CATHOLICS, COMMUNISTS AND HAT-TRICKS: THE IRELAND v YUGOSLAVIA SOCCER INTERNATIONAL OF 1955

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[This is an edited version of an article I wrote which first appeared in Football Studies 11, 1 (2008). The article itself is based on a paper I presented at the 2005 Irish Sport History Conference.]

In 1955 the Irish political, cultural, and religious establishment found itself challenged by an unusual and reluctant opponent: The Football Association of Ireland (FAI). The clash arose over a friendly soccer game between the Republic of Ireland and Yugoslavia, which was played at Dalymount Park on 19 October of that year. The Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Dr. John Charles McQuaid, one of the dominant figures in Irish 20th century life, called for the cancellation of the game. This was echoed by various government ministers, senior civil servants, and Catholic lay organisations. The Irish national broadcasting service Radio Televis Éireann (RTE) declined to cover the game after its main sports commentator, Phil Greene, pulled out of the broadcast.

The protests arose out of the continued persecution of the Catholic Church in communist Yugoslavia, and were similar in tone to other protests held in Ireland over the previous seven years. The fact that the game went ahead with an attendance of around 21,400 has been read by some as a counter-protest against the forces of conservative Ireland, especially the public influence of archbishop McQuaid. Indeed, the archbishop’s biographer, John Cooney, wrote that the Yugoslavia game was ‘a populist revolt against McQuaid’s iron rule; the first of his reign.’ (Cooney, p.309.)

This article will argue that the controversy reveals a clash of culture in 1950s Ireland, rather than one over politics or ideology. This is not to say that 1950s Ireland was bereft of clashes over politics or ideology, but that the Ireland v Yugoslavia game became a protest against an attempt by the dominant Irish conservative forces to interfere with the most popular cultural activity of working class Dublin, rather than one energised by a desire on the part of the working class to confront the government, the Catholic Church, or the permanent secretaries of the Irish civil service. The game also provides an entry into Irish working class life – an area often neglected by Irish historians, and one with a culture that, on this occasion at least, found itself in uneasy conflict with the Irish establishment.

1950S IRISH SOCCER AND THE BACKGROUND TO THE GAME

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According to the Irish Press sports journalist, Sean Piondar, Yugoslavia was ‘perhaps the greatest football team – for skill, speed and combination – to visit Dalymount for many seasons [and] will be favourites to win well against Ireland.’ (Irish Press, 19 Oct. 1955). Since 1920 Yugoslavia had lost only 31 of out 184 games, and took silver at the 1948 Olympic Games. In 1954 they beat England in Belgrade, having drawn against them in London in 1950. Two of the Yugoslav players took part in an exhibition match in Windsor Park in Belfast on 13 August 1955. The match was Great Britain and Northern Ireland versus Europe XI. The game ended 4-1 for Europe, with Vukas from Yugoslavia scoring a hat-trick for the visitors in the first ten minutes. It was reported in the press that Yugoslavia intended to field a ‘stars only’ side for their game against Ireland, with both Vukas and Boskov from the Europe XI team confirmed for the fixture. ‘That form’ wrote the Irish Press, ‘is enough to attract a bumper audience.’ (Irish Press, 12 Oct. 1955) The Press went on to say that ‘win, lose or draw their first game with Yugoslavia, will Ireland have a return to Belgrade? Almost certainly – within the next two years.’

The Irish Press had every reason to predict a large crowd, as that was the norm for a game against quality, and expectant, opposition. Later that week a contributor to the Dublin-based periodical, Irish Soccer, wrote that Ireland ‘must try to model [its] play on that of the world’s most powerful teams. We must study the play of such masters of the game as Hungary, France and Yugoslavia. What better way to do this than to play matches against such opponents?’ (Irish Soccer, 14 Oct. 1955). The way to get stronger, the argument went, was to play against stronger teams. ‘One such match can teach more than fifty films or lectures’, the contributor wrote, while saying that if the game against Yugoslavia, which already was gaining controversy, was ‘supplemented by other such games, we will never again go into our international games wondering by how much we will be defeated.’ As it stood, Ireland’s record at international level was solid, as was the home attendance, which rose or fell according to the quality of opposition.

From 1927 to May 1955 Ireland played 30 home games, winning 15, drawing four, and losing on 11 occasions, with the average gate at around 30,000. Six of these games drew crowds of 40,000 or more, of which two were competitive fixtures, and four were friendlies. In October 1953, 45,000 supporters stood in Dalymount Park to see France beat Ireland 5-3 in a world cup qualifier. Three weeks later, Ireland played Luxembourg in the same competition in front of a Dalymount crowd of 20,000 – a drop of 55 per cent. From 1951 to 1953 Ireland played Argentina, France (1952), and Austria in friendlies at home with gates of 40,000 at each game. On Sunday 2 March 1947 a crowd of 42,102 saw Ireland beat Spain in a friendly, also at Dalymount. The winter of 1946/47 was so severe that the football season was restricted due to unplayable conditions, both in Ireland and Great Britain. The Spanish match was thus a rarity that season, and ‘such was the interest in the game that some of the attendance spilled out on to the touchlines and this almost led to the game being abandoned completely.’ (Cullen, p.31.)

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Up to the Yugoslav game, Ireland had played at home in front of crowds of 22,000 or less on six occasions: against the Italy “B” team in 1927 (20,000); Belgium in 1929 (15,000); Hungary in 1939 (18,000); Finland in competition in 1949 (22,479); Luxembourg in 1953 (20,000); and Holland in 1955 (16,680). The majority of Ireland’s international fixtures took place on Sundays, although eight, including the game against Yugoslavia, took place on weekdays. The two previous weekday games took place in 1953, both on Wednesdays. One was against Luxembourg in October (as above), with Austria in March securing a 40,000 attendance. The strongest factor in the attendance at Dalymount Park for an Irish soccer international was whether the opposition was worth the entrance fee. With an attendance of 21,400 in Dalymount Park, Yugoslavia, one the top teams in the world, was in the company of Luxembourg and the Italy “B” team. The reasons for this low gate lay not with international soccer or in the fact that the game was held on a Wednesday, but in the political situation in Yugoslavia, and with both political/religious and popular opposition in Ireland to that regime.

IRELAND, YUGOSLAVIA, AND CARDINAL STEPINAC

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The issue at the heart of the controversy was the persecution of the Catholic Church in the Eastern Bloc, in particular, Yugoslavia and Hungary. Protests in Ireland came from the establishment, the trade union movement, and grassroots organisations. On 21 November 1946, James Dillon, a member of Dáil Éireann (the Irish national parliament), put a motion condemning the recent imprisonment by the Yugoslav authorities of the Archbishop of Zagreb and Primate of Croatia, Aloysius Stepinac. The Archbishop had been found guilty of high treason and war crimes, and sentenced to sixteen years. Dillon’s motion called ‘upon all Christian peoples and all those who do not actually hate Christendom to join in repudiating as fraudulent this pseudo-trial and in stigmatising it for what it is—a crude pantomime of justice…’ It went on to say that the purpose of the trial was to defame ‘Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular, so that the international Communist conspiracy against individual liberty everywhere may be relieved of its most formidable and uncompromising challenge, which must always come from Christianity’.

The motion was rejected by the government in favour of less strongly worded appeal by the Prime Minister Eamonn de Valera, Taoiseach and Minister for External Affairs. It read as follows:

Dáil Éireann, gravely concerned at the unjust trial and imprisonment of Archbishop Stepinac, and at the accumulating evidence of the existence of a campaign of religious persecution in certain parts of Europe, and convinced that recognition of the sovereignty of God and the moral law is the fundamental basis of any just and stable world order, and that freedom to worship God truly, in the manner that He Himself has ordained, is the inalienable right of man, respect for which is essential to the preservation of peace among the nations, calls upon all peoples who desire true liberty and lasting peace to use their combined influence to bring religious persecution everywhere to an end and to secure acceptance of liberty of conscience as one of the basic principles of a genuine world organisation.” (Dáil Debates, CIII, cols. 1332-33, 21 November 1946).

The motion also called on the Minister for External Affairs to pursue the case of Archbishop Stepinac through international diplomacy ‘and to take such other steps as may be proper to secure for them the adherence of freedom-loving peoples.’

The debate between the two motions, which both condemned the treatment of Cardinal Stepinac, focused greatly on the Catholic identity of the Irish Free State, and its articulation through its support for Archbishop Stepinac. Richard Mulcahy, the leader of the main opposition party, Fine Gael, said that a unanimous motion would ‘show to the people who despise and trample on the Catholic Faith in the world what the Catholic Faith means to us in the discharge of our public duties and responsibilities.’ Mr Joseph Blowick, leader of the small farmers’ party, Clann na Talmhan, said that Ireland was ‘a newly-born State with an intensely Catholic tradition behind us. Our memories are not so short that we cannot ourselves revert to religious persecution in the days of our forefathers. I think it is only fitting and proper that we in this Parliament should unanimously condemn the unjust and unfair trial to which Archbishop Stepinac has been subjected.’

At one point, the Fine Gael politician James Dillon said that his opposition to the Taoiseach’s motion should not be seen as a slur on the Catholic nature of the Taoiseach. ‘I believe that the Prime Minister in this matter shares my views as a Catholic. I know that his Catholicity is no more in question than my own and I doubt little that, if all were known about us both, of the two he is much the better Catholic in practice—and that is no great tribute.’ The debate became one where the issue of condemning the treatment of Archbishop Stepinac was secondary to whether the opposition or the government was the more Catholic, even if the catholicity of the Taoiseach was above question.

The motion was praised by the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, Joseph Walshe, who wrote to Frederick Boland, assistant secretary of the Department of External Affairs, that ‘the Taoiseach had given a superb lead to the world.’ Representations were made by Irish diplomats to the British, Canadian, and US governments over the Stepinac case, and on 7 January 1947 the Pope sent a telegram and his blessings to the Irish government and people for a gesture which was ‘worthy of the noble traditions of Catholic Ireland.’

Irish protests against the treatment of Archbishop Stepinac were not confined to the Dáil. In February and March 1949, a series of masses were held across Ireland in support of Stepinac, as well as Cardinal József Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary. On 8 February, Mindszenty was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason against the Hungarian state. Almost immediately, mass notices appeared in the national and local newspapers. A mass was offered up “in St. Michael’s Church, Gorey, for Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop Stepinac and the persecuted clergy of Hungary, at the request of the staff and workers of Gorey Leather Factory” read one notice. “The Executive Committee of the County Clare Rate Collectors’ Association directed their secretary to have a novena of masses offered for Cardinal Mindszenty and the persecuted Catholics of Hungary” read another. Similar requests were made by a league of diverse organisations, businesses, and societies such as the Irish Cycle Corporation; The Limerick Ladies’ Association of St. Vincent de Paul; the staff and director of Arthur B. Brennan Ltd, Arklow, Co. Wicklow; the Accountant-General’s branch of the Irish Revenue Commissioners; and the directors, managers of staff of the Royal Marine hotel, Co. Dublin. The notices continued for weeks.

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The same year, over 40,000 people took part in a Mayday rally in support of the Catholic church in communist Europe, and in particular Archbishop Stepinac, who remained in Lepoglava prison for his collaboration with the Ustasha regime in Croatia during the second world war. The parade included “members of sodalities and confraternities in over forty city churches and trade union groups” wrote the Irish Times, “papal and national flags were flown from windows and roof-tops. A streamer across the platform at the Parnell monument bore the inscription: We stand for God.” The entire Irish trade union movement was represented. Mr. Leo Crawford, secretary of the Congress of Irish Unions, said that his organisation “believed that in following [the path of political representation] they could erect the most effective barriers against the insidious evils which had engulfed Central and Eastern Europe.” Mr. M.P. Linahan, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, told the demonstrators that ‘his organisation stood four-square behind the Church in defence of the principles for which Cardinal Mindszenty was suffering.” Mr. R.F. Morgan of the Dublin Trades Union Council said that “the trade union movement had very effective ways of dealing with the ugly weapon of Communism, and should that weapon be raised they would deal with it.” The Mayday rally, the debates and motions of the Dáil, and the list of masses offered by a cross-section of Irish society, portray a society that saw the treatment of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia and Hungary as nothing short of evil. They also show that in Ireland in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the names of Cardinal Mindszenty and Archbishop Stepinac needed little introduction.

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In 1947 John Charles McQuaid wrote that ‘the case of Archbishop Stepinac is very complex and very simple.’ (Henry, forward). The complexity was Yugoslavia during the war, and the simplicity was ‘the directness of the supernatural ideal which guided the Archbishop [and which] allows us to understand his attitude in any position of crisis.’ His actions were guided by God, and because of this, ‘in his trial and unjust condemnation, therefore, Archbishop Stepinac is but another symbol of the unending persecution of the One, True Church.’ Archbishop Stepinac was a Croat nationalist who welcomed at first the establishment of the Nazi-backed Ustasha regime, but by 1942 had withdrawn his support for the regime, in particular for Ante Pavelic, the wartime dictator of fascist Croatia. Archbishop Stepinac’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment had more to do with the complexity of wartime Croatia than with the ‘simplicity’ of his spiritual guidance, but a priest behind bars in a communist country was never going to be seen in Ireland in terms other than of persecution – with Archbishop Stepinac a martyr, ‘rotting in a Bolshevik jail.’

The issue of Archbishop Stepinac was sufficiently strong in 1952 for the FAI to quietly decline Yugoslavia’s request for an international match, after the sporting body had consulted with Archbishop McQuaid. The FAI’s unofficial ban on playing Yugoslavia was out of step with the rest of the International soccer community, and by 1955 it felt that it could no longer decline Yugoslavia’s request to play against Ireland, and agreed to host the team in Dublin. It was a move welcomed, at first anyway, by the sports media and soccer fans. Unlike the previous occasion in 1952, however, this time FAI did not consult the Archbishop beforehand. McQuaid had no knowledge of the game until it was brought to his attention in the immediate days before the fixture. This was despite the large coverage the match had generated in the weeks leading up to the fixture. Soccer, it seems, did not figure on the Archbishops radar. The Archbishop’s ‘regret that the match had been arranged’ made the headlines, and into the history books, but opposition to this particular match, and to Yugoslavia, had already begun before the Archbishop made his views known to the FAI.

OPPOSITION TO THE GAME

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One of the first signs of opposition to the game came in August at a meeting of the Waterford District Football League. A Waterford clerk, Mr. Leo. P. Dunne, told the meeting, which was attended by the chairman of the FAI, Mr. Prole, and its secretary, Mr. Wickham, that the visit of the Yugoslav team was against all Christian principles, in view of the persecution behind the Iron curtain. The meeting decided to take no action, as it was a matter for the FAI, but Mr. Dunne was supported in his protest by Mr. Tim Galvin, who was the assistant branch secretary of the Waterford ITGWU. On Thursday 13 October the Irish Catholic, in an article headed “Tito’s footballers in Dublin”, reported that the Catholic Federation of Secondary Schools’ Union had protested ‘against the coming to Dublin of a team representing Yugoslavia.’ The same day the Department of Justice received a visa application, via telegram from London, for the Yugoslav football team who were due to arrive in London on Monday 17 October ‘en route to play Ireland at Dalymount on 19th October.’ The Department of Justice would later say that this telegram was the first that it knew about the Yugoslav game, although the Irish Press, again on Thursday 13 October, in an article titled ‘President to see Yugoslav match’, wrote that ‘the president [of Ireland] has informed Mr. J.L. Wickham, FAI secretary, of his intention to attend the soccer international against Yugoslavia in Dublin next Wednesday.’ The article, which appeared on the sports pages, also said that ‘in the Dalymount Park Council Box will be government ministers and other Dáil deputies and members of the Diplomatic Corps.’ At this stage at least, the match had all the appearance of official government support.

The Department of External Affairs, in particular its assistant secretary, Frederick Boland, had long witnessed the treatment of Archbishop Stepinac as a block to diplomatic relations between Ireland and Yugoslavia. In September 1950 an attempt was made by the Yugoslav authorities to appoint a Consul General de Carrière in Dublin. The Yugoslav ambassador in London was informed that ‘having regard to the public feeling occasioned here by events in Yugoslavia such as the trial and imprisonment of Archbishop Stepinac, the arrival of a Yugoslav representative in Dublin would be apt to cause disagreeable criticism and press comment to which they [the government] feel no official representative in this country should be exposed.’ In February 1953 a move was made within government to reduce as far as possible all purchases from communist countries. In a memorandum from the then Minister for Finance, Seán MacEntee, the point was made that ‘to the degree that non-communist countries do business with communist states… they may be said to be aiding in a greater or lesser degree the development of communist strength…’ The Minister went on to say that because of this he felt ‘bound to press for a total ban on trades with the countries at present under communist rule.’ At the highest level of government in Ireland in the early 1950s there was a robust opposition to trade links with communist countries, and diplomatic links with Yugoslavia, that was not without an ideological and religious element.. When Archbishop McQuaid made his request that the game be abandoned, in government circles at least he was pushing on an already open door.

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It was Archbishop McQuaid’s comments, however, that moved the game from the sport to the front pages. On Friday 14 October Mr. Wickham received a phone call from Fr. O’Regan, Archbishop’s house. Fr. O’Regan told Mr. Wickham that was regrettable that ‘the association had not the courtesy to obtain His Grace’s views’ as they had done on the occasion of the proposed 1952 game, (Irish News, 17 Oct. 1955), and went on to ask whether it was ‘bad policy to bring in representatives of a country which had persecuted Cardinal Stepinac.’ (Sunday Independent, 16 Oct. 1955). The previous day, Thursday 13 October, Mr. Coyne, Department of Justice, had rung Mr. Wickham and said that the FAI should have asked the department about visas, although as Mr. Wickham pointed out, there had not been any need to enquire about visas before. He told Mr. Coyne that ‘during the past 20 years the association never before had to seek permits [and that] in the case of Austria he had gone himself to London to arrange the necessary visas.’ The FAI had agreed to hold a special internal meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation, and Mr. Wickham wanted to know if the Department of Justice would give him an answer regarding the visas before that meeting took place. Mr. Coyne said ‘that could not be done as it would be putting the onus on the government’ – nonetheless, he went on to suggest that the association call off the match. An internal memo from the department of External Affairs stated:

‘had we been consulted in advance… I think it safe to say that we would have advised against the proposal, having regard to the persecution of the church and imprisonment of Cardinal Stepinac in Yugoslavia, which formed the subject of various references in the Dáil and protest notes the Yugoslav government.’

The memo went on to say that the issue was due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting that day, Friday 14 October, ‘and our minister may wish to know what would have been our line had we been consulted.’ The Archbishop, the Department of Justice, and the Department of External Affairs had now brought their attention to the now controversial fixture.

The FAI held its special meeting at its offices on Merrion Square on Saturday 15 October and agreed, with one dissention, to proceed with the game. The chairman, Mr. S.R. Prole, said that they regarded the matter as a sporting affair between two countries, and that he was sure ‘that the counterpart of the FAI in Yugoslavia had as much say in the politics of that country as the association had here.’ Mr. Rapple, honorary secretary, called on the delegates to support the proposed game and made the point that ‘if it came to politics they might find that they did not agree with some of the things their own government did in Ireland.’ Mr. Clery said that the association was being put in the spot, and that ‘it would be a sorry day for this country when visiting players and officials would be asked their politics or religion.’ Mr. E.W. O’Connor said that he would have voted against the match had he been aware to the objections now raised, but, at this stage, it would be unreasonable to ask them ‘to accede to a request from the government or the Archbishop.’ The only vote against the hosting of the Yugoslav team came from Lt.-Col. T. Gunn of the Army Athletics Association, who said that the controversy had placed him in a very awkward position. ‘Without saying anything more’, he told the meeting, ‘I must oppose the proposal to go on with the match.’ Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Wickham received a call from Mr. Coyne who informed him that the government had decided to grant visas to the Yugoslav team and officials. He made it clear that the decision was made in light of the fact that arrangements for the game were already advanced, and of the ‘lateness of the time that representations were made to call it off.’ The FAI agreed to write to the Archbishop to explain the reasons behind the game.

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The decision to grant visas, however, did not stop the government from making known its opposition to the game by withdrawing its official representation. The press was informed late on Saturday night that the Irish President ‘had found it necessary to cancel his acceptance of an invitation to attend the game.’ No government ministers attended the game, although Oscar Traynor greeted the players before kick-off in his capacity as FAI president. The FAI was informed that the no.1 Army Band would not be present on Wednesday to play the national anthems, while the management committee of Transport football Club said that, in light of the Archbishop’s objections, none of its officials would attend ‘either the match or the reception for officials afterwards.’ Similarly, Philip Greene, the RTE sports commentator, informed the press that in light of the Archbishop’s comments, he would not be available for the proposed radio commentary on Wednesday. Niall Tobin was due to open the coverage with a five-minute introductory talk in Irish. No replacement was found for Phil Greene, however, and the match was not covered by RTE.

The response from the Irish laity was robust. In a letter to the FAI, Mr. M.L. Burke, supreme secretary of the Knights of St. Columbanus, wrote that ‘it is most regrettable that your association, in which so many tens of thousands of Irish Catholics are found, has failed to realise how distasteful to Irish Catholics is this link with a communist-dominated country.’ The secretary-general of the Guilds of Regnum Christi, Mr. M. O’Connell, told the press that his organisation supported the protests because the ‘communist government of Yugoslavia would make capital out of it in its struggle with the Catholic Church. The League of the Kingship of Christ released a statement on Sunday night which emphasised ‘the existence of a special bond of union between ourselves and our brothers who suffer behind the Iron Curtain, because they and we are members of one another in the mystical body of Christ’, and that charity demands that asylum should be granted to any player who so wished it. The president of An Rioghacht, Mr. Brian J. McCaffery, said that asylum should be offered to any player who wishes to remain in Ireland, while at the same time criticising the Department of Justice for the ‘amazing and absurd guarantee which has been forced on the Football Association of Ireland.’ This was in reference to the stipulation by the Department of Justice that the FAI should cover the living costs of any player who wished to seek asylum. The Catholic Association for International Relations wrote an open letter to the Yugoslav players, which stated that that while’ our football association is a free, voluntary organisation of sportsmen, having no connection with the government…yours is under the control of a state department’, and that the bulk of the Irish people ‘are unhappy about your visit.’

THE GAME AND AFTERMATH

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The Yugoslav players arrived in Ireland shortly before midnight, Monday 17 October, having only recently heard about the controversy surrounding the game. The team was met at the airport by senior FAI officials, uniformed civic guards, and plain-clothed detectives. The police were present in anticipation of protests, but there were none. The team was brought to the Gresham Hotel, where an impromptu press conference took place. The spokesman for Mr. Rato Dugonjic, president of the Yugoslav Football Association, said that they were told of the protests while waiting in London for their flight to Dublin. ‘It is all very difficult,’ he said, as ‘this is the first time this has happened to us and we have travelled to the five continents.’ When asked about the protests and the imprisonment of Cardinal Stepinac, the spokesman replied, ‘we completely ignore these things.’ The Yugoslav ambassador to London, Dr. Vladmir Velebit, was not so reticent. In a statement issued to the Irish Times, he said that it was ‘deplorable’ for the Archbishop to use a soccer match for a ‘campaign of intolerance’, particularly ‘as it comes at a time when racial, ideological and religious prejudices are being overcome in international relations.’ The ambassador and his staff were taken by surprise by the protests, and had considered cancelling the match, but had gone ahead because, in the words of the embassy’s press officer, Mr. Pasic, ’we do not want to let down people who have undertaken this costly venture in good faith.’ The protests were more of a surprise to the Yugoslav embassy because it believed that it had good relations with Ireland, both with the Irish embassy in London and with the Irish ambassador in Rome, whom Dr. Velebit met recently during his tour of duty.

The protests continued. On Tuesday 18 October the Irish and Shelbourne trainer, policeman Dick Hearns, who had been working with the Irish team until Monday, did not turn out with the players. He was replaced by Billy Lord, the Shamrock Rovers’ trainer. When asked why he had withdrawn from the game, Mr. Hearns said ‘I would rather not say.’ Sean Brady, TD, called on Dublin’s workers ‘to deny themselves the pleasure of witnessing a good soccer match as an act of respect for, and sympathy with those brave, distinguished prisoners [in Yugoslavia].’ The chief scout of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, Mr. J.B. Whelehan, wanted the match stopped, and said that ‘neither good relationship nor brevity of time can excuse want of principle or lack of courage.’ ‘Must Irish Catholics stand calmly by while the tools of Tito disport themselves and are fêted in the capital of Catholic Ireland?’ he wrote. ‘Has the FAI forgotten the exploits of the gentle Tito, the tyrant-jailer of a prince of the Church… and relentless persecutor of bishops, priests and laity, some of whom were petrol-soaked and set aflame with complete immunity by Tito’s heroes?’ At a meeting of the Waterford board of Assistance in Dungarvan, 17 October, Mr. C. Curran proposed that the board should protest against a football team representing a communist country coming to Ireland. ‘We are representatives of a Christian community, ‘he said, ‘and I think we should protest as there are vital principles involved.’ After some discussion, Mr. Curran agreed to drop his resolution and to place it in the form of a personal protest.

The decision by Transport F.C. to boycott the game led to speculation that transport workers would follow suit, but a spokesman for the State-run transport company, Córas Iompar Eireann (CIE) said that ‘our football club and our passenger services are two distinct things… and if there is a demand for [extra buses] on Wednesday they will be provided.’ The company also announced that cheap day tickets would be issued from all mainline stations for those attending the game. The FAI said that, despite the protests, there had been a brisk demand for tickets, ‘well up to previous internationals’, and the Dáil and government boycott was broken by Dan Breen TD, who announced his decision to attend the game and ‘to fire his last shot for Ireland.’ (Cooney, p.312). Overall, though, the feeling was that public opinion was against the game, and sizable protests were expected outside Dalymount Park.

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Pre-match speculation on the possible attendance ranged from 5,000 to 35,000, ‘the fixture having aroused such varying degrees of indignation and sympathy.’ (Irish Press, 18 Oct. 1955). In the end, the official figure for attendance was 22,000, although the Irish Times and the Irish Press put the figure at 21,400, with the Press adding that the gate for the game was £4,000. Although there had been talk of a walkout by at least some of the Irish players, this proved to be unfounded, and the team played as named on 12 October. Police and detectives were on duty at the ground, both inside and outside, but there were no incidents. John Cooney, in his biography on McQuaid, wrote that the supporters ‘had to pass a picket of Legion of Mary members carrying anti-communist placards.’ (Cooney, p.312). A similar claim is made by Tim Pat Coogan, who wrote that the 21,400 showed up ‘despite having to pass a large picket formed by Catholic actionists.’ (Coogan, p.731). The only visible protest on the day, apart from the drop in attendance, came from one man who carried a papal flag as he walked outside the entrance to Dalymount Park. He was named by the Irish Press as Mr. Gabriel Diskin, a Dublin-based journalist. (Irish Press, 20 October 1955). Diskin worked for the Irish Press at the time.

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There were cheers for the Yugoslav and Irish players as they made their way onto the pitch. The largest cheer, however, was reserved for Oscar Traynor, a former Belfast Celtic footballer, who greeted the teams in the absence of the President. The spectators stood for both national anthems, which were played over the public address system in the absence of the Army band. The Yugoslav national anthem had been recorded the previous night by a Dublin band, which used special scores flown in the previous week by the Yugoslav Football Association. There was some confusion at the raising of the Yugoslav flag, when it was pointed out by a Yugoslav official that it was upside-down. It appears to have been an honest mistake, and was soon rectified.

The match ended 4-1 for Yugoslavia, who played, according to the Irish Times journalist, Frank Johnstone, with ‘calculated movements after the manner of a master of chess, carried through with the speed of light.’ Ireland’s only goal came in the 32nd minute, with Yugoslavia already 2-0 up, and was scored by Arthur Fitzsimons (Middlesbrough). Milutinovic, who had scored Yugoslavia’s first two goals, completed a hat-trick just before half-time. The end of the game saw Yugoslavia receive a standing ovation from the crowd, who had just seen Ireland receive its heaviest home defeat since Spain won by the same margin in 1949. After the game, the Yugoslav team and officials were guests of honour at a banquet hosted by the FAI in the Gresham Hotel, and were presented with gifts of Waterford glass, Foxford rugs, and (presumably, empty) wallets. Rato Dugonic told the FAI that ‘our feelings after the wonderful reception we got at today’s match are different from those we had when we arrived and read your newspapers…. [and] I hope this is but the beginning of better understanding between Ireland and Yugoslavia, Irish sportsmen will always be welcome in my country.’ Oscar Traynor praised the Yugoslav team for a wonderful display of skill and sportsmanship. With regard to the controversy surrounding the game, he said that ‘we have nothing to defend. Our actions have been above board, friendly and will continue so.’

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Mr. Wickham of the FAI was interviewed after the game. He said that he believed the game was well supported, telling the press that “for a mid-week game, a crowd like that is quite good.’ His comments have been taken at face-value, and repeated as a reasonable assessment of the game. When placed in the context of Irish international soccer, however, it appears that he was putting a brave face on things. The controversy lost revenue for the FAI. (A somewhat crude approximation, based on the match gate of £4,000 from or 21,400 supporters, is £1,000 lost for every 5,350 fans that stayed away.) The Yugoslavia experience did not stop Ireland from playing other Eastern-Bloc countries, particularly Poland (1958, 1964), and Czechoslovakia (1959, 1961), but Ireland would not face Yugoslavia again until 1988, when the home team won 2-0 in a friendly at Lansdowne Road.

CONCLUSION

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In 1954 Archbishop Stepinac was visited by an Irish woman named Florence Cullen. He told her, “you are here, you, alone with me. For me, you are the Irish people, so to you I give this blessing for the Irish people, every one of the three million of them.” His trial and subsequent imprisonment had not only made the news in Ireland, but had provided a rallying point for southern conservative Irish society. The Dáil debates, the Mayday rally, and the offering of masses by thousands of ordinary people all point to an Irish certitude that the Archbishop was in the right, and the Yugoslav authorities in the wrong. Archbishop Stepinac was sent messages of support by the Irish Roman Catholic Church and affiliated lay organisations. This was to be expected. However, the trade union movement, local community and business organisations, and, indeed, the entire political and diplomatic establishment, also threw their weight behind the Archbishop. The Ireland-Yugoslavia game took place within the context of such national consensus.

The match, in the end, became a protest, but it was a reluctant one. There were a number of reasons why it went ahead. Both the FAI and Irish Soccer pointed to the necessity of fixtures against quality football opposition in order for the Irish team to develop at international level, and Yugoslavia were one of the top teams in the world. The reputation of the Irish Republic team within FIFA was also an issue. The FAI had already turned down a request by Yugoslavia for a fixture, and by 1955 it felt that no longer could it justify such a position. The main reason, however, was that the Irish soccer fan base wanted to see Yugoslavia play.

The Ireland-Yugoslavia game has entered Dublin folk-memory as the day when the city’s working class, quite literally, roared back at its archbishop. John Cooney, in his biography of McQuaid, wrote that ‘a substantial section of the crowd was composed of non-soccer fans who had decided to register a protest against McQuaid’s campaign.’ (Cooney, p.312). It is a conclusion that ignores the level of soccer support in Dublin, and Ireland, in the 1950s. The average Dalymount gate for a game against a team of Yugoslavia’s calibre was 40,000. Furthermore, McQuaid’s comments were hardly out of step with politicians who clashed words over the strength of their “Catholicity” in 1946, or the estimated 40,000 trade unionists and lay church members who protested on Mayday in 1949. The gate for the 1955 game was down, but those who did show up were there to see a world-class team play at a time when such games were comparatively rare. The roar that the Archbishop heard that day was a soccer roar. A neglected aspect of Irish culture revealed itself that day. The support for soccer among working-class Dublin was such that even in the face of such opposition the Yugoslavs got to play in Dalymount – and that is enough significance for any one game.

References

Irish Catholic, 1955
Irish Independent, 1955
Irish News, 1955
Irish Press, 1955
Irish Soccer, 1955 (available in National Library of Ireland, Ir 3966 i 12)
Irish Times, 1955
Sunday Independent, 1955

National Archive of Ireland, ‘Yugoslav soccer team,’ DFA/305/298;
‘letter from F. Boland to An t-Ionadai, London, 17 September 1950,’ DFA 305/243/4;
‘memorandum for the government from the Minister for Finance, 23 February 1953,’ DFA/305/249;
‘memo dated Friday 14 October 1955,’ DFA 305/298;

Stella Alexander, Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 (Cambridge, 1979)

Tim Pat Coogan, Ireland in the Twentieth Century (London, 2003)

John Cooney, John Charles McQuaid: ruler of Catholic Ireland (Dublin, 1999)

Donal Cullen, Ireland on the ball: a complete record of the international matches of the Republic of Ireland soccer team, March 1926 to June 1993 (Dublin, 1993)

Anthony Henry (Count O’Brien of Thomond), Archbishop Stepinac: the man and his case (Dublin, 1947)

Dermot Keogh, Ireland and the Vatican: the politics and diplomacy of Church-State relations, 1922-1960 (Cork, 1995)

J.H. Whyte, Church and State in modern Ireland, 1923-79 (2nd edition, Dublin, 1980)

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One Response to CATHOLICS, COMMUNISTS AND HAT-TRICKS: THE IRELAND v YUGOSLAVIA SOCCER INTERNATIONAL OF 1955

  1. Hugh Travers says:

    Just wondering which publication the first newspaper article came from. (‘Yugoslav’s Had Method and Finish in 4-1 Victory’) There are a few newspapers listed in your references but I can’t figure out which is which. I’m trying to track down this page for a documentary project I’m working on. Any help you can give me with this would be much appreciated.

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