With the International friendly between the Republic Of Ireland and Northern Ireland taking place at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Thursday the 15th of November, we take a look at a famous fixture between both countries that took place in Windsor Park in a vital World Cup qualifying match.
Before we delve into that, let’s take a brief look at some landmark encounters and the history of both nations. In 1953 FIFA ruled that both countries could not be referred to as Ireland. So that year the FAI team would be officially known as the Republic Of Ireland and IFA team would be designated as Northern Ireland.
It would be 1978 before both countries locked horns with each other. In a historical clash at Lansdowne Road in a European championships qualifier, the game would end in a 0-0 stalemate. Current Republic boss Martin O’Neill lined out for the North in that fixture.
Just a year later they would meet in the corresponding fixture at Windsor Park, Belfast. A single goal from Gerry Armstrong would give Northern Ireland a famous victory and the win would go down in history as the first victory between both nations.
Both nations have battled it out on 10 occasions since their official formations in 1953. The Republic currently holds the upper hand with 4 wins. Northern Ireland for their part have managed 2 victories. The other two meetings between the neighbours have ended in draws.
The last meeting between the sides was in May of 2011 at the Aviva Stadium in the Nations Cup. Two Robbie Keane goals helped the home side to a 5-0 massacre. This result stands as the biggest winning margin between both nations. Northern Ireland are yet to defeat the Republic in their backyard. On Thursday they will be confident of that statistic changing.
On November 17th 1993 both countries would clash in what was to be a famous night at Windsor Park, particularly for the Jack Charlton managed visitors. It was the final group game of a difficult and gruelling qualifying campaign that included current European champions Denmark and a strong Spanish outfit. Despite good performances and results throughout this campaign, the boys from the north could not qualify.
The Republic needed at least a point from a difficult derby in Belfast. In Seville, they hoped that Spain would overcome the Danes. The feeling amongst the players was that the Danes would get something in Spain meaning that the Republic would need a victory. The European champions were armed with World Class talent such as Peter Schmeichel and brothers Brian and Michael Laudrup. Many considered them to be the best side in the group in 1993.
There was an amazing atmosphere in Belfast that night. Windsor Park was crammed with supporters. The Belfast venue was a small ground, so the crowd really got on top of you and provided a hostile atmosphere for any opposition let alone their neighbours from the South. This was proven in their games at home to Spain and Denmark. Northern Ireland drew 0-0 and lost 0-1 respectively.
Northern Ireland also had a point to prove. Their biggest defeat in the group was in Dublin when the home side despatched them with an impressive 3-0 scoreline. The game would also serve as Billy Bingham’s final game in charge. Bingham was certainly a colourful character and he was determined to lead the North to victory.
Players and fans alike in the Republic were worried about this fixture. The feeling was that their neighbours had improved hugely since their last meeting. Most felt that the game was likely to be a draw, but were not confident that such a result would see the Irish cross the Atlantic in their thousands the following summer. ‘Big Jack’ was somewhat temperamental and certainly stubborn, would bemoan the loss of influential figure Steve Staunton for the game. However, quality players like Denis Irwin, Roy Keane, Paul McGrath and their top scorer in the campaign John Aldridge would take to the field.
The opening half was a tense affair as the home side really got behind their troops. In typical derby fashion tackles were flying and neither side could really get time on the ball. The away side had more to lose and it showed as such. Any decent chances seemed to fall the way of Charlton’s green army, but they were hurried or fluffed opportunities. Ultimately both teams would end the half with nothing to show on the scoreboard.
There was bad news for Charlton’s men from Seville. It was 0-0 at half time and if things stayed that way, the Danes would join the Spaniards on the plane to America. Furthermore, Spain were down to 10 men after goalkeeper Zubizarreta saw red after 10 minutes. Now, it was likely the Republic needed to win and hope that the Danes wouldn’t take advantage of their numerical supremacy.
On the hour it was still goalless at Windsor Park. But three minutes later the away end erupted like a volcano. News was filtering through that Fernando Hierro had sensationally put the 10 men of Spain ahead. Was the unlikely dream turning into reality? The tide had turned and Jack Charlton’s brigade were in a position of strength. These celebrations would last for all of 10 minutes.
Windsor Park Roar
There was a further twist. Northern Ireland didn’t want to be the sideman at the party. They wanted to be centre of attention. Substitute Iain Dowie held off Alan Kernaghan and played a driven low pass in the direction of Kevin Wilson. Back turned from goal, the Notts County man spotted the onrushing Jimmy Quinn. Wilsons first time pass appeared to be a little high for the Belfast man, but Quinn managed to adjust his feet accordingly and smashed a right-footed bullet beyond the despairing dive of Packie Bonner and into the top right-hand corner from the view of Quinn. Windsor Park exploded and the vibration could be felt in every county in the South.
With 17 minutes left on the clock, it appeared that Northern Ireland were on their way to a famous victory and in the process end their neighbours American Dream. Unbelievably these celebrations would last only 3 minutes. Alan McLoughlin was only on the field 3 minutes replacing Ray Houghton. Dramatically the substitute would fire his country level after 76 minutes. Denis Irwin would deliver a free-kick from the right-hand side of the Northern Ireland box. The home side would only half clear and the ball landed kindly to McLoughlin. He calmly waited for a split second and struck cleanly on the half volley, left-footed the Irishman would rifle it to the bottom left of Tommy Wright’s post and into the corner of the net.
The Island of Ireland rocked again, but this time the see-saw had moved south. Spain still lead 1-0 in Seville as the clock ran down in both venues. Tension was high and nerves shattered as the final whistle blew. The Republic had drawn the battle but had an agonising 5 minute wait as the game came to a close in Seville. Finally, news had filtered through that Spain had won but Niall Quinn didn’t believe it until he saw the scoreline with his own eyes. Spain won the group with 19 points and the Rep Of Ireland finished with 18 points along with European champions Denmark. Amazingly both sides finished with the same goal difference. Crucially the boys in green went through on goals scored.
Jack Charlton had lead the Republic to their second ever World Cup. Three years earlier in Italia 90, the Englishman lead the Irish to their first ever World Cup. For their part, Northern Ireland finished 4th in the group with 13 points. Overall their campaign was a successful one. Billy Bingham could leave proud of the work he and his players put in. The home faithful will forever remember the memory of that great goal from Jimmy Quinn.
Live In The Memory
Both countries have played each other four times since, including two European championship qualifiers in 1994 and 1995. But for many Irish, North and South of the border, the fixture in 1993 in Windsor Park will always be a tie of great interest and memory. I myself was only 11 years old but I remember it like it was yesterday. From the anguish of the fantastic Jimmy Quinn strike to the elation of McLoughlin’s leveller. The Republic had a better side in 1993, but today in 2018 one would argue that the see-saw is facing North of the border. The pair will meet again for the first time in seven years this Thursday, November 15th, in a friendly. It is sure to be an interesting game but I strongly doubt we will see as much drama or entertainment on this occasion. But it represents an excellent opportunity for Northern Ireland to win on southern soul for the very first time.