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The story of Shamrock Rovers is rich in the names of the great players who played their part in the many successes that have been recorded. The name of William ‘Sacky’ Glen first appeared on a Shamrock Rovers team sheet during the 1921/22 season when the Ringsend club were members of the Leinster Senior League.
William Glen was born on Saturday, 18th July, 1903 to Robert and Maria Glen. The family at that time lived at 25 North William Street. The 1911 census shows that the family had since moved across the river and settled at Somerset Street in Ringsend. The Glen family were members of the Church of Ireland.
William or ‘Sacky’ was obviously a very talented footballer and little could his parents have known at the time just how much their moving to Ringsend was to influence their second youngest son as a sportsman in the years to come. A right half, ‘Sacky’ was to play on the Shamrock Rovers team throughout a period in which the club grew out of the junior ranks to rapidly become the most successful club in the League of Ireland by the time he made his final appearance for the Hoops at the end of the 1936/37 season at the age of almost 34.
Although a keen supporter of Shelbourne ‘Sacky’ signed for their rivals, Shamrock Rovers. Remarkably, he had not played junior football prior to that so whoever was responsible for bringing him to Rovers certainly made a good spot. He played on the Rovers’ team that had a tremendous season in 1921/22 winning the Leinster Senior League title in style. That same team enjoyed what could only be described as an incredible run in the first ever FAI Cup campaign going all the way to the final. The Ringsend team were a formidable side and had they enjoyed just a little bit of luck they may very well have overcome an impressive St. James’s Gate in the final. The Crumlin side had proven themselves to be the best team in the newly formed League of Ireland and went into the final seeking to achieve a historic double.
They did not take Shamrock Rovers for granted either. The Ringsend team themselves had been rated by football correspondents during that season as being as good if not better than some of the League of Ireland sides. ‘Sacky’ had played his part amongst a mean Stripes defence and in 1922/23 he was again on the side as Shamrock Rovers made history in becoming members of the League of Ireland. They won the league title at the first time of asking repaying the faith of those who, the previous year, had put their belief in the team.
Shamrock Rovers, a club that had struggled on and off amongst the junior ranks from 1899 to 1921, had finally arrived on the senior scene and the 19-year-old Glen had already established himself as a permanent fixture in the team. William ‘Sacky’ Glen was not just a history-maker; he himself witnessed history being made at Shamrock Rovers off the pitch as the club moved to their own ground on Milltown Road in 1922. He was still a regular during the 1924/25 season when Rovers won the League, Shield and FAI Cup. The FAI Cup final on St. Patrick’s Day proved to be a tense encounter between Rovers and their old Ringsend rivals Shelbourne. Rovers were winning 2-0 when ‘Sacky’ got his name amongst the list of scorers but it wasn’t for Rovers he scored, he headed an own goal into the net to make it 2-1 and set up an exciting closing period to the game.
In 1926 ‘Sacky’ again witnessed history off the pitch with the opening of the new ground at Milltown. He was on the team when the stripes were discarded in 1927 and replaced with a new hoops design on the jersey. In 1928 the new grandstand was built and officially opened as Shamrock Rovers continued to build on and off the pitch.
It was on the pitch though that ‘Sacky’ Glen made his own mark. Continuing as a stalwart at the heart of defence, ‘Sacky’ was present on the team throughout the famous five FAI Cup successes in a row from 1929 to 1933. He lined out in 1936 also when the Hoops beat Cork in the final and gained his seventh winner’s medal in the process. ‘Sacky’ also gained four league winner’s medals having been on the side in 1922/23, 1924/25, 1926/27 and 1931/32.
On the international front ‘Sacky’ made his debut for the Free State Association against Italy at Lansdowne Road on 23rd April, 1927. He gained 8 caps in total, the final of which was against Luxembourg on 9th May, 1936. He also made two appearances for the Free State League at inter-league level.
William ‘Sacky’ Glen was not only a popular figure at Milltown but also amongst the Dublin football public. It wasn’t unusual at the time for a player to have more than one benefit game, ‘Sacky’ had three over the course of his career. The first was played at Dalymount Park on 14th May, 1930 when a Drumcondra Select team met Shamrock Rovers. A crowd in the region of 12,000 came through the turnstiles proving how high the Hoops’ defender was regarded. It was a fitting game too and ended 3-3 after extra time. There was a set of valuable watches up for grabs for the winners meaning that a winner had to be decided. As Drumcondra had one corner to their credit more than Rovers the prizes went to the northsiders but ‘Sacky’ didn’t do badly out of it himself.
A note from Shamrock Rovers was published in the following day’s Evening Herald: “The members of the Management Committee of the Shamrock Rovers club desire to publicly express their appreciation of the loyal support given of the Glen Benefit match played last evening. They wish to specially thank the Bohemian club for the use of Dalymount Park, Drumcondra F.C. for the enthusiastic co-operation of the Executive, the players who provided a first-class exhibition, the referee who handled the game and the public who supported it”.
After he departed Shamrock Rovers ‘Sacky’ wasn’t quite finished. He was to later join Shelbourne and played for the ‘Reds’ in the FAI Cup final of 1939 when he scored the only goal in the replay and won his eighth winner’s medal. That was a record he held up to 1978 when it was matched by Johnny Fullam who was on the Hoops’ team that beat Sligo Rovers in the decider that year.
An article by ‘Faugh-a-Ballagh’ in the Sunday Independent on 21st February, 1937 contained a wonderful tribute to ‘Sacky’ Glen: “At Milltown last Sunday I heard a spectator ask how long was ‘Sacky’ Glen at Shamrock Rovers. The answer to this is that ‘Sacky’ Glen is synonymous with Shamrock Rovers, for he has been with them through all their triumphs and vicissitudes in senior football.
“He was the right-half on the Shamrock Rovers’ team that were runners-up to St. James’s Gate in the first Free State Cup final – or to give it the proper title, the League of Ireland Cup – and since then he has never lost his place on the side. He has seven Free State Cup medals and the proverbial ‘sackful’ of other prizes.
“As a clubman, his record will compare with the best, for he has 16 years unbroken service with the one club, and on one occasion sacrificed international honours to assist Shamrock Rovers.
“Today, he can still foot it with the best of halves in the Free State: and we wish many more seasons of football, and perhaps, a few more Free State Cup medals, to this great personality in Free State football, for ‘Sacky’ is the only playing link in Free State League football from the foundation of the Free State Cup.”
He had obviously been very happy at Milltown but a major restructuring of the club off the pitch in 1936 when Joe and Mary Cunningham took control was his cue to get out. In an interview with Sean Ryan many years later he was quoted as saying: “When Rovers had a change of ownership in 1936 I got out. Charlie Reid and Peadar Gaskins got out at that time also. I had been captain of the Irish team on the continent earlier that year but, after I left Rovers, I never got another cap so maybe I sacrificed my international career for my principles.”
He moved on to Brideville but when they went bust he signed for Shelbourne so in the end he finally played for his childhood team. At his peak ‘Sacky’ had numerous offers from English clubs but that was in the day of menial wages for professional players across the water and ‘Sacky’ reckoned he was better off at home.
There was only ever one mystery concerning this great servant and performer and that was how he came to acquire his nickname. He always kept that a closely guarded secret and took it to his grave so we may never know the answer. An interesting fact that we do know about him though is that ‘Sacky’ was never dropped from the team throughout his sixteen years at Shamrock Rovers. A truly remarkable achievement indeed.
On 29th May, 1981 William ‘Sacky’ Glen passed away at the age of 77.