Over the years, some very famous footballers have played for a spell in the League of Ireland with clubs enticing major stars of international football to spend brief periods of their later careers entertaining League of Ireland supporters. Colm Murphy gives a rundown of some of the top “superstars” who “graced” the League of Ireland over the years.
While some of the other individuals on this countdown arrived in Ireland when they were clapped out, George Best was only a mere 29 years old when he joined Cork Celtic in December 1975. Best had played his last game for Manchester United on 1stJanuary 1974 against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. He was only 27. By now, of course, his private life had become the stuff of legend. He drifted around a few clubs and in November 1975 agreed a deal with Fourth Division Stockport County that allowed Best to play in Stockport’s home matches for a fee of £300 per match. He played his last game for Stockport on Christmas Eve 1975 when he scored in a 2-2 draw with Watford. By then, Cork Celtic manager Paul O’Donovan had agreed a deal to bring Best to Cork. In anticipation of a huge crowd, Cork Celtic changed the venue of their match against Drogheda United to the much larger Flowers Lodge venue. The deal was only for one game but Celtic were hopeful Best would stay for more.
There were considerable doubts that Best would appear. But, sure enough, on Sunday 28th December, Best delighted the 12,000 spectators who turned up to see him. Unfortunately for Cork, while Best’s arrival resulted in a hefty profit, it did nothing for the team. Best was subdued throughout and his team-mates appeared overawed by having a man who only seven years earlier had won the European Player of the Year award. Best admitted his disappointment after the game: “It is always hard playing with a new club for the first time”. The 12,000 crowd paid gate receipts of £6,000 and the Cork club were keen to have him back for more. Best was certainly open to the idea: “The game was scrappy and disappointing. But it has made me feel like wanting to return and play again.” Celtic barely challenged during the match and Drogheda took the lead after 22 minutes when Byrne out jumped the defence to head in a corner from Clarke. Clarke then created the second Drogheda goal when he set up Cathal Muckian after 82 minutes. Incidentally, Dundalk defeated Sligo Rovers 3-2 on the same day in Oriel Park with goals from Jimmy Dainty, Sean Sheehy and Tony Cavanagh.
The teams that day were:
Cork Celtic: A McCarthy, Carroll, O’Leary, Edwards, Brooks, Short, Gillen, Heary, Best, McSweeney, J McCarthy.
Drogheda: McCarron, McCampbell, Mason, Donnelly, McGuigan, Stephens, Tully, O’Halloran, Clarke, Byrne, Muckian.
In the days following the match, Cork Celtic officials weighed up the pros and cons of inviting Best back again. Judging by comments made to the media at the time it appears that the Cork officials were overwhelmed by having to deal with the issue. Celtic secretary Donie Forde said: “We don’t really know how much money we had made. We simply pushed the money away into the safety of a van before anybody got any ideas about getting their hands on it. It was certainly profitable, and while it is nice to take that sort of money from one game which will help to keep us going this season, it’s annoying to think that had we won we would have been in third place in the league instead of just sixth. The reason that did not happen was we played a load of rubbish. But we were missing a few of our best players that would link up well with Best. I believe our players were simply overawed by the occasion. We don’t know if he is coming back until he phones us during the week.” One thing was certain though. Best would only be possibly available for two more games before he made a move to the American Soccer League. It was also disclosed that Cork had paid Best the sum of £500 for his appearance against Drogheda.
In these days, Cork had two senior football clubs. Cork Hibernians obviously felt some jealousy and set about making their own superstar capture. Firstly, Cork Hibs announced the appointment as “consultant coach” of Alan Ball Senior. Ball was the father of the English World Cup winner who was then with Arsenal. He had previously managed Preston North End and Halifax and had spent a spell managing in the Swedish league in 1974. However, the main talking point around Cork Hibs was their attempt to sign George Best’s old Fulham team-mate and drinking buddy Rodney Marsh who had been placed on the transfer list at Manchester City. The association with Ball only lasted a few weeks, however, as he left to take over the reigns at Halifax.
Unsurprisingly, Best was not in Waterford for Cork Celtic’s 3-2 defeat on New Year’s Day 1976. Stockport County were hoping to have Best back for a game against Cambridge but had lost contact with him. However, he was back in the news just a few days later when it emerged that his transfer from Stockport was to be investigated by the FAI. Peader O’Driscoll, the secretary of the League of Ireland, said that the league had received no registration form for Best. However, before any investigation could be made, Best made contact with Cork Hibs to say that if the money was right, he would be willing to return to Cork for their upcoming match against Bohemians.
This was confirmed on January 7th when Hibs secretary Donie Forde revealed: “Bobby Tambling has been in touch with Best and he is flying into Cork on Saturday. We are just taking it by year. We are just satisfied with this one confirmation. What happens after Sunday we don’t know. We know he wants to go to the States but we hope to have him for the match against Waterford on January 25th.” Forde also revealed that Best would be paid £600 for his appearance but that this time the club would not move to the larger Flower’s Lodge venue: “To be honest we were disappointed with the crowd at Flower’s Lodge. Alright, you could say that we were hoping for too much. But we did think that we could get 20,000. Now that we know that 12,000 is more likely we know that Turner’s Cross is more than adequate.”
Best’s appearance against Bohs went much better than his debut against Drogheda. However, he was to make the front page of the papers the next morning over a bizarre incident at the end of the game. Protected by four Gardai as he left Turner’s Cross, Best walked through a group of mostly teenage girls who tried to grab him. One of the teenagers grabbed him by the hair and Best retaliated aggressively. According to 13-year-old Colette O’Sullivan: “He just turned around and gave me an awful clatter and pulled my hair. I never did anything to him. I got an awful shock.”
Much to Hibs’ disappointment, only 8,000 people turned up at Turner’s Cross. Best triedhttp://www.back-post.com/wp-admin/post-new.php to win over the cynics by not only showing nice touches and skill, but also being willing to work hard and make tackles on the edge of his own area. By half-time he was covered in mud as if to prove to everybody he was not just over to make up the numbers. In the second half Best hit a superb left-footed volley that went narrowly wide. Apart from that, however, Best was mostly disappointing. The winning goal came after 10 minutes when a young Mick Shelley deflected Heery’s header past Smyth.
It was then announced that Waterford had completed the signing of Bobby Charlton (see elsewhere) and Cork Hibs Secretary Donie Forde told reporters to “take it for granted” that Best would line up against Charlton when the two clubs met in two weeks’ time. Meanwhile, an FAI meeting on January 16th decided to fine Cork Hibs £50 for the delay in sending a registration form for Best. Next up for Georgie was Shelbourne at Harold’s Cross where 5,500 fans turned up to pay receipts of £3,100 for the pleasure of watching this most famous of players in action.
The opening words of Derek Jones’ match report says it all about his performance: “How much longer will Irish soccer devotees be so gullible as to dig deeper into their pockets and stampede to grounds just to see George Best? As far as I am concerned I never want to set eyes on him again. I would prefer just to remember him as he was during his Manchester United days”.
Best was easily marked out of the game by Val Meehan. His only notable contributions were a couple of shots wide in the first half, took the free-kick that resulted in Cork’s only goal, forced Shels ‘keeper Willie Byrne into making a save after a 1-2 with Bobby Tambling and a last minute miss when he shot wide again. “All I can say is”, continued Jones, “easy money for a player who simply showed that he did not want to be involved”. Incidentally, a number of future Dundalk men were in the Shelbourne line up that day. Vincent McKenna, Paddy Dunning and Mick Lawlor would all go on to play major roles in Jim McLaughlin’s teams over the coming years.
Two days after the Shels match it was revealed that the much anticipated Best v Charlton encounter may not materialise as Charlton had “business commitments” to take care of. In the end, Best himself withdrew from the match due to flu. Those that went to the game saw a hugely entertaining 4-3 win for Waterford. Best was not expected to make the trip to Dundalk for the next game (a 3-2 win for Dundalk) but was initially expected to return for their following league game.
However, on 29thJanuary, Celtic announced that they would not be asking Best to line out for the club again. According to manager O’Donavan: “While we accept the fact that we did well financially from George’s signing, his contribution to the team’s performances were not as good as we had hoped. From the way he was playing, he appeared to lose interest in Irish football and we considered it wiser to terminate our agreement.”
Bobby Charlton ended his association with Manchester United in May 1973. Charlton was 36 years of age when he played his last game for Man United against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. He had retired from International football following the 3-2 defeat by West Germany at the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Following his departure from Old Trafford, Charlton went to Preston North End as player-manager along with fellow World Cup winner Nobby Stiles. That experience proved to be traumatic as Preston suffered relegation at the end of the season. Charlton though still managed to score eight goals in 38 appearances.
Charlton’s arrival at Waterford was announced following a 2-1 league defeat at Limerick on January 11th 1976. The man responsible for the transfer was Waterford Chairman Joseph Delaney. He revealed that the length of Charlton’s commitment to Waterford was dependant on the response of the Waterford public to the club and whether other clubs would pay a percentage of their gate receipts when Waterford and Charlton came to town.
Charlton’s debut against St. Patrick’s Athletic on January 18th attracted a big crowd to Kilcohan Park where the gate receipts were £1,900. To put that in context, the average gate receipts taken at Oriel Park at this stage were around the £1,000 mark. George Best had swelled Cork Celtic’s coffers to the tune of £5000 for his debut – but unlike Best, Charlton produced a virtuoso display.From start to finish, Charlton pulled the strings in the Waterford midfield. The home side emerged victorious following a 3-2 win. Pat’s had taken an early lead but Charlton was fouled in the box to allow Mick Leech to equalise from the spot before half-time. Charlton began the move that gave Waterford the lead after 71 minutes when he set up McCarthy to score from 25-yards and the young ex-Man United striker made it 3-1 soon after. Byrne pulled one back but Waterford held out for the win.
Charlton’s next outing came against Finn Harps. Waterford manager John McSeveney was confident that the club could better the modest sum of £1,900 at the gate. “We have had enquires from all over the country about this game and I believe we could well have a record gate”. In the end, 6,000 people braved the snow to witness another superb Charlton performance as Waterford won 3-1. Charlton looked like the fittest player on the pitch and scored a late goal to seal the victory. The issue of compensation in away matches arose on February 8th when Charlton appeared at Dalymount Park in a 2-0 defeat. Charlton only announced that he would be available to play late in the previous evening. Therefore, not many people knew that Charlton would be in action and the gate only brought in £793. Bohs, incidentally, refused point blank to give Waterford any share of the gate receipts. Turlough O’Connor scored Bohs’ second goal.
It was announced that Charlton’s final appearance for Waterford would be in their Cup match with Finn Harps at Ballybofey. Again, Charlton produced a fine display of passing and went close with a few of his trademark thunderbolt strikes. But it was not going to be his or Waterford’s day as Finn Harps ran out 3-0 winners.
Gordon Banks’ career seemingly came to an end on 22nd October 1972 when he lost the sight of his right eye following a car crash. Having moved into the commercial area of the sport, as well as having a spell as manager of Telford, Banks made a comeback in 1977 when he moved to the new American league to play for Fort Lauderdale Strikers alongside George Best. Banks was contacted by his ex-international team-mate, Pat’s manager Barry Bridges, to come over for a match with Shamrock Rovers.
For most of the encounter, Banks was a mere passenger. Rovers were by now managed by Johnny Giles who was attempting to revolutionise Irish Football with a new professional setup at Milltown. One of his major signings was Eamon Dunphy who was to provide Banks with his one opportunity to remind the large crowd (gate receipts of over £2,000) of the fact that he was one of the all-time great goalkeepers. In the 83rd minute, Dunphy hit a left-footed volley that looked set for the top corner. However, Banks threw himself to his right and at full-stretch tipped the ball around the post for a corner. Even Giles was impressed: “It was a fabulous save. His very presence on the field obviously lifted Pat’s”. Pat’s won the game 1-0 and Banks was keen for more. “I thoroughly enjoyed myself and if I am asked back there is every chance I can come”.
However, it was to prove to be his only appearance in Irish football. Legend has it that his save from Dunphy was even better than the one he made from Pele!
Trevor Brooking made the final of his 528 appearances for West Ham United in 1984 at the age of 36. He had been capped 47 times for England with his last cap coming in the 1982 World Cup Finals when he was unable to prevent Ron Greenwood’s team being knocked out of the competition after a 0-0 draw with Spain. Brooking was already a well-established TV pundit but was talked into signing for Cork City in November 1985. The main reason for his return to football was the ongoing dispute between the English FA and BBC/ITV over the rights to show football. There was no TV coverage for the first five months of the season and, therefore, Brooking was temporarily unemployed.
He made his debut on 8th December 1985 at Turner’s Cross against a strong Galway United team. It did not go well for either Cork or Brooking. He was given no time to find the space he needed to impose himself on the game. He produced one moment of magic just before half-time. Seeing ex-Dundalk ‘keeper Richie Blackmore off his line, Brooking tried an audacious chip that beat the ‘keeper but rebounded off the crossbar. Galway ran out 2-0 winners. He made his second and final appearance on December 22nd when he was again subdued as Shamrock Rovers destroyed Cork 3-0.
As the Cork Celtic experiment with George Best ended, neighbours Cork Hibernians announced the signing of Rodney Marsh on a five-game deal. Marsh had signed a deal with Tampa Bay Rowdies having been released from Man City, but that deal did not begin until April 1st. Marsh was only 31 years of age and just three years earlier had been signed for the huge sum of £200,000 from QPR. Famously, Man City were four points clear at the top of First Division when he was signed but they eventually finished fourth. He became City’s star player but fell out with then manager Tony Book that resulted in him being placed on the transfer list. It is clear that his mate, Georgie, had told him about the lucrative money available in Irish football for a short-term stint. The Cork Hibs Chairman, Noel Duggan, said: “We have been after Marsh since last September. He is a current world class star and signed for us today to play five games with an option to negotiate for further matches after that before he goes to America. He will fly over on Saturday and play for us against Limerick in the league and against Drogheda in the FAI Cup providing we can come to an arrangement with Drogheda”.
This was typical of the mindset that developed in the league at the time. Clubs became more interested in working out how to get a cut of the gate receipts when they brought their new superstar import to an away game rather than concentrating on just winning the match. However, it was clear that if Drogheda refused to pay a cut of their gate receipts to Hibs then Marsh would be left out of the side.
It was revealed that Marsh was commanding a fee of £800 per match. Considering that this was considerably more than what Cork Celtic had paid George Best, it was a huge disappointment to Hibernians when only 4,400 people showed up to see his debut against Limerick. Marsh produced a great display as Hibs won 2-1. His best moment came when he won possession midway inside his own half and went on a mazy run before laying off to Wiggin to score. His next game was due to be away to St. Pat’s. The Inchicore side, who also had Dermot Keely and Sean Byrne in their team, were already pushing the boat out by paying Barry Bridges to play for them. Hibs wanted a cut of the gate for bringing along Marsh and there was a lot of confusion over whether Marsh would be allowed to line out. “You can look at it two ways,” said Hibs secretary Sean O’Sullivan. “We need to take our league position into account. Because of that we should play him. But we have got to think about the financial side of it. To play him would be an expensive outlay.
If Marsh was to play and attracted a gate of £2,000 for a game they would normally take in £200, surely it is reasonable for us to seek some sort of compensation from St. Pat’s. We will continue to talk to Pat’s about it”. It was a difficult situation for Hibs – if they paid Marsh his £800 fee for the St. Pat’s game it would mean that £1,600 would have been spent out of the £2,100 gate receipts they achieved for Marsh’s home debut. In the end, Marsh did line-out in a 2-1 win. He then produced a poor performance in a 1-1 draw at Drogheda’s Lourdes Stadium in the FAI Cup. “Cork Hibs may have felt aggrieved that they did not see more of Rodney Marsh. Spectators, too, are entitled to the best possible value for money and the former Man City star did not give it to them,” stated one match report. Marsh did finally show his class in the Cork Derby against Celtic on 22nd February when he scored a superb volley from 25-yards in a 1-1 draw.
By the summer, the superstar experiment was revealed as a disaster for Hibs. They were £15,000 in the red and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, owners of Flower’s Lodge, were taking them to court over the terms of their lease. The problems became insurmountable and Cork Hibernians resigned their place in the league. Their place was taken by another Cork Club – Albert Rovers.
William Ralph “Dixie” Dean was one of the most prolific strikers in the history of the English league. He started his career in 1923 with Tranmere Rovers before moving to Everton in 1925. In twelve years at Goodison Park, Dean scored an amazing 349 goals in 399 games. After a spell at Notts County, Dean made the very unlikely move to Sligo Rovers in 1939 at the age of 32. He arrived in Sligo on Saturday 27th January and was met by 2,000 fans at Sligo train station. He made his debut one day later in a 3-2 win over Shelbourne at the Showgrounds. Dean led the attack and scored a fine goal before half-time. He made an even bigger impact on the 19th March when he scored five goals in a 7-1 demolition of Waterford United. Dean made a huge impact at Sligo and helped them to the FAI Cup Final where he scored in a 1-1 draw with Shelbourne before Sligo lost the replay. Sligo also recorded a healthy profit from the season.
The rent-a-team era in League of Ireland football continued when a scramble emerged to sign the hero of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team. Hurst’s contract with West Brom had been cancelled in January 1976 and he was approached by several League of Ireland teams to sign before the deadline for registering players for the FAI Cup. A constant theme of clubs dealing with these superstars was the fear that they just wouldn’t bother turning up. Hurst signed a one-month deal with Cork Celtic but it was then reported he was in negotiations with Hull City and Crewe Alexandra. “I don’t expect that he will let us down,” said Celtic secretary Donie Forde. Donie need not have worried as Hurst made an immediate impression against Shamrock Rovers on 8th February when he scored his side’s second goal, a header from Brooks’ cross, in a 3-1 win. “I was happy with my performance. I scored one of the goals in a good win which is satisfactory when you consider how difficult it is to step into a strange team”.
Next up for Hurst was Dundalk in the FAI Cup. The match was moved to Flower’s Lodge as Turner’s Cross was unplayable after recent bad weather. Dundalk were riding high in the league and were set to win their first league championship in nine years. It took 13 minutes for Celtic to break the deadlock. Bobby Tambling struck a powerful shot that Richie Blackmore did very well to save but the rebound fell kindly for Hurst who shot towards the empty net. Jimmy Dainty diverted Hurst’s effort over the crossbar with his hand. Not a red card offence in those days but McCarthy slotted away the spot-kick. Dundalk nearly equalised when Sean Sheehy headed wide from Jackie McManus’ cross before Heery hit the post. McSweeney made it 2-0 after 58 minutes after Sean McLaughlin lost possession. Seamus McDowell hit the crossbar before Myers scored a third. The teams that day were:
Cork Celtic: McCarthy, Tobin, J McCarthy, Edwards, Brooks, Carroll, Heery, Shortt, Tambling, Hurst, McSweeney.
Dundalk: Blackmore, McManus, S McLaughlin, T McConville, B McConville, J McLoughlin, McDowell, Dainty, Sheehy, Flanagan. Sub: Connellan for McLaughlin.
Hurst scored his first goal for Celtic when he cancelled out Rodney Marsh’s opening goal in the Cork derby on February 22nd and he scored again in the 3-0 win over Sligo one week later.
The Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone signed for Shelbourne in November 1977. Johnstone had left Celtic in 1975 after 308 appearances and 82 goals since his debut in 1962. He moved to San Jose Earthquakes before spells with Sheffield United and Dundee. Both Athlone Town and Finn Harps were keen to sign the 23-time capped international but he made his debut for Shelbourne in a 2-1 defeat to Bohemians on 20th November. Johnstone showed that he still had a lot of pace and played quite well. Shelbourne manager Tommy Rowe stated afterwards that “Johnston certainly helped to swell the gate (£970) and I think he will do something for us” . Johnstone was running the show against Thurles Town in his second game and set up their opener in a 5-1 win. However, he was withdrawn with a hamstring injury. He scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 League Cup win over Shamrock Rovers. “It was a delight to watch the little man win almost every duel of wits in which he engaged,” said the Irish Times reporter at the game. Johnstone scored the winner in the 64th minute when he slotted past Alan O’Neill.
Peter Lorimer played 449 times and scored 151 goals for Leeds United between 1963 and 1979 before departing for spells at York City, Toronto Blizzards and Vancouver Whitecaps. He also made 21 appearances for Scotland between 1969-1976. In January 1983, he arrived for a short spell at UCD and made his debut on January 16th in a 2-0 defeat at Waterford United. The media reports were not flattering: “Those who expected the former Leeds star to produce the cannonball shots which were his speciality were sadly disappointed. He looked overweight and made little contribution”. His home debut came against Dundalk seven days later and he was powerless to prevent Jim McLaughlin’s men from running out 3-0 winners with goals from Martin Lawlor, Mick Fairclough and Sean Byrne. Lorimer played one more game before returning for a second spell at Elland Road where he played until 1986. The story goes that he returned all of his wages to UCD because he didn’t think he had done enough to earn it!
This certainly qualifies as one of the most bizarre stories in the history of the league. Uwe Seeler was one of the great legends of German football. He made his international debut in 1954 at the age of 18. He went on to play in the 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970 World Cups. He was the first player to score in four separate World Cup Finals (narrowly beating Pele) and is the only player to score two goals in separate World Cups Finals. Only two players have played more minutes of World Cup Finals football than Uwe Seeler (Paulo Maldini and Lother Matthaus). He only ever played for one club, SV Hamburg, where he retired in 1972 at the age of 36 after 474 games and an incredible 404 goals. So how the hell did he end up at Cork Celtic six years after his retirement?
Seeler was, by 1978, involved in many commercial aspects of football including working for Adidas. He was due to come to Ireland on business and Cork Celtic worked with a contact at Adidas to try and sign Seeler in time for their FAI Cup match with Dundalk. This failed to materialise but he did eventually turn up to play against Shamrock Rovers on April 23rd 1978. Six years since his last competitive match, Seeler scored two outstanding goals. Future Dundalk ‘keeper Alan O’Neill had no chance as Seeler blasted past him from 18-yards after 57 minutes. Within two minutes, Seeler had the crowd on their feet when he scored a sensational bicycle kick from the edge of the area. Unfortunately for Celtic, Rovers were already 3-0 up by the time Seeler scored his first and, once the German legend had finished his cameo, scored three more times to win 6-2. It appears that Seeler thought that the game was just a charity match and had no idea that it was a competitive fixture, but the two goals that he scored that day are counted in his all-time record of 509 goals. No other German player has since beaten that record.
The craziness of early 1976 continued when St. Pat’s signed 33-year-old Terry Venables in February. Venables had already become a part of the Crystal Palace coaching staff but in between his final league appearance in January 1976 and his appointment as first team manager at Selhurst Park in June 1976, Venables decided to make a few quick bucks by lining up alongside Barry Bridges at St. Pat’s. Venables was joined at St. Pat’s by Alan Harris, another member of the Palace coaching staff, who was the brother of the famous Ron “Chopper” Harris that Venables played with at Chelsea. Both Venables and Harris spent their week coaching the then Third Division side (managed by Malcolm Allison) and made the trip to Ireland on Sundays to take their place on the St. Pat’s team.
Venables made his debut on 22nd February in a 1-1 draw away to Sligo Rovers. St. Pat’s took the lead through Leo “Pop” Flanagan before McGuckian levelled. Venables produced a man of the match performance. He again was the best player on display on his next appearance in the Cup replay with Drogheda on March 7th. “The match’s outstanding performer finished up on the losing side,” stated the Irish Times. Venables “ruled the midfield with inexorable authority and impressed with cool and studied play by sending an uninterrupted stream of inch-accurate passes to mostly unappreciative forwards and was generally in the thick of the battle. Where he found the stamina for all the work he did is a mystery”. However, his next game for St. Pat’s was a nightmare. Limerick, bottom of the table, won 5-0 at Richmond Park. Venables’ brief flirtation with Irish football ended shortly afterwards.
Barry Bridges was a shock signing for St. Patrick’s Athletic in February 1976. Bridges had made his name for Chelsea where he scored 80 goals in 176 appearances between 1958 and 1976. He made four appearances for England in 1965 and scored against Yugoslavia. Having been listed on the preliminary squad list for the 1966 World Cup he lost out to Geoff Hurst when Alf Ramsey was deciding who would challenge Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt in his attack force. He then continued to score plenty of goals at Birmingham City, QPR, Millwall and Brighton before moving to South Africa. He made his St. Pat’s debut in a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers at Milltown on February 1st 1976 and impressed the large crowd. He scored his first goal for St. Pat’s in a 2-1 defeat at home to Rodney Marsh’s Cork Celtic on February 8th. Bridges was an instant success with the Pat’s fans and when George Richardson (father of Damien) resigned as manager of St. Pat’s following their FAI Cup exit to Drogheda, Bridges became player-manager. He made a goalscoring start to his spell as manager in a 2-1 win over Home Farm and was appointed full-time manager in the summer.
There have been many other players who have spent some time in the League of Ireland with varying degrees of success. Bobby Tambling was one of the more successful characters to have come from top-flight English football. He played 302 times for Chelsea scoring 164 goals between 1959-1970 before departing for Crystal Palace. Tambling became a Jehovah’s Witness and was sent to Munster as a missionary in 1973 where he joined Cork Celtic. He played a major role in Cork Celtic’s 1974 league title success and also had a spell as player-manager. Tambling left Celtic in 1977 and had spells with Waterford United, Shamrock Rovers and Cork Alberts. He was also the first manager of Cork City FC when they entered League of Ireland football in 1984. Tambling is still regarded as a legend at Stamford Bridge where, if you have enough money to spare, you can enjoy the hospitality of the Bobby Tambling suite. He still lives in Cork and is manager of Crosshaven FC.
The former Liverpool and Newcastle legend joined Cork City in the 1984/85 season. McDermott had played a major role in the Kevin Keegan inspired Newcastle side that won promotion in 1983/84 but a falling out with manager Jack Charlton forced him to seek new pastures. He was without a club for eight months and didn’t even own a pair of boots when he agreed to sign for Cork City in January 1985. McDermott made his debut in a 3-1 win over Shelbourne on January 13th. He scored his first goal in a 1-0 win over Longford Town in February. Soon afterwards, McDermott departed to finish his career in Cyprus.
Another strange one! Tommy McConville ended his Dundalk career at the end of the 1985/86 season and took over the reigns at Finn Harps. One of his first actions was to sign Mick Channon. Now one of the most successful racehorse trainers, Channon was capped 46 times for England between 1972-1977 scoring an impressive 21 goals. He had two spells at Southampton where he played over 400 games and scored 175 goals. He won a Milk Cup winners’ medal in 1985 with Norwich before ending his career in England with Portsmouth in 1986. Tommy Mac signed Channon on a match-by-match basis and he made his debut on October 5th1986 in a 2-2 draw against Cobh in the League Cup. He retired injured after 49 minutes. He did not play again.
Ian Callaghan played the last of his 857 matches (still a club record) for Liverpool in 1978 and was on the bench in that year’s European Cup Final. On January 18th1981, Callaghan made his debut at the age of 39 for Cork United as they defeated Home Farm 3-1 at Tolka Park. He was soon off to Norway for a coaching role.
Ex-Wolves, Arsenal and Ipswich striker Alan Sunderland joined Derry City in 1986 to help them win promotion to the Premier Division. The 33-year-old made a big impression at Derry as they also reached the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup before being beaten by Bohemians.
Frank Worthington was one of the most colourful characters of English football during the 1970s. He made his name at Huddersfield before spending his peak years at Leicester City between 1972-1977 where he scored 72 goals in 210 games. During this period he also won eight England caps. After spells with Birmingham, Leeds, Sunderland, Southampton and a host of others…he ended up at Galway United in early 1989. He made his debut, at the age of 41, against St. Pat’s on February 12th1989. He performed well and set up Galway’s goal in a 1-1 draw. Worthington was not the oldest import that season – Alfie Hale signed former Chelsea player and manager John Hollins for Cobh Ramblers a few weeks later. Hollins was 42 years old.