10/04/1957 Belfast Wales 0-0
Harry Gregg, Willie Cunningham, Alf McMichael, Danny Blanchflower, Wilbur Cush, Bertie Peacock, Billy Bingham, Jimmy McIlroy, Jimmy Jones, Tommy Casey, Peter McParland
The 1956-57 British Home Championship tournament was the final full championship before the Munich air disaster would tragically kill senior members of all four squads mid-way through the following tournament in 1958.
England had already won the championship after defeating Scotland 2-1 a few days earlier, therefore whoever won this match would tie with Scotland for second place with the losing team taking the wooden spoon. A draw would allow both sides to finish bottom of the group as goal difference was not used until the 80s.
Northern Ireland, the home side, had the majority of play and created the most chances throughout the game. Irish league player Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) was the main architect of Ireland’s first-half attack but there was no one able to finish off from his good play. The Irish FA selectors had placed Tommy Casey (Newcastle United), a wing-half by trade, as a forward. However, due to the inability of the Irish forward line in converting dominance and chances into goals during the first half he reverted into his natural position in the second half. Captain Danny Blanchflower (Tottenham Hotspur) was moved forward in his place.
Jimmy McIlroy (Burnley) looked the most likely of the Irish forwards to open the scoring but his subtle play was causing his teammates to misunderstand what his next decision would be. Peter McParland (Aston Villa) who was wide-left was also having a good game on the wing with some fine dribbles but nothing was to come of his attacking play.
Wales’ best player was Cliff Jones (Swansea City) who gave Ireland’s Willie Cunningham (Leicester City) a hard time, while Bertie Peacock (Glasgow Celtic) had a quiet game by his standards.
Although Northern Ireland should have won the match with their superiority, Wales had their goalkeeper Alfred Kelsey (Arsenal) to thank for some good saves and thank that Ireland’s forwards forgot their shooting boots on the day. Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper Harry Gregg (Doncaster Rovers) had very little to do on the day and was soon on the move to Manchester United for a then world record fee of £23,000 for a goalkeeper.
The match finished 0-0 and both sides finished bottom of the table.
* Trivia –
Although the match finished 0-0 there was something for the home side to cheer when Wilbur Cush, all 5 ft. 5 ins. of him, performed one of the most extraordinary physical feats ever seen at Windsor Park during this match. What was this feat? Cush had out jumped and kept the ‘Gentle Giant’ of world football, Welsh forward John Charles (who was nearly a full foot taller at 6 ft. 3 ins) from scoring. At this stage of Cush’s career he was still playing part-time Irish League football with Glenavon while ‘Big John’ was at Leeds United with a British record move to Italian club Juventus around the corner. Inevitably Cush would also move onto bigger and better things, ironically to Leeds United where Charles had been previously. It is a credit to Wilbur and the rest of the Irish defence for keeping the quality of Charles from scoring that day. Charles would say that he received poor service from his teammates but Cush went toe-to-toe with the big man. At one point during the match Charles moved out to the wing to avoid Cush for a period of time, as he was fed up being a marked man!
John Charles – “All-time maestro I played against, of course, was Alfredo [Di Stefano], and after him come those two tiny British blighters I was meant to tower over: Charlie Wayman – fast, clever, always at you – and Belfast’s quicksilver little Wilbur Cush.”