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Watch: Football fans revel in historic Northern Ireland footage including George Best's dazzling display against Scotland

 

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Linfield of the 1930's: back row (from left to right): Walter McMillen, Walter Brown, Willie Black, Billy McCleary and Tommy Frame.
Front row (from left to right): Billy Houston, Harry McCracken, Tom Sloan, Joe Bambrick, Artie Sayers, Harold McCaw

Linfield of the 1930's: back row (from left to right): Walter McMillen, Walter Brown, Willie Black, Billy McCleary and Tommy Frame. Front row (from left to right): Billy Houston, Harry McCracken, Tom Sloan, Joe Bambrick, Artie Sayers, Harold McCaw

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A still from a 1936 film shows the German international team giving
a Nazi salute before they lose a game against the "Irish Free State" team

A still from a 1936 film shows the German international team giving a Nazi salute before they lose a game against the "Irish Free State" team

Linfield of the 1930's: back row (from left to right): Walter McMillen, Walter Brown, Willie Black, Billy McCleary and Tommy Frame. Front row (from left to right): Billy Houston, Harry McCracken, Tom Sloan, Joe Bambrick, Artie Sayers, Harold McCaw

Irish football fans who've been kicking their heels during the coronavirus lockdown are grabbing the chance to enjoy a treasure trove of intriguing action replays of the greatest - and the worst - moments in the history of the domestic game.

 

And while clubs like Linfield have been re-running games of a more recent vintage on their websites, internet-trawling supporters have been unearthing black and white gems from a British Pathe archive that includes nearly 60 Irish matches.

One 48 second clip shows particularly rare footage of a Belfast Celtic game as they played in Ballymena United's first ever competitive match at the Showgrounds in August 1928 when the visitors won 3-0.

Another jewel in the Pathe crown is coverage of Linfield's 4-3 win over Ballymena in the 1930 Irish Cup Final which gives fans the opportunity to see the legendary Joe Bambrick in action inside the now demolished Celtic Park

Internationally, there's coverage of perhaps the most famous ever Irish victory over England at Wembley in 1957 when a commentator, describing another attack by the visitors, said: "Before you can say begorrah (Sammy) McCrory has landed a beauty."

 

Hundreds of news-reels which were screened in cinemas under the Pathe News banner between the early 1900s and 1970 have now been released via YouTube for public consumption.

And as well as Bambrick, browsing fans have been revelling in seeing clips of iconic stars that they may only have heard of before, from north and south of the border, including Charlie Tully, Jimmy McIlroy, Billy Bingham, Danny Blanchflower, Johnny Carey and Con Martin.

And lined up in the opposition ranks from an era when coverage of football was extremely limited, unlike the modern day wall to wall pre-coronavirus coverage of the game, are English and Scottish giants including Tommy Lawton, Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Don Revie, Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law.

Several of the games in the easy to access video vaults are internationals played in front of crowds of 60,000 at Windsor Park, where fans even scrambled onto the roof of the old unreserved grandstand featuring advertisements for Gallaher's cigarettes

What's confusing, however, for modern day supporters is trying to establish which Ireland they're seeing in the Pathe archives.

For in the days before the term 'Northern Ireland' became common parlance, Pathe News often mixed and matched the names of Ireland, the Irish Free State and Eire with both countries claiming jurisdiction of the game on the island.

The accompanying commentaries from plummy-voiced English narrators were often hilarious and, as well as the begorrah remark, one said that the 'Mountains of Mourne are coming down to see Ireland searching for a goal' in a game which ended in a 4-1 win for England, though the commentator insisted that 'on balance the honours went to Ireland.'

 

Many of the games were routinely described as 'ding-dong struggles' and one commentary said that, in a fightback against England, Ireland 'are going all out to save the old country.'

In the early matches just one camera, tucked away in a corner of the grounds, was trained on the action but the positioning invariably made it difficult to see what was happening in the distance. And many clips were silent though there was often stirring musical accompaniment.

Even so, some films serve as fascinating historical as well as sporting records.

One from 1936 shows a German international team giving a Nazi salute before they lose a game against the 'Irish Free State' at Dalymount Park, Dublin, where swastika-adorned flags are seen flying beside the Irish tricolour.

 

Another British Pathe film provides a snapshot of Belfast in 1957 with visiting Italian players strolling through the city centre playing with yo-yos, smoking cigarettes and examining vegetables on market stalls.

It was recorded by the Italian media on December 4, 1957 before a scheduled World Cup qualifier with the Azzurri at Windsor Park which became known as The Battle of Belfast after the game was downgraded to a friendly because the designated Hungarian referee was fog-bound in London.

 

The 2-2 friendly was anything but amicable and a sign of things to come perhaps was a shot of a fan in the crowd making a cut-throat gesture at the cameras which later showed the match ending in chaos with rioting on the pitch which was invaded by angry crowds before police baton-charged the fans who were branded by the Italian press as 'barbarians.'

The following year, on January 15, the cameras returned for the re-arranged - and more civilised - qualifier which Ireland won 2-1 to book their place at the World Cup Finals in Sweden.

 

Film of Ireland games in Scandinavia was so difficult to find that the 'highlights' of several matches consisted of still pictures and even diagrams of the goals.

But a British Pathe crew were at Windsor in 1958 after the Irish came back from their quarter final heroics and played out a thrilling 3-3 draw in the British Home Championships with England at Windsor, where Tom Finney scored once and the relatively 'new' recruit Bobby Charlton hit two for the visitors while Wilbur Cush, Tommy Casey and Bertie Peacock were on target for the men in green.

 

The camera operators didn't quite manage to capture all of the build-ups to all of the goals in the quagmire but their footage does show a ground rammed to the rafters with the crowd more than three times bigger than the 'new' Windsor Park could accommodate today.

The year before, on November 6, 1957 the camerawork in the epic Irish 3-2 win over England at a half-empty Wembley was much better but it did appear to confirm that the hosts were robbed.

A penalty from Jimmy McIlroy had given the Irish the lead and Sammy McCrory added a second but the third, a header from Billy Simpson, looked yards offside.

Six years later, Wembley was also the scene for a more humiliating result for the Irish with England hammering them 8-3 in November 1963 thanks to four goals from Jimmy Greaves, three from Terry Paine and one from Bobby Smith.

Sammy Wilson (2) and John Crossan were Ireland's goalscorers. At one point, Ireland were trailing 4-1 and the commentator helpfully observed that 'if they get three quick goals they'll be level'.

The blurb which accompanies footage of another embarrassing 9-2 England win in 1949 at Maine Road Manchester lists the opposition as Eire.

But it was the IFA team who were blitzed in what was a Home International match that doubled as a World Cup qualifier. Footage of legendary players including Jackie Vernon and Davy Cochrane compensates for the thrashing.

And fans of former Glasgow Celtic wizard Charlie Tully can indulge themselves with longer shots of the 'Cheeky Chappie' weaving his magic in a 2-2 draw against England at Windsor in 1952, when he not only scored both goals but ran rings round future World Cup winning manager Alf Ramsey.

A raft of other games from the 50s that are in the archive include Home International matches against Wales and Scotland but George Best's never-to-be-forgotten single-handed 1-0 triumph over the Scots in 1967 isn't in the Pathe collection, although it is on YouTube in a BBC Match of the Day special.

 

One of the earliest domestic games online in the Pathe archive is a match between Linfield and Bohemians at Windsor Park from the politically tense 1920s which is described by Pathe News as their first meeting after the split between the northern IFA and the FAI in the Republic.

 

Rare archive footage of Glentoran's Oval ground from three years earlier is of a match in the shadow of the Harland and Wolff cranes, though the players were not from the Irish League but from the Irish cinema trade.

Why the game was filmed is unclear. There's no explanation of what the match was all about or why a woman in a fur wrap called Mrs Fred Stewart kicked off the encounter

Another fascinating film is of a game between the Irish Free State and Glasgow Celtic in Dublin in 1924 when the 'record crowd' was so massive that scores of supporters watched from the touchline right beside one of the goals.

It's believed to be the first footage of any Celtic game outside Scotland and, though records are sketchy, it's understood the visitors won 3-0.

 

Inter-league matches which were phased out years ago also feature in the archive. In one at a snow-covered Goodison Park, Liverpool, in 1947, the English League beat the Irish League 4-2 with Stanley Matthews running the show.

Nine years later, the Irish League shocked the football world by hammering the English visitors 5-2 at Windsor Park but there's no record of that upset in the archive.

But even before British Pathe started filming the representative games, there was a camera at Man City's former home at Hyde Park in October 1905 to film an inter league clash in which the English beat the Irish 4-0.

It's believed to be the earliest existing film of an England team and it was captured by pioneering filmmakers James Kenyon and Sagar Mitchell.

The footage is in the archives of the British Film Institute who also have footage of an Irish Cup semi-final at Windsor Park from 1929, when Ballymena beat Coleraine 3-0.

A bizarre clip in the Pathe collection is an interview with former Irish international Bill McCracken which was recorded in the 70s with questions from a long-haired John Stapleton who went on to present major TV shows in England.

The only problem is that there's no sound and a lip-reader would be needed to reveal what McCracken is saying in his reminisces

Curiously, McCracken -who pioneered changes in the offside law - is not only seen but also heard in another short film in which he gives tips on the talking screen, as he calls it, about the finer points of football.

For more information, visit www.britishpathe.com

Belfast Telegraph