‘I played Zinedine Zidane when he still had hair!’
5 MIN READ
Dave Tilson, Head of Markets, oversees the interest rate, foreign exchange and credit trading markets for Bank of Ireland Global Markets. When he’s not leading his high performing team of 50 traders, Dave is dissecting the latest announcement by Mario Draghi, and working out the ECB’s next move and its effect on interest and exchange rates.
But from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Dave was one of the most electrifying footballers in Irish soccer, with spells at UCD, Bohemians and Shelbourne. Here he recalls scoring the winning goal in the 1992 FAI Cup final, playing against the legendary Zinedine Zidane, and watching a league title slip away after the team bus broke down.
How did you get into soccer?
I grew up playing soccer with the other kids on my street in Ringsend. Eventually I started playing with local club Cambridge Boys. Rocky O’Brien and Liam O’Brien lived around the corner from me. You could say they were role models for us kids, as they had both played for Cambridge Boys and had gone on to play professional football.
How old were you when broke into the Irish youth team?
I didn’t get called up until I was 17 and playing for UCD. That put me in the shop window. In one of my first games for UCD, I scored against Shamrock Rovers. At the start of 1986, I got called up to the Ireland Under 18 squad for a match against Scotland at Tolka Park and another against England at Elland Road.
By the time you joined Bohemian FC in 1989, you were working at NCB Stockbrokers. Did your career at NCB deter you from playing soccer in England?
Around 1992 there was a lot of chatter and speculation about me being signed up by an English club. Howard Kendall (Everton) and Lou Macari (Stoke) sent over scouts to watch me play, but nothing concrete came out of it. To be honest, I was fairly agnostic about the whole thing. I liked what I was doing at NCB and didn’t really fancy heading over to Stoke or wherever, as I’ve always been a home bird.
You scored the winning goal in the 1992 FAI Cup final (a 1-0 victory over Cork City) to help Bohs claim their first cup since 1976. Is that your proudest moment in football?
Absolutely – it’s a very special memory for me. I remember the game vividly. I had a chance early on in the match, but took a heavy touch on the ball. The goalie came right out and cleared it. I thought I’d blown it. Thankfully, another chance came my way in the 78th minute and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
You narrowly missed out on a league medal in 1993. Is that your biggest disappointment in football?
It certainly is. We only needed to draw our final match at Dundalk to win the league, but lost that game 1-0. Everything seemed to go wrong for Bohs that day. The team bus broke down on the way to Dundalk and we spent over an hour outside Whitehall church waiting for a replacement bus. By the time we got to Oriel Park we were all over the place psychologically. We didn’t even have time to warm up. In the dressing room after the game the feeling of abject disappointment was palpable. The loss meant that we ended the season level on points with Shelbourne and Cork City. We then competed in a three-way playoff, which we didn’t win.
Did you play many games against foreign opposition?
Between 1992 and 1995, Bohs qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup, and the Intertoto Cup. We played teams such as Odense, Bordeaux, Steaua Bucharest and HJK Helsinki. I also played in a number of friendlies, both with Bohs and as a member of the League of Ireland XI. These included games against Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Celtic, Leeds and Blackburn.
Who was the best player you ever played against?
It has to be Zinedine Zidane. I played against him three times – twice in the UEFA Cup in 1993, and once in the Intertoto Cup in 1995. I’m one of the few players to have played against him when he had hair! But seriously, he was majestic – you couldn’t get near the ball when he had possession.
He scored from a free kick at Dalymount Park in the Intertoto Cup. The following season he went to Juventus. None of the big English clubs attempted to sign Zidane, which just shows you how insular English football was back then. Nobody knew about him – he wasn’t on anyone’s radar. People were asking, “Who’s this guy that’s going to Juventus?”
In 1996, playing for Shelbourne, you won your second FAI Cup medal, but retired from football one year later due to a groin injury. Do you play any soccer now at all?
The doctors told me to do nothing for a few years, just to rest my groin. Then in 2003 I’d heard that a couple of lads who I used to play with at Cambridge Boys were now playing with the Ballsbridge over-35s. I went along and really enjoyed being involved again. Thirteen years later I’m still playing with them.
What has changed most about domestic soccer since your day?
The pitches today are a lot better, which makes it easier for players to control and pass the ball. In my day some of the pitches were bumpy, while others were more like swamps. I remember playing a game for “Bohemian Legends” at Dalymount Park not too long ago, and imagining what it would have been like to have played on such a decent pitch years before. A decent pitch produces much better football and enables players to improve their technical skills.
Take for example Dundalk’s recent success in Europe. Yes, the results are eye-catching, but for me what’s more impressive is their ability to pass the ball and keep possession. I recently read an article that put Iceland’s success in Euro 2016 down to their investment in decent facilities. In an ideal world, you would have good facilities, a strong domestic league and a strong schoolboy league.
Did football teach you anything about management?
Football taught me how you can get the best out of people – both as individuals and as part of a wider team. How I was managed in the past by certain football managers determined how I performed. Some managers got the best out of me. But if I didn’t have confidence in a manager or didn’t like what they were about, my productivity went through the floor.
Written by Raymond Tierney