In 1937, Irish football was in fairly healthy state, and had in many respects weather many of the worst storms of the decade. Domestic football had mixed fortunes in the 1930s, growing in popularity and casting off its image as the foreign game. At the same time, the games newfound popularity and the growth of the Free State League faced many difficulties as a result of the deep depression that Ireland, and the world, found itself early in the decade following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. 1937 saw a first for Irish soccer, as we played Norway in our first competitive fixtures against one another at the end of the year which would be forever famous as the year that our new constitution came into force.
While most people will probably recall the game between both countries at USA ’94 in the group stages, our history of competing against one another goes back much, much further. Back in 1937, over the course of a month, Norway and Ireland played each other twice, in a pair of games for World Cup qualification – the new competition which had begun at the start of that tumultuous decade in 1930. The first game was played in Oslo at Ullevål Stadion, which I wrote about yesterday, and saw the Norwegians beat Ireland by three goals to two. Two of the winning goals were scored Reidar Kvammen, then a young policeman playing for Vikings in Stavanger where he would spend his whole career. Kvammen would also go on to be the first Norwegian player to reach fifty international caps, and he scored a career total of 17 international goals. The game was played in front of Norwegian king Håkon and Prince Olav.
The journey to get to Oslo was a gruelling one – the players went firs to Newcastle by boat and then onwards to Bergen, before a twelve hour journey from Bergen to Oslo. (Evening Herald, October 6 1937) However, the trip was not all travelling, with the Irish Press reporting that the players would be brought to see the viking ships at Bygdøy and dine at Frognersæteren Restaurant in Oslo before heading back to Bergen to begin the return leg of their trip. They even managed while in Newcastle, and waiting to head to Bergen, to catch Celtic take on Sunderland at Roker Park. (Irish Press, October 9 1937)
While there was disappointment with the loss from Irish officials, the trip was a success from a cultural exchange point of view. The Norwegian Fotballforbund (NFF) gave the Irish team a silver replica of a Viking ship as a gift, while the FAIFS gave their Norwegian counterparts a Belleek statue representing the figure of Eire. (Irish Press, October 14 1937)
The return game v Norway, and the prospect of getting to the World Cup proper was seen as an opportunity to get one up for the FAIFS against all the other home nation sides who were not taking part in the newly minted competition.
When the Norwegians came to visit Dublin, they stayed at the Gresham Hotel, and were received at Government buildings by President Eamon de Valera. Their post match dinner was at the Royal Hibernian Hotel.This game was a draw, with the Irish team getting a late equaliser to make it 3-3, however this wasn’t enough and Norway progressed. Remarkably footage of the game survives:
Not only footage, but here you can hear the Norwegian state broadcaster, NRK, radio coverage of the game, including a brief few words from then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne. The Evening Herald, in a colour piece about the second game in Dublin, made some reference to the longer history between the countries, with a correspondent writing that:
Once again the Norsemen have carried out a raid. It was vastly different from those perpetrated by their forefathers in the distant past, but even the modern Norsemen did not go away empty handed – they took away with them Ireland’s hopes of remaining in the World’s Cup competition.
There was a definite feeling that this was a bit of a missed opportunity since the the Irish team came back from 3-1 down to draw the game 3-3, though it was too little too late. Ireland would have to wait until 1990 before finally reaching a World Cup final competition, starting an era on unprecedented success for the national team but in 1937, they came very close indeed against Norway.