The IFA Football Guide - a little gem from the past

By Padraig CoyleBBC Sport NI
Fans could pencil in the results beside the fixtures in the 1950 IFA Football Guide
Fans could pencil in the results beside the fixtures in the 1950 IFA Football Guide

Last week's announcement from our local football administrators of 17 October as the proposed return date for the Irish Premiership has us counting the days and weeks on our fingers and toes.

The appetite for football news is such that during its enforced absence any story from any league or competition anywhere is helping to quench a thirst that won't really be sated any time soon.

Our near addiction for football is served by genuine stories published through reliable channels alongside rumours, alerts, updates pumped out via a myriad of outlets.

Football supporters 70 years ago did not enjoy the access to the information that we can retrieve these days at the mere touch of a screen. Apart from what was being reported on the pages of the morning, evening and weekend newspapers, they depended largely on workplace or pub gossip for their fix.

There were also several other football related yearbooks and annuals including the Irish Association Football Guide. For the princely sum of threepence, every fan could become an expert statistician.

This little gem, first published for season 1911-12, contained a complete set of the previous season's results from all competitions, along with goalscorers, league tables, other snippets of news and the list of forthcoming fixtures.

Blues on top

In its foreword to the new season, the guide reflected "If the standard of play was not just as high last year as many would desire, there was no lack of keenness and, while Linfield secured four of the six senior trophies, they had to fight hard for them. The Irish League was most interesting and when Derry City faltered in the closing months, Glentoran maintained the challenge and forced a test match, which Linfield won."

The 'test match' was a play-off at Cliftonville after Linfield and Glentoran finished the campaign level on 38 points. Although the Glens had won more games and had the league's top scorer in Sammy Hughes, goal difference had not yet been introduced (and would not become the deciding factor for another four decades). In front of 16,000 at Solitude, Tommy Dickson scored twice in the 2-0 decider.

The IFA guide contained a feast of facts from he footballing year
The IFA guide contained a feast of facts from the footballing year

On 19 August 1950, 16 clubs kicked off the opening rounds of the Ulster Cup, which was divided into two sections. Larne's defence of the trophy started with a 3-1 victory at home to recent arrivals Crusaders. Glentoran eased past Dundela 4-0, eventually winning the tournament 2-1 against Linfield.

The Blues' league title defence would not begin until 25 November, but in an indication of how the ongoing rivalry with their neighbours across the Lagan would continue, the two would also have already met in the City Cup and Gold Cup finals.

Among the emerging stars at Glentoran was teenage winger Billy Bingham, who had collected a County Antrim Shield winners medal before transferring to Sunderland in October 1950.

Most other competitions warranted a mention or a score line, too. Albert Foundry added the Border Cup to the Steel & Sons Cup. Larne claimed the Clement Lyttle Cup and in the Diamond Cup final, 93rd Old Boys defeated Sandy Row Methodist 4-3.

Political tension

Away from the domestic game, the Irish Association Football Guide's foreword hinted at continuing problems elsewhere at a higher level. "Relations between North and South have deteriorated, but so far as the international championship is concerned the I.F.A is still recognised as the parent body."

At issue was the matter of which footballing jurisdiction - the Irish Football Association or the Football Association of Ireland - could refer to its national team as Ireland. While the matter would take several more years before Fifa would make a declaration, Northern Ireland continued to refer to itself as Ireland, while the recently declared Republic of Ireland was titled Eire.

In spite of these complications, players like Davy Walsh (Linfield/West Brom), Tom Aherne (Belfast Celtic/Luton) and Con Martin (Glentoran/Aston Villa) continued as dual internationals for both Ireland and Eire. And the two associations continued to stage twice yearly revenue raising inter-league fixtures

On 14 Jan 1950 at Derry's Brandywell, Ireland defeated Wales 3-2 in a Youth International match where the Ireland goalkeeper was listed as H.Gregg (Ballymoney Y.M.C.A.).

Harry Gregg would go on to become as goalkeeping legend with Manchester United and Northern Ireland
Harry Gregg would go on to become as goalkeeping legend with Manchester United and Northern Ireland

Elsewhere, the Irish Association Football Guide's is a reminder to us of how popular the people's game remained.

  • Maine Road, Manchester: England 9 - 2 Ireland. Att: 65,000
  • Hampden Park, Glasgow: Scotland 0 - 1 England. Att: 138,000
  • Hampden Park, Glasgow: Scotland 3 - 1 Switzerland. Att: 123,751

And, perhaps, an indicator of football's slow move into the modern era is found in this note.

  • May 10th 1950 Belgium 5 - 1 Eire. Century Stadium, Brussels.

"Attendance: 20,000. The last half hour of the game was played in artificial light, 95 1000 watt light being turned on and five white balls were used in this period."

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport