Back in 2000 the then Enterprise Minister Mary Harney told a gathering of the American Bar Association that Ireland was “a lot closer to Boston than Berlin”. At the time that statement provoked plenty of debate and whatever your views its accuracy it held a certain truth in the very early days of the FAI. There was certainly a greater footballing closeness with the Americans than with our near neighbours in Britain. When the Football Association of Ireland formed out of the split from the Belfast-based IFA they entered a very inhospitable footballing climate. They were no longer part of the British Championship and their requests for fixtures with neighbouring Associations were rebuffed. Looking further afield international recognition came from FIFA in 1923 and the following summer the FAI sent an amateur international side to compete in the Paris Olympics in what was to be the nascent Association’s first foray into International football.
A victory over Bulgaria in the opening round, followed by a quarter final exit after extra time to the Dutch was a credible performance for a new and poorly funded side. But there was little on the horizon in terms of a home international. Here however enter the Americans; another side who had likewise been knocked out in the Olympic quarter finals would be heading Ireland’s way shortly after.
The USA had been knocked out by eventual winners Uruguay and had taken the opportunity to play a couple of friendly games before the long journey back across the Atlantic. After defeating Poland 3-2 in Warsaw on June 10th the Americans were swiftly on a boat to Cork and then by train to Dublin to play the Irish on June 14th 1924 in Dalymount Park.
It was a game of many firsts. It was a first home match for the FAI, indeed it was the first Irish international to be held in Dublin since 1913. It was one of the first football matches to feature the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann as the national anthem (an official decision had not been made on a post-Independence anthem and other songs such as Let Erin Remember had been used before), and it recorded the first hat-trick for the young Free State side as the Irish ran out 3-1 winners.
The side that had travelled to the Olympics had been all amateur but there were to be some changes ahead of the American game. St. James’s Gate’s Charlie Dowdall for one was unavailable. He had gone to visit relatives in England on his was back from Paris!
In goal Frank Collins joined the side. Collins has spent a season as a professional with Glasgow Celtic and had already been capped by the IFA but he was back working as a baker in Dublin in 1924 and playing for his employers Jacob’s in the League of Ireland. Another who was making a debut appearance was the hat-trick hero Ned Brooks of Bohemians, like Collins he had also been previously capped by the IFA.
The USA game was to be his only appearance for Ireland which means he has an enviable goals per game ratio. He started at centre-forward which meant that Paddy Duncan of St. James’s Gate was withdrawn into the midfield which seemed to have the desired affect against the Americans. The side in this first home international was captained by Brooks’ Bohemian team-mate Bertie Kerr.
Most of the USA players were active in the American Soccer League (ASL), an early professional soccer league based mainly around the states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many of the participating clubs would have found similarities with the likes of Jacobs and James’s Gate as they too were works teams. The side’s star player on the day was their goalkeeper, Jimmy Douglas who would have a relatively long international career with the USA, featuring for them in the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup in 1930 (see banner pic). A goal from James Rhody of Harrison F.C. and that fine performance for Douglas in goal was as good as it got for the USA on the day.
Pathé newsreel footage of the game can be seen here.
There was also an Irish connection with the USA party, their Association President Peter J. Peel was in Dalymount Park in 1924 and it was sure to have been a familiar sight. Peel had been born in Dublin and moved to Chicago as a young man. He was a sporting all-rounder, prominent in the fields of golf and tennis in his home city. Such was his devotion to football that he was convinced that it would outstrip baseball in the competition for American sporting affections within five years. Peel obviously had the Irish gift of the gab matched with an American sense of indefatigable optimism though with the continued growth of the MLS who is to say that the predictions of a Dubliner some 94 years ago may yet come to pass?
This article first appeared in the June 2018 match programme for the Republic of Ireland v USA international friendly match.