06/11/1957 London England 3-2 Jimmy McIlroy pen, Sam McCrory, Billy Simpson
Harry Gregg, Dick Keith, Alf McMichael, Danny Blanchflower, Jackie Blanchflower, Bertie Peacock, Billy Bingham, Sam McCrory, Billy Simpson, Jimmy McIlroy, Peter McParland
The attendance for this match was easily the lowest for an England game at Wembley since their first match there in 1924. It was assumed that the sparse attendance was due to the inevitably of a one-sided English victory. In the event, though, Northern Ireland stunned everybody with their first win over England for 30 years. Their heroes were carried shoulder-high off the pitch at the end by hordes of jubilant Irish supporters.
Ireland undeniably had some luck. England had much more of the play, and the large majority of the goalscoring chances. Gregg and his defenders, though, played out of their skins, and to a large extent they made their own luck through sheer endeavour. The result certainly gave England a hard dose of reality, following their unbeaten run stretching to more than two years. Suddenly, their World Cup prospects looked a lot bleaker. As against Wales, Taylor and Kevan did not look prolific enough in front of goal, and this was becoming a worry.
Ireland took the lead from the spot, after McIlroy was fouled by Wright, and converted the penalty himself. Douglas and A’Court both hit the crossbar, and Edwards and Clayton came close too, but the equaliser would not come before the break. Eventually, after half-time, A’Court rolled home a gentle cross from Kevan, and England were indeed level. Not for long, though. Wright and Edwards got in each other’s way as they went for the same ball, and McCrory was on hand to fire home via a post. Then, a weak header by Byrne was pounced on by Bingham, who crossed for Simpson to score with his head. Sensationally, Ireland were 3-1 up. England were given some hope after a typically thunderous finish from Edwards to a fine, length-of-the-field move from England. Gregg then denied Kevan and Clayton with fine saves, and Kevan was also denied by a desperate McMichael clearance. Amid rising excitement, though, Ireland held on for a famous win.
At 33 Sammy McCrory won his one and only cap for Northern Ireland in this game, but it wasn’t a bad game to become a ‘one cap wonder’ was it?! Not only did Northern Ireland record a memorable and rare victory against England but Sam scored one of the goals!
In that mornings papers England and Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards had asked, “What is an old man like [Sam] McCrory doing in a game like this?” “Not bad for an old man eh?” McCrory said as he passed Edwards on his way back to the centre after his goal!
Sammy describes the experience in an interview with Ivan Little:
“Yes, it [was] quite a day. But the funny thing was that we never had any celebrations for such a memorable victory. After the final whistle, everyone went their own way, without any knees-up. I suppose no one really expected us to win.”
“Obviously I think I could have done a good job for my country. But I never got the chance to prove myself. In the end, I think I embarrassed them into picking me for the England game. What happened was that I was selected for an Ireland ‘B’ game against Rumania at Windsor Park. Derek Dougan also made his representative debut in that game and together we helped crush the Rumanians 6-0. It wasn’t long after that game, that I was picked for the Wembley match. Afterwards I was picked in the squad to go to Sweden for the World Cup Finals. But sad to say, I didn’t get a match. So I had to be content who just one appearance for Northern Ireland … One appearance and one goal! Not a bad record, really.”
Jimmy McIlroy: Inside Soccer  –
“The atmosphere in the Irish dressing-room at half-time was indescribable. Leading 1-0, we knew that a sensational victory-we hoped it would be a real one this time-was on the cards. Manager Peter Doherty, in more excitable mood than I had ever known him, kept a non-stop barrage of instructions which I am sure none of us heard.”
“Billy Wright and his team were already in the tunnel waiting for us when Danny Blanchflower looked out. He told Billy: ‘We don’t want to play the second half. We’re winning 1-0, and we’re staying in here.’ Despite the typical Blanchflower humour, we had to emerge to face … whatever the Englishmen had planned for us.”