June 20, 2024

Johnny Giles – Irish Football Great

johnny-gilesJohnny Giles
Wearing the Green of Ireland

Johnny Giles – Introduction

Most people below a certain age only know Johnny Giles as the RTE Football pundit or the Evening Herald sports writer. Yet Johnny Giles is a true Irish soccer great. Like some great Irish internationals that played before and after him it is something of a tragedy that this midfield general never graced a major football championship finals. Nevertheless through his career as a Leeds United footballer he became one of the most decorated players to emerge from Ireland. He has league winners medals and various cup winners medals and is one of a small band of Irish footballers to ever play in a European Cup final.

Johnny Giles at Manchester United

Giles signed for Manchester United as a 15 year old after being spotted by scouting legend Billy Behan. The promising youngster was joining a club that boasted a veritable galaxy of football stars such as Duncan Edwards, Liam Whelan, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Bobby Charlton.

Manchester United had just won the First Division twice in back-to-back seasons and were set to dominate English and probably European soccer for the next decade. The Munich air disaster in February 1958 arrested all of this promised. The tight family atmosphere that had permeated the club was heavily diluted as United were forced to buy a lot of external talent to replace those lost in the crash.

Johnny Giles made his debut in 1959 against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford lining up with Munich survivors Bobby Charlton and Harry Gregg. Unfortunately United lost 5-1 on the day however the young Giles went on to play for the first team in nine more matches.

For the best part of the next four years everything seemed to be on the up. Although United struggled to avoid relegation in 1963 they won the FA Cup that year beating Leicester City 3-1 in the final. Leicester had finished fourth in the league so United were not expected to win. It was Johnny Giles first senior winners medal and all seemed fine. Later that Summer Giles had been transferred to second division Leeds United.


In fact Giles approached the manager, Matt Busby, and asked for a transfer because he felt that he didn’t have the manager’s confidence. To this day Giles believes that he lost Busby’s confidence following a cup semi-final match in 1962 against Spurs again. United lost 3-1 and by his own admission Giles had a stinker of a game. Giles believed that after that he could do no right in the eyes of Busby.

Johnny Giles at Leeds United

It must have been a jolt to the system for Johnny Giles to leave Manchester United to join a struggling team in the old Second Division. However he was disillusioned with United and he had been impressed by the ambition of the Leeds manager Don Revie. Even then Giles was an astute judge of character and his new football club secured promotion to the First Division in his first season at the club. Even more impressively his new club were pipped to the First Division title in the next season losing out by 0.686 of a goal (goal average was used in those days rather than goal difference) having finished on the same number of points – 61.

At the time the Leeds team included players that would eventually become household names – Billy Bremner, Terry Cooper, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray. All young players that hung on every word uttered by the meticulous Revie. The manager never left anything to chance and always had his homework done on the opposition regardless of who they were.

For the next decade Johnny Giles was a central part of a great Leeds team that is generally accepted as one of the most successful soccer teams ever in English football. Built on a spirit of camaraderie and togetherness Giles and the team amassed the following honours in the next ten years:

First Division Title Winners 1969, 1974 – Runners-Up 5 times
FA Cup Winners 1972 – Runners-up 3 times
League Cup Winners 1968
Fairs Cup (Europe) Winners 1968, 1971 – Runners-up once
European Cup Winners Cup Runners-up 1973
European Cup Runners-up 1975

Following the defeat in the European Cup Final, 1-0 to Bayern Munich, Johnny Giles left Leeds to become player / manager of West Bromwich Albion in the Second Division. He guided WBA to promotion to the First Division. Giles finished his playing and managerial career in soccer back in Shamrock Rovers, in Dublin, the city where his love for football was first kindled

Johnny Giles – Irish International Footballer

Giles was a great player for his club and achieved great heights with Leeds in particular. His International soccer career for the Republic of Ireland had some notable highs but, due to circumstances largely out of his control, ultimately ended in failure. Like many gifted and great Irish footballers before and after him he never achieved his ambition of playing on a major international stage such as the Euro Championship Finals or the World Cup Finals.

International Debut

In November 1959 after just two first team appearances for Manchester United the name of 19 year old Johnny Giles appeared on the team sheet for the international soccer match between the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. The Swedes who had beaten England the previous Wednesday quickly established a 2-0 lead at Dalymount Park. In something of a pre-echo of the debut of a young Liam Brady in the same venue 15 years later, Johnny Giles went on to inspire the Irish team to score three goals to win the match 3-2. Giles scored the first goal of the fight back.

Giles – Player / Manager

Giles went on to become a stalwart of all of the Irish qualification campaigns from 1959 until 1979. From 1973 to 1980 he also managed the Irish team. During this period Giles brought a new sense of professionalism and belief to the international soccer team. This great Irish footballer was inspirational to his younger charges because he had walked the walk in his club career with Leeds. Giles was an achiever and his inspiration brought Ireland to the brink of qualification for the 1978 World Cup Finals. Unfortunately for Giles and all Irish fans it was not to be.

Giles had a long and good international career. He also had a really great club career. Now he continues to make his living as part of the best RTE soccer pundit panel on TV in these islands, and an insightful football journalist with the Evening Herald newspaper. When asked once; was football good for him? His reply was “…it’s been great for me.” This Irish soccer great, Johnny Giles has been great for football in Ireland.

John Giles – Freeman of Dublin

In 2015 John Giles was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin in recognition of his “contribution to the life of Ireland’s capital city” through his achievements as a footballer for, and manager of, the Republic of Ireland, as well as his efforts through the John Giles Foundation. The Foundation uses the power of football to promote health, build community cohesion and encourage lifelong participation an learning.

Johnny Giles – Manchester United & Ireland Statistics

John Giles was born on
6th October 1940 in Dublin
Playing Position
Joined Manchester United
Manchester United Debut
12 September 1959 V Tottenham Hotspur
Left Manchester United
No. of Games Played for Utd
Goals scored for Man Utd
Honours Won by John Giles
FA Cup 1963
Other Clubs
Leeds United; West Brom; Philadelphia Fury; Shamrock Rovers
Republic of Ireland Caps
Goals scored for Ireland

References :

Ireland’s Soccer Top 20; Colm Keane (2004); Mainstream Publishing (Edinburgh) Ltd
Johnny Giles Wikipedia Entry

Irish Devils – The Official Story of Manchester United and the Irish

Irish Football Players – All Republic of Ireland Footballers

John Aldridge – George Best – Packie Bonner – Liam Brady – Shay Brennan – Noel Cantwell – Johnny Carey – Gerry Daly – Mal Donaghy – Derek Dougan – Damien Duff – Tony Dunne – Eamon Dunphy – Johnny Giles
Shay Given – Don Givens – Harry Gregg – David Healy – Ray Houghton – Denis Irwin – Pat Jennings – Robbie Keane – Robbie Keane Caps Goals – Robbie Keane Penalties Ireland – Roy Keane – Alan Kelly – Mark Lawrenson – Con Martin – Mick Martin – Kevin Moran – David McCreery – Andy McEvoy – Paul McGrath – Sammy McIlroy – Jimmy Nicholl – David O’Leary – John O’Shea – Niall Quinn – Kevin Sheedy – Frank Stapleton – Steve Staunton – Billy Whelan – Ronnie Whelan – Norman Whiteside

Republic of Ireland Football Managers – Irish Manager’s Records

Mick Meagan – Liam Tuohy – Sean Thomas – John Giles – Alan Kelly – Eoin Hand – Jack Charlton
Jack Charlton’s Playing Style – Jack Charlton’s Appointment – Mick McCarthy – Don Givens – Brian Kerr
Steve Staunton – Giovanni Trapattoni – Noel King – Martin O’Neill


Manchester United – Irish Man Utd Players
George Best – Jonny Evans – John Giles – Roy Keane – Paul McGrath – Patrick O’Connell – Liam Whelan


Irish Soccer Information
Irish Football Club Directory Irish Soccer Leagues Women’s Soccer in Ireland
Dublin Football Clubs Football Association of Ireland Irish Soccer Players
Dublin Football Clubs by Area Irish Football Club Websites Futsal in Ireland
Irish Soccer Managers Irish Soccer Results
Irish Football History Football Pundits
Irish Soccer Referees Republic of Ireland Managers
League of Ireland Irish Football Statistics