FAI History Chapter 6 – FIFA rules on Irish issue

FAI History Chapter 6 – FIFA rules on Irish issue

The decade of the 1950s marked the resolution of the thorny issue of dual qualification of players born on the island of Ireland and also the intervention of FIFA to apply an official designation to the two associations governing football on the island.The Irish Football Association in Belfast continued to select players from the south for their international teams in the years after the War, a policy that was not shared by the football authorities in Dublin with just one exception.The Football Association in Dublin selected four Northern Ireland players in a squad that travelled to play Portugal and Spain in the Summer of 1946 in Ireland's first two international matches after the War.The reasons why they departed from their stated policy of confining selection to those players born in the Republic have never been satisfactorily explained but the licence to look beyond the political boundary separating the North from the Republic for team selections was revoked in 1950.The last time players from the Republic shared the same international shirt as their colleagues from the North was on March 8, 1950 when a match in Wrexham against Wales ended scoreless.The Football Association in Dublin was quick to resume international competition after the War but for the Northern Ireland footballers the schedule was restricted to the home international championships.As a member of the British Board they boycotted the World Cup until 1950 and it was not until 1951, when France visited Belfast, that they engaged with opposition from mainland Europe for the first time.Many players from the South played with the North in the home championship series between 1946 and 1950, but with the civic authorities changing the political landscape, change was also affecting the football organisations.John A. Costello had taken the decision to secede from the old British Empire in 1949 and declared Ireland a Republic. The spirit of nationalism that led to the break with the Belfast organisation and the establishment of the association in Dublin in 1921 may never have been too transparent, but it was an undeniable consideration and now it emerged again.The players came under pressure from various quarters to cut their ties with the Northern Association and concentrate exclusively on their international careers with the Football Association in Dublin.The issue could not be ignored when Sean Fallon of Celtic, who came from a family with strong Republican tradition in Co. Sligo, opted out of a Northern Ireland selection to play a team representing the British Army.Jackie Carey was injured when the North selected a team to play Wales in Wrexham in March 1950 and the most prominent of the southern players in the team was Con Martin.Other southern players in the team were Tom ‘Bud' Aherne, Reg Ryan and Davy Walsh and Con Martin was nominated team captain. It was the last occasion on which an all-Ireland team played in a full international match.Martin revealed afterwards that he had received a 'phone call three days before the game asking him to withdraw but he declined. He explained that as team captain he felt a sense of responsibility to the players and to the Belfast organisation with whom he had enjoyed the experience of playing in the home championship.Other forces were at work, however, and when Martin returned to his club, Aston Villa, he was told by the chairman, Fred Normansell, that he did not want him to continue to play for Northern Ireland. The chairman said the club had received letters and 'phone calls suggesting Villa would not be welcome visitors to the Republic if Martin continued his involvement.The Irish Football Association responded to the situation by confining their selections to players born in the North. In 1958, the Northern Ireland team qualified for the World Cup finals in Sweden where a team coached by Peter Doherty and captained by Danny Blanchflower advanced to the quarter-finals where they were defeated by France.FIFA rationalised the position of both organisations on the island of Ireland in 1953 when they ruled that in international competition, the team representing the South would be recognised as the Republic of Ireland and the IFA's team would be designated Northern Ireland.
8th Apr 2011