The history of the England v Ireland fixture is a long and often one sided affair punctuated by rare but glorious victories for the Irish. Ahead of Sunday’s latest installment at the Aviva Stadium, acclaimed football blogger Layth Yousif looks back at past meetings
Pre-World War I the Boys in Green were regular opponents for the English even if the first twenty years of the fixture from 1882 – 1912 saw a rash of victories for the mainland side. Indeed on 18 February, 1882, England won 13-0 in what to this day is still the Three Lions’ record victory, Howard Vaughton becoming one of only four men to score five goals in a single match for England in their history. (Incidentally he was a silversmith by trade and helped make a new FA Cup after the original one disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1895).
Four of England’s biggest nine wins of all time are against the Emerald Isle. (The second heaviest was 13-2 in 1908, number six was 9-0 in 1895 with nine being 9-1 in 1890).
On 7th March, 1891, England fielded two teams on a single day playing Eire at Molineux as well as Wales in Sunderland. Both games were won, 6-1 and 4-1 respectively.
A footnote in history came when, for the first time in modern football, a national team used a coach on 20 February 1897 when Billy Crone was in charge of the Ireland team which lost 6–0 to England.
Two grounds that hosted games in the series don’t even exist anymore: The Dell, Southampton, that played host to a 3-0 in 1901 and The Baseball Ground, Derby which saw a 2-1 win for England the year before the Titanic set sail.
Incidentally, one Jack Reynolds born in Blackburn, Lancashire, in the days before FIFA stopped players from appearing for more than one country, turned out for both sides. His family moved to Ireland as a child and he actually scored Ireland’s only goal in that 9-1 defeat in 1890, ultimately playing five times in green. He then won eight England caps between 1892 and 1897. He scored three in eight games for England but interestingly did not score in a fixture against the Irish in 1894.
On 15 February, 1913, with a team captained by Val Harris and including Billy Scott and two-goal hero Billy Gillespie, Ireland beat England for the first time with a 2–1 win. A year later Ireland went one better and won the championship. Ireland won 3–0 against England at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough with Lacey grabbing two of the goals, the title was won after a 1–1 home draw with Scotland – the last match until the end of the First World War.
However, on 21 September 1949, Ireland became the first ever team to win on English soil, apart from those who competed in the Home Internationals. A Martin penalty and Farrell strike sending the Irish into raptures.
The joyous report from the Irish Independent the day after summed it up:
“The British Lion was in a sorry state last night. His den had been invaded and tail had been twisted by the FAI soccer eleven who scored a sensational 2-0 win at Liverpool…there have been two world wars since Ireland last won…there were 51,047 followers at Goodison Park and the spirit in which they came was summed up as a social occasion. But what a shock they got! Odds of ten to one had been offered against the visitors and there were few acceptors…the English critics too will have a hard task redeeming themselves. Take this piece from an English paper: “Anybody who thinks that Eire will defeat England – Southern Irishmen excepted – needs to have his brain tested”.
Odes were written in homage to what had been described as the greatest victory in Irish football history up until then. A popular ditty at the time included this verse:
“England 0 Republic 2, the tricolour unfurled.
The news sent major shockwaves all around the football world.
English invincibility at last was laid to rest,
For versus lowly Ireland, they had come off second best”
But it was at the old Neckarstadion Stuttgart, West Germany, on 12 June 1988 in the European Championships that stories were born that would be told to grandchildren, legends created and myths re-enforced for all eternity. Or for as long as football is played in Ireland at any rate.
It was the 24th anniversary of the day Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, the 23rd anniversary of the Beatles being awarded MBE’s and the Rolling Stones releasing “Satisfaction”. It was the year The Last Emperor won the Oscar for the Best Film and U2 won album of the year for The Joshua Tree. The Timelords, Doctorin the Tardis was the UK Number One on the day of the game.
Jack Charlton’s ragbag collection of players had been written off by many, not least those on the English side of the Irish Sea. It was the Republic’s first ever competitive football match at a major tournament. Conservative estimates were of 30,000 Irish supporters at the ground, many of whom had taken loans or saved every penny they could since the moment they had qualified eight months previously.
A bond existed between the players and the fans. The Irish lads were accessible, the Irish fans were full of bonhomie and lived life to the full – it made a perfect combination and an antidote to the all-too predictable rioting that went on between the English, Germans and Dutch in the group stages. Back home in Ireland the country came to a standstill as a nation stopped to watch the game.
It was arguably the strongest Irish squad ever. They were battle-hardened and had experience of playing at the top level of English football. One wistful look at the team that day may confirm the fact to many: Bonner, Morris, McCarthy, Moran, Hughton, Houghton, McGrath, Whelan, Galvin, Stapleton, Aldridge. Subs – Quinn for Stapleton (63), Sheedy for Galvin (76). England on the other hand were beset by injuries, Bryan Robson hadn’t played in the lead-up, Terry Butcher was injured and Gary Lineker was listless and ineffectual (he was later found to be suffering from hepatitis) even if Packie Bonner performed heroics in goal.
In the 6th minute the tough ex-gaelic footballer Kevin Moran hit a free kick from his own half into the right channel. Stapleton through his physical presence helps work the ball on to Galvin who hooks it inside the box where Kenny Sansom misjudges the bounce and miscues it up and behind him. Aldridge wins the header. Houghton anticipating, powers a looping header high across a disbelieving Shilton. Cue pandemonium from the players, the staff, the fans (who go absolutely bonkers on the terraces behind that goal) and Irish commentator Gabriel Egan who for a few moments impersonates a Brazilian by screaming “gooooooooaaaallllllllll”. Egan’s commentary has gone down in legend, culminating in his timeless, “Has he blown the final whistle yet? Yes he has”.
I have an Irish friend who when drink is taken still wells up with emotion when that game is talked about. I doubt he’s the only fan to feel such a sentiment about those immortal “Boys in Green” and their heroics in Germany against the Three Lions of England.
When someone as revered as Pelé says of Wembley that it “is the church of football, the capital of football and the heart of football” it wasn’t difficult to get excited about a trip to this part of North-West London for the last game between England and Ireland in 2013. Shane Long’s header added to the memories of this fixture for Irish fans even if Frank Lampard’s goal meant a share of the spoils.
When you consider the unforgettable moments the 1913, 1914, 1949 and 1988 games provided, will Sunday June 7th be added to that prestigious list?