Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The day Irish footballers from north and south united to take on Brazil

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The partition 100 years ago eventually led to two Irish teams, but that divide was put aside for a day when Brazil visited

A successful team in world football, Brazil. On 3 July 1973 a packed Lansdowne Road had the pleasure of watching the reigning World Cup holders take on an Irish side. But this was an Irish side with a difference: for the first time since the 1950s, the team was made up of players from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The concept of a unified Irish team was the brainchild of Louis Kilcoyne, who had recently taken ownership of the Dublin-based club Shamrock Rovers. Kilcoyne had travelled to Brazil in 1972 to watch the Republic in a friendly tournament. Once he heard about Brazil’s intentions to tour Europe the following year as part of their preparation for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, he was determined to get Ireland on to an itinerary that already included games against Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy and Scotland.

Kilcoyne lobbied João Havelange, the president of the Brazilian football confederation, to add Ireland to the trip. Havelange was running to be the president of Fifa at the time and, with the inducement of securing a vote from the FAI, he was readily convinced of the case for a game in Ireland. Kilcoyne embellished this offer with the promise of a unified Irish side, which was politically highly sensitive given the Troubles were at their height.

He had a job on his hands to persuade both the IFA and the FAI to agree to an All-Ireland XI as both were implacably opposed to such an idea. Since the FAI had seceded from the original association in 1921, there had been little love lost between the two.

It was going to take a fair amount of cajoling, especially as the IFA president Harry Cavan made every effort to get the game called off. Kilcoyne was not to be denied and his masterstroke was calling his side a “Shamrock Rovers XI” thereby neatly circumventing the rules about friendly internationals and avoiding the thorny issue of a united Ireland football team. Kilcoyne also recognised that making the match a fundraiser would reduce the strength of resistance to the idea. And so the proceeds of the ticket sales went to two charities, Unicef and the Irish Cancer Society.

He also enlisted the help of his brother-in-law Johnny Giles . . .

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