Lives Remembered

Frank Hogan: Three decades spreading the gospel at GAA grounds

Frank Hogan holds his 'John 3:7' sign ahead of a rematch between players from the 1995 All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Tyrone to raise money for the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

FRANK Hogan was probably Ireland's best known GAA fan - even if few actually knew his name.

A fixture behind goalposts with his big, yellow sign proclaiming 'John 3:7', he was as much a feature of big matches as flag sellers or accordion bands.

A Tipperary man by birth, for three decades Frank attended games up and down the country, no matter the distance, weather or occasion.

He was, as his 6ft-long sign suggested, a committed Christian determined to spread the gospel wherever a TV camera was likely to dwell.

The response at GAA grounds, concerts and other public gatherings was usually good-natured and Frank frequently found himself being asked for photos or autographs.

People knew him simply as ‘John' and his fame alone was often enough to secure entry into games.

When Derry won the All-Ireland in 1993, he even headed north to join the homecoming celebrations.

In 2001 Galway fans paid their own tribute during the All-Ireland final with a sign reading ‘Eugene 2:11', after full-forward Eugene Cloonan's exploits scoring 2-11 in the semi-final.

Frank got the idea for the sign while watching the 1987 Wimbledon men's final, when a fan flashed a car number plate reading ‘John 3:16' as winner Pat Cash climbed through the crowds to reach his family.

His own sign initially proclaimed the same verse but he switched to the shorter John 3:7 - “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again'” - after finding the original to explain during a Michael Jackson concert.

Frank said it was so famous that "everybody wants to steal it or buy it. People regard it as a trophy".

Indeed, it twice went missing - the first time after being thrown by fans out of train window.

The second occasion, in 2009, was also on a train journey while returning from an All-Ireland quarter final between Tyrone and Kildare in Croke Park.

Hogan launched a national media campaign and bookmakers offered odds as to where it would reappear.

It was later handed in to Kildare Garda station.

The following year Frank found himself denied entry to a game at Croke Park because of his sign. However, the stadium director later assured him he would always be welcome.

A tailor by trade in Limerick where he lived for many years, Frank said he simply wanted to be a “silent witness” to encourage people to read the Bible.

"All I am doing is pointing to Jesus. I can't charm anybody or force anybody to be a Christian."

Frank Hogan died aged 81 on March 7. He is survived by his wife Myrna, son Jason and daughter Natasha.

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Lives Remembered