The clash of the Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Euro 2016 will be the first time both nations have met in a major tournament. Nearly 77 years ago the countries faced each other for the first time in the qualifiers for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Due to Finland pulling out of the group, the games between Ireland and Sweden in effect became a play-off to compete in the finals in Brazil.
The Irish, led by Jackie Carey of Manchester United, headed to the Resunda Stadium and a promising start saw the Boys in Green take the lead after nine minutes through West Brom’s Davy Walsh. Sweden responded in the 17th minute with Anderson’s penalty, added to by Jeppson and Liedholm to create an uphill task for the Irish in the second game.
Ireland’s goal-scorer that day had his own remarkable football story. Davy Walsh was born in Waterford on 28th April 1923. While in the South-East, he attended Mount Sion and was considered a fine Gaelic football goalkeeper when the school reached the Harty Cup final against Thurles CBS in 1939. Yet it was his exploits in the junior league in which he scored eight goals in his first game which led him to pursue football over Gaelic Games.
Walsh’s professional career in soccer began with Limerick United (and a brief spell with Shelbourne of Dublin) before a move to Irish League side Linfield – the first Catholic to sign for the Belfast outfit – propelled him to the attention of English clubs. A prolific three years in Northern Ireland including an incredible 73 goal haul in the 1945/46 season paved the way for a move to the Midlands with West Bromwich Albion. He left Linfield with two Irish Cup winners medals for 1945 and ’46. In the latter final he contributed two goals in the three-nil victory over Distillery. The reason for Walsh’s goal-scoring prowess not being fully acknowledged is due to the suspension of the Irish League during the Second World War and the creation of a Northern Regional League which he won twice.
Linfield are not only the most successful club in the history of club soccer in Northern Ireland but are considered a Protestant club which holds great affection for Walsh – voted as one of their top 25 footballers of all time. Not only was he one of the few Catholics to have played for the Blues, but most definitely one of the few from outside Belfast. Reminiscing on his time in the North, Walsh stated: ‘That was the happiest period of my career…I was made totally welcome, part of the family and never experienced problems on any issue.’
Walsh was also a dual international, playing for both Ireland teams, the IFA XI and the FAI, for whom he featured in the win against England in Goodison Park in 1949 — the first side ever to defeat the English on their own soil. He passed away in March 2016 aged 92.
But back in ’49, the Swedes arrived in Dublin and in front of 41,031 crowd at Dalymount Park, Eire fell to the same score-line as the first leg. Swedish teenager Karl-Erik Palmer became the first player to score a hat-trick against Ireland. The home side’s only reply came through Con Martin. Born in Dublin, Martin would play for Walsh’s hometown club Waterford in the late 1950s. Prior to this he lined out for Drumcondra, Glentoran, Leeds United and Aston Villa (whom he played his club football with in 1949). He had what proved a brief flirtation with Gaelic Games playing and winning an All-Ireland for Dublin in 1941. However, due to the ban on GAA members playing ‘foreign games’ he was expelled from the organisation and did not receive his winners’ medal until thirty years later.
In another interesting circumstance Martin was a member of the Irish Air Corps until Glentoran bought him out of the army in 1946. Another player of that international team to serve in the army forces was its captain Jackie Carey. He served in the British Army and was stationed in Italy and the Middle East. After the war he achieved much success with the Red Devils with a league title in 1952 after captaining the team to FA Cup victory in 1948. He was the last Irish United captain to lift the Wembley showpiece until Cork’s Noel Cantwell in 1963.
For Sweden, a trip to Brazil in the summer of 1950 awaited. They would top a group made up of Italy and Paraguay finishing as the third place team after another group phase. The significance of this World Cup was not only the humiliation of Brazil by Uruguay in the final which altered the international game forever but also saw the introduction of the Jules Rimet Trophy to mark the 25th year of his FIFA presidency.
The Swedish hero in Dalymount Park, Karl Erik-Palmer went on to play for Legnano and Juventus in Italy returning to first club Malmo in 1960. His international career though brief was certainly prolific scoring nine goals in fourteen appearances, three of which came in the finals of the 1950 World Cup.
In another twist, because of the withdrawal of several countries before the tournament began, an invitiation to travel to Brazil landed on the desk of the FAI. Citing the short notice and the costs involved, the Irish rejected the offer.
The wait for Ireland to reach a major tournament lasted until Euro 88 while Sweden have appeared at eight World Cup and six European Championships. The two face off for the first time at a finals in France with the Republic of Ireland hoping to write the latest chapter in their own footballing history.