24/09/1924 Belfast South Africa 1-2 Frank Rushe
John Gough, Alfred Bruce, Thomas Frame, James Anderson, William Burns, John Harris, Thomas McKeague, Thomas Croft, Frank Rushe, Ralph Lynas, Harold Wilson
A Springbok ran in Solitude – South Africa’s international debut
Author: Gerry Farrell
The game that would go down in South African football history as their first international.
The match would take place in Solitude, the home ground of Belfast club Cliftonville in front of a crowd of 6,000, generating the princely sum of £254 in gate receipts on the 24th of September 1924. The South Africans had made some changes to their starting line-up since the match at Dalymount, in came Williams, Touhy, Jacobi and Murray. Out went Howell, Hicking, West and Walker. They had played four games in the London area in the intervening three weeks, their most recent match a 4-2 win over Second Division Chelsea with Hodgson grabbing two.
The Northern Irish didn’t field their strongest side for the game. There was no Elisha Scott to face his Liverpool successor, nor was their star forward, Sheffield United’s Billy Gillespie in their line-up. In fact as a cost saving measure the IFA chose to select only players from the Irish League to save on travelling costs.
This all-domestic XI did cause some confusion as to the status of the game both at the time and subsequently. Some reports, including the Irish Times, referred to the Irish side as an Irish League XI rather than a full national team and for many years the IFA did not list the match as a full international, recognising it only as an amateur match.
The South Africans would also play both the English and Welsh amateur sides on their trip but these would not count as full internationals.
However the game against Northern Ireland has been recognised as a full international since 2001. While the Irish side were all home based there were paid professionals among their ranks including Thomas “Tucker” Croft who had scored the winner against England only a year earlier.
They wore the St. Patrick’s blue jersey of the full International side rather than the green jerseys associated with the Irish amateur side and the match was advertised at the time as a full international by the IFA.
The Irish side took the lead early through Frank Rushe who got on the end of a free kick after ten minutes. Rushe was born in Bessbrook in County Armagh. At the time of the South Africa match, his only senior cap, he was playing for Distillery in the Irish League but had spent the previous season with Dublin side Shelbourne who had finished runners-up to Bohemians in the Free State league.
The South Africans would strike back though, just before half time David James Murray getting them back on level terms before Jim Green, who had also scored in Dalymount, grabbed the winner 15 minutes from time.
Irish football correspondents noted the improvement in play from the South Africans since the match in Dublin and the physical disparity between the well-built Springboks and the less robust Irishmen was commented upon by a number of columnists.
It was also noted that the margin of victory could have been greater for the South Africans if it had not been for their wasteful finishing, with particular mention for young Hodgson who seemed to be having a rare off day.
This match is considered by some sources as an Amateur International. However, the match was billed as “Ireland v South Africa” and while the South African team was all-amateur, the Irish team contained several professional players and wore blue (rather than green which was worn by the IFA’s Amateur selections of the day).
To reduce travelling costs the Irish team was selected solely from Irish League players.
South Africa also played Wales, England (twice) and the Netherlands as well as another 21 matches against club sides and other representative selections during a three month tour of Europe. (rsssf)
Several of the South African players were signed by British clubs after their tour ended. Notably, Gordon Hodgson won three England caps, including one against Ireland in 1930, while playing for Liverpool.
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