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This story was meant to be about a priest who was the director of an ailing soccer team, and what he did to revive it, and how that worked out for the fellow he hired to help with the reviving, who’s a guy you’ve heard of if you follow English football.
But then it kind of started to become a story about a man and his dog.
"Well, my name is Father Joe Young. I’m a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Limerick, in Ireland," Father Joe said, until he was interrupted by a dog.
"Limerick Football Club was in serious difficulty. There was a real possibility that it was going to fold up, you know? I was approached by those involved with the board at the time. Would I come in as chairman to see if I could keep it alive. And I agreed without thinking."Father Joe Young
"And who’s that in the background?" I asked.
"That’s my dog, Moses," Father Joe said.
"Moses. It's a bit Old Testament," I replied.
"I know, yeah," Father Joe said. "He's a good boy."
Father Joe and I spoke on the telephone, which is technology we don’t often use, since it doesn’t sound so good on the radio, but…
"I’m the only priest in the diocese that doesn’t have a computer," he explained. "God be with the days when we would sit down and have a cup of tea together, you know?"
I did know, and I do. So Father Joe and I talked on, never mind the dog and the telephone, and we talked about how, back in 1989, Father Joe took on a job that wouldn’t seem to have a thing to do with his vocation.
Father Joe And The Limerick Football Club
"Well, basically, it just happened on one Friday night that Limerick Football Club was in serious difficulty," he said. "There was a real possibility that it was going to fold up, you know? I was approached by those involved with the board at the time. Would I come in as chairman to see if I could keep it alive. And I agreed without thinking."
"I love it," I said. "Do you think it’s possible that Moses could be given a biscuit or something?"
"Well, I’m doing my very best here," Father Joe said. "There’s somebody out in the back, and he’s playing his role."
"He's protecting you," I said. "That's understandable."
Throughout the call there was, as it happens, no danger out back, though Moses continued to feel otherwise.
But back to the story. Father Joe took on the job of the Limerick club because it wasn’t just a football club that needed reviving. In those days, Limerick was a dangerous and violent place. To say the burg had earned its nickname, Stab City, might be an exaggeration. But it might not.
The new director realized that to revitalize the football club, he’d need a manager, even if he didn’t have enough money to pay him.
Selling A Dream
"So I basically got a list of player-managers that were not in employment at the time," Father Joe said. "And I just basically picked up the phone one night and I said, 'I’ll give this a shot.'”
Father Joe called Sam Allardyce, who’d played for West Bromwich Albion, the English team Father Joe had once followed and fancied. He remembered Allardyce had done a stint as an assistant coach as well.
"He answered the phone," Father Joe recalled, "and believed it was actually a friend of his from another football club and thought that I was winding him up, you know?"
"You mean he thought it was a prank?" I asked.
"He did. Yeah, totally," Father Joe said. "I won’t say what he actually said on the air, you know."
I appreciated that very much.
Whatever Sam Allardyce said, he didn’t mean it. Father Joe’s dream of a revived team in Limerick appealed to him, perhaps because, at 36, Allardyce hadn’t much time left as a player, anyway, and his job as an assistant coach had been eliminated for lack of funds. What else had he to do? Still Father Joe wasn’t sure showing Allardyce Limerick’s beat-up pitch was a good idea, at least right off.
"I brought him to the local rugby field. There’s a history of rugby in Limerick, which is known far and wide. And there’s a beautiful pitch in Thomond Park. And I said, 'Have a look at that, Sam!' And he said, 'Boy, that’s great.' Well, I said, 'Well, that’s what it will look like when we’re finished. Now I’ll show you the real field.'"Father Joe Young
"I brought him to the local rugby field," Father Joe said. "There’s a history of rugby in Limerick, which is known far and wide. And there’s a beautiful pitch in Thomond Park. And I said, 'Have a look at that, Sam!' And he said, 'Boy, that’s great.' Well, I said, 'Well, that’s what it will look like when we’re finished. Now I’ll show you the real field.'"
"And was he terribly disappointed to see the real field?" I asked.
"Well, he was," Father Joe said. "And at the same time, he was a bit of a dreamer like meself, you know?"
The Most Brilliant Manager 'This Side Of The Water'
Thus Father Joe sold his dream, and Sam Allardyce bought it. And shortly thereafter, he went to work.
"Ahh, he was brilliant," Father Joe said. "He was absolutely, totally purpose-driven. He had a vision. He applied it. He worked at it. He was the most brilliant manager that I ever saw, this side of the water."
In a year, Allardyce had Limerick F.C. back in Ireland’s top division. Fans started to return. The pitch would be improved. And, as Father Joe told The Telegraph in London, the new coach “gave the youth of Limerick a reason to get up in the morning, to believe there was more to life than sleeping and taking drugs.”
The rookie head coach’s success did not go unnoticed. Sam Allardyce began getting calls from back home in England from clubs that would actually pay him a living wage to do what he had done for Limerick F.C. Father Joe says he wept when Allardyce was hired away, and that Allardyce wept a little as well.
"I’m sorry about my dog," Father Joe said.
"That’s all right," I said. "I love your dog."
"You’d swear he was a German Shepherd," Father Joe said." You could put him into me pocket."
'The Dream Has Come True'
Over the next 15 years, Allardyce moved from club to club, landing, at one point with West Ham United, where he honored the priest who’d enabled him to take charge of a team for the first time.
"He made me honorary chaplain there," Father Joe said. "But I couldn’t be chaplain to England, because I don’t think I will fit in now with my accent, and with the fact that I love the Irish team."
That’s a shame, because this week, Sam Allardyce was named manager of England's men's team.
"I said, 'Look, Sam. The dream has come true. The field has arrived. You’re on the biggest field now in the world.' And I said, 'Don’t forget, we started on a very, very small piece of grass.'"Father Joe Young
"Well, I said, 'Look, Sam. The dream has come true. The field has arrived. You’re on the biggest field now in the world,'" Father Joe recalled. "And I said, 'Don’t forget, we started on a very, very small piece of grass.' And I promised him that he’ll always be in my daily prayers and Mass."
Sam Allardyce may need the prayers. Though England takes credit for inventing the game, their men’s national side has been disappointing…almost forever. But if anybody can revive them, perhaps it’s Allardyce, at least according to Father Joe. Though, truth be told, he’ll be relieved when the fuss over Sam’s appointment subsides.
"It’s been very difficult to be able to say Mass with all the calls I’ve been getting, one," Father Joe said. "Two, I’m finding it hard to work on my prayer life."
I took the hint and offered to end the call, but Father Joe wouldn’t hear of it without bringing us around to the place where our conversation had begun.
"I’ll tell Moses, now, one thing. He’s been on American radio and maybe that’ll make him quiet," Father Joe said.
Maybe it will. And maybe it won’t. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll be delighted to talk with Father Joe Young any time, especially if his former coach one day does for England what he did a while back for Limerick.
This segment aired on July 30, 2016.
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