CLASSIC UFWC TITLE MATCH:
Northern Ireland 0-1 Scotland
3 March 1923
British Home Championships, Windsor Park, Belfast
Another win for Scotland, who dominated the UFWC throughout this period, but this game is most notable for being the first in the UFWC record books to feature Northern Ireland.
Prior to 1921, a united Ireland side played on the international stage. The Irish Football Association (IFA) had governed football across Ireland, but in 1921 Ireland was partitioned under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Effectively, Ireland was spilt into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, or the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland).
Although based in Belfast in Northern Ireland, the IFA continued to claim to represent the whole of Ireland, continued to select players from the whole of Ireland, and continued to send out an international football team called, simply, ‘Ireland’.
This was despite the fact that a newly-formed body based in Dublin in the Irish Free State, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), also claimed to represent the whole of Ireland, also selected players from the whole of Ireland, and also sent out an international football team called, simply, ‘Ireland’.
It was not until 1946 that the sides were officially renamed Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Even then, both sides continued to select players from both countries until that practice was banned in 1950.) Officially, however, all results gained by the team known prior to 1921 as ‘Ireland’ now stand alongside results gained by the team known from 1921 as ‘Northern Ireland’.
Northern Ireland’s first international football match had been outside of the UFWC in February 1921, also against Scotland, and also resulting in defeat. Two years later, Scotland were on their way to winning the 1923 British Home Championships. Ireland were not expected to provide much opposition, but the match was actually anything but a formality.
‘On the run of the game Scotland scarcely deserved to win,’ reported The Scotsman, ‘for the Irishmen played very well indeed, and [William] Harper, the Scottish goalkeeper, had far more work to do than [George] Farquharson of Ireland.’
Middlesbrough’s Andrew Wilson scored the only goal of the game midway through the second half, netting a rebound after a Farquharson double-save. ‘Wilson, who has been such a success in representative games in the past, did practically nothing beyond scoring the goal which won the match for his side,’ The Scotsman reported. ‘Seldom has a centre-forward with such a reputation been held in such subjection.’
Among the Ireland defenders held up for praise was former Newcastle United full-back Bill McCracken, who, at the veteran age of 39, had just retired from club football and been appointed manager of Hull City. It is perhaps little wonder that Andrew Wilson struggled against a defence marshalled by McCracken – during his time at Newcastle, McCracken was credited with inventing the offside trap.
So the IFA’s Ireland side lost their first UFWC match as Northern Ireland. The new team would have to wait until 1927 to chalk up its first UFWC win.