Former Ireland international Theo Foley dies, aged 83

Dublin-born defender was assistant manager at Arsenal for their thrilling 1989 title success

Theo Foley pictured during his time at Charlton   Athletic. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

Theo Foley pictured during his time at Charlton Athletic. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

 

Theo Foley, the Dublin born defender who played nine times for Ireland and later had a hand in one of the most memorable English title wins of modern times, has died, aged 83.

Foley grew up in Inchicore when “times were tough with money and jobs scarce. As long as we had a football and a place to play,” he said, however, “we were happy on the streets of Dublin.”

He moved to Exeter City from Home Farm aged just 17 in 1955 and went on to have a good career in England, his best spell being at Northampton Town who he helped win promotion to the top flight a couple of years after he joined.

It was during this time that he broke into the Irish team, making his debut against Spain in March 1964. A year later, in the absence of Noel Cantwell, he captained the team in a friendly against Belgium at Dalymount Park

Having moved to Charlton Athletic, he started to become involved in the coaching side of things, subsequently working with Millwall and QPR. Along the way, he became close to George Graham and when the Scot got his first manager’s job he took Foley as his assistant.

Theo Foley pictured in 1989 during his time as Arsenal assistant manager. Photograph: Allsport
Theo Foley pictured in 1989 during his time as Arsenal assistant manager. Photograph: Allsport

The relationship worked well and culminated in their successful spell at Arsenal where Foley, who had been a full back, had a key role in developing the team’s defensive resilience.

“I’d never have believed in my wildest dreams that I’d make it at Arsenal all the way from Inchicore, Dublin,” he would later say. “It was the top level possible, like the home of football, the tradition, the history, the Marble Halls, the heated floors, just the sheer class of the place. I was dreaming.

“We had Manchester United too for the first game, another huge club with a new manager in Alex Ferguson. We won 1-0 at Highbury with a Charlie Nicholas goal, that’s as much as I remember from the game. I remember having better Adidas training gear, a lovely glass dugout and plenty of Wrigley’s chewing gum to chew on. Not forgetting some top, top players that were a cut above the lads we’d been working with for the previous four seasons at The Den.”

It went well for all concerned, the high point being the club’s famous title success of 1989, a championship clinched with a 2-0 victory at Anfield in the last game of the season.

“It was some achievement to go there and win,” he subsequently recalled. “It was undoubtedly the pinnacle for me and one of the most outstanding nights of my life.

“It was such a great team with great characters but the tragedy for me was Hillsborough had happened [a few months earlier] and as a kid coming from Dublin I always had a soft spot for Liverpool.”

The Arsenal players seemed to have a soft spot for Foley with several paying warm social media tributes on Friday. Former striker, Kevin Campbell wrote: “I am totally shocked and saddened at the passing of Theo Foley. What a special football man and gentleman he was! He helped me so much behind the scenes at The Arsenal and always was a pleasure to be around.”

He left Arsenal to manage back at Northampton and held a number of coaching roles at other clubs. He published his autobiography, “Theo: Give Us A Ball” in 2018.

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