League of Ireland International XI

by Gerry Farrell

george_bestLast week it was announced that Sligo Rovers manager Ian Baraclough had succeeded in signing the English born, much travelled Eric Odhiambo who had played for Leicester, Dundee United, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle as well as Turkish side Denizlispor. It was also stated in a number of publications that Odhiambo had been capped by Kenya.

This bit of transfer trivia got me thinking about foreign internationals who have played in our very own League or Ireland, so I set about creating a match day squad and first XI of players who had been capped by their countries who had also played League or Ireland. The only criteria were that they had been capped at some stage, whether before, during or after their Irish adventure and that they were capped by a nation that was not the Republic of Ireland.

The resulting squad is not exhaustive, it is certainly subjective and probably biased but I hope it makes for interesting reading. It contains three World Cup winners, one beaten world cup finalist, a European player of the year, an international World cup captain and a former team-mate of Pelé.

The first XI features players from seven different nations across Europe, Africa, North and Central America in a slightly unorthodox 3-4-3 formation. I’m sure I’ve made glaring omissions so feel free to make your suggestions below.

Goalkeeper

Gordon Banks

World Cup winner with England in 1966, Banks is often credited with making one of the greatest saves in history during the 1970 World Cup when he acrobatically changed direction to deny Pelé a headed goal when holders England met eventual winners Brazil.
Best remembered at club level for his service to Leicester and Stoke City (he won League Cups with both), he tragically lost the vision in one eye after a car accident in 1972. This led to an enforced retirement, which he broke to line out for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL in 1977-78. It was around this time that he made his one appearance in the League of Ireland, guarding the net for St. Patrick’s Athletic in the 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in Richmond Park in 1977.

Defence

Avery John

Avery John was a high-profile part of a group of Caribbean players that graced the League of Ireland over the years. He just about edges out ex Galway United and Bray Wanderers man Wesley Charles (100 caps for St. Vincent & the Grenadines) for spot in defence due to the fact that he played in a World Cup.

Avery John not only featured in the 2006 World Cup for tournament debutants Trinidad & Tobago, he had the dubious distinction of being the first player in the tournament to be sent off, receiving two yellows in the opening game against Sweden. Trinidad survived, gaining a credible 0-0 draw, thanks in no small part to the expertise of their coach Leo Beenhakker who threw on another attacker shortly after John’s dismissal to keep the Swedes pegged back.

During his club career John played with merit for Bohemians (twice), Shelbourne and Longford Town in the League of Ireland. He spawned his own chant while at Bohs, the highly original “Avery, John, John, John” sung to the tune of “Feeling Hot Hot Hot” before moving to the MLS in 2004, first lining out for New England Revolution and later Miami FC and DC United where he retired in 2010.

Alvaro Ros Rodriguez (Alvarito)

One of the stranger members of the team; a two-time Spanish international, featuring in away matches against Chile (win) and Argentina (loss), Alvarito spent the bulk of his career at Atletico Madrid winning two Spanish Cups (Copa del Generalisimo as it was during the Franco dictatorship) as well as the 1961-62 Cup Winners Cup against that competitions inaugural Champions Fiorentina.

Despite this success Alvarito was never a regular with Atletico, he suffered injuries including a severe leg-break and was mainly understudy to Spanish international Isacio Calleja. However he did start in the final of the 1959-60 Copa del Generalisimo, a famous 3-1 win over city rivals Real Madrid in a packed Santiago Bernabéu.

His experience of the League of Ireland, like many in our team, was short-lived. Upon leaving Atletico Madrid he spent a single season with Real Murcia before joining Shelbourne as a player-coach in 1965, making his debut in a 2-1 win for Shels over Dublin rivals Drumcondra. Some impressive performances followed but a combination of injury and difficulties with the language meant that his stay was brief. What followed after leaving Shels was over 20 years of coaching in the Spanish lower leagues, something that Shels can look on with a little bit of pride as they gave him his first coaching role in the game.

Bobby Smith

Bobby Smith won 18 caps for the United States national team over a seven-year international career and was an NASL All-Star. Born and raised in the town of Trenton, New Jersey, which would later give us NBA All-Star and global diplomat Denis Rodman, Smith began his career at the Philadelphia Atoms in the NASL, winning the Championship in his debut season of 1973.

As was often the case in the 70s players from both sides of the Atlantic would take advantage of the differing season schedules with European players going on loan to North American teams during the summer off-season, and in the case of Smith some American based players going in the opposite direction during the NASL off-season. Smith’s port of call was Dundalk where he was signed up on loan by the legendary Jim McLaughlin who was player-manager at the time. Also signed up was fellow American Dave D’Errico.

Smith would later join the star-studded New York Cosmos where his team-mates would include Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and Playgirl centrefold Shep Messing. Further NASL Championships would follow before he was transferred to Seattle, followed by a return to Philadelphia (this time to Philadelphia Fury) where he played alongside Irish international John Dempsey. He continued with Philadelphia Fury when the team was sold, renamed and moved to Montreal finishing his career at Montreal Manic in 1981.

Midfield

George Best

In quite an attacking line-up the European Player of the Year 1968 is included as an attacking right-winger in our League XI. The great George Best, capped 37 times by Northern Ireland, lined out for Cork Celtic in the 1975-76 season. This was only seven years after winning the European Cup and the previously mentioned player of the year award. Though not quite 30 he was already well on the downward spiral of his peripatetic footballing career.

Spells with the LA Aztecs amongst others in the NASL and two seasons with Fulham would follow, as would occasional reminders of his utter beguiling brilliance . League of Ireland fans only witnessed Best live on three occasions in matches against Drogheda United, Bohemians and Shelbourne, although he attracted sizeable crowds Best failed to score in any of his games and left spectators unimpressed.

Ed McIlvenney

When asked to name the moment in football history when England first realised that they were not the world’s greatest team, when they perhaps got their first inkling that those damn foreigners might know something about football after all, many will point to the 1953 destruction of the English national team by Hungary’s Magic Magyars in Wembley. Certainly the 6-3 humiliation had a seismic impact on English theories of footballing superiority.

Some Irish observers may suggest the 2-0 win by an Irish team over the English in Goodison Park as another such a moment. A third such game was in England’s second match of the 1950 World Cup (the first time they had deigned to enter, having tended to ignore the pre-war tournaments) when the United States defeated England 1-0 thanks to a goal from Haitian student Joe Gaetjens.

What is often forgotten is that the captain of the American team that day was a Scotsman named Ed McIlvenney. McIlvenney was born in Greenock in Scotland in 1924 and in the late 1940s went to live with his sister in the States, having by that stage played some football for Wrexham, then in the Third Division North. After excelling for the Philadelphia Nationals he was called up to the United States national team for the World Cup.

His Philadelphia team-mate Walter Bahr was usually the captain of the USA national team, however as a Scotsman, McIlvenney was given the honour of captaining the side against the old enemy for what would become a famous upset. Impressed by his performances Matt Busby gave him a chance at Manchester United where he only made a couple of appearances before moving across the Irish sea to sign for Waterford in 1953.

He even had the privilege of being immortalised in a feature film by none other than Sheffield Wednesday icon John Harkes in 2005’s The Game of their Lives which also bizarrely features Bush lead signer Gavin Rossdale as Blackpool legend Stan Mortensen.

Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton, much like Ed McIlvenney was signed for Manchester United by Matt Busby, however their similarities in the red shirt of United end there. The second of our World Cup winners, Charlton remains United’s record goal scorer and certainly adds a goal threat to our midfield.

Also like McIlvenney , Charlton signed for Waterford, in this case in 1976 after his spell as Preston North End player-manager had ended in disaster, with the club being relegated in his first season. His number two at Preston was his old team-mate Nobby Stiles, who was married to Johnny Giles’ sister Kay so perhaps it was Nobby’s idea for Bobby to go to Waterford? More likely it was the diplomacy of Joe Delaney (John’s Da) who correctly saw the potential for Charlton to boost Waterford’s crowds.

Charlton’s career in Ireland was, like Best’s brief, but it was slightly more successful, 6,000 souls braved the snow to see him score against Finn Harps in his second game for the club, after impressing everyone during his debut, a 3-2 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic, in which Charlton won the penalty that opened the scoring. Charlton would play twice more but both games ended in defeat with Waterford going down 2-0 to Bohemians and losing 3-0 as Finn Harps gained their revenge in the Cup.

Joseph N’Do

Many of the players discussed in this article were veteran pros who, in the days before hyper-inflated salaries saw the League of Ireland as somewhere they could earn a few quid by playing a handful of games in the twilight of their careers. Then there are those who were international players from smaller nations for whom the League of Ireland offered professional football and even the potential for a mini-run in European competition. Then there’s Joey N’Do.

An African Cup of Nations winner with Cameroon in 2002 (the year before he signed for Pat’s) and a Coupe de France winner with Strasbourg of Ligue 1, N’Do’s presence seems gloriously incongruous, as though he had just stumbled upon the League of Ireland while looking for somewhere else, liked it and decided to stick around.

N’Do’s career has seen him win every honour in the Irish game as well as being voted player of the year in 2006. He has also managed to play for the four main Dublin clubs; St. Pat’s, Shelbourne, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers (on loan) without incurring the bile and invective of supporters usually associated with moves to local rivals. During his more than ten years in the League he has played a multitude of roles from tricky, skilful winger to deep-lying forward, and in recent years with Sligo Rovers that of deep- lying play maker, his intelligence and reading of the game making up for any loss of pace. His talent is as self-evident as the warmth and joie de vivre which accompanies his game. The images of Joey dancing pitch-side with a trophy after another victory are ones that many of his fans will fondly remember.

Most recently he auctioned off his African Cup of Nations medal, his most recent FAI Cup winner’s medal and his World Cup participation medal to raise money for his former team-mate Gary O’Neil who had just been diagnosed with cancer. Joey N’Do, one of the good guys of Irish football.

Forwards

William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean

He didn’t like being called Dixie, he much preferred Bill as a moniker. And for a time in the 20’s and 30’s he was the greatest centre forward in the world. Beginning his career at Tranmere, he was snapped up by Everton, the team he supported as a boy, at the age of 18. He would set a scoring record for the Toffees that stands to this day, along with a record for most goals in a season (60) which also remains intact. His international record reads 18 goals in 16 games for England.

To fully understand his celebrity in a pre-television age consider that Dean was an Evertonian beloved of Bill Shankly, that Babe Ruth asked to meet him after an Everton game and bemoaned how little English football players were paid for their talents. In one possibly apocryphal story a captured Italian soldier during World War 2 was said to have shouted at his English captors “Fuck your Winston Churchill, and fuck your Dixie Dean!”.

This is the same Bill ‘Dixie’ Dean who pitched up at Sligo Rovers in 1939 aged 32. Dean scored 10 goals in his seven-league games for Sligo starting with a goal on his debut against Shelbourne. He would score another against Shelbourne in that years Cup Final, however the game finished 1-1 and Dean was unable to repeat this feat in the replay, Sligo going down 1-0 to a William ‘Sacky’ Glen goal in front of almost 29,000 in Dalymount.

Infamously his runner-up medal went missing after the game only for it to reappear in a package sent from Ireland seven years later to Dean who, by then, was then running the Dublin Packet pub in Chester.

Uwe Seeler

Apart from Pele only one other man has played and scored in four World Cups, that man is Uwe Seeler. His runner-up medal in 1966 when he was 30 years of age was to be his best placed finish. He retired from international football in 1968 but was coaxed back into the national team by coach Helmut Schoen for the Mexico World Cup of 1970. It proved to be schrewd move as the veteran striker scored three goals, including a header against England in the quarter finals to bring the game to extra time. Inevitably Germany prevailed 3-2 with Seeler’s successor Gerd Muller grabbing the crucial winner.

During his career Seeler remained a one club man almost to the end, spending nearly 20 years as a first team player with his local side Hamburg, where both his father Erwin and brother Dieter also played. He remains their record goalscorer to this day with an astonishing 404 goals in 476 games.

What endeared Seeler to the German public even more than his goals was his humble and friendly attitude, gaining the nickname ‘Uns Uwe’ or ‘Our Uwe’. He turned down Inter Milan coach Helenio Herrera when he came calling, offering a huge transfer fee and salary. For much of his career Seeler played in a regionalised, ‘amateur’ league system in Germany, whatever he earned from football in Germany would have been a paltry amount compared to the riches available in Italy. However he turned down Herrera and remained in Hamburg. In response the club looked after him with a relatively well-paid role as a regional sales rep for Adidas as some sort of compensation.

However, six years after retirement he, along with his former Hamburg teammate Franz Josef Konig lined out for a club other than Hamburg. That club was Cork Celtic. Seeler thought this game was a sponsored event for Adidas but would find out later that it was an actual league match against Dundalk in 1978. Needless to say Seeler scored both goals as part of Cork Celtic’s 2-1 victory.

Geoff Hurst

Aparently Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, but we don’t really hear too much about that. Hurst is the final World Cup winner in our team but was considered a little bit of a wild card in 1966. Originally a defensive midfielder he benifitted from a move up front early in his West Ham career and then the goals began to flow.

He caught the eye of Alf Ramsey and was given a chance for England in a friendly against Germany in February of 1966, impressing in his role up front with Liverpool’s Roger Hunt as England won 1-0 thanks to a Nobby Stiles goal. Hurst got his chance in the World Cup proper due to an injury to Jimmy Greaves in the final group game against France. Hurst seized his opportunity, scoring against Argentina and impressing against Eusebio’s Portugal in the semi-final. He didn’t disappoint in the final either, even if one of his goals didn’t cross the line.

Hurst finished as the second highest scorer in West Ham’s history before moving on to Stoke and then West Brom. After his contract finished there a 34-year-old Hurst signed a one month deal with (once again) Cork Celtic in 1976. He managed three goals in three league games as well as featuring in cup games against Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.

Team

Gordon Banks

Alvaro ‘Alvarito’ Ros Rodriguez, Avery John, Bobby Smith

George Best, Ed McIlvenney, Bobby Charlton, Joey Ndo

Dixie Dean, Uwe Seeler, Geoff Hurst

Subs: Ryan Thompson (gk), Bobby Tambling, Wesley Charles, Terry McDermott , Peter Lorimer, Mindaugas Kalonas, Jimmy Johnstone

Manager: Raich Carter

Author Info

Gerry Farrell

Gerry Farrell, Dublin based football enthusiast with an interest in League of Ireland, the Irish National Team, and a bit of everything else. Bohemian in my outlook and footballing alliegiances, presenter of "The Beautiful Game" on Phoenix FM 92.5. Has nearly completed the Panini Euro 88 sticker album.

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4 Responses

  1. shanemawe says:

    Always liked Mindaugas Kalonas. Great player for Bohs (capped by Lithuania).

  2. Rob says:

    Great stuff Gerry. Good call on Kalonas too Shane. He was a maverick genius. Though it was a successful Bohs squad he was a part of he never got enough game-time. You know the story,- extremely exciting talented footballer with bundles of skill gives the ball away too often to be trusted with time on the pitch! Balls.ie had a similar story today done by players who have played in the EPL and LoI. worth a read
    http://balls.ie/football/league-of-ireland-players-in-the-premier-league/
    A few more variants of the theme would be nice Gerry.

  3. Kieran Burke Kieran Burke says:

    A fantastic read, really enjoyed it.

  4. Gerry Farrell says:

    If you enjoyed the piece there is some great “further reading” from Emmett Malone in the Irish Times, good content about Banks’ game for St. Pat’s http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/soccer/sligo-agog-when-dixie-dean-came-to-town-1.1675488

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