May 25, 2024

Ireland V Spain in 1966 World Cup Qualification Playoff

It is rarely mentioned these days but Ireland came tantalisingly close to qualification for the 1966 World Cup finals in England. Ireland were drawn against Spain and Syria in a three team qualification group. Syria withdrew in protest against the treatment of African countries by FIFA thus leaving qualification down to a contest over two matches between Ireland and Spain. The first leg was played in Dalymount Park in Dublin on 5th May 1965. Ireland won this match 1-0 through an own goal by Jose Angel Iribar Cortajarena after 61 minutes. On the 27th October 1965 Spain beat the Irish comprehensively in the away leg in Seville running out 4-1 winners. The Spanish goal scorers were, Pereda 40, 43, 58, and Lapetra 63. Andy McEvoy of Blackburn rovers had given Ireland the lead after 26 minutes. Back then goal difference did not count so the contest was extended to a third match at a neutral venue.

FAI Sell-Out

According to Paul Rowan’s book The Team That Jack Built FAI General Secretary Joe Wickham immediately went into negotiations with the Spanish football authorities about the neutral venue for the third play-off match. Reportedly the Spanish were pushing for a venue in Spain (hardly neutral) or Portugal. The Irish wanted London or Manchester which would have guaranteed a large number of Irish supporters. After many hours of negotiation the parties came up with Paris as a compromise. This meant that the match crowd would be almost exclusively French as international travel was more difficult and very expensive in 1965 for Irish fans.

In the build up to the match Spanish and French newspapers reported that Ireland had agreed to Paris as a play-off venue in exchange for Spain’s share of the gate receipts. The total gate receipts for the play-off were £25,000 – almost three times the annual FAI income at the time. The FAI had the chosen a guaranteed amount rather than the potential of far higher revenue had Ireland qualified for the 1966 World Cup finals. This displayed a distinct lack of ambition and a lack of belief in the ability of the Irish team.

Ireland Play Spain in Paris

Not only did FAI negotiators surrender the possibility of the benefit of a largely Irish crowd they also subjected their players to more arduous travel arrangements. In 1965 players sometimes had to travel by rail and boat as flights were not always available. Notwithstanding this the Irish had a better than usual chance to beat the Spanish as Ireland had almost all of it’s best players fit and available. In the 1960’s it was quite common for players to cry off with fictitious injuries. Manchester United fullback Tony Dunne recalled an occasion when manager Matt Busby told Dunne “You’re injured, you’ve gone over on your ankle.” Dunne replied “I haven’t gone over on my ankle.” Busby insisted “You’re injured” and that was it. Dunne was out of the Irish squad at that particular time. But that wasn’t the case for the Paris match against Spain. Ireland had a strong team which included the following players:

Pat Dunne (Manchester Utd), Mick Meagan (Huddersfield Town), Shay Brennan (Manchester Utd), Noel Cantwell Captain (Manchester Utd), Theo Foley (Northampton Town), Tony Dunne (Manchester Utd), Joe Haverty (Shelbourne), Eamon Dunphy (York City), Frank O’Neill (Shamrock Rovers), Johnny Giles (Leeds Utd), Andy McEvoy (Blackburn Rovers)

The Spanish team comprised: Betancort (Real Madrid), Rivilla (Athletico Madrid), Olivella (Barcelona), Zoco (Real Madrid), Reija (Zaragossa), Glaria (Athletico Madrid), Suarez (Inter Milan), Ufarte (Athletico Madrid), Pereda (Barcelona), Marcelino (Zaragossa), Lepetra (Zaragossa)

The venue was Parc des Princes, Paris and the match was played on Wednesday, November 10th, 1965. Irish TV soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy made his debut in the match. Of the almost 36,000 crowd that attended the match it was estimated that over 30,000 were Spanish fans. Goal keeper Pat Dunne remarked “The only Irish flag I saw in the stadium was the one on the flag pole.”

Spain V Ireland in Paris 195 – Match Report

The following is an extract from the Irish Times’ match report by Paul MacWeeney:

Lone Goal Sees Spain through in Play-off

Spain 1 Republic of Ireland 0

A goal by outside-right Ufarte 11 minutes from the end guaranteed Spain a place in the final stages of the World Cup in England next year. By that narrow margin they eliminated a most gallant Republic of Ireland side in the play-off of section nine of the competition at the Parc Des Princes, Paris, last night. But while the victory was just about deserved the Spaniards, holders of the European Nations’ Cup, had to fight desperately hard to achieve their ambition …. Even though Ireland had failed they gained greatly in prestige by this tremendous fight against one of the best teams in the world.

One of the Darkest Days in Irish Soccer

Because of the tightness of the result, and the spirited display by the Irish team, the players and fans alike felt that they had been sold out by the FAI. Manchester United’s Tony Dunne commented “I had become a winner then, I wanted to win, so you can imagine my disgust when I learned that the Irish officials had agreed to play the game in Paris in return for the gate receipts. It had to be the biggest disappointment of my career because it was certainly the biggest opportunity to qualify in my time, and with the finals in England, who knows what might have happened?”

Ireland had already proven in the first play-off leg that Spain could be beaten. With the backing of a big Irish support in Wembley, allied to reduced travelling times, it was entirely possible that the Irish could have beaten Spain and qualified for a first major football championship finals. Instead, Irish fans and players had to endure a further twenty years of failure and decline in Irish international soccer, and all because of short term and short-sighted financial expediency by the FAI. The 1965 Spain – Ireland play-off episode has gone down as one of the darkest days in Irish soccer history.

The Team That Jack Built; Paul Rowan (1994); Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd
Who Stole Our Game? – The Fall and Fall of Irish soccer ; Daire Whelan (2006); Gill & Macmillan Ltd

Irish Soccer History – Some key events, developments, people, and places in Irish football

Spain V Ireland 1965 – Glenmalure Park – Granny Rule & Ireland – John Giles & Shamrock Rovers
Merriongate – Saipan Incident – Dublin Dons – Irish Manager of Barcelona

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