As youngsters we all had heroes. Nowadays the young generation take their cue from the all pervasive television. As a result, the players of Manchester United and Liverpool are more likely to provide the focus of attention for Irish youngsters than anyone on the local sporting scene.
How much different it was in my young days. I recall my local sporting heroes as Mick Carolan in gaelic football, Cyril Osborne in rugby and Joe Aldridge in soccer. Mick Carolan was a local man whose involvement with the County team assured his status as a local hero. Cyril Osborne was a rugby player on the Athy senior team whose speed as an out half always seemed as mesmerizing as the efforts of Cecil Pedlow and Mick Gibson on the national team. Joe I recall as a sporting colossus who togged out, as he did every week, as full back on the Athy senior soccer team.
Joe was born in 1929, the youngest of son of Bill Aldridge and his wife Rose formerly a Gleeson from Ardreigh. Interestingly, Bill’s brother Tom Aldridge married Rose’s sister Bridget and their youngest son Frankie Aldridge is remembered today in the name of the local soccer pitch “Aldridge Park”. Bill Aldridge was himself one of Athy’s earliest sporting heroes. His name features in the Annals of Handball as the Irish singles hardball champion of 1925.
Joe Aldridge left school at 14 years and got his first job as a messenger boy for Murphy’s Commercial House in Emily Square. A similar job in the Co-op Stores at the corner of Leinster Street and Stanhope Street proved more attractive coming as it did with a proper messengers bike complete with a cavernous basket. When filled with groceries, the basket proved more than a match for Joe’s young legs. Many a time the young fellow had to dismount and push the bike, especially when faced with the daunting prospect of travelling over the railway bridge on the Dublin road. Like many other young fellows in Athy, Joe when he passed his 15th birthday joined the Asbestos factory. It was to be his place of employment on three different periods during his working life and it was from there that he retired on health grounds in 1982.
Joe remembers the canal boats lined up along the canal side waiting to be unloaded of bags of asbestos in the 1940’s. I was reminded of a similar scene witnessed some time ago in India as Joe described workmen carrying bags of asbestos from the canal boats using narrow planks as walking platforms. Men worked without a break from the time they clocked in until lunch time and thereafter until clocking out time. No tea breaks in those days and if you took one without permission, you were likely to get the sack.
There is not a street or terrace in Athy which in the 1940’s and the 1950’s did not see a large part of its community take the emigrant boat to England. Joe Aldridge joined the exodus in 1949 travelling to join several Athy men in a factory in Edgeware in Middlesex, England. He recalls Pete Day, Johnny Robinson, Jim Kelly and Paddy Scott, as some of the Athy men he worked with in that English factory. A visit home for Christmas eighteen months later resulted in Joe taking a job with the D. & J. Carbery’s. While Joe was with Athy’s best known building contractors, he worked on the building of Scoil Mhichil Naofa and Jack Gorman’s Garage on the Carlow Road.
In 1955 Joe was on the move again, this time to Glasgow where he remained until 1958 apart from a short period spent in Athy while recuperating with a broken wrist. Joe married Pat Whelan in July 1958 and since then he has lived at 35 St. Joseph’s Terrace.
Joe’s sporting involvement over the years was not confined to soccer. For about one and a half years, he played Gaelic Football for Athy and featured on the Senior team. It was the infamous Ban which ended his career as an Athy Gaelic Football player, as it did the career of a number of other young players at the time. Apparently, Joe together with Cha Chanders, Stephen Leonard, Paddy Ryan and some others who regularly featured on Athy Gaelic Football teams togged out one Sunday for the local soccer team. All were swiftly suspended and thereafter they gave their allegiance to the Castlemitchell Club which was apparently more tolerent of players involvement with the local soccer club.
My memories of Joe Aldridge is as the towering force in the last line of defence for the Athy Soccer team. He played his last competitive game when he was 44 years old. Throughout his long playing career he had many team mates including Mick Aldridge, Onie Walsh and his brother Tommy, Alo Gallagher, Brian O’Hara, Denis Smyth, Jimmy Murray, Tommy Kiely, Brendan O’Flaherty, Stephen Leonard, John Quinn, Tom Hogan and Noel Myles.
It wasn’t only soccer that engaged Joe’s interest during his younger days. He was a useful boxer, a sport in which he was involved as a member of the F.C.A. Coached by Peter Bowden, an Athy man who was a former UK Royal Air Force Champion, Joe and his F.C.A. colleagues trained at the Barrow yard in St. John’s lane. He recalls some of those involved in the F.C.A. in those days under Captain Paddy Dooley and Lieutenant Bill Fenelon. They included Peter Whelan, Johnny Murphy, Billy Nolan, Tommy Whelan, Peter “Pips” Ryan, Paddy “Gulliver” Cummins, Joe Brennan and Frank Cahill. These were the good old days as Joe recalls, when a young man could get 21 pints for a one pound note.
As he said himself “I never won anything” but even if the trophy shelf is somewhat bare, Joe had many friends and admirers during his long footballing career. There is however, one medal which Joe won as a member of the Asbestos team which won the Leinster Factory Championship Final in 1961.
As the youngest son of one of Athy’s most famous handballers, Joe, as one might expect was himself a useful exponent of the game in his younger days. While he never played handball with his father, he recalls many games played in the Handball Alley in Barrack Lane where his ability won him many a three penny and six penny wager. Joe who will be 74 years old next July has wonderful memories of a sporting career which stretches across four decades. For one young fellow who watched him during the early 1960’s, Joe Aldridge will always be a sporting hero.