From The Archives: Ireland v Yugoslavia 1955, When Football Became a Mortal Sin

One of the great bogey-men of the Irish twentieth century is former Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.  His considerable influence is summed up neatly in  John Cooney’s 1999 biography, Ruler of Catholic Ireland where Cooney writes

since McQuaid’s death in 1973, no Irish churchman has exercised the enormous spiritual, let alone temporal power which he exercised for over three decades (p.15)

One thing is evident from the biography, that McQuaid understood that sport was an important realm in which to exercise and extend his temporal power. As a young man, he caused a stir in sporting circles when in 1934 he attacked in a public campaign the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) for  allowing women to compete in track and field events at the same meetings as men, which McQuaid apparently considered to be ‘un-Catholic and un-Irish.’ After a concerted campaign in which Papal authority was used to argue against this infraction of the NACA’s, the organisation decided to allow a year for its county boards to decide the matter in light of the Pope’s encyclical. (Ruler of Catholic Ireland, 1999:80-82)

As McQuaid’s power and influence extended into all reaches of Irish society, his interests in soccer developed soon afterward, when he wrote to the parish priest of Ringsend and insisted that the game should not be played on Good Friday in order that the sanctity of Holy Week be maintained – the ban initially only went as far as Shelbourne FC, but soon was adopted by the FAI in its entirety (Ruler, 172).

In a previous post we saw that the German team who visited in 1936 were met with great fanfare and were welcomed openly by dignitaries and government representatives. Things were a little different when in 1955 Yugoslavia came to Dublin to play the Irish soccer team. A communist country, their presence was abhorrent to harcore Catholics,  chief among them, John Charles McQuaid. McQuaid’s problem it appears was the treatment and persecution of Cardinal Aloys Stepinac by Tito’s communist regime. McQuaid had three years previously prevented a game between Ireland and the Yugoslavs, saying he had no interest in soccer (clearly untrue), but suggested the FAI get out discreetly if possible, which they promptly did.

On this occassion, secretary of the FAI Joe Wickham told Chancellor of the Dublin Diocese, John O’Regan that it was too late in the day to change the fixture and in any case their membership of the European Football Federation was about just that, football and not politics or religion. Nevertheless, once McQuaid’s displeasure about he fixture became public knowledge his influence on the nation became readily apparent. Lay Catholic organisations sprang into action encouraging a boycotting of the game, the No. 1 Army Band, due to perform the national anthem duties pulled out, and you boys were discouraged from attending, as to do so would be a ‘mortal sin’ from which their souls could not be absolved (Ruler, 310-315)
For the Yugoslavs, this was a crazy sideshow on their arrival, taken as they were by heavy police escort to  the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. One Yugoslav representative couldn’t understand McQuaid’s position, apparently citing the teachings of Pius XII not to allow sport and politics to mix. According to an Irish Times report surrounding the debacle, chairman of the Yugoslav Football League  Rato Dugonvic stated

it’s all very difficult… we are surprised because this is the first time this has happened to us and we have travelled to the five continents. We hope that our match in Dublin will be played in the same spirit as we have met with all over the world. (October 18, 1955)

In a letter to the editor of the  Irish Times, chief scout of the Boy Scout’s of Ireland, JB Whelehan wrote an extensive letter condemning the actions of the FAI in inviting the Yugoslavian team saying

What a sorry spectactle in ‘sportsmanship’ the sponsors of this Irish-Yugo-Slav match present to the youth of Ireland! (October 18, 1955)

On the day of the match itself, no members of Government attended but Oscar Traynor TD, then President of the FAI, met both teams on the field before kick-off. A Dublin band (un-named in the Irish Times report) had made a special recording of the Yugoslav national anthem on the Tuesday night before the game and this was played in lieu of a live rendition. Radio Éireann didn’t broadcast the game, their commentator Philip Greene making himself “unavailable” for the occassion.

The Yugoslavs hammered the Irish 4-1 and there were some 21,000 plus at the game, some of whom attended to register a protest but most were fans. In their report of the the match, the Irish Times described the play of the Yugoslavians in the following manner:

Calculated movements after the manner of a master of chess, carried through with the speed of light, saw the Yugo-Slavian footballers, on their first appearance at Dalymount Park bewitch and bewilder the FAI selection to such an extent that a handsome 4-1 success was gained by the visitors.

Although the match displayed McQuaid’s power of mobilisation, it also saw him painted as a caricature and was the cementing of the view of him as a very particular bogeyman in Irish life (Ruler, n.23, 485). Ireland wouldn’t play Yugoslavia again until 1988, some fifteen years after the death of McQuaid.

The teams that day were:

Republic of Ireland: O’Neill (Everton); Murphy (Clyde); Lawlor (Fulham); Farrell (Everton); Martin (Aston Villa); O’Farrell (West Ham Utd.); Ringstead (Sheffiled Utd.); Fitzsimons (M’boro); Gibbons (St. Pat’s Athletic); Cummins (Luton Town); Tuohy (Shamrock Rovers).

Yugolsavia: Beara; Belin; Zekovic; Boskov; Crukovic; Krstic; Rajkov; Milutinovic; Vukas; Veselinovic; Zebec.


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