Northern Ireland women’s football team: A potted history

Northern Ireland Women’s Football Team – Matches

 

This is a list of matches played by the Northern Ireland women’s national football team.

 

It is not yet complete and remains something of a work in progress because records are still very sketchy. For example, there may well have been some more low-key, cross-border matches against the Republic.

 

The politics and history of male football dictated that Northern Ireland must field its own ‘national’ team, despite not being a country.

Other factors to do with religion meant that women’s football developed even more slowly here than in Britain and the rest of Ireland. For example, all Sunday football was banned in Northern Ireland until 2007.

The first manager was Carson Reid, a 25-year-old cabaret singer from Belfast who had been introduced to women’s football through ‘Showbiz XI’ fixtures he’d organised against female teams to promote his club.

The first international match was lost 4–1 to the Republic of Ireland at Bluebell United FC’s ground on the Naas Road in Dublin, opposite the Red Cow pub, on 30 June 1973.

Louise Fleming scored the consolation for the North. But it was soon a case of ‘Ulster Says No’ as she was booted off the provincial hockey team for missing training. Hockey like most team sports was organised on an All-Ireland basis.

Not the most auspicious start, but better than Northern Ireland men’s team who lost their first game 13–0 to England in 1882. IFA-founder and captain James McElery famously wept like a baby after that particular debacle.

In a return match at Mourneview Park, Larne, on 23 October 1973, a much more promising performance saw Limerick winger Pauline Maher cancel out Evelyn Willoughby’s opener to salvage a last-gasp 1–1 draw for the visitors.

A female “international side of some description” took on Scotland in November 1974 and were casually drubbed 11–1 by Rose Reilly et al. There were only four women’s club teams active in the Six Counties at that time.

The Irish scorer, Lorraine Carey from Lurgan, was reported to be ‘deaf and dumb’. The Belfast Newsletter chortled: “the local girls aren’t World Cup winning material yet”. While coach Alec James defended his “comparatively inexperienced” side.

On 7 September 1973 a Northern Ireland team lost 5–1 to England at Twerton Park in Bath, England’s first match under floodlights. Sharon Gillespie scored the goal.

Ireland were not represented at the Pony Home International Championship, which was fought out by England, Scotland and Wales in May 1976.

The Northern Ireland Ladies Football Association began with a meeting in the Post Office Youth Club, College Square, Belfast, November 26, 1976, where Mary McVeigh was sworn in as the first Chair.

The first “official” NILFA-sanctioned match was played in September 1977 against the Republic at Tolka Park in Dublin: a 6–0 defeat.

Farcically, three of Northern Ireland’s players – Sandra Beggs, Eilish Macken and Hilary Brady – also played hockey for Knock at a tournament in Muckross, Dublin on the day of the soccer match. No wonder they ran out of puff…

Nonetheless Munich ’72 Olympic legend Mary Peters was soon sworn in as the team’s ambassador. She presented a set of smart green strips, donated by the Northern Ireland Professional Footballers’ Association.

In July-August 1982 a “Northern Ireland All Star” XI toured America, returning the favour of the “American Thunderbirds” from Portland, Oregon who had toured Ireland in 1980.

England great Gillian Coultard “had a bad game in Belfast once, when the place got to her, the atmosphere of the troubles” according to Pete Davies’s I lost my heart to the Belles (p. 270)

The game – England’s 4–0 win in May 1983 – was played at Crusaders FC’s Seaview Ground on the notorious Shore Road in inner city Belfast. A couple of years previously an IRA gunman had shot dead a member of the RUC, Northern Ireland’s militarised security force, at the stadium gates.

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Teams probably did not want to visit, due to the boneheads who, aided and abetted by the UK government, turned this beautiful part of the world into a notorious sectarian toilet.

There were exceptions, like Belgium who stopped in at Ballymena on their way to a game in Dublin in October 1980. Or the ever-neutral Swiss, who departed Belfast with a 2–0 win in June 1984.

Forward Geraldine Smyth knocked back a transfer offer from Standard Liège after showing up well in the Belgium game.

Northern Ireland competed in the first two editions of UEFA’s ‘European Competition for Women’s Football’, in 1984 and 1987, but finished bottom of the qualifying group on both occasions.

Their coach in the first series was Tony Bell, who scored a famous Cup-winning goal for Cliftonville – Ireland’s oldest club – in 1979.

Bell’s sidekick was Paul Malone, another ‘face’ on the local soccer circuit, whose wife Evelyn (née Willoughby) was a prolific striker with MacDee Bluebirds and an experienced member of the national team panel.

Malone’s little sister Ann Turkington was a defender on the panel.

Bell and Malone quit to focus on their Irish League exploits, leaving Eugene McGeehan to take the reins for the 1985–1987 cycle.

McGeehan seemed mildly surprised that England turned up for the home qualifier in May 1985. “Your courage in coming ensures a victory we can all share,” gushed his programme notes.

England’s manager Martin Reagan (ex-British Army) and striker-cum-police officer Linda Curl, in particular, may have come under the Provisional IRA’s nutty concept of a ‘legitimate target’.

Fortunately the event passed under the Provos’ radar, as it did for all but the most dedicated women’s footy fan.

The 200 or so hardy souls who braved driving rain at Allen Park cheered a sumptuous free-kick goal from Post Office Dynamos’ Gillian Wilson, but the team had already shipped eight to their English foes.

For the 1989 tournament, UEFA’s Women’s Committee scrapped the regionalised British and Irish qualification groups. Instead Northern Ireland were drawn alongside England, Norway, Denmark and Finland, only to pull out due to a lack of financial backing.

New coach Jimmy Sommerville (editor’s note: not that one!) whined that UEFA’s financial penalty was unfair when it would cost £7,000 to travel to Finland… even with the Finns covering their hotel costs.

In February 1990 motorcyle enthusiast and former hockey international Eddie Mateer replaced Somerville in the hot-seat. But he was following him out the door a year later, remarking: “the IFA were unwilling to fund the development of this section of their responsibility”.

Perhaps the top player in this era was Gill Wylie (née Totten), a big centre-half who started out at Bangor-based Clucas Strikers. She graduated from Queen’s University in 1988 and joined Arsenal Ladies from Tottenham in 1991.

In 1985 she made history as the first woman to be carpeted by UEFA, copping a four-match ban for her red card in a 1–0 defeat in Dublin that May. After being elbowed in the face she delivered a swift boot to the backside of her assailant, only to be spotted by the ref and be sent packing.

In I lost my heart to the Belles she reportedly availed of her thick Ulster Scots accent in exclaiming to Donny’s Karen Walker: “I’ll miss ye, mucker, so I will.”

Wylie backstopped Arsenal to a treble in 1992–93 but her knee was badly crocked at a preseason tourney in summer 1995.

She moved on to Croydon and kept piling up silverware. When the club moved to Charlton Athletic in 2000 and Debbie Bampton quit, Wylie briefly took over as gaffer.

Although the below list is incomplete, it’s clear that for much of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s the Irish Football Association did not deign to put a team out.

With a measly annual stipend of £1,000, the IFA treated it’s own female section like a wart on its hand.

This had the effect that some of the North’s better players decided to represent the Republic of Ireland. Striker Laura Hislop (nickname: “Shaka”) was one such player, who turned out for the Republic despite playing her club football for ominous-sounding “Shankill Predators”.

The players were definitely not put under the same sort of pressure as their male counterparts like Darron Gibson and James McClean: In fact NI coach Shane Lynch (not that one) encouraged Hislop to head South when he couldn’t offer her any training or games with NI.

But perhaps in some small way it helped provoke the Irish Football Association (IFA) into finally doing the bare minimum and resurrecting their own women’s team.

The IFA made a costly legal challenge to Northern-born male players turning out for the Republic, which eventually ended in total and humiliating defeat at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Alfie Wylie, coach of Linfield FC men and an IFA flunkey (Linfield has a traditionally cosy relationship with the governing body) was put in nominal charge of the rebooted women’s team who paid their own way to the 2004 Algarve Cup.

Soccer great Neil Lennon, whose own Northern Ireland career was ended by home crowd bigots, quietly chipped in with £250 towards goalie Christine Drain’s costs.14

At The Algarve Cup Northern Ireland were placed in Group C, a remedial group for developing women’s football outposts. They finished plum last.

But the event’s usual feeding frenzy of scouts saw several of the more able Irish players handed soccer scholarships to American Universities.

This list of matches finishes in 2005, when, as it were, normal service was resumed and the NI team started competing in competitive fixtures again.

Postscript: In November 2011 Northern Ireland suddenly threw off their long history of neglect and failure with an astonishing 3–1 home win over former European, World and Olympic Champions Norway.

Still things did not improve and Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín gave the IFA a stark wake-up call in April 2014: telling them their funding would be axed unless they stopped treating women’s football with utter contempt.

1970s


(Northern Ireland score is listed first)

1973:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
30 JuneRed Cow, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland1–4FriendlyLouise Fleming2
7 SeptemberTwerton Park, Bath (A)England1–5FriendlySharon Gillespie 
23 OctoberMourneview Park, Lurgan (H)Republic of Ireland1–1FriendlyEvelyn Willoughby (Malone) 

1974:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
12 OctoberOriel Park, Dundalk (A)Republic of Ireland2–1FriendlySharon Gillespie (2)17
23 NovemberKilbowie Park, Clydebank (A)Scotland1–11FriendlyLorraine Carey1

1976:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
 Butlin’s Holiday Park, Mosney (A)Republic of Ireland1–3Friendly  26

1977:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
16 AprilShowgrounds, Newry (H)Republic of Ireland1–5FriendlyWinnie Gartland 
24 SeptemberTolka Park, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland0–6Friendly 3
29 OctoberInver Park, Larne (H)Scotland1–4FriendlyBetty Proctor18

1978:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorers
13 MayInver Park, Larne (H)Republic of Ireland1–1FriendlyLorraine Johnston (pen.)
28 MayWarout Stadium, Glenrothes (A)Scotland1–2FriendlyEvelyn Malone (née Willoughby)

1979:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
24 FebruaryLarne (H)Scotland1–3Friendly  
2 JuneDixon Park, Ballyclare (H)Scotland0–3Friendly  
18 JulyNaples (A)Italy0–41979 Euro 4
20 JulyNaples (N)Norway1–41979 Euro  
25 NovemberCwmbran Stadium, Cwmbran (A)Wales2–2Friendly  

1980s


1980:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
14 JuneShowgrounds, Newry (H)Republic of Ireland2–1Friendly  
31 AugustMarkets Field, Limerick (A)Republic of Ireland0–0Friendly 19
25 OctoberShowgrounds, Ballymena (H)Belgium0–3Friendly 5

1981:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
8 AugustInver Park, Larne (H)Republic of Ireland2–1FriendlyEvelyn Malone (née Willoughby), Geraldine Smyth 24

1982:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
4 SeptemberSeaview, Belfast (H)Scotland1–21984 Euro qual.Geraldine Smyth6
19 SeptemberGresty Road, Crewe (A)England1–71984 Euro qual.Gillian Totten (Wylie) 
2 OctoberCastlereagh Park, Newtownards (H)Republic of Ireland1–21984 Euro qual.Geraldine Smyth 

1983:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
17 AprilPetershill Park, Glasgow (A)Scotland0–31984 Euro qual.  
14 MaySeaview, Belfast (H)England0–41984 Euro qual.  
23 OctoberDalymount Park, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland2–31984 Euro qual.Ann Turkington (née Malone), Liz Dickson (pen.) 

1984:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
28 JuneAshley Park, Dunmurray (H)Switzerland0–2Friendly  

1985:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
5 MayGlenmalure Park, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland0–11987 Euro qual.  
25 MayAllen Park, Antrim (H)England1–81987 Euro qual.Gillian Wilson 
2 NovemberAllen Park, Antrim (H)Republic of Ireland1–1FriendlyFiona Glendinning 
23 November‘Junior National Stadium’, Sydenham, Belfast (H)Scotland1–91987 Euro qual.Briege Ogilvie (née Gallagher) 

1986:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
2 MarchUnited Park, Drogheda (A)Republic of Ireland0–1Friendly  
16 MarchEwood Park, Blackburn (A)England0–101987 Euro qual.  
20 AprilUnited Park, Drogheda (A)Republic of Ireland?–?Friendly  25
11 MayThe Brandywell, Derry (H)Republic of Ireland?–?Friendly 22
25 MayBoghead Park, Dumbarton (A)Scotland0–71987 Euro qual.  
30 AugustSeaview, Belfast (H)Republic of Ireland0–11987 Euro qual.  

1987:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
11 AprilElland Road, Leeds (A)England0–6Friendly  
14 NovemberBelfast (H)Republic of Ireland0-1Friendly

1988:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
26 NovemberTolka Park, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland0–3Friendly  

1989:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
9 DecemberClandeboye Park, Bangor (H)Republic of Ireland1–21991 Euro qual.Sue O’Neill20

1990s


1990:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
17 MarchSolitude, Belfast (H)Netherlands0–61991 Euro qual. 7
21 AprilStair Park, Stranraer (A)Scotland1–4FriendlyO’Neill 
22 SeptemberSportpark Eikendijk, Kaatsheuvel (A)Netherlands0–91991 Euro qual.  
7 OctoberBelfield, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland0–41991 Euro qual.  

1993:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
17 OctoberRay MacSharry Park, Sligo (A)Republic of Ireland 0–2Friendly  

1994:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
29 October‘Junior National Stadium’, Sydenham, Belfast (H)Republic of Ireland0–1Friendly  

1995:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
3 SeptemberUnited Park, Drogheda (A)Republic of Ireland0–6Friendly  

1996:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
? NovemberBanbridge (H)Republic of Ireland0–5Friendly 15

1997:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
6 JuneBelfast (H)Wales1–2Friendly 23
7 SeptemberUnited Park, Drogheda (A)Republic of Ireland0–6Friendly  

1998:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
19 April(H)Irish Combined Colleges2–6Friendly

1999:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
29 MayLansdowne Road, Dublin (A)Republic of Ireland1–1Friendly (20 mins each way)Claire Rea16

2000s


2000:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
22 SeptemberCarryduff (H)Isle of Man6–0 or 7–0Celt Cup 8
23 SeptemberCarryduff (H)Republic of Ireland0–2Celt Cup  
29 NovemberDavid Keswick Centre, Dumfries (A)Scotland0–9Friendly  

2004:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
14 MarchEstádio de São Luís, Faro (A)Portugal0–2Algarve Cup  
16 MarchEstádio Municipal, Albufeira (N)Greece0–2Algarve Cup  
18 MarchComplexo Desportivo Arsénio Catuna, Guia (N)Wales1–3Algarve CupKimberley Turner 
20 MarchHotel Montechoro Fields, Albufeira (N)Greece0–2Algarve Cup 9
October Republic of Ireland?–?Friendly 21

2005:

DateVenueOpponentsScoreCompetitionNorthern Ireland scorersNotes
9 MarchEstádio Municipal, Paderne (N)England0–4Algarve Cup  
11 MarchEstádio de São Luís, Faro (N)Mexico0–2Algarve Cup  
13 MarchEstádio Municipal, Lagos (A)Portugal2–1Algarve CupStacey Hall, Ashley Hutton or Ashleen Kealey10
15 MarchHotel Montechoro Fields, Albufeira (N)Portugal1–3Algarve CupSarah McFadden (Robson)11
31 JulyMcDiarmid Park, Perth (A)Scotland1–2FriendlyHelen McKenna 
29 OctoberStadionul Mogosoaia, Mogosoaia (A)Romania2–32007 World Cup qual.Rachel Furness, Stacey Hall12
10 NovemberShowgrounds, Ballymena (H)Slovakia2–12007 World Cup qual.Lisa O’Neill, Rachel Furness13

Fógra: Since this article was originally drafted in June 2014, some earlier history of football in Ireland has been uncovered by Helena Byrne, Steve Bolton and others at the Mapping Irish Football project. Matches between factory teams were apparently quite commonplace in the early part of the 20th Century. The great Molly Seaton frequently locked horns with Dick, Kerr’s Ladies and other leading teams of the age. Danny and Jackie Blanchflower’s mum Selina Ellison played for Roebucks Belfast – then nurtured her boys’ soccer talent. In more recent times it wasn’t just hockey in competition with soccer for the best female athletes. For example longstanding goalkeeper Nuala McFetridge (whose mother was an Antrim camogie star) also played Gaelic football for County Down.

Update 15 April 2015: Article amended with 1977 Republic of Ireland result (0–6) supplied by Mark Cruickshank of The Roon Ba forum (see comments).

Update 18 October 2015: Article amended with 1974 Scotland result (1–11) supplied by Neil Morrison of The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (see comments).

1. Andy Mitchell’s The Scotland International Programme Guide (2008) suggested this match was staged in Clydebank, The England v NI match programme 19.9.82 erroneously suggested Larne.

2. Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997:153) said the Republic of Ireland’s first ever game was a 4–1 win over NI in 1973. Date and venue unknown. Ann Bourke’s Women’s Football in the Republic of Ireland: Past Events and Future Prospects in Hong and Mangan (2003) says the game was in 1974 and that the Republic won 4–0 before 100 spectators.

3. Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997:145) said NI’s first ever game was against the Republic in 1977. The NIWFA was formed in November 1976.

4. The Italian FA say Italy won 4–0. Erik Garin’s Inofficial European Women Championship 1979 webpage at RSSSF (2000) previously suggested Italy won 4–1. Scorers for Italy were Carolina Morace (2), Betty Vignotto and Ida Golin, giving an indication of the standard of opposition.

5. The England v NI match programme 19.9.82 erroneously suggested NI lost 3–2. Belgian FA records indicate Belgium won 3–0 and that the match was staged in nearby Ahoghill.

6. First match in UEFA Competition.

7. FIFA records indicate 17 March (St. Patrick’s Day). Dutch FA records indicate 19 March.

8. Not a full FIFA international. Erik Garin’s 1st Celt Cup – Women Tournament – 2000 webpage at RSSSF (2003) suggested 6–0. NIFG webpage suggests either 6–0 or 7–0.

9. An 11th place playoff: NI finished 12th of 12 teams in the annual Algarve Cup tournament.

10. Portuguese FA and the BBC credited the second goal to Hutton. RSSSF credited it to Kealey. First senior win according to Irish FA.

11. An 11th place playoff: NI again finished 12th of 12 teams in the annual Algarve Cup tournament.

12. First competitive fixture for over 15 years. First competitive goal for nearly 20 years.

13. First win in a competitive fixture.

14. Drain had herself declared for the Republic in 1999 after playing three times for NI. But she agreed to switch back when the Northern team started up again in 2004. A Daily Mirror article from August 1999 said the last of Drain’s three caps came in a friendly versus the Republic in a curtain raiser to that summer’s Milk Cup (an annual youth tournament in NI). She and another Northern-born Republic player Nadine McCorry moonlighted as a favour to the NIWFA who were struggling to put out a team. The Milk Cup match on 19 July was apparently an under-18 game which the Republic won 4-0.

15. A Daily Mirror article in October 1997 said Margaret Saurin scored on her senior Ireland debut against Northern Ireland 12 months previously.

16. A curtain raiser to the men’s ‘Peace International’ between the Irish teams, raising funds for the Omagh bombing.

17. This was technically an Inter-League fixture.

18. Staged at 12:30pm as a curtain-raiser to a Larne v Ballymena United Gold Cup tie. Goalkeeper Hilary Brady switched to centre-forward for the second half, Jorge Campos-style.

19. Preceded by the first under-18 international fixture, a 2–2 draw in which NI’s Alice Moore and Cathy Coulter cancelled out Denise Lyons’ first-half brace. Grace Best, sister of George, was in the NI U18 team.

20. There were two Sue O’Neills in the team at the this time. It’s not yet clear if the 21.4.90 scorer v. Scotland was one of the Sues.

21. Claire Mulholland and Newry-born Janine Pepper of Dundalk City were reported to have collected their first two Republic of Ireland senior caps in friendlies against NI and the Faroe Islands, respectively, in the same week in October 2004. The Faroe Islands game in Klaksvík was on 12.10.04. Also the Republic’s Carmel Kissane reportedly broke her ankle/foot playing against NI in 2004 (and was absent from the Faroes match). The women’s section of the IFA website was not being updated during this period, continuing to show only the Algarve Cup squad and some U19 fixtures.

22. Arranged as a curtain-raiser to the Derry City v Shamrock Rovers friendly game, according to Brian Keogh in the Evening Press 4.4.86, p.15. Not clear if it happened as not mentioned in any of the (fairly detailed) reports of the men’s game.

23. Per a former iteration of the FAW website.

24. Goal scorers per the East Antrim Times. The Cork Examiner thought the first goal was an own goal (it didn’t say by whom). An under-18 fixture finished 1-0 to NI, with a goal by Nicola Smith of Carryduff.

25. The match programme for the Republic of Ireland v Wales 24.5.87 listed two friendlies with NI in 1986: a 2–2 draw in Dundalk and a 2–1 win (for the Republic of Ireland) in Newry.

26. From chronological lists of Republic of Ireland results it appears this game took place between their 3–1 defeat in Scotland (4 July) and 3–1 defeat in Wales (29 August).

2 thoughts on “Northern Ireland women’s football team: A potted history

  1. My uncle Davey Atkinson took the side for the American tour in 82. My Auntie Irene also kept goals. Both now deceased by the way. Would love to hear more about them. Thanks.

    Like

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