Jimmy Dunne: From IRA prisoner to Bramall Lane hero who set a record that is still untouchable

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JIMMY DUNNE’S legend lives on and not for just his football prowess.  A man believed to have been a member of the Irish Republican Army whom became a hero at Bramall Lane, hitting 143 goals in 173 league appearances(167/190 in total) for Sheffield United at the top tier of English football.

Jamie Vardy, below, on 11, failed to score at the weekend for shock Premier League leaders Leicester City thus preserving Dunne’s record of being the only player to strike in 12 consecutive top tier matches.

A feat that still stands after 84 years and is now unlikely to be surpassed. But who was Jimmy Dunne?  His is a remarkable story, the like of which would be dismissed as a scriptwriter’s fantasy had it not been played out for real.

By today’s standards Dunne would be a global superstar with a multi-million-pound bank balance to match. His name as familiar with football fans throughout the world as Ronaldo, Rooney and Romario.

The reality is just as surreal. As a young teenager, Dunne, born in Dublin in 1905, took part in the Irish War of Independence, siding with the IRA against the British and was jailed for his allegiance to the organisation.

Interned at  theCurragh Camp in County Kildare and Portlaoise prison in Leinster, where he went on hunger strike, the Gaelic football enthusiast learned and honed his football skills of the Association variety in the exercise yards. A star was born. On release in 1923 he signed for Shamrock Rovers, a decision which in the climate of the time earned him a ban from Gaelic football, the preference of Republicans who despised the English game. Its loss was the makings of him.

UNLIKELIEST OF BEGINNINGS

A man who from the unlikeliest of beginnings would dominate English football, represent Ireland on both sides of the divide, the Dublin-based Football Association of Ireland Xl and the Irish Football Association Xl whose home is in Belfast. In his later years, as player-manager of Shamrock Rovers, he guided them to League of Ireland titles in 1938 and ’39.

Football in Britain was brought to a halt by the Second World War but because the Free State’s (now the Republic of Ireland) declared neutrality, domestic competition continued allowing Dunne to carry on playing. Having moved to Bohemians, who he managed for five years, he retired as a player at the age of 37 in 1943.

SNUBBED HITLER

His country's political position, however, didn’t stop Dunne, a committed socialist, from having his say about Nazi Germany. Prior to the outbreak of war he captained Ireland against the Germans in Bremen, ordering his team to snub Adolf Hitler by refusing to make the expected Nazi salute before kick-off, unlike England in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium a year earlier in 1938.

  SHAMEFUL:  ENGLAND JOIN IN NAZI SALUTE BEFORE PLAYING GERMANY IN BERLIN IN 1938

SHAMEFUL: ENGLAND JOIN IN NAZI SALUTE BEFORE PLAYING GERMANY IN BERLIN IN 1938

Dunne is said to have reprimanded any waverers as the German national anthem rang out, by shouting “Remember 1916 (the Irish Easter uprising against the British), remember Aughrim (a decisive battle in1691 where the catholic Jacobites suffered a bloody defeat to the protestant William of Orange).
 
The Blades paid £800, a substantial sum in those days, for young Irish rebel Dunne who was making a name for himself playing for New Brighton in Third Division North, having become disillusioned with junior football at Shamrock Rovers.

But he was no overnight sensation at the Lane. It took him three years and a brief spell on the transfer list before he blossomed so spectacularly as a regular first team choice.

He finished the 1928-29 season with 36 goals in 46 league appearances as United, true to customary rollercoaster fashion even then, maintained their top tier status only on goal difference.

INCREDIBLE GOAL HAUL

Dunne was United’s leading scorer in four consecutive seasons all in the top tier (the old First Division), exceeding 30 league goals in three of them. His best haul was in 1930-31 with an incredible 41 from as many appearances and 50 in all competitions. Dunne’s record-making 12 successive strikes arrived the following season.

Sold to Arsenal for £8,250 in 1933, United had earlier turned down a bid of £10,000 for Dunne from Gunners’ manager Herbert Chapman. No change there then. The Irishman won the league title with the Londoners that season, scoring nine goals in 23 appearances. The Blades were relegated.

After losing his first team place at Highbury following the arrival of new manager Ted Drake, Dunne was dubbed ‘the most expensive reserve in English football’. He later joined Southampton before returning to Ireland and Shamrock Rovers.

His footballing allegiance, however, always remained with the Blades. He died of a heart attack in 1949, aged only 44 during his second spell as manager of the Irish club. Dunne was buried at a Dublin cemetery wearing a Sheffield United shirt.

Jimmy Dunne – 1905-1949 – a truly extraordinary man.