While many criticise RTÉ for a variety of different reasons, their ability in telling human interest stories is second to none. One such story which featured on an episode of Creedon’s ‘Road Less Travelled’ a few weeks ago fascinated this writer, it was the extraordinary story of Jimmy Hasty, the one armed striker who terrorised League of Ireland defences for Dundalk in the early 1960s.
While the profile and participation of amputee football has risen significantly over the past few years, very few arm amputee’s have gone on to play football at the highest level.
Besides Jimmy Hasty, the only one armed player to play at an elite level was Héctor Castro, who played and scored for Uruguay in the inaugural FIFA World Cup back in 1930.
Although Jimmy Hasty didn’t have the same kind of success as Castro, his career is certainly one that should be remembered, not just for the fact that he had one arm, but also because he was a damn good striker who the fans in Oriel Park still talk about to this day.
Beginnings and milling accident
Jimmy Hasty was born into a Catholic family in the north Belfast community of Sailortown in 1936.
Like many young people, Hasty was obsessed with football and would religiously play on the streets, however, he had to begin working at the age of 14 and like many from his community began work in the local seafront mill and it was in this mill that Hasty’s life would change forever.
On his first day working in the mill, Hasty’s arm was mangled in an accident with one of the machines, resulting in his arm having to be amputated, leaving Hasty with a short stump.
Now unable to work in the mill, Hasty returned to playing football in the junior ranks for St. Joesph in the Down and Connor league. Next he would go on to join Islandmagee after leaving the junior ranks.
After leaving Islandmagee, Hasty joined Newry Town and made a name for himself as a serial goal scorer and it was here that Hasty caught the eye of Dundalk’s chairman Jim Malone.
Signing with Dundalk
After hearing about Hasty, Jim Malone went up to Belfast to watch him play.
Malone was so impressed with Hasty that he signed him then and there, giving Hasty a personal cheque as a signing-on fee.
The following Monday the Dundalk board met and Malone proposed that they sign Jimmy Hasty, unfortunately a member of the board knew that Hasty was a one armed player and, according to Jim Malone’s son Paddy, all hell broke loose, with the board refusing to sanction the transfer.
After Jim Malone told the board that he had already signed Hasty and gave him a personalised cheque, the board told him that it was his cheque, his problem and the club aren’t covering it.
Malone was convinced that Hasty had the talent to succeed with Dundalk and persuaded the board to play him in one match. After only 20 minutes of that match, one of the directors went to Malone and told him that whatever he was owed to take it out of the gate, Hasty was unplayable, scoring one and making another.
Jimmy Hasty’s career at Dundalk had only just begun.
Dundalk’s Goalscoring Hero
To say he hit the ground running at Dundalk would be an understatement. Hasty helped himself to 18 goals in his debut season at Dundalk and he quickly became a folk hero around the town.
Although a big man, standing at 6ft 1in, Hasty was famed for his incredible first touch and great balance.
Not just a goalscorer, Hasty was also a creator and attempts to mark him out of the game only allowed space for his teammates to exploit.
Unfortunately, Jimmy was regularly sidelined due to injury over the next two seasons, however, the goals didn’t stop and he continued to bang in the goals on a regular basis. In the 1962/63 season, Hasty’s goals along with the goals of his attacking partners Francie Callan and Dermot Cross helped secure Dundalk a first League of Ireland title in 30 years.
Due to their league success the previous season, Dundalk qualified for the European Cup for the very first time.
Dundalk were drawn against Swiss champions Zurich FC. In the first leg at Dalymount Park, Dundalk were beaten 3-0 and would need a miracle to stand any chance of getting through.
In the return leg Dundalk went 2-0 up thanks to an assist from Hasty for Dermot Cross’s opener, then in the second half Hasty scored himself and the deficit was down to one. Hasty thought he had levelled the tie when his 15 yard strike beat everybody, except the crossbar.
Zurich pulled one goal back and the match petered out, with Dundalk going out on aggregate.
Although crestfallen after being so close to getting back into the tie, Hasty and Dundalk created history in their 2-1 victory in Zurich, becoming the first Irish team to ever win a European Cup match and the first Irish team to ever win a European Cup game away from home.
Jimmy continued banging in the goals for Dundalk and an injury free 63/64 season saw him score 35 goals.
After that successful season, injuries started to blight Hasty’s career and he left Oriel Park in 1966 shortly after scoring his one hundredth goal for Dundalk.
Initially dropping down to the Irish Intermediate League, Hasty returned to League of Ireland football, signing for Dundalk’s local rivals Drogheda United.
Hasty’s final game as a professional footballer came in February 1967 for Drogheda against Dundalk, where he duly scored. His intention, post-football, was to enjoy family life with Margaret, his childhood sweetheart, and his two sons Martin and Paul.
On the morning of October 11th 1974, Jimmy Hasty was shot three times shortly after he left his house that morning to go to work.
As Jimmy walked along Brougham Street he was approached by a gunman from the Ulster Protestant Action Group, a front for the Ulster Volunteer Force. The gunman shot Jimmy three times in the back.
It is believed that Jimmy’s killer knew that he was not involved in any paramilitary organisation and that Jimmy and another man Albert Greer, who had been killed the previous day, were killed in retaliation for the wounding of two Protestant men a few days previously.
Like with many murders during The Troubles, Jimmy’s killer was never brought to justice as we approach the 44th anniversary of his death.
Jimmy’s legacy still lives on to this day, with Dundalk fans still regularly talking about the one armed man from Belfast, who they say lit up Oriel Park, before it ever had floodlights.