“Without public pitches, our football club wouldn’t even exist,” says Gavin Fahy.
For three years, UEFA Unofficial has been rotating through the city’s public pitches – arranging kickabouts on different sites every two weeks.
Fahy and his teammate Emil Hernon had grown disillusioned with way the game was – the seriousness had stripped the fun out of it, the corporate language of the game on an official level didn’t match its reality on the ground.
Playing in public pitches has also ignited unexpected relationships. “There’s a community that you can build through just being in a public space,” says Hernon.
Some pitches are easier to access than others, says Fahy.
The Michael Mallin community pitch in the Liberties, for example, is handy. They can just hop the walls, he says. Most pitches have locks on them.
“What we discovered is public pitches are generally made to prevent anti-social behaviour,” says Fahy. But “they also prevent social behaviour”.
Fahy has identified 16 pitches in the Dublin area as public, a list compiled through Google Maps and cycling around the city.
On a misty Sunday morning in April, a little after 10am, they held a game on the community football pitch on Vicar Street, in front of the Michael Mallin flat complex.
There was drum and bass playing, and spectators sharing segments of oranges and fresh banana bread.
It was the team “Build Homes” playing “Not Hotels”, says Fahy, later.
The final score on the board? 84-80. Or at least, it would have been, if the Michael Mallin community pitch had a scoreboard.
“I’d prefer to see the score as 164-0, the community against the developers,” says Fahy. The area behind the pitch is due to be demolished for a 185-bedroom hotel.
The match was also a protest – one in a series of events they’ll be holding under the title of Euro 2020 Legacy Project.
That project is all about bringing enjoyment back into football, and building community through a shared love of the sport, Fahy says.
History of Unofficial UEFA
Both Fahy and Hernon played football at a relatively high level. Hernon played u19 League of Ireland with Salthill Devon, while Fahy played league of Ireland with Cabinteely F.C. Both are interested in art, too.
In 2015, Hernon helped set up 1815, a photography magazine, with Fiachra Corcoran. After they launched the seventh issue at Dalymount Park, with a football match with contributors, they decided to set up 1815 FC.
“Gav had also been doing similar things,” says Hernon, projects that combined a love of sport with artistic pursuits. For example, Fahy cycled to the European football championships in France in 2016, creating his own limited merchandise to mark the occasion.
Both Hernon and Fahy were there in France – although not together. They were enraged, they later realised, by the phrase that UEFA, the official governing body of football in Europe, parrotted: “Football family”.
For them, a football family is about cherishing football, community and the people and places that make this possible, when the reality as they saw it, was that ticket prices for most fans were extortionate, and so were the prices for the merchandise.
Out of this was born Fahy’s Euro 2016 Legacy Project, which includes the matches they’re organising, as well as an attempt to create merchandise that puts the fan and enjoyment at the centre of the game.
For example, Fahy made his own “match-worn” jerseys, tickets and match programmes for each of the four Ireland games in the European Championships.
“I didn’t really know him then,” says Hernon of Fahy. He just knew him from around as “Football Gav”.
Since then they’ve made their own jerseys (the most recent from scratch), training bibs, trophies, bags and programs to accompany the events they put on.
In March 2017, Fahy asked Hernon to design a match programme for an exhibition he had at Steambox in the Liberties, and the two got to know each other.
“We had very similar interests,” says Hernon.
The collaboration grew between Hernon and 1815 FC, and Fahy’s Euro 2016 Legacy Project, which came together as the Unofficial UEFA Project.
Drawing Attention to Public Space
The Michael Mallin spot has been the group’s favoured pitch, says Fahy.
During one of their first games there, they met an interested passerby who was to become a regular at their Sunday-morning football outings.
In fact, every time they have an outing, they’re joined by unexpected players, keen for a game of football, says Hernon.
“We want to make sure all the games are free and open to everyone regardless of age, sex or background,” says Fahy.
Everybody that joins the gang for the game gets an Unofficial UEFA programme, designed by Fahy.
For every public football pitch that they play on, they get a sticker for that ground for their programme.
The Legacy Project
The protest against the hotel at Vicar Street was one of a series of events that are part of their Euro 2020 Legacy Project, says Fahy.
The idea is to build communities around the European football championships, some of whose games will take place in Dublin.
“We want to show that these tournaments are not just about tourists spending money and then leaving 3 days later. We want to make sure that the tournament is aimed at people as a whole not just those who spend money in hotels and bars,” says Fahy.
Last September they had a walking tour of the different public pitches in the city. More than 70 people turned up, and divided into teams who played matches across the city. The final showdown was at Mountjoy Square.
“People were having a laugh. Some stayed and had a pint after in Dalymount though people were wrecked. That is exactly what we want,” says Fahy. They also had the trophy presentation there.
They plan to have a similar competition this September, accompanied by more unofficial UEFA memorabilia, based on the official merchandise that Fahy got his hands on at the Euro 2020 draw at the Convention Centre last year.
They’re building their own trophy for the event, too.