Ireland has entered every World Cup since 1934, when we were placed in a group alongside Belgium and the Netherlands. The highlight was our draw at home against the Belgians, when the great Paddy Moore became the first player to score four goals in a World Cup game in a 4-4 draw. We then lost our second and final game 5-2 against the Netherlands – a one goal defeat would have sent us through.
In 1938 we lost out to Norway with a draw and a defeat while in 1950 we finished ahead of a team for the first time (Finland) but behind Sweden. With only the winners to go through, it looked like that would be that, but when Scotland withdrew we were offered their spot. The FAI, in their infinite wisdom, baulked at the £2700 cost of travel. The tournament was such a success (financially) that they would have made a handsome profit.
In 1954 we lost out to France (hopefully not an omen for tomorrow night), in 1958 England topped our group after getting a 1-1 draw in Dublin and 1962 was probably our worst ever campaign – Ireland lost every single game home and away to Scotland and Czechoslovakia.
With the 1966 World Cup to be held in England, Irish qualification would have given a large travelling support and ex-pat community a chance to roar on the boys in Spain. Drawn in a two-team group, things got off brilliantly with a 1-0 win in Dublin. We then lost 4-1 in Seville and, given that goal difference was not used at this time, both sides were to play a play-off on a neutral site. That game was to be held in London but an agreement was made to move it to Paris, where there was a larger Spanish support. Ireland lost 1-0.
Ireland finished last in their 1970 Qualification group, and second in 1974 (behind the USSR) when we beat France in Dublin, and drew 1-1 in Paris. There was another win over the French in the 1978 Qualification, but that wasn’t enough to prevent them from beating us to the group’s top spot. We did, however beat them in Dublin thanks to a wonder goal from Liam Brady.
1982 gave us another close call, and again the French were involved. Ireland were also drawn alongside Belgium, Netherlands and Cyprus with two of five teams to reach Spain. The group started well with a win in Cyprus, a win at home to Netherlands (who, remember had been in the 1974 and 1978 finals) and a draw at home to Belgium. Two defeats though, in Paris and in Brussels, were to prove crucial as Ireland finished up with four wins and two draws after our eight matches. Irish fans could then just watch on as France, who still had two games to play, got the wins they needed to overtake us on goal difference.
Ireland again missed out on the 1986 edition of the tournament, as a 4-1 home defeat to Denmark marked the end of Eoin Hand’s time in charge and the introduction of Big Jack Charlton. The man who’d won a World Cup as a player with England was to usher in Ireland’s greatest years on the football field, but I’ll talk more about them tomorrow...