People On The Pitch #11: Northern Ireland vs Italy, friendly match, 04/12/1957

Last time out in People On The Pitch, we checked out a mass-confrontation at Coventry’s Highfield Road as Nottingham Forrest won the 1978 English league title. Previously we have gone back as far as 1966 in this series, with a Wales vs Scotland Euro 68 qualifier, but now we go back further still to the 1950s and a spicy “friendly” game in Belfast that was meant to be a World Cup qualifier.

Background:

Following the lead of the first three football associations in the world – England (1863), Scotland (1873) and Wales (1876) – the Irish Football Association was founded in 1880 while the whole of the island of Ireland was still under British rule. In 1921, the Irish War of Independence, and resulting peace treaty, divided the country, with the majority of territory breaking away from the United Kingdom as the so-called Irish Free State in 1922, leaving the remaining north-eastern six counties to become Northern Ireland.


Flag of Northern Ireland, 1924-1972.

Following the split, the Football Association of Ireland (originally Football Association of the Irish Free State) was created to represent the new “Free Irish”, but both the Dublin-based FAI and Belfast-based IFA claimed to represent the entire island. In football terms there was no Northern Ireland, as the IFA Ireland team of 1880 continued as normal selecting players from both sides of the border, as did the Irish Free State from 1936. Both also wore green with shamrock crests, but at IFA games the English national anthem of God Save The King was played, while at FAI games an anthem glorifying the fight against the same king was proudly sang.

In 1937, the Irish Free State name was dropped in a new constitution, legally creating “Ireland”. Hence, there now was officially two Ireland teams, although one was a member of FIFA (FAI) and the other (IFA) on boycott, along with the rest of the UK nations following political disagreements. In 1946, however, the IFA and the rest did rejoin FIFA, meaning that the “two Irelands” would be present in the upcoming 1950 World Cup qualifiers for the first time, with several players amazingly turning out for both in the campaign.


"Ireland", which shamrock-shield crest, emerge at Maine Road ahead of a 9-2 defeat to England, World Cup 50 qualifier/British Home Championship 49/50.

The undeniably farcical situation forced FIFA to step in to make a clear distinction between the teams. In 1949, this was helped as the Irish had adopted another constitution in which the country was formally declared a republic (a move which alarmed British unionists who saw it as a potential threat to the existence of Northern Ireland), and while not the official name, the term “Republic of Ireland” was made legally acceptable as a national title.

The timing was perfect, as FIFA declared that the FAI’s team be known as the Republic of Ireland, and the IFA’s as Northern Ireland, and that both would stick to selecting players from within their borders (which would remain until 1994 when the Good Friday Agreement made it possible for players born in Northern Ireland to represent the Republic). The North also adopted the IFA’s Celtic cross as their badge; a somewhat ironic choice considering many of their supporters’ hatred for the Celtic culture and language of the “non-British” Irish.

One notable exception to the name was within the British Home Championship, where the IFA were still known as Ireland until 1971. During this time, when the 1953/54 and 66/67-67/68 editions doubled as World Cup and Euro qualifiers respectively (as 1949/50 had been for World Cup 50), the odd situation arose where “Ireland” would be playing in the British tournament and Northern Ireland in FIFA/UEFA competition, within the same match.

After having failed to qualify for 1950 and 54, Northern Ireland would participate in a non-British World Cup qualifying group for the first time in the next campaign. Placed in a tough Group 8 along with Italy and Portugal, each team were to play each other twice throughout 1957 with two points awarded for a win, and a spot at Sweden 1958 for whoever topped the group.

Involved in the first three games, the North started with the two tough away ties first; an encouraging draw was secured in Lisbon against Portugal in January, before a 1-0 defeat to Italy in Rome in April. On May 1st, a brilliant 3-0 home win over Portugal put Northern Ireland right back in contention, before the Portuguese’ own 3-0 victory over Italy later in the month really blew things wide open. The last games were scheduled for December, with the Italians set to visit Belfast on the 4th before finally hosting Portugal on the 22nd.


Some of those in attendance for Northern Ireland's 3-0 win over Portugal in Windsor Park, World Cup 58 qualifier, 01/05/1957.

Before The Match:

With Northern Ireland ready for their biggest international to date, an unexpected crisis struck the day before the game when Hungarian referee Istvan Zsolt was stranded in London due to dense fog. An English ref closer at hand was put on stand-by, but it was decided to wait and see if Zsolt, who was also manager of the Budapest Opera House, could make it the next day.

Meanwhile, the swarthy Italian team – who had already landed successfully – surveyed the sights, sounds and flavours of Belfast:

(The newsreel from which this is from, incidentally, opened with the caption “Irlanda vs Italia”, displaying that the “Northern” distinction was yet to be fully observed inside or outside of football)

But the aforementioned London fog didn’t give up, and it soon became too late for the back-up official to travel either. The IFA offered the Italians a local referee, which was understandably refused (presumably calling upon an FAI ref was out of the question). With the count-down to kick-off approaching, and with thousands of fans haven taken valuable half-days from shipyard work, it was decided that the match must go ahead, but as a friendly rather than a World Cup qualifier.

The Match:

A huge crowd of over 50,000, who have only been informed of the match classification downgrade upon their arrival, pack into Windsor Park. With their half-days now “wasted” on a meaningless match, many disgruntled worker-supporters loudly voice their disapproval, although others are clearly happy to make the most of the day:

From a narrow gap between the terraces, the teams emerge. Despite the black and white footage, at least we can see that Northern Ireland’s green shirt is quite a dark shade, while Italy’s blue crew-neck is suitably stylish (click here for our Politics On The Pitch post explaining why these two and other nations wear colours not seen on their flags):

The booing and jeering from the crowd ceases for the national anthem, but resumes and drowns out the Italian anthem, much to the shock and horror of the away team:

A section of home supporters take their aggression to the camera also, with some choice gestures on show:

The captains and referee offer each a token sign of peace through handshakes…:

…but the negative vibes coming from the pissed-off fans has entered a feedback loop with the pissed-off visiting players, who’s memories of gentile strolls around the capital have now been erased by the perceived booing of their national anthem

Despite the meaningless of the game, the new found aggressive tension manifests in Giuseppe Chiappella punching Danny Blanchflower in the face off the ball, among other incidents, before brave Italian ‘keeper Ottavio Bugatti casually bares several knees to the head:

Of course this type of action is not too unusual for the time, but rarely ultimately due to a referee being stranded elsewhere. Speaking of archaic aspects, here we see the problem with certain types of goal-frames as the ball gets stuck on the roof of the net:

Going back to the disgruntled fans, the same group are still busy abusing the cameraman, but this time with less smiles, as if they are really serious now. One of the ringleaders has switched from the cut-throat sign seen earlier to an upward thrusting motion with fingers held together, which must be popular at this time:

A great camera shot from beside one of the goals displays the density of spectators crammed into the other sides of the famous, old ground:

Some have avoided the claustrophobic enclosures entirely by taking to the safety of the roofs, with classic ads for cigarettes beneath them:

In the second half, poor Bugatti is subject to more ill-treatment as he is pushed to the ground for no apparent reason (while people casually walk across the roof), much to the appreciation of the crowd:

The disgruntled fans, meanwhile, have, if anything, become ever more disgruntled and are still furiously gesturing:

Throughout all this, several goals have been scored. On the hour mark, the fantastically named Wilbur Cush scores his second to make it 2-2, as the crowd gyrate with pleasure:

A while later, Bugatti is brutally hacked down once again as he collects the ball. The linesman in the background clearly sees no issue with the “challenge”:

This time the Italians have had enough, and a melee breaks out:

Shockingly, it is a player in blue who is dismissed by the referee

The fans are now even more riled up, and as the final whistle is blown many spill on the pitch, despite the efforts of a few policemen. Some go to congratulate their heroes for holding their pride in the match, while others have more sinister ambitions:

Before long, vast swathes of supporters are on the grass and the atmosphere is dangerous. Despite the violence of the game, some Northern Irish players begin to fear for their Italian counterparts safety, conscious of the terrifying and telling fact that a Belfast Celtic player was dragged into the terraces and suffered a broken leg at the hands of Linfield fans in the same ground ten years before:

With at least one being carried, the Italian players were quickly ushered off the pitch and down the tunnel, away from the baying mob:

northern-ireland-italy-1957-i

Some of the more bloodthirsty fans attempt to storm the dressing rooms too, but the Italians have made it to safety. Now to do the whole thing again for the rearranged fixture.

Aftermath:

The game was quickly dubbed the “Battle of Belfast” by the media. Despite their escape, the Italian team received backlash upon arrival in their homefront as they were booed getting off the plane; the 2-2 draw would have meant elimination if the game had been competitive.

On January 15th, 1958, the game was replayed in Windsor Park, with the esteemed Mr Zsolt finally officiating. Wearing a fresh new kit and crest, Northern Ireland arrived on the pitch with British Pathé again informing us that this was “Ireland” playing, rather than a small portion of the island ruled-over from afar. This “Irish” side were in luck, as a 2-1 win meant that they would make it to their first World Cup that summer. The Italians may have wanted to stay in Belfast this time, rather than again face the ire of their countrymen upon returning from the match, as they missed out on their only finals until 2018.

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YouTube links:

England vs Northern Ireland, 1949
Northern Ireland vs Portugal, 1957
Northern Ireland vs Italy, 1957
Northern Ireland vs Italy, 1958

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Supporter Snap Back #5: Como vs AC Milan, Serie A, 15/05/1988

Last time in Supporter Snap Back, we spent a little longer than usual on on the background of featured club Leeds United. Since we have a tendency to ramble on as it is, the series returns to it’s ideals now with a briefer look at the last day of the 1987/88 Italian domestic season, and a fan invasion at the game that would decide the title.

By the 87/88 season AC Milan could boast an impressive eleven scudettos to their name, even if the last had been won back in the previous decade. The club’s on-the-field success over the years was mirrored in the stands with the creation of one the country’s first ultras groups in Fossa Dei Leoni (Lions’ Den, named after a former training ground), followed by Brigate Rossonere (Red-black Brigades, named after the the left-wing Italian terrorist group Brigate Rosse) and many others.

The 1980s had so far been dominated by Juventus, with a couple of shock championship wins for the likes of Verona and Maradona’s Napoli, but with Milan’s addition of Dutch stars Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten in 1987 – along with a weakened Juve – the club looked poised to present a renewed challenge. Napoli again lead the pack for much of the year, but a 3-2 win for the Rossonere over the champions on May 1st, 1988, propelled them into first and set up a title race-finale that would go down to the wire two weeks later, when Milan were to travel 50km north to Como.

Match File:

  • Como vs AC Milan
  • Serie A, 87/88
  • 15/05/1988
  • Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia (Como)
  • 26,036 spectators

The team had followed up their victory over Napoli with only a draw the next week, but the side from Naples also slipped up and lost, giving Milan more breathing room and leaving the championship in their own hands. Masses of Milan fans make the short journey up the road to occupy most of Como’s Giuseppe Sinigaglia (with beautiful scenic background), in the hopes of witnessing a new generation of players win their club a 12th league title:

As seen above, the majority of the two main side-stands are filled by the invading army. Continuing down to the curva, we see how Como’s own ultras, led by Fossa Lariana – evidentially named after the Lariana breed of goat previously found in the region (extinct since 2007) – have basically been relegated to the status of away-team in their own stadium by the Milanese giants, but admirably have prepared a choreography in their section:

In the stands beneath them, a mesmorising black, red and white dance is played out as many Milan flags are expertly twirled:

More professional flag wavers (among other abilities) are to be found at the far corner of the ground as well, as this is where the groups banner of Fossa Dei Leoni and Brigate Rossonere are located:

In fact the entire end is also completely full of Milan tifosi, with another (after Como’s) Italian flag-themed display prepared and more seas of pleasing flags:

As the teams finally emerge from the the tunnel, flares and smokes are seen in the home section:

At the other end is an awe-inspiring sight as the away fans unleash their own huge smoke-show, on front of the epic backdrop of the mountains:

The visitors start perfectly with a goal after just two mins before Como equalise even earlier in the second half, but as Napoli are again on their way to defeat in the other important game, the scudetto ultimately belongs to Milan. Queue great graphics – which would fit in well in our What Football Is Supposed To Look Like series – explaining such:

Scenes of jubilation from around the stadium ensue:

The players follow suit by commandeering flags for themselves and parading them on a victory lap, while a reporter tries to catch a literal dash interview with the new champions:

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YouTube Links:

Como vs AC Milan, 1988
Como vs AC Milan, 1988

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What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #10 (Gallery)

Welcome back to the series that celebrates all the aesthetics of old school football that we love. Aside from the fact that the sport at it’s top tier has moved so far away from what it was in the 20th century – bringing with it the non-sporting aspects that interest us more – the progression of technology and society in general that have propelled this change mean that the things we look back on fondly are simply gone forever. Except here.

Previously we have had special focus-installments, such as our look at Belgian league “grittiness” in the late 80s-early 90s, and the wacky world of the football TV presenter last time out. But now we return to a wonderful array of images from all over the colourful spectrum of vintage football.

Classic graphics, banners and pitch confetti, Mexico vs West Germany, World Cup 86 quarter-final, 21/06/1986:

Flag-tops display, Switzerland vs Estonia, World Cup qualifier, 17/11/1993:

Quintessential communist stadium (Ernst-Thälmann-Stadion in the former Karl-Marx-Stadt, named after the leader of the German Communist Party in the Wiemar Republic) fittingly hosting a “Fall of the Iron Curtain Derby”, East Germany vs USSR, World Cup qualifier, 08/10/1989:

Nightmarish masks worn by Dutch supporters, Netherlands, Euro 88, 1988:

Classic graphics and background pyro in Bari, Italy vs USSR, friendly, 20/02/1988:

Beautiful 70s scoreboard in Rheinstadion, Düsseldorf (Bökelbergstadion was being renovated), displaying an astounding scoreline (game would ultimately end 12-0) of one “Prussia” over another, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, 29/04/1978:

From the same match as above – in which ‘Gladbach hoped to outscore first place 1.FC Köln to clinch the title on the last day of the season – fans listen to Köln vs St. Pauli on the radio (a game that would end 5-0 to give Köln championship), Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, 29/04/1978:

Memorable sponsor ‘Jesus Jeans’ at the San Siro, Italy vs Uruguay, friendly 15/03/1980:

The gargantuan, eastern majesty of Stadion Crvena Zvezda, with Belgrade looming in the background, for a rescheduled game that had been abandoned the previous day after 63 mins due to dense fog, Red Star Belgrade vs Milan, European Cup 10/11/1988:

Conversely to the classic communist Olympic bowl, the American other-sports arena; here the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington DC (home to the Howard Bison college American football team at the time), USA vs Ireland, US Cup 92, 30/05/1992:

The setting sun silhouettes a treeline behind the Drumcondra End of Tolka Park (played there as Richmond Park was too small), with a large Irish-tricolour draped above the goal, St. Patrick’s Athletic vs Hearts, UEFA Cup first round-1st leg, 07/09/1988:

An ominous line of riot police guard the pitch in Heysel Stadium as a penalty is about to be scored, Club Brugge vs KV Mechelen, Belgian Cup final, 15/06/1991:

Classic graphics and crest (and a multitude of extra people on and around the pitch), FC Nantes vs Paris Saint-Germain, Coupe de France final, 11/06/1983:

Architecture with local character at Eastville Stadium, and beds of flowers behind the goal, Bristol Rovers vs Sheffield United, Watney Cup final, 05/08/1972:

Oppressive fencing and concrete wastelands, Ajax Amsterdam vs Den Haag, Eredivisie, 27/08/1986:

Great Yugoslav tracksuits of the early 90s, Yugoslavia vs Northern Ireland, Euro qualifier, 27/03/1991:

Children in Swiss club kits ahead of the international match, Switzerland vs Scotland, Euro qualifier, 11/09/1991:

Flares on the tribune and a unique end, Hajduk Split vs Partizan Belgrade, Yugoslav League, 19/11/1989:

A regiment of Spanish police attentively watch the corner kick, Brazil vs Italy, World Cup 82 second round-Group C, 05/07/1982:

Sad Honduran, Mexico vs Honduras, World Cup qualifier, 11/11/2001:

Dancing in the snow manager, Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin vs Hertha Berlin, 2.Bundesliga, 16/03/1985:

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Mexico vs West Germany, 1986
Switzerland vs Estonia, 1993
East Germany vs USSR, 1989
Netherlands, 1988
Italy vs USSR, 1988
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund, 1978
Italy vs Uruguay, 1980
Red Star Belgrade vs Milan, 1988
USA vs Ireland, 1992
St. Patrick’s Athletic vs Hearts, 1986
Club Brugge vs KV Mechelen, 1991
FC Nantes vs Paris Saint-Germain, 1983
Bristol Rovers vs Sheffield United, 1972
Ajax Amsterdam vs Den Haag, 1986
Yugoslavia vs Northern Ireland, 1991
Switzerland vs Scotland, 1991
Hajduk Split vs Partizan Belgrade, 1989
Brazil vs Italy, 1982
Mexico vs Honduras, 2001
Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin vs Hertha Berlin, 1985

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