. So the Shed is dead. Jonathan Minnock Stand 1971-1999 R.I.P.

Or is it? Yes, the cynics will say. But I’ve seen this movie before. When we came back to Richmond in 1993/94 the exact same things were being said about the Shed. There were fables aplenty from older fans of the great support that had emanated from the Shed in the 70s. But it was near universally accepted that’s where the story ended. Only heavy rain brought people into the Shed, and the number of people in the entire ground for our first year or so back rarely hit four figures.

Although my first visits to Richmond Park had been as far back as the 1979/80 season, it wasn’t until January 1995 that I first stood in the Shed. We were playing league leaders Cork City and were leading the match from a Johnny Glynn goal. Just prior to this the heavens had opened, sending most punters on the Camac, myself included, into the Shed for shelter. In the second half we were playing towards the Shed End. An entertaining match continued and all was going well until they got an ill-deserved equaliser late on. In this 94/95 season we had already drawn a lot of games we should have won and it looked like a case of deja-vu. Desperate to avoid this, Pat’s pushed hard for a winner, urged on by the enthusiastic roars of the Shed. Then the spark came – Gormley smashed a terrific drive past Biscuits into the corner of the net. The Shed erupted and moments later broke into a rousing chorus of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. It was the only chant of the night (we held on to win 2-1) but something significant had happened. There was a realisation among many in the Shed that night that there was no particular reason why we couldn’t get some sort of atmosphere back into Richmond on a regular basis, and make it a place visiting teams would fear coming to. Although there had always been singing at away matches at the likes of Tolka, since our return to Richmond our small support was scattered too thinly around the ground to create decent noise prior to this. From that point on I could sense something different in our support. The polite applause, more befitting of a century in cricket, that had been greeting our goals for some time gave way to more passionate celebrations. We chased the title in vain that season, but as our attendances began to creep up, the more important home games saw a crowd gathering behind the goal in the Shed and giving vocal support.

The last game of that season saw a new development. We were playing Shels in Tolka. They still had hopes of lifting the title, though they’d have to beat us and then hope on favourable results in Athlone and Dundalk. A win would have seen us qualify for the Inter Toto Cup and this drew our biggest crowd into Tolka for a few years and onto the Riverside. Our second half pressure was rewarded by a well taken Jason Byrne goal, giving us one foot on the plane to Europe. As I was about to sit down again after the goal (we all sat down in those days!) I noticed a blinding flash over my shoulder accompanied by a loud cheer. Some fan had lit up a marine flare, of the type only seen previously in Serie A matches from Italy on Channel 4 on a Sunday afternoon. Although it was a bright, sunny spring afternoon it was still an amazing sight and for a good 60 seconds hardly anybody looked at the pitch. I don’t believe a flare had ever been seen in a National League ground prior to this. Sadly, a late Stephen Geoghegan goal broke Pat’s hearts (part one of a neverending series) and Bohs, who were unfairly allowed to play their last game away to Sligo after everybody else, took the final European place. But just as the team had clearly progressed so much that season, so too had our support and the seeds of organised fan’s displays had taken root.

The bloke with the flare in Tolka that day was a lad I’d got to know to see at the matches, and would usually be accompanied by a couple of his mates. They seemed to be the most passionate about getting an atmosphere going at matches and starting songs etc.

The following season would be a momentous one on the field and on the terraces. A good start to the season saw our home crowds double in a matter of weeks. Again the Shed started to fill, mainly with young lads wanting to express their encouragement by singing. Suddenly nearly every player had a song in his honour, and these would be punctuated by the usual chants of ‘Patrick’s’ and of course, ‘When the Saints..’. Brian Kerr, Pat Dolan and the players keenly supported this new phenomenon and a rapport soon built up between the players and the Shed. Wherever possible, the team starting playing into the Shed in the second half, reviving an old tradition that seemed to have vanished with the slope. Richmond became a fortress and the Shed End the scoring end for Pat’s – the goals being accompanied by wild celebrations as new Saints heroes like Ricky O’Flaherty, Eddie Gormley, Soupy Campbell and Johnny McDonnell saluted the jubilant fans there whenever they scored, Ricky’s fence-hopping antics being especially popular!

It was during this season that I first met the lads that had lit the flare in Tolka the previous season. As it turned out, they lived in Palmerstown like myself. Two of the lads, Conor and Dec were brothers and our former keeper Tony O’ Dowd was also their brother. The other lad was Eamonn and between the three of them they were responsible for starting most of the chants coming out of the Shed. Their pyrotechnic skills were first seen that season in Dalymount to greet Paul Osam’s winning goal against title rivals Bohemians. The return leg of this fixture saw the largest crowd in Richmond for a National League match in many years. A packed shed in full voice witnessed an extraordinary 3 all draw and great goals from Ricky and Soupy. In February 96 we played Rovers at home and the Club unwisely chose to split the Shed in half (closer to 2:1 really, but you get my drift..) between Pat’s and Rovers fans. As if having the most vocal contingent of our greatest rivals in such close proximity wasn’t enough to encourage us all to sing our hearts out, Conor and Dec sent the Shed into a frenzy by lighting the Shed’s first ever flare as the team’s came out. A yo-yo match saw us draw 2-2, each goal accompanied by each section of fans trying to outdo the other with their celebrations, how there wasn’t a riot I’ll never know! As the season wore on flares became our trademark, culminating in that incredible night in Oriel Park which RTE’s cameras captured so memorably, and George Hamilton immortalised with his eloquent words:

‘Those fans, those marvellous fans, bringing a touch of Italy to Oriel Park.’

Indeed George. I’ve no doubt the flares and general atmosphere that season contributed greatly to bringing younger fans through the gate. Every teenage kid (and a few older kids!) who came to the matches wanted to be in the Shed or with the bunch of fans organising the displays. That’s what they had become by now – rather than just reacting to the events on the pitch, an increasing number of fans were intent on influencing them in our favour by spending time and money in preparing the flags, balloons, confetti etc which made that season so memorable. The atmosphere at the Cup semi finals and both finals was fantastic, despite the ultimate loss of the Cup Replay in heartbreaking fashion.

If there was one thing missing from all of this, it was that it didn’t have a name, but that soon changed! After a pre-season friendly against Sunderland that summer, a large group of Mackems were in the Horse and Jockey singing a song that went ‘We are the Sund-a-land, Sund-a-land boot boys’. After the twentieth rendition it became quite addictive, and a few of the lads thought with a bit of amendment it could be a good new Pat’s tune. A huge factor was that no other Irish fans sang anything to this tune, originality and uniqueness, at least within the context of the National League, always being a desirable feature for new songs. The problem was finding some appropriate phrase with the same number of syllables with which to replace ‘Sunderland boot boys’. Conor O’Dowd instinctively came up with ‘Shed End Invincibles’. It was only really intended to fit into that song, but it caught on instantly. I don’t believe it was ever meant to have any violent overtones – more a reference to the fact that Pat’s will never be beaten. The following season Shedenders finally had their own anthem. And how fitting it was that Conor had coined the phrase, because nobody did more to bring the Shed back to life than him. From a situation where literally a handful of people were willing to sing at matches, through encouraging people to go down there, through making up songs, through always being the one with the balls to start them, he got everyone out of their reluctance to sing and showed us all the difference we could all make together to the experience of attending matches. He tragically passed away on May 1st 1997, but his legacy lives on in the spirit of active participation in support evident in our supporters today. It is most appropriate that those most closely involved in increasing noise and colour at St Pats games and helping create the best atmosphere possible do so utilising the moniker he created.

The Shed of course had great days and nights through the 2 in a row days, probably reaching its zenith for the Championship decider against Cork in 99. Since then the nights of great atmospheres have been few and far between, as crowds have reduced markedly since then. However, the SEI have helped reverse this, and whilst the crowds have not been there in huge numbers, a lot of the essentials for a reborn shed reclaiming its rightful place as the most raucous, and inspiring/intimidating (depending on whether you’re in Red and white or not!) terrace in Irish football are in place. It may only take a good run of results to get the crowds back through the gates again. And then all the cynics may have to eat their words. It may not have long left, but don’t rule out a glorious finalé for the Shed just yet…