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The Irish Soccer Split

The cover of The Irish Soccer Split

In his latest book, The Irish Soccer Split, author Cormac Moore concludes that "Perhaps the political climate has changed enough and the fortunes of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland soccer teams might compel the FAI and IFA to reconvene and once again realise an international soccer team for the whole island as there was before." As welcome as this optimistic aspiration may be (depending upon your viewpoint) it is not really a reflection of the value of this fantastic piece of work from Moore.

For anyone that has an interest in the history of soccer on the island of Ireland The Irish Soccer Split is a must-read as well as a brilliant reference book. Despite the fact that Moore's approach is somewhat academic in style (as befits a PhD student) his book is a thoroughly interesting literary journey through formative passages of the history of Irish football.

Moore opens the book with a look back at a match between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in November 1993. It was the final match of the 1994 World Cup qualification campaign. In his last match as manager of Northern Ireland, Billy Bingham inflamed an already fraught occasion by branding the Republic of Ireland players as a "bunch of mercenaries". It was very hostile environment in Windsor Park and with qualification out of reach the Northern Irish players were playing only for pride. The Republic would qualify if they won in Belfast and, depending upon what happened between other group members Spain and Denmark in Seville, a draw might even do.

The Republic team was on the rack early on with Packy Bonner called upon to make a few saves. Gradually the Republic moved into the ascendancy playing pressing soccer but not making the breakthrough. Then in the 73rd minute disaster struck when 34 year old Jimmy Quinn struck for Northern Ireland volleying past Bonner.

The Republic looked to be heading out of the 1994 World Cup. The gloom didn't last long though. Alan McLoughlin scored his first goal for the Republic of Ireland when he fired a poor clearance from the Northern Ireland defence through a crowded box into the net. With Spain winning 1-0 in Seville, the Republic of Ireland had qualified for the 1994 World Cup Finals by finishing second in qualifying Group 3.

The "poisonous atmosphere" on that night, when the tricolour wasn't flown and there was no rendition of Amhran na bhFiann, will be remembered by all who witnessed it. It is in that context that Moore posed the questions: "...why had soccer in Ireland come to this? Why was there so much hatred between North and South? Was soccer a reflection of the political conflict?" .

In the outstanding piece of research that is The Irish Soccer Split Moore looks at the beginnings of soccer in Ireland in the north-east of the island and how it eventually spread south. He reveals that soccer's early years, from 1880, were dominated by clubs from the North, and particularly from Belfast. Moore examines the establishment of the Leinster Football Association (LFA) in 1892, with teams from Dublin, such as Shelbourne and Bohemians beginning to challenge the ascendancy of the Northern set-up. The LFA and the Munster Football Association (MFA), formed in 1901, were affiliated to the IFA at the outset however from the beginning the Southern associations had misgivings about an apparent IFA bias towards clubs based in Belfast in team selections for representative matches, choice of venues, and selection of council members.

Moore lays out and examines the events and relationships that existed in the late nineteenth century and in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. He explores and outlines the incidents that helped to form perceptions and opinions that would eventually lead to the split in Irish soccer when Leinster seceded from the IFA and formed the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

Moore makes extensive use of primary sources from the IFA, FAI, the English FA and the Leinster Football Association as well as newspaper sources at the time. He compares soccer to other sports that remained, or became, united after the partition of Ireland. The Irish Soccer Split recounts the early years of the FAI and its attempts to gain international recognition. Many efforts were made to heal the division throughout the 1920s and the early 1930s. Efforts were renewed during the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s to bring about an all-Ireland international team. Some came very close, all ultimately failed, leaving soccer in Ireland today, as it is politically, divided North and South.

The Irish Soccer Split is a brilliant examination and treatise on the origins and development of soccer on the island of Ireland. It is is highly recommend as a fascinating read and a wonderful reference point that deserves a place on the book shelves of all lovers of football.


Author Cormac Moore has a Masters degree in Modern Irish History from UCD and at the time of publication of the The Irish Soccer Split he was undertaking a PhD in sports history at De Montfort University, Leicester. Cormac is also the author of The GAA v Douglas Hyde: The Removal of Ireland's First President as GAA Patron (2013).

Book Details

Title: The Irish Soccer Split
Author: Cormac Moore
Publishers: Attrium (Attrium is an imprint of Cork University Press)
Published: September 2015
Hardcover: 322 pages
Availability: In any good book store or online at Cork University Press
ISBN-10: 178205152X
ISBN-13: 978-1782051527

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