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Ireland's First Real World Cup: the Story of the Forgotten Pioneers of Irish Sport

posted 28 May 2012, 06:09 by Oscar Duggan   [ updated 7 Jul 2013, 14:54 ]
A new book recalls the unsung heroes of Irish soccer and Olympic history

Ireland's First Real World Cup by David Needham. Published by The Manuscript Publisher, 2012
Thousands of Irish soccer fans will be traveling to Poland and Ukraine for this summer’s European Championship. Many more will be tuning in to watch on TV. Among the younger fans will be those who were not even born, or will barely remember, the euphoria of the moment when Ray Houghton ‘put the ball in the England net’ to secure a memorable victory in Stuttgart at Euro 1988. It heralded the dawn of a new era in Irish soccer, yet it was not the first time that an Irish team competed in the final stages of an international tournament.

That achievement belongs to the Boys in Blue (not green) of 1924 Irish Olympic football squad. They did remarkably well too, reaching the last eight and only just missing out on a place in the semi-finals, with a chance to compete for the medals. Today, their story is all but forgotten but author David Needham has done a deft job in uncovering it. In a new book, Ireland's First Real World Cup, he highlights the exploits of the 1924 team and places it in the context of the history of association football in Ireland, the Olympic movement and sport in general. 

Ireland’s participation in the 1924 Olympic football tournament was a landmark for a number of reasons. These were the first Olympic Games that Ireland competed in as an independent country. The football tournament was among the inaugural events of the games. The Irish players who took to the field have a certain claim to be considered Ireland’s first Olympians. 

More significantly, the matches they took part in marked the first international fixtures, in which the team that would come to be known as the Republic of Ireland (under the auspices of the organisation that would come to be known as the Football Association of Ireland) managed to field a side. Previously the Association’s perceived status as a ‘dissident organisation’ made it difficult to gain the international recognition that they so eagerly sought. It is for this reason that the 1924 Olympic tournament came at a key moment in the organisation’s history and development. As the author ably demonstrates, the officials involved in running the game, under the jurisdiction of the then Football Association of the Irish Free State, understood the importance of it too. 

David Needham’s book is also a trawl through the history of association football in Ireland, as well as charting Ireland’s involvement in international sporting competition. At a time when tournaments like the Olympic Games, the World Cup and many other sporting events have become global brands, this book reminds us of the humble origins, when the groundwork was being laid for what we now bear witness too. It is a piece of living history and the author has done a commendable job in bringing it to light.

Ireland’s First Real World Cup by David Needham is published by The Manuscript Publisher (ISBN: 978-0-9571157-2-9). It is on sale now in all good bookshops, RRP €14.99. Copies are also available to buy online.


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