Nine Million Bicycles

Beijing, 3rd November 2019.

Having scoured through two continents by this stage, it was time for the Ballybrack Seagulls to spread the wings and travel further afield. The Seagulls were about to embark on their longest long haul trip to date and venture to the “Country of the Dragon” and the continent of Asia to take on Forbidden City FC of Beijing, China.

Next up for the Ballybrack Seagulls …Beijing!

Having enjoyed the hospitality of our Irish American bredren and the Irish diaspora in Connecticut back in March 2019, the good word about the Ballybrack Seagulls and what we were about was growing and beginning to spread around the world via various means of social media.

Our numerous TV appearances between SaaS Fee in Switzerland along with our FOX 61 News in the states plus the creative video brilliantly compiled by our media manager Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan of our trip to Switzerland was growing in viewing numbers and attracting attention from far afield.

One who had come across the Seagulls was Charles Wharton, a Florida native and a Professor of Law at the Renmin University of China, based in Beijing.

Charles was the manager of Forbidden City FC, a football team based in the City of the Chinese Capital of Beijing, who ply their trade in the International Friend Football League and had made contact with our founder and Seagulls leading all time goal scorer, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan about an International friendly between Forbidden City FC and the Ballybrack Seagulls in November of 2019.

The similarities between the Seagulls and Forbidden City FC were pretty astonishing as they were originally established as social touring side with their first tour to Shanghai taking place in August 2004.

Since then Forbidden City FC had travelled to Shanghai and Bangkok on numerous occasions to take part in International football tours and this led to them entering the International Friend Football League in 2005 were they have enjoyed winning two league titles to date.

The invitation from Charles and the Forbidden City FC lads gave the Ballybrack Seagulls the opportunity to visit one of the most ancient civilisations in the world and taking in a number of world renowned iconic tourist sites such as The Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City itself.

The amazing success of the Connecticut trip had caused great excitement among the Ballybrack Seagulls group and when the word was issued to the group of the invitation to Beijing, it wasn’t long before we had a full contingent travelling under the Ballybrack Seagulls flag to the “country of the dragon”, China.

So on the 31st of October a group of 52 Seagulls gathered at Dublin Airport for first flight of our epic journey to Beijing, via Heathrow International Airport.

Adorning our freshly commissioned Kappa Sports casual attire of Sky Blue tops and navy track bottoms, along with the Shegulls in their newly created ladies ranges of pink and navy, the Ballybrack Seagulls took flight for the Capital City of the People’s Republic of China.

It’s worth noting the travelling party had gone through some amount of political red tape at this stage to get their hands on a coveted Chinese Visa to gain access to the People’s Republic of China, which had added to the excitement and anticipation for this trip.

Once again the trip to Beijing saw the return of the famous five Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan, Rob “The Professor” Dunne, Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen, George “Skiddely” Downer and the Captain Martin Hewitt to the playing roster, with the well-established management team of “Uncle” Ray Downer and his assistant Noel “Nipper” Finn back on board.

In addition we had the returning Jimmy “The Grump” Mowlds as director of Football. This was Jimmy’s first trip back on a Seagulls FC ticket since his terribly disappointing joint management role in New York City in 2016.

We were more than happy to see so many Seagull vets added to the players list, such as Rob “Camino” Murphy, Shane “Boyband” O’Kelly, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey, Willie “Safe Hands” Devlin, Paul “Ozzy” Osbourne, Ray “Pirlo” D’Arcy, Glen “The Kid” Keddy, Derek “Becker” Timmons, Graham “Rusty” Grundy, Gary “Gazza” McNabb, Damien “Chopper” Wallace along with the famous five but what makes the Seagull tours special is the new recruits we add, which saw the likes of Justin “Paddy” Jones, Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh, Ciaran “The Blade” Fadden, Dale “The Nutmeger” Gannon and Sam “Charlie” Chaplin added to the squad of players in line to make their Seagull debut.

This trip to China was also going to see our youngest recruit Stephen “The Boy” Byrne, make his debut and at the age of 16, become the youngest Seagull in our playing history, out stripping the previous young gulls in the age stakes, like Sean “The Graduate” O’Sullivan, Josh “His Mam has got it going on” O’Reilly and Rhys “Mini Twinkle Toes” Lacey by more than 12 months!

Of course the success of a Seagulls tour is hugely dependent on its travelling supporters with many returning hardy souls such as Joan McGrath, Pauline and Paul Byrne, Angela Campbell, Michelle Hewitt, Lesley O’Sullivan plus Abaigeal and Bobby O’Sullivan, Cyril “The Squirrel” O’Sullivan, Tyrone McNabb, Ann and Ed McDonnell, Claire O’Kelly along with Grace, Tiarnan and Alfie O’Kelly plus Karan Burke, Lilli Keddy, Pixie Keddy and Travis Keddy all on board it for this epic trip to Asia.

We were also lucky enough to be welcoming new group of traveling companions for our trip to Beijing such as Stephen Byrne, Kerry Byrne, Dylan Byrne making the journey to cheer on their Seagull starlet Stephen “The Boy” Byrne, along with Jo Robinson and Shannon D’Arcy cheering on Ray “Pirlo” D’Arcy and Sam “Charlie” Chaplin respectively.

Our first leg of the Journey, was a short flight from Dublin Airport to London Heathrow, saw us land in London with over four hours between our Connecting flight to the newly opened (at time our departure Daxing International Airport, Beijing was only open two weeks) Daxing International Airport, Beijing, we made our way to get a bite to eat and settle down over a couple of beers.

A large group of us settled into the Crown Rivers Bar and enjoyed the bite to eat and others from the party frequenting the Darwin Bar before we all boarded BA0039 British Airways flight to Beijing.

On arrival at Daxing International Airport, Beijing, we were greeted by our native Tour guide for the duration of our stay to the Chinese Capital Yoyo and the Bus transport that was to bring us to Prime Hotel, Wangfujing street in the Dongcheng district of Beijing.

This bus trip will be remembered for the introduction of the Ballybrack Seagulls Swimming Team and Yoyo, our Chinese Tour guide singing Happy Birthday in Chinese to Angela Campbell! 

Having checked in it was time to hit the Beijing night and meet up with our hosts, who frequented the well know international watering hole of Paddy O’Shea’s Bar, near the Canadian Embassy in the Chaoyang district.

It was only as we travelled to Paddy’s that night that we realise the vastness of Beijing, and the struggle we would experience travelling around in the notorious Beijing traffic.

As we all assembled in Paddy O’Shea’s Bar that night a group of Seagulls, Derek “Becker” Timmons, Damien “Chopper” Wallace, Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh and Rob “Camino” Murphy stumbled across a Bar they soon christened the “Chris De Burgh Bar”!

As the lads entered a lavish karaoke bar with glitter balls and disco lights, the Bar owner inquired were they came from”

As soon as the lads told him the reigned from Ireland, on came Lady in Red by Chris De Burgh, which was nice the first time around but when it was left playing on a loop it soon was wearing tin, so clearly the Chinese Irish music collection only stretched as far as Chris De Burgh in this particular bar, so it wasn’t long before the lads pushed onto to meet us in Paddy’s!

Meanwhile back in Paddy’s Bar, happy hour was offering the thirsty Seagulls plenty of entertainment as the Halloween party kicked into full flight, with the “Just Dance” competition on the big screen, seeing the dance bug been captured by Jo Robinson, Shannon D’Arcy, Ray “Pirlo” D’Arcy and Sam “Charlie” Chaplin along with Pauline and Paul Byrne, Angela Campbell, Noel “Nipper” Finn, Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen and Rob “Camino” Murphy to name a few.

All of a sudden the Seagulls party was invaded by a large group dressed up as Teletubbies, with one particular Tinky Winky, getting a bit overly familiar with our very own, George “Skiddely” Downer!

It wasn’t long Tinky Winky unveiled himself to be our very own Ciaran “The Blade” Fadden.

Soon the Teletubbies outfit, commandeered by Ciaran did the rounds among the Seagulls party with Justin “Paddy” Jones, Damien “Chopper” Wallace and Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey entertaining the crowds in the bar on what was a cracking opening night to our trip. 

Day two, saw us rise to enjoy the delights of the buffet breakfast in the hotel before boarding the coach and travelling to the Silk Street Market, one of the largest shopping centres in Chaoyang District, of Beijing that accommodates over 1,700 retail outlets.

Silk Street Market is notorious among international tourists and famous visitors to Beijing for their wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparel and its entertaining shop owners who enjoy the challenge of a good haggle and learning useful phrases from their international visitors, which they will use in the future to pursue the battle of the “yuan” in your wallet

Later that night after enjoyed a nice meal as the Seagulls assembled at the Lobby Bar of the hotel, where we enjoyed a great night among our own company as we readied ourselves for the match day versus the Forbidden City FC.

Day three saw match Day arrive!

The venue for the match was the Western Academy in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, with a 12midday kick off time allotted.

So once again the Ballybrack Seagulls and their supporters enjoyed the delights of the buffet breakfast in the hotel before boarding the bus and making our way to the Western Academy.

The pitch at the Western Academy had a familiar feel to it as it was a pitch beside a Dome similar to our Spawell complex, which helped the Seagulls settle in for the upcoming match.

The Ballybrack Seagulls commenced their pre-match warm up in their new Kappa Sports kit of Red, with yellow trim with a specially commissioned Harp and Dragon logo designed by our very own Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan, emblazed on the front of the Red kit to mark the occasion of only the third Irish team to play on Chinese soil (previous matches included International friendly 3rd of June, 1984 and 2019 Military World Games, October 18”27, 2019 in Wuhan, were the Irish defence forces team reach the quarter-finals).

A strong starting line-up saw Derek “Becker” Timmons start in goal as Willie “Safe Hands” Devlin ruled out through illness, with a familiar back four, consisting of a centre back pairing of Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen and Gary “Gazza” McNabb, with left full position taking up by Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan and the Skipper Martin Hewitt holding down the right full position.

Damien “Chopper” Wallace was giving the task of sitting just in front of the back four, alongside George “Skiddely” Downer, with Dale “The Nutmeger” Gannon, in for his Seagulls debut, playing in the number 10 role with both Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey and Rob “The Professor” Dunne offering width on the respective wings. 

Up top, a familiar strike partnership of Shane “Boyband” O’Kelly, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan was in from the start.

Forbidden City FC stature as former touring side and now regular league side was evident from the kick off.

A team made up of American, UK, Australian and Chinese nationals, they displayed an abundance of technical ability and it was a while before the Seagulls found the feet in the game.

During this period Derek “Becker” Timmons played a pivotal role in keeping the score line on an even keel but it was soon after this that the Seagulls began to go into the game with both George “Skiddely” Downer and Damien “Chopper” Wallace getting grips on the City midfield and Dale “The Nutmeger” Gannon dictating the play to bring our tack on the front foot through our strike partnership of Shane “Boyband” O’Kelly, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan.

The Skipper Martin Hewitt was linking up well with Rob “The Professor” Dunne on the right flank and it was this this combination of play the Seagulls broke the deadlock.

From a City corner the Seagulls cleared the lines with Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan finding Derek “Becker” Timmons with a cushioned header, who in turn rolled out the ball into the path of Gary “Gazza” McNabb, who pushed the ball out to the right to Skipper Martin Hewitt, pushed up the right wing to lay on Rob “The Professor” Dunne.

Rob checked his run and cut back inside to find George “Skiddely” Downer, who had his ankles hacked from behind resulting in a free to the Seagulls, about 10 yards inside the hosts half of the pitch.

As the City defence set itself, Georgie slipped a quick free down the right wing, were the Skipper Martin Hewitt, swung in a dangerous cross that forced the City goalkeeper to flab at it and push it out for a corner as the on rushing strike partnership of Shane “Boyband” O’Kelly and Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan were ready to pounce.

The seagulls set up for the corner with Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey taking a quick corner and following an exchange of passes between Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan, Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey took a right footed strike from the left of the City 18 yard box, only to see his attempt come off the inside of the far post and land perfectly for Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, to slot neatly home to make him only the second Irish footballer to score goals on 3 continents and to leave the half time score line as Forbidden City FC 0 – Ballybrack Seagulls 1

Half time saw the management team make a raft of changes with Graham “Rusty” Grundy stepping in for Dale, the Skipper Martin Hewitt sitting the second half out for Seagulls debutant Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh and Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey making way for the young 16 year old Stephen “The Boy” Byrne and Glen “The Kid” Keddy been introduced for Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan.

We believe it was either after reading a book on Marcelo Bielsa tactics on the long flight over or more likely that he was just standing beside Jimmy “The Grump” Mowlds that the gaffer “Uncle” Ray Downer decided to introduce the “secret” number 9 for the second half of this game however, to say it was a formation mistake is an understatement as the Seagulls midfield was getting over run from the restart of the second half, despite the tireless running and attacking outlet young Stephen “The Boy” Byrne was offering.

It was in the mist of the “secret” number 9 formation we conceded the equaliser to the hosts.

This came about from a Seagulls attack that was broking up by City, who in turn hacked a ball up the wing, which was defended by Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh but the returning ball was misread by Glen “The Kid” Keddy, who’s fresh air clearance allowed the City attack slip by Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen and in a one on one with Derek “Becker” Timmons the City striker finished with aplomb. 

The director of Football Jimmy “ The Grump” Mowlds stepped in and had a word with the management team of “Uncle” Ray Downer and his assistant Noel “Nipper” Finn to point out the “secret” number 9 formation wasn’t working and this saw the introduction of our very own Peter Crouch, Justin “Paddy” Jones alongside Ray “Pirlo” D’Arcy, Sam “Charlie” Chaplin, Ciaran “The Blade” Fadden and Rob “Camino” Murphy, with Shane “Boyband” O’Kelly, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, Gary “Gazza” McNabb and Rob “The Professor” Dunne stepping aside.

The fresh legs brought the Seagulls back into the game with Sam “Charlie” Chaplin and Stephen “The Boy” Byrne threatening the City defence throughout the closing stages of this match but unfortunately despite the best efforts of the Seagulls team they couldn’t turn over the City defence to get the all-important winner and left we the field Western Academy with a share of the spoils from our Asian adventure.

Later that night we all gathered in the Lobby Bar of the Prime Hotel for the now annual Seagull awards night, the emphasis on the awards going to the people that make the Seagulls trips what they are and the people who work tirelessly in the back ground to make things.

As the founder and leader of the Ballybrack Seagulls Mr Wayne O’Sullivan commenced the award ceremony by acknowledging his rock and right hand women. As they say behind every great man is a greater woman and non-greater than Lesley O’Sullivan, as she supporters Wayne in all his endeavours Seagull related, so it was an emotional acknowledgement for Lesley, the first recipient of a Seagulls award.

Up to receive his award then was Noel “Twinkle Toe” Lacey, who takes in a round trip of 176 kilometres, every Wednesday night to train with the Seagulls.

Our Gaffer “Uncle” Ray Downer along with our entertainment manager Cyril “The Squirrel” O’Sullivan received their awards for the contribution to all things Seagulls before the ever present Shegulls of Joan McGrath, Pauline Byrne, Angela Campbell, Michelle Hewitt, Claire O’Kelly received the scripted award saying “A small thank you to a beautiful Shegull for your loyalty, understanding, dedication, love and support” ONLY BECAUSE OF YOU, WE ARE NOT AFRAID.

Unfortunately Nicola Ryan couldn’t make our trip to Beijing due to work commitments, so her dashing partner Rob “The Professor” Dunne who luckily enough had taken some of her outfits with him, dressed up to kindly collected her award on her behalf.

Following the awards night we enjoyed the hospitality of the Lobby Bar to the wee small hours to top off a very enjoyable day. 

Day 4 saw the tourist element of our Asian adventure with our friendly tour guide on hand to bring us to visit the Ming Tombs and visit the Great wall of China.

On route to the first stop the Ming Tombs, Yoyo told us all about Empress Dowger, “the Dragon Lady”, which is definitely a tale that has stuck in our heads.

The Ming tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China, with the majority of the Ming tombs located in a cluster near Beijing and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty.

At this side we witness the local leave money on the tombs in hope it will bring the luck to a better life and at the Lingxing Archway, we learned that the man should step through a door way leading with his left leg and the women leading with their right leg, when Yoyo was asked why this was, the SHEGULLS were quick to point out that it’s because the women alright right!

Following our visit to the Tombs we stopped off Beijing Jade Article Factory, where we were showing the handcrafted skills and the importance of the Jade stone in Chinese culture, with its status as a symbol of goodness, preciousness and beauty.

At the Jade Factory we enjoyed a traditional lunch before we moved on to the Great Wall of China in Huairou District.

Having used the available Cable cars to climb the impressive 2,624ft above Sea level the Seagulls unveiled the “WE ARE BALLYBRACK” Flag and sang “Be Not Afraid as we explored series of fortification systems that were built across the historical northern borders of China during the Ming dynasty.

One on the highlights of the trip was to admire the scale of this structure plus the fact we enjoyed a “Monday Club” afternoon beer or two on the Great Wall of China, something not to many can boast about.

Day 5 saw the Seagulls continue with their tourist adventure with our tour guide bringing us to the infamous Tiananmen Square, located in the centre of Beijing, and named after the Tiananmen (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’), it’s certainly famous for most westerners follow the Tank stand-off in 1989 but for the Chinese its where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in the square on October 1, 1949, with this event is still observed there every year since.

The day of our visit, thousands of Chinese natives were in a line looking to enter Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong.

Tiananmen Square also separates you from the entrance to the Forbidden City, a palace complex in central Beijing, that houses the Palace Museum, and was the former Chinese imperial palace and state residence of the Emperor of China from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty.

As we strolled through the Forbidden City we found ourselves playing a real life game of “Where’s Willie” when Willie “Safe Hands” Devlin somehow got mixed up with another tour group and only linked back up with us at the end of the tour when we found him at the Palace Gates. 

Our final location to visit was the impressive Temple of Heaven, which is an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the south-eastern part of central Beijing in Dongcheng district.

This complex was constructed in the Ming and Qing dynasties with the complex visited by the Emperors of these dynasties for annual ceremonies to the Heavens for good harvest.

We topped off our day with a large number of the group returning to the Silk Street Market to load up on some more designer products before we got ready for our departure from Beijing to following day. 

The night saw us finish out our stay at the Prime Hotel with a night in the Lobby Bar sipping on Tsingtao Beer and reflect on what was an amazing Asian adventure to the City of Beijing.

The following day as we boarded our flight from Daxing International Airport, none of us could have imagined how the world would change and life as we knew it.

What next for the Ballybrack Seagulls?

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