• Home
  • /
  • Football
  • /
  • Balls Remembers - The Irish Team That Became The First Foreign Team To Win On English Soil

Balls Remembers - The Irish Team That Became The First Foreign Team To Win On English Soil

Balls Remembers - The Irish Team That Became The First Foreign Team To Win On English Soil
By Gavin Cooney Updated

In the latest of our series for Beating England Week, we remember a famous football victory that is not as well-remembered cross-channel...

"Who were the first foreign team to beat England on home soil" is a quiz question that often returns the wrong answer. While many assume that England's 6-3 humbling at home to Hungary in 1953 was their first defeat at home to someone other than Scotland, it is merely the most traumatic.

While Hungary cauterised English football egos with their magnificent style of play, they weren't the first to win at the Home of Football. Nope, that first defeat fell four years earlier at Goodison Park, and the honour belonged to Ireland. Or Eire. Or the FA of Ireland.

England weren't entirely sure what to call their opponents.


The second world war helped to bring the respective football associations of England and Ireland closer together. To mark the FAI's silver anniversary in 1946 , CEO John Wickham reached out to his English counterpart, Stanley Rous, to invite England to play in Dublin for the first time in 1912. England were due to play Northern Ireland on September 30th, so the FAI suggested that they could take a trip to Dalymount Park a couple of days later.

England accepted having been starved of international football during the hostilities, although as Peter Byrne writes in Green is the Colour, they did so under the agreement they were given a decent slice of the gate receipts and were afforded "first-class accommodation".


The FAI offered them the Gresham on O'Connell Street, and thus the fixture went ahead. The English team were also given some relatively lavish treatment by Eamon de Valera, who held an official reception for the English squad at government buildings on the eve of the game, a gesture at least partly influenced by Ireland treading neutrality during the ongoing hostilities.

While that level of Irish welcome may have been alien for the English players, they were met with a few familiar faces when they took to the field the following afternoon at Dalymount: Ireland's Johnny Carey and Bill Gorman had played against England two days previously for Northern Ireland (who referred to themselves as Ireland, too). Football was the only major sporting association to split along partitionist lines, with both associations claiming jurisdiction over the island. This led to at least 39 players being capped by both associations, including Carey and Gorman.

(This was eventually resolved by FIFA in 1953, when they dictated that players' allegiance would be decided by the border and that neither side could call themselves Ireland).


The game in Belfast ended 7-2, but the subsequent match at Dalymount was a tighter affair, ending in a 1-0 win for England; the winner scored by Tom Finney. Result aside, it was a success for the FAI. The game snaffled public attention, with Radio Eireann broadcasting some of the game. (Since the game kicked off at 5.30pm, it clashed with a schools programme slated for 6pm along with the evening news, they broke away from much of the action and returned to the closing stages).

Public interest was such that England were satisfied with their gate receipts, and also with the welcome extended to them by Dublin, which included their being presented with a replica of the Ardagh Chalice for their efforts.

England would eventually return the favour.



In 1949, Stanley Rous wrote to Wickham and the FAI to invite the Irish team to play a game in Liverpool. While the FAI quickly accepted, there was some early controversy as to what England's opponents would be called. Rous and England labelled them Eire, using the Gaelic version of Ireland as a way of differentiating the game from the regular game against Northern Ireland, who were then calling themselves Ireland, too.

The FAI objected to the use of Eire, and England struck a compromise by using the FA of Ireland. (The use of Eire persisted in the British press for decades, with Brendán O' HEithir memorably saying it was used by British journalists to describe the home of beaten Irish boxers who, in victory, would have been called British).


The FAI accepted this compromise, in spite of the fact that the Free State had declared itself a Republic a year earlier.

The game went ahead between England and the FA of Ireland at Goodison Park on September 21st, 1949. The FAI's selection committee then set about trying to secure players from their clubs. They struggled to do so, with only seven players turning up for Irish training on the eve of the game; a host of others trained with their clubs.

Nonetheless, there was some optimism in the Irish media ahead of the game, with the Irish Independent writing they were "confident of bringing off a surprise". That said, there is no doubt that Ireland were underdogs, with the same preview piece writing that "local opinion is that England will win by four, or even five goals".


England were without Stan Mortenson and Stanley Matthews but were still able to field the likes of Tom Finney and Wilf Mannion. Ireland's greatest hope lay in midfielder Johnny Carey, who was the reigning Footballer of the Year. (He, along with Roy Keane, are the only Irish internationals to win the award).

What followed in front of 50,000 people was an unprecedented Irish success that set a template for many of the successes that would follow over the subsequent decades: an early goal followed by some defensive heroics. Con Martin gave Ireland the lead from the penalty spot just after the half-hour mark, to which Ireland responded by readying themselves for a defensive bombardment. Irish goalkeeper Tommy Godwin turned in a kind of miracle game before Peter Farrell sealed Irish ecstasy with a second goal five minutes from time.

Here it is, in glorious Pathe style.



After the game, the Irish Press declared that "the unbelievable has happened! Ireland defeated what was rated to be the best England team that can be put in the field". That match report continued by adding, "straight away, let me state that there was nothing fluky about the 2-0 win".

The Irish Independent hailed goalkeeper Godwin, while revelling in the slaying of the "British Lion".

The British Lion was in a sorry state last night. His den had been invaded and his tail had been twisted by the soccer eleven who scored a sensational 2-0 win in Liverpool, the first defeat in history of an England team on their home soil by any country, apart from those regularly competing in the "home" internationals.

Delightfully, the Irish newspapers also carried the British Media Reaction to England's defeat, a piece which Balls.ie have now been disabused of notions of pioneering. Both the Irish Independent and the Irish Press printed testimony from English papers, although the latter's headline was spectacular.

The Irish win, apparently, "caused consternation among the pundits of English football as the game had been looked upon merely as the honouring of a 'gentleman's agreement'.

The Daily Telegraph wrote that "nobody could grudge the Irish their win"; the Times somewhat did so.

Those who gently whispered about the proverbial luck of the Irish would have hit upon a fraction of the truth, for though the Eire goal did, at times, seem to bear a charmed life in the latter stages of the afternoon, the solid fact remains that England had the ball at their command for four-fifths of the second half and yet could not turn their position to account.

The Daily Herald emphasised the fact history was made.

Football history - bleak, black history  - was made. Let it be known. This was the first time that any country outside of the "international" championship [the Home Nations] has won here. Eire, small and weak by international standards, triumphed where the great European teams in their pre-war heydays always failed.

The Daily Express set the tone for criticism of the English team that would echo for the next fifty-odd years.

England's team had their fancy pants well and truly dusted by the wholehearted Eire men. Clancy certainly "lowered the boom" in a big way to humiliate the England men.

Days later, the Irish papers pioneered a new movement: The Swedish Media Reaction. Sweden were due to visit Dublin in a World Cup qualifier that November, needing a draw to secure their place in Brazil. This shock at Goodison, however, spread unease in Scandinavia. "Goodbye Brazil", wailed Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter above a report of Ireland's victory.

Ultimately, Sweden came to Dublin and won 3-1, and joined England at the World Cup the following summer.

Ireland had to console themselves with history.

See Also: How The English Media Reacted To Ireland's Shock Euro 88 Victory

Join The Monday Club Have a tip or something brilliant you wanted to share on? We're looking for loyal Balls readers free-to-join members club where top tipsters can win prizes and Balls merchandise

Processing your request...

You are subscribed now!

Copyright © 2022. All rights reserved. Developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com