14/03/1914 Belfast Scotland 1-1 Sam Young
Fred McKee, Bill McConnell, Alex Craig, Val Harris, Pat O’Connell, Mickey Hamill, Johnny Houston, Robert Nixon, Sam Young, Billy Lacey, Frank Thompson
As Scotland arrived via the Larne ferry on the Friday they arrived to very wet and windy weather. This weather lasted all Friday and into the match day itself with one correspondent describing it as a “merciless, storm-tossed downpour”. It was still raining at kick-off time. The Windsor Park pitch was described as incorporating “a number of miniature lakes”. The match was originally scheduled to take place at Solitude but the predicted attendance for the match was approximately 50,000 and in preparation of that Linfield Football Club (who owned Windsor Park) increased its normal attendance to match to accommodate the Irish Football Association. Fans expecting to use “the unreserved side” were advised to have the right money ready “as it will be impossible to give change”. Unfortunately the official attendance was only around 28,000 with many blaming the weather. The Irish Weekly Record commentated a Scottish official, “No ordinary club game would ever have been started under such conditions, but as we had arranged to catch a train for Larne at 6.30, and could not stop over the weekend, the battle had to proceed.”
Ireland were staying at their usual hotel in Newcastle, Co. Down. At the time there was a rail link to Belfast which passed through the town of Ballynahinch. As the team traveled to Belfast on the Friday it stopped in Ballynahinch where Irish international and FA Cup winner (Bradford City in 1911) Frank Thompson (Clyde) jumped on board. Apparently Frank had been up since 4am that morning hunting in the local countryside with his gun which according to the Irish Weekly Record was his “novel method of training for an International.” Unfortunately Billy Gillespie Ireland’s star forward of Sheffield United was due to miss this game because his club had an FA Cup quarter-final replay to contend against Manchester City on the 16th. Gillespie had already scored 3 goals in 2 games for Ireland (2 against Wales and 1 against England) so many believed Ireland’s chance at winning the Home Championship to be unrealistic.
An Irish fan had brought with him to the game a black cat with a ribbon which was “apparently a mascot”. The cat can be seen in the team photograph (below) sitting on captain Mickey Hamill’s (Manchester United) knee!
As well as the rain a gale force wind was apparent which when Scotland captain Alec McNair (Glasgow Celtic) won the toss he elected for Ireland to play into the wind. This apparent hindrance for the Irish did not materialize and the first half ended up finishing 0-0 without too many goal scoring chances. Ireland only required a draw to win the British Championship outright for the first time. There were however, a few serious injuries suffered by the Irish. The Athletic News described one such incident: “…Wilson fouled [Paddy] O’Connell (Hull City) and then accidentally, whilst the latter was on the ground, trod on the arm of the home centre half-back. He had to be led off and for some considerable time he chafed inside the pavilion, but he turned out again after the interval.” There was also an injury to Ireland’s Bill McConnell (Bohemians) who had to leave the field temporarily. There were no substitutes allowed in those early days of association football so inside-forward Billy Lacey (Liverpool) dropped back into a defensive position to cover McConnell’s absence. To add insult to injury the Ireland goalkeeper Fred McKee (Belfast Celtic) also had a collision with Scotland’s Andrew Wilson (Sheffield Wednesday). McKee had subsequently fractured his collar-bone but managed to stay on the field until the second half had begun. Again with no substitutions allowed Bill McConnell the defender who had originally left the pitch due to injury went in goal. Media sources commented that McConnell struggled to “get into a jersey two sizes too small”.
Scotland took the lead in the 68th minute when McConnell rushed off his line and unintentionally played the leather to Scottish forward Joe Donnachie (Oldham Athletic), who simply returned it into the empty Irish net. If the score remained the same Ireland would at best only share the championship again (Wales v England and Scotland v England had yet to be played).
Only 8 minutes of play remained when Sam Young of Linfield scored the equalizing goal for Ireland on his home ground after a fine pass from Pat O’Connell led to Young blasting the ball into the net. The Irish fans were ecstatic with some revolver rounds being fired into the air. The crowd made its way to the edge of the pitch in anticipation of the final whistle. When the final whistle was blown by English referee Herbert Bamlett the pitch invasion began. The Irish players were lifted and carried off the pitch on the fans shoulders in celebration of their feat.
The Athletic News in their match report announced a “new era” in Irish football and a “powerful stimulant to the cultivation” of association football on the island of Ireland. Unfortunately this never materialized as World War I intervened soon afterwards and the championship was postponed until it was over. The Irish Times acknowledged that there was “a scene of enthusiasm unparallelled in the history of the Irish Football Association.”
The Irish players involved in the three matches were feted in Portrush, with each player being given a commemorative gold watch.
Perenial underdogs Ireland finally claimed their first Home Nations title after thirty years of trying, in 1914. They did it in style too, unlucky to miss out on a grand-slam…
A new record of two hours and one minute was set on Saturday 14 March 1914 by a Great Northern ‘special’ train from Dublin to Belfast. Some of those on board were bound for the international rugby match between Ireland and Wales at Balmoral Showgrounds. Others, despite the alternative football attraction of Glentoran against Shelbourne in the third replay of the Irish Cup semi-final at Dalymount Park, were on their way to Windsor Park for Ireland’s last match against Scotland in the International Tournament. Originally the fixture was arranged for Cliftonville’s ground but, with a large crowd expected, it was switched to Windsor Park. While there were different estimates of the number who came to Linfield’s ground for the match, there was agreement on the record gate receipts of £1,600. The third record of the day was established shortly before five o’clock, when a blast on referee H.S. Bamlett’s whistle brought a tense game to an end.
Ireland’s plans for the game were disrupted when Billy Gillespie, the centre-forward who had scored in both previous games, was unable to play because of Sheffield United’s FA Cup semi-final replay against Manchester United. McAuley was first-choice replacement, and, failing him, Coleraine-born John McCandless, who was enjoying a good season with the Bradford Park Avenue side who were on their way to gaining promotion to the First Division of the English League. On the day neither played. Instead, Young moved to centre-forward and team trainer Rob Torrans had to accept as his replacement at inside-forward the Monaghan-born Bob Nixon (Linfield), who, though he had played a prominent part in Linfield’s run to take the Irish League title that season, had no experience of international football. Houston took over on the right wing for his first international of the year, although he had been a regular in that position for the two previous seasons.
Scotland had fielded a home-based side against Wales in their first international of the year and had to settle for a 0–0 draw. For the match against Ireland, which they had to win if they were to stay in contention for the championship, the Scottish selectors called on their strongest side, which included several English-based players. These included Joe Donnachie (Oldham Athletic), who gave his team the lead in the second half when he beat the Irish goalkeeper McConnell from close range. Selected at full-back, McConnell had taken over when goalkeeper McKee had to retire through injury.
Reduced to ten men, with Gillespie missing and with Lacey having to take over McConnell’s place at full-back, an Irish equaliser seemed unlikely. However, in the words of the Freeman’s Journal, the Irish team ‘buckled to with a spirit which sent the crowd into ecstasy’. The reward for players and spectators alike came with eight minutes to go when Young levelled the scores. Ireland had got the point they needed to win the International Tournament for the first time in the 30 years of the competition, and the results of the remaining fixtures, England v. Wales and England v. Scotland, could only have a bearing on the minor placings.
At the final whistle, the Freeman’s Journal reported, ‘there was a remarkable scene of enthusiasm’. Ireland’s first success in the International Tournament, the Athletics News declared, was due reward for a country that had for long accepted defeat with a smile ‘and for the buoyancy of sportsmanship they have shown year after year in face of much discouragement. Ireland will never be despised again.’ When the remaining games were played, the final table read as follows:
P W D L F A Pts
Ireland 3 2 1 0 6 2 5
Scotland 3 1 2 0 4 2 4
England 3 1 0 2 3 6 2
Wales 3 0 1 2 1 4 1
Author: Colm Kerrigan