19/06/1958 Norrköping France 0-4
Harry Gregg, Dick Keith, Alf McMichael, Danny Blanchflower, Willie Cunningham, Wilbur Cush, Billy Bingham, Tommy Casey, Jackie Scott, Jimmy McIlroy, Peter McParland
TIRED NORTHERN IRELAND SIDE NO MATCH FOR FRANCE
The Times – Friday 20th June
NORRKOEPING, JUNE 19 – Had Northern Ireland not been handicapped by injuries, the fatigue of an extra match, and travelling long distances, it must still be doubtful if they could have beaten France this evening. The French have improved vastly since they lost to England and had not been given a serious chance by early general opinion. Pluck kept the Irish in the hunt for 45 minutes, but in the second half France did much as they wished.
With three men injured, and Dougan and Coyle not having shown form, Ireland were left with 12 to choose from. Gregg played with a heavily strapped ankle, and seldom attempted to punt. With the last goal he was at fault, but otherwise showed all the skill and courage he had against Germany. However, it did not take long to see that Ireland had not had time to throw off their weariness, and although at first they were not daunted by the freshness and speed of the French, and more particularly the brilliance of Kopa and Fontaine, they were perceptibly being outplayed. It was dictation, emphatically French and given uncomfortably fast, and Ireland could never keep pace.
Kopa, running at a dozen different speeds, completely lost Cunningham. Short prods of the ball, and tiny flipped passes between him and Fontaine, evading by inches the lunging Irish boots, sapped already waning energy, and Ireland, at times, were made to lose their self-respect. Keith alone in defence could keep a clear brain against the weaving patterns of Wisnieski and Fontaine, Piantoni and Vincent, with Kopa all the while lurking, aiding, prompting and dovetailing. Poor Cush, now at left half-back, whose unflagging determination had made proud those British present at the last two matches, was now often striking thin air as he and Blanchflower tried to stem the tide.
Ireland had four shots in the first half. France gave a taste of things to come a minute from the interval when Fontaine’s centre, cleared, came straight back from Penverne, and Wisnieski shot in from a narrow angle. Afterwards France got three goals in a period of 12 minutes, and all was over. Fontaine headed home Penverne’s cross from near the corner flag, then dribbled round Keith and shot low past Gregg, and finally Piantoni sped down the right past McMichael, cut in and lashed the ball imperiously into the roof of the net.
“They [France] were not the best team we met in the finals – not by a long way. Indeed, in many respects, they hadn’t the qualities of of West Germany or Argentina, but we were so decimated by those injuries we had nothing to offer.”
“If you needed an example of football people at their best this was it. We were a small contingent but developed a family atmosphere. We all played for each other. We had many problems, too, shortage of players, injuries and a long journey from Malmo to Norrkoping for our final match against France. The team spirit, however, was magnificent, quite unbelievable.”
Ian Woolridge (Journalist News Chronicle / Daily Mail):
“Northern Ireland have been shot out of the World Cup by four French goals, but from the emotional ovation they received as they trooped off the turf, I can tell you these men will never be forgotten. The team that Doherty drilled -the rugged average club players inspired by a few top stars – have left their brand of courage behind them.”
* Trivia –
The Northern Ireland team and staff had to travel 10 hours by coach from Malmo to Norkopping to face France only 48 hours after facing Czechoslovakia in the group stage playoff.
It wasn’t only the players and staff making the 400 mile trip. Northern Ireland fans Micky McColgan and Leslie Nicholl who had travelled to Sweden by scooter added a few more miles onto it. On the journey through the forests the front wheel of the scooter jammed in one of the ruts in the road and they both fell off. Leslie had fractured his scapula and Micky twisted his ankle. When they eventually arrived at the Northern Ireland team hotel in Norkopping they were treated by the Irish team doctor.
The plane carrying the Northern Ireland team (minus Harry Gregg the hero of the Munich air crash earlier that year who departed 24 hours earlier by plane (his first flight since the Munich disaster, having travelled to Sweden by boat) with IFA selector Sammy Walker) home had just taken off from Stockholm when the undercarriage failed to retract. The plane had to circle for more than an hour dropping fuel. Emergency services were called into the tarmac but were not required as the plane made a safe landing. With the fault repaired the team set off again a couple of hours later.
Jimmy McIlroy: Inside Soccer  –
“We had been airborne only a few minutes when Billy Cush, sitting by my side, looked at me with a very worried expression and whispered: ‘There’s something wrong with this plane. We’re not climbing.'”
“He was right. As we flew only a few hundred feet above the Swedish countryside, the pilot’s voice warned us, ‘I am afraid I cannot retract the undercarriage. We must return to Stockholm, but as we cannot land with full fuel tanks, we shall have to circle for some time.'”
“Let me say right away that there were no brave men on that plane. The memory of Munich … was still fresh in our minds… I shall always consider it an act of providence that Harry Gregg, a Munich survivor, had left Sweden on the previous day on a sudden impulse.”
“… as we landed there was an immediate rush for the bar to sample the medicinal properties of the airport brandy, and after two and a half hours of ‘medicine’, we again boarded our plane for home.”