Bohemian Football Club wears its difference with pride.
The Dublin team, which plays in the League of Ireland Premier Division, the highest tier of soccer in Ireland (Republic of Ireland), is known for using its platform to champion social causes.
The latest initiative sees Bohemians partner with Grammy-nominated band Fontaines D.C. to highlight homelessness in Ireland. The club, which begins its season next weekend, has unveiled an away jersey featuring Fontaines D.C. and Focus Ireland, a national body that works on tackling homelessness. The deal was made possible with agreement from the club’s main sponsor, Des Kelly Interiors.
Focus Ireland, which helps more than 14,000 people each year who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, will receive 15% of jersey profits.
“The reality is most ordinary people can’t afford to live in (Dublin) and that’s never been the case historically,” Bohemians’ chief operating officer, Daniel Lambert, tells me in an interview.
“We know that football and music both have enormous power to reach people and engage people. Homelessness is not something that must exist, it can, and it should be solved, and we need to ensure as a society that it is not normalized and accepted.”
This is not the first time Bohemians, or Bohs, has campaigned for change.
Last year, the club teamed up with Amnesty International for an away shirt with the message “Refugees Welcome” and an image of a family fleeing. It also sought to raise awareness of Ireland’s Direct Provision system for processing asylum seekers which the Irish government last month said would be phased out over the next four years.
The shirt proved a global hit, with orders from more than 40 countries and a spot in EA Sports’ FIFA 21 video game.
In 2019, the club, from the Phibsborough neighborhood on the northside of Dublin, released a shirt paying tribute to Bob Marley. However, despite support from the late star’s son, it was forced into a redesign after being told it could not use his image. From the redesigned shirt, 10% of the profits went to a fund to continue a fan-led initiative to bring asylum seekers to Bohemians matches.
Dublin band Fontaines D.C. are nominated for a Grammy at tomorrow’s awards for their second album, A Hero’s Death. The band’s drummer, Tom Coll, said they were “extremely proud” to be part of the new shirt.
“We used to rehearse in a little shed in Phibsborough years ago and the spirit surrounding Bohs is something that we found both welcoming and a true necessity to forward thinking, socially conscious action on a community level,” Coll says.
“Seeing their Refugees Welcome kit last season was an eye-opener to what kind of a message a football kit could achieve, instilling pride in a community and also spreading awareness and raising money for a social issue that is grossly neglected.
“We hope that this jersey can do something similar with Focus Ireland and we can raise some money for the tireless work they provide for the homeless community in Ireland.”
Pat Dennigan, CEO, Focus Ireland, said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic meant it was “more important than ever for everyone to have access to a safe place to call home”.
“There are nearly 8,500 people homeless and 2,500 of them are children. This is wrong and unacceptable and must never be allowed to ever become part of the ‘new normal’,” he says.
A member-owned club throughout its 131-year history, Bohemians has forged a reputation for supporting progressive causes. As well as working with asylum seekers and local homeless charities, in January the club appointed a climate justice officer to understand and reduce its environmental impact.
At its highest levels, soccer has become a booming business worth billions. For Bohemians, the focus is on its “obligation to use football as a force for good whenever possible”, Lambert says. It is an approach he would like more clubs to embrace.
“Football has become very privatized and very commodified,” he says.
“All sport is derived from a sense and pride of place, a sense of community and local rivalry. That’s been replaced with this idea where it’s about big business and it’s about a profit-driven entity. That, if anything, is the polar opposite of sport.
“I think that football has the ability to reach people in a way that other things just don’t. I think it’s really important that more clubs take that position (being a force for good) because football really is derived from the population – you need big numbers of supporters, you need people to engage with it.
“There’s a lot of emotion in sport. By taking positive stances on issues, we can bring that emotion, that commitment and that passion to things that can really have a good impact.”