Dublin hosting the European Championships, what once was the sort of thing speculated about during the excess of the Celtic Tiger years, usually as part of some sort of All-Ireland, pan-Celtic bid, will come to pass in 2020.
The Irish Capital has been chosen as one of 13 “host cities” for a 60th anniversary celebration tournament. We will of course have to qualify if there is to be any chance of seeing an Irish team in action on home soil.
However, the idea of hosting all tournament matches in the same one or two countries is relatively recent.
When the first Euros were held in 1960 in France only the semi-finals, finals and 3rd/4th playoff were played in the host country while only in 1980 did the tournament grow to eight teams.
The qualifying was somewhat more straight-forward in those days as UEFA was a much smaller place. The Soviet Union had a single team, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had not separated and Yugoslavia hadn’t splintered into its constituent parts.
In 1964, during the second ever tournament, Ireland even got as far as the quarter-finals which were two-legged affairs, home and away.
These quarter-final games took place in March and April of 1964 before the semi-finals and finals took place in the host country of Spain in the middle of June.
Ireland had had an inauspicious start during the first Euros in 1960. With 17 nations entering and a straight knock-out style of qualification without a group format, one pair of nations would have to play a preliminary round to even up the numbers.
Ireland were drawn with Czechoslovakia and despite a promising start in the home leg with Ireland winning 2-0 they were eventually eliminated 4-2 on aggregate by an improving Czech side that would make it all the way to the World Cup final only two years later.
Four years later in 1964 there was thankfully no preliminary round for the Irish but the qualifying format continued as a straight knock-out competition.
Round one pitched Ireland against Iceland with Ireland drawn at home first with the game starting well with Newcastle’s Liam Touhy getting Ireland off the mark after just 11 minutes and while Ríkharður Jónsson equalised for Iceland Amby Fogarty of Sunderland restored Ireland’s lead before half time.
In the second half Noel Cantwell extended Ireland’s lead to 4-1 with two goals before Jónsson grabbed a consolation before the final whistle. Cantwell usually lined out at full back for his club Manchester United but was often employed as a centre forward for Ireland.
Tall and well-built Cantwell made a good target man and also had a strong shot, he was Ireland’s usual penalty taker and scored an impressive 14 goals in 36 appearances, a record for Ireland that wasn’t broken until the heyday of Don Givens in the 1970s.
A weakened Irish team made the journey to Reykvanik for the return leg, the side were without Giles in midfield and Tony Dunne in defence and had to settle for a 1-1 draw, Tuohy again on the scoresheet.
This 5-3 aggregate victory set up a meeting with Austria in the second round.
Now Austria have never been Ireland’s easiest opponents, David Alaba’s fantastic strike in qualifying for Brazil 2014 will be fresh in the memories of Irish fans.
Many of us will also remember the pair of 3-1 losses late in Jack Charlton’s tenure, including Ireland’s infamous pre-match preparation of a visit to Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant the day before the home game.
Back in 1963 our record was not much healthier, it read played four, won one, lost three, including a 6-0 shellacking way back in 1952. However, things would be different this time round.
Ireland were drawn away in the opening leg and were not at full strength, and there was significant trepidation ahead of the trip to Vienna with certain newspapers suggesting that a weakened Irish side would need a miracle to get a result and that the focus should be one of damaged limitation and preserving national pride.
Ireland were without Cantwell and Tony Dunne who were not released by Manchester United and there would be three débutantes for the game, Bohemians’ right back Willie Browne (until Joey Lapira, the last amateur capped by Ireland), Ray Brady of QPR in the centre of defence alongside Charlie Hurley and Ronnie Whelan Snr of St. Patrick’s Athletic at inside forward.
The conditions however suited Ireland with the game being played in a downpour and Ray Brady in particular impressing.
Well, impressing the Irish fans at least, the Austrians were not pleased with what they viewed as Brady’s rough play.
His combative style also upset the Austrian players, so much so that he was kicked by one of the Austrian forwards who was luckily quick enough to escape retaliation from a furious Brady before the referee intervened to calm things down.
Apart from Brady an inspired performance by Alan Kelly Snr. in goal denied the Austrians on numerous occasions and they were unable to force a goal and the game ended 0-0.
The controversy didn’t end with the away leg, while Ireland would be ultimately successful against Austria in Dalymount Park the game very nearly could have been called off.
There are plenty of examples from Ireland’s football history of unjust decisions going against us in games and stories of hotels serving dodgy food or rowdy fans creating so much noise that the Irish players couldn’t sleep before a game.
This time however it was the Irish fans who were the ones doing the intimidating. Over the course of the game, which Ireland won 3-2 there were no less than four pitch invasions!
The old Phibsboro ground was packed with over 40,000 people, including a number who clambered up the floodlight pylons to get a better view so it’s not too surprising that there might have been some incursions onto the field.
The most controversial was the pitch invasion just before the final whistle. Ireland had been just awarded a penalty when a Joe Haverty cross was handled in box in the 89th minute.
The crowd spilled onto the pitch yet again and had to be herded back by Gardaí and stewards just as had happened earlier when they encroached on the pitch at half time and also to celebrate the second Irish goal.
Duly intimidated by the boisterous Irish crowd the Austrian keeper Gernot Fraydl dived the wrong way and Noel Cantwell’s second goal sealed a famous victory for the Irish. They were through to the quarter-finals of the European Championships.
It had not been a pretty game, Ireland had effectively played much of the match with only ten men after Blackburn’s Mick McGrath was kicked in the head early in the first half.
McGrath had to get seven stitches in his scalp and although he togged back out for the second half he was pretty much a passenger for the rest of the game, stuck out ineffectively on the right wing.
The Irish too, knew how to dish it out and the Irish Times correspondent described their tackling as “verging on the unorthodox”.
The Austrians were furious after the game and their Coach Karl Decker threatened to appeal to UEFA to overthrow the result and force a replay due to the pitch invasions.
The result stood however, and despite the intimidating atmosphere Ireland had played well with Millwall’s diminutive winger Joe Haverty coming in for special praise, Brady and Hurley had performed well in defence with the result that Alan Kelly in the Ireland goal was not unduly tested apart from Austria’s two strikes.
While the central Europeans were perhaps the better footballing side, the weather had been against them in the first leg and the Irish had out-competed them in the return fixture.
Next up for the Irish were the Spaniards in the last eight.
The Spaniards were hosts of the ’64 semi-finals and finals with games split between Camp Nou in Barcelona and the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid.
In 1960 despite boasting some scintillating talents and numerous stars from the all-conquering Real Madrid side the Spaniards had essentially withdrawn from the inaugural European Championships (or nations cup as it was then known) when they had been drawn away to the USSR.
Just two days before the game was to be played the Spanish team withdrew and when a furious Alfredo Di Stefano confronted the President of the Spanish Football Federation, Alfonso de la Fuente Chaos as to why they were not travelling to Moscow he was told, “Orders from above,”.
Franco himself had intervened. The Soviets, who had militarily backed the Republican side against Franco in the Spanish Civil War would see their side progress.
They would eventually become the tournaments inaugural winners, beating Yugoslavia after extra time in the final. It had been a disaster for the reputation of Spanish football and even for Franco himself, they would have to make amends in ’64.
The first leg of the quarter final would take place on 11th March 1964 in the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, home of Sevilla.
The Spanish national team had used this stadium as a home base many time before and since due to the undoubted passion and volume of the local Andalusian crowd.
Things did not start well for Ireland, due to the FA Cup sixth round tie between Manchester United and Sunderland going to a second replay which was to take place two days before the Spanish game United refused to allow Tony Dunne and Noel Cantwell to travel.
It also meant that Charlie Hurley who had been at the heart of the Sunderland defence would have to play his third game in five days.
It would be Hurley’s tired legs that would give away the first goal, he played a square ball which was intercepted by the pacey Real Madrid forward Amancio who easily converted past Kelly in the Irish goal.
Josep Maria Fusté of Barcelona then added a second only a few minutes later. Ireland did try to get back in the game, a clever chipped pass from Giles sent Andy McEvoy away and the Blackburn striker converted his chance in the 22nd minute to get his first for Ireland.
McEvoy was in the best form of his career at the time, he would finish that season as the second top scorer in England’s top flight just behind Jimmy Greaves, however he had been crowbarred into previous Irish XI’s as a half back.
The game belonged to Amancio, the Real Madrid right-winger was running rings around the Irish defence which included the exhausted Hurley and debut cap Theo Foley of Northampton Town.
He grabbed his second of the evening on the half-hour mark before setting up Zaragoza striker Marcelino for Spain’s fourth on 33 minutes.
Marcelino would add a second goal just before the final whistle, a shot deflecting off Tommy Traynor and past Kelly into the Irish goal.
The game finished 5-1. The home leg in Dalymount could only be a formality, Ireland were out.
Despite the crushing defeat 40,000 Irish fans turned up in Dalymount the following month perhaps in some mad, deluded hope that a stronger Ireland side with home advantage might make a miraculous comeback.
Tony Dunne and Cantwell were made available by Manchester United, there were recalls for Willie Browne of Bohemians and Johnny Fullam of Shamrock Rovers to add steel to the team, and best of all Spain were without the services of Amancio who had caused the Irish defence such difficulty in Seville.
It was not to be though, Pedro Zaballa, the Barcelona winger in for Amancio scored two goals in what would be his only senior cap for Spain to secure them passage to the semi-finals.
While the Irish had been committed and work hard throughout it says much that the stand-out player was once again Alan Kelly in goal.
Spain would go on to win the tournament on home soil, defeating the USSR side that they had refused to play four years earlier in the final.
The final score was 2-1 with the winner scored by Marcelino, the same striker who had put two past Ireland in Seville.
Amancio would end up coming third in the voting for that year’s Ballon D’Or award, his international captain Luis Suarez came second. And Franco had his win against an arch-enemy.
Upon their return the USSR coach Konstantin Beskov and team director Andrei Starostin, were summoned to a meeting at the Soviet Football Federation after a furious Nikita Khrushchev had watched the game on TV and seen pictures of a smiling Franco beamed around the Soviet Union.
They were both fired from their posts.
As for Ireland they would meet Spain again the following year in qualifying for the 1966 World cup, losing out in a controversial play-off leg in Paris.
For the next European Championships qualifying groups had been introduced but the Irish team that had promised so much was now in decline.
Players like Joe Havery, Amby Fogarty, Noel Cantwell and Charlie Hurley who had all been so influential were in their 30s and coming toward the end of their careers.
Ireland were also severely restricted compared to other nations, as we’ve seen there were no guarantees that key players would be released by British clubs, the team manager Johnny Carey was little more than a glorified trainer with little power except to give a pep talk to his hastily gathered players before the game.
The Irish team was still selected by an FAI committee and it wasn’t until 1969 that this changed with the appointment of Mick Meagan as manager.
It wouldn’t be until 1988 that the Republic of Ireland would have a side that would reach the last eight of the European Championships.