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Keeping it Local

League of Ireland | LOI


Have you been able to walk by your local on your 2km walk during lockdown? Not your local pub, mind you, but your local League of Ireland ground [I guess walking by either brings a similar feeling of longing to get back inside]. If you’ve been walking more than 2km to pass by your favourite ground then I understand [and won’t tell the Gardai!] although we can go up to 5km from this week.

Living in Drumcondra, roughly half-way between Home Farm’s Whitehall Stadium [a former League of Ireland ground] and Tolka Park, my 2km walk has allowed me take in either, depending on which direction I turn when I come out the door. Now that we can go 5km I’ll be able to do a route that can take in both. Perhaps if I set off in the direction of Phibsborough I could even get to Dalymount Park – or at least close enough to it to see the floodlights – before I’d have to turn back. By the time July comes around and we can go 20km I might just be able to get to the Carlisle Grounds.

With no football on the horizon until maybe August or September, walking by the stadiums is as close to any action as we are likely to get. Clubs should open the stadiums for an hour or two each day so that fans can come in and savour the atmosphere, or at least savour the imagined atmosphere.

On the days when I’ve walked by a silent and empty Tolka Park I have gone via Botanic Avenue. Recently I learned that Tom Farquharson was born on the road. The house he was born in is no longer there, but I have a good idea as to where it was located.

For those who have never heard the name, Tom was born in 1899. He played on the local soccer scene as a youngster as well as playing Gaelic football. Working as a painter and decorator in Wales in the early 1920’s he drifted into soccer again when he went to watch an Oakdale game and they were short a goalkeeper; he volunteered thinking that his Gaelic football experience would stand to him, and he was right. He never looked back.

After Oakdale he played for Abertillery Town before turning professional with Cardiff City, for whom he played 445 league games between 1922 and 1935, still a club record for a goalkeeper. In his book ‘’The Who’s Who Of Cardiff City’’, author Dean Hayes refers to Farquharson as ‘’the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the club’’.

Farquharson was known as a penalty specialist. The rules at the time allowed the goalkeeper to move from his line while the penalty was being taken, but most didn’t. Tom did, thinking [correctly] that he would have a better chance of leaping to the correct side more quickly than from a standing position. His success rate at stopping spot kicks led directly to the rules being changed.

Farquharson’s greatest achievement at Cardiff was helping them beat Arsenal to win the 1927 FA Cup [he kept a clean sheet in the 1-0 win]. He became the first Irish goalkeeper to win the FA Cup, and Cardiff became the first [and still only] team from outside England to win the illustrious competition.

Farquharson was a dual international for Ireland in soccer. How did this come about? The situation that existed between 1924 and 1950 with regard to international soccer in Ireland was messy, with in effect two Ireland teams competed in international football, claiming to represent the whole island and both feeling entitled to pick players from the North and South.

The Irish Football Association [IFA], based in Belfast, were the original governing body for soccer in the whole of Ireland and this worked fine until the partition of Ireland in 1920. What became the Irish Free State set up their own association in 1921 – the Football Association of Ireland [FAI]. By 1924 the FAI were running their own Free State Ireland XI.

The IFA XI and the FAI XI managed to co-exist between 1924 and 1950 primarily because one [the IFA] wasn’t affiliated to FIFA and one [the FAI] was [to be exact, the IFA were not affiliated to FIFA between 1928 and 1946]. The teams were competing in different competitions – the FAI XI in the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, the IFA XI in the British Home Championships.

Things were complicated by the fact that both organizations felt entitled to pick players from either jurisdiction. There were many dual players – more than 40, including Tom Farquharson – during this time. It didn’t matter as they were competing in different competitions, although scheduling threw up some tricky situations – Dubliner Johnny Carey, at the time a Manchester United player, once played for both Ireland teams against the same opposition [England] within three days of each other in different competitions.

Matters came to a head after the IFA rejoined FIFA in 1946. Both teams were entered for the 1950 World Cup and some players played in qualifiers for both Ireland teams. FIFA intervened and decreed that going forward there would be two separate teams and that neither would be called ‘Ireland’ – the IFA’s team was to be called Northern Ireland and the FAI’s Republic of Ireland. Players had to declare for one or the other.

Brian Quigley

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