When we were kings: glorious win undimmed by time
This star-studded England side meant to avoid the stigma of losing for the first time in 17 meetings, but the Irish outfit had other ideas
Soon to be World Cup winning England manager Alf Ramsey issues instructions as internationals Ray Wilson and Alan Ball (centre) toy with the ball while captain Bobby Moore listens attentively; The Irish Times eulogises the famous victory. photograph: pa
Before his untimely death in 1993, Ronnie Whelan snr was apt to recall that growing up in Cabra on Dublin’s north side, he was never regarded as the best player, even on his own street. Given that another sporting family of the same name lived on the other end of St Attracta’s road, that wasn’t altogether surprising to those who supervised the local playground.
The eldest member of the other Whelan household, Christy, went on to become a fine League of Ireland player in spells with Bohemians, Drumcondra and Transport. John, the youngest of three brothers, represented Drumcondra with distinction but it was the lad in between who captured the imagination of the scouts who trawled Cabra in search of more football nuggets.
Liam Whelan was the rarest of football’s pearls, a superb player on the ball whose mazy dribbling skills and ability to open up defences was still on an upward curve when the Munich air disaster robbed Manchester United and the wider world of sport, of one of the more obvious talents in a distinguished generation of footballers.
Having regard to this calibre of competition on his doorstep, it wasn’t altogether surprising then that Ronnie Whelan should suffer in the comparison. And yet for much of the period that followed, it was the lesser known of the two families which would dominate the football headlines. Ronnie Whelan snr knew little of the professional comforts enjoyed by his namesake, Liam.
As a part-timer with St Patrick’s Athletic, he often recalled that on those occasions when he was required to work the night shift at the Unidare factory in Finglas, he would cycle the seven miles from there to Richmond Park to train on his own for a couple of hours the following morning.
Some 25 years after Ronnie’s time in the sun, his son would light up the firmament of club and international football. Ronnie jnr never had to endure the hardships of life as a part-timer after a gifted apprenticeship with Home Farm had opened the way to a hugely successful career at Liverpool and 53 Ireland caps in an era of unmistakable riches for the national team.
Ronnie snr won just two international caps. The first materialised in a scoreless European championship draw with Austria in Vienna in September 1963, the second as a fifth-minute replacement for Joe Haverty in the 3-1 defeat by England at Dalymount Park some eight months later.
But sandwiched between those two high-profile games was a fixture against the English Football League which would ensure a place in local sporting folklore for the tall man from Cabra.
For the fixture at Dalymount on October 2nd, 1963, the English FA had recently embarked on the most concentrated team building programme in their history. At that point they were less than three years away from hosting the World Cup and manager Alf Ramsey was charged with the task of assembling a team that would do justice to the occasion.
Ramsey was already well into his rebuilding programme when he addressed the task of naming the league team to play in Dublin. Among them was Bobby Moore, one of the enduring greats of the English game who embodied Ramsey’s concept of the total team player. Ramsey was quick to acknowledge Moore’s quality of leadership by awarding him the team captaincy.
Moore was accompanied to Dublin by his Upton Park teammate Martin Peters while two other players in the side which faced the League of Ireland, Ray Wilson and Roger Hunt, would also figure in England’s World Cup plans. When you counted in the other members of that multihonoured inter-league team, Tony Waiters, Jimmy Armfield, Gordon Milne, Ian Callaghan, Jimmy Melia and Mike O’Grady, it amounted to a massive test for the Irish part-timers.