The late great Tom Finney, who died at the weekend aged 91, was the only scorer in the first meeting of Ireland, under the banner of the FAI, and England at Dalymount Park in 1946. Just two days after his début, Finney broke Irish hearts, a feat he would repeat over a storied career.
England were the first side to visit Ireland after the Second World War and it was the first time they had come to Dublin since the split between the IFA and FAI.
Since 1882, Irish football had been governed by one association, the Belfast-based Irish Football Association, the IFA. The Football Association of Ireland was founded in September 1921 in Dublin splintering from the IFA and organising its own league and national team. The southern body joined FIFA two years later as the Football Association of the Irish Free State but re-adopted the name Football Association of Ireland in 1936.
Following the war and the resumption of international competition, the FAI general secretary Joe Wickham was keen to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the organisation with a game against high-profile opposition and to his surprise, England accepted an invitation to come to Dublin.
Just two days earlier, England had faced the IFA ‘Ireland’ in Belfast in the Home Championship where a 24-year-old Tom Finney made his début in place of Stanley Mathews. The Preston legend-in-the-making stole the show scoring in a 7-2 trouncing, the first of 30 goals in 76 appearances for his country.
A trip down south followed for a friendly date with the FAI selection. By all accounts the match created a great stir in the Republic. According to FAI.ie: “The Taoiseach of the day, Eamonn de Valera, hosted a pre-match reception for the visiting players, the first time such a function had been held.”
Almost thirty-two thousand packed into Dalymount Park to see a spirited performance from the home side. Ireland included two players who had played in Windsor Park two days previously, Bill Gorman and Jackie Carey. A third who was selected on both teams, Davy Walsh, pulled out of the Dublin game through injury.
In his book “A Lifetime in Football,” ex-England player Charles Buchan described the game on Dublin’s north side.
“A packed house was prepared for a great show and a handsome beating. But England just scraped through by one goal to nothing. It was a game I shall always remember. The big crowd cheered from the start, trying to whip their team into a splendid fervour. As their men held their own with the Englishmen so the excitement mounted. It reached a crescendo in the second half when the Irish commanded a large share of the play. They were unlucky when their inside left, Alex Stevenson of Everton, crashed a shot against the cross-bar.”
Ireland could not find a way past Frank Swift in the England goal. Swift would later remark how Jackie Carey was the outstanding player on the pitch, but with eight minutes to go, Irish hearts were sunk:
“Reports of the game remarked upon the cathedral hush that fell on the excited crowd in the stadium when Tom Finney scored the only goal.”
In the 82nd minute, Finney grabbed his second of thirty goals on the way to a fabled England career which took in three World Cups.
It marked a loss for the home side, but an important milestone for the FAI selection. Within three years Ireland would gain significant revenge by defeating England at Goodison Park, the first loss for the Three Lions on home soil by a foreign team.
In November of the same year, Finney would be the man-of-the-match in a 9-2 win over the IFA selection in Maine Road, Manchester.
In 1957, a huge crowd, a “seething cauldron of humanity” packed into Dalymount Park to watch a gigantic World Cup qualifier between the Ireland and England. Alf Ringstead scored for Ireland after just three minutes to send the 47,000 crowd into raptures. Once more Irish hearts were broken with a late goal. In injury time, Finney crossed from the right for John Atyeo to head home and tie the game 1-1. The goal would go down in Irish football folklore owing to the silence that descended once more on the old ground. Legendary commentator Philip Greene remarked that the silence could be heard on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
The late Tom Finney remembers the game, below.
Following the death of the ‘Preston Plumber,’ ex-Ireland international and fellow Preston native Kevin Kilbane said : “I’m proud to say I grew up on the same street as Sir Tom Finney. Very sad to hear of his passing”. R.I.P.