Northern Ireland women’s football team: A potted history

Northern Ireland Women’s Football Team – Matches

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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.

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

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

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 1977 against the Republic – a 6–0 defeat.

In July-August 1982 a “Northern Ireland All Star” X1 toured America, returning the favour of the “American Thunderbirds” who visited NI 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’ 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 popped up to Ballymena after a game in Dublin in October 1980. Or the ever-neutral Swiss, who departed Belfast with a 2–0 win in June 1984.

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 was a prolific striker with MacDee Bluebirds and an experienced member of the national team 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/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.

Perhaps the top player in this era was Gill Wylie, 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 I lost my heart to the Belles she reportedly informed 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 most of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s the Irish Football Association did not deign to put a team out.

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 “Shankill Predators” whose moniker sounded like a loyalist murder gang!

It’s not known if these players were put under the same sort of pressure as their male counterparts like Darron Gibson and James McClean. Or if 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, and 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:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
7 September Twerton Park, Bath (A) England 1–5 Friendly Sharon Gillespie

1974:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
30 June (A) Republic of Ireland 1–4 Friendly 2
23 November Kilbowie Park, Clydebank (A) Scotland 1–11 Friendly Lorraine Carey 1

1976:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
Butlin’s Holiday Park, Mosney (A) Republic of Ireland 1–3 Friendly

1977:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
26 February Larne (H) Scotland 1–3 Friendly
? Newry (H) Republic of Ireland 1–5 Friendly
? Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 0–6 Friendly 3

1978:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers
13 May Inver Park, Larne (H) Republic of Ireland 1–1 Friendly Lorraine Johnston (pen.)
28 May Warout Stadium, Glenrothes (A) Scotland 1–2 Friendly Evelyn Malone

1979:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
24 February Larne (H) Scotland 1–3 Friendly
3 June Dixon Park, Ballyclare (H) Scotland 0–3 Friendly
18 July Naples (A) Italy 1–4 or 0–4 1979 Euro 4
20 July Naples (N) Norway 1–4 1979 Euro
25 November Cwmbran Stadium, Cwmbran (A) Wales 2–2 Friendly

1980s


1980:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
14 June Showgrounds, Newry (H) Republic of Ireland 2–1 Friendly
31 August Markets Field, Limerick (A) Republic of Ireland 0–0 Friendly
25 October Showgrounds, Ballymena (H) Belgium 2–3 or 0–3 Friendly 5

1981:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
? August Inver Park, Larne (H) Republic of Ireland 2–1 Friendly

1982:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
4 September Belfast (H) Scotland 1–2 1984 Euro qual. Geraldine Smyth 6
19 September Gresty Road, Crewe (A) England 1–7 1984 Euro qual. Gillian Totten
2 October Newtownards (H) Republic of Ireland 1–2 1984 Euro qual. Geraldine Smyth

1983:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
17 April Glasgow (A) Scotland 0–3 1984 Euro qual.
14 May Seaview, Belfast (H) England 0–4 1984 Euro qual.
23 October Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 2–3 1984 Euro qual.

1984:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
28 June Ashley Park, Dunmurray (H) Switzerland 0–2 Friendly

1985:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
5 May Glenmalure Park, Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 0–1 1987 Euro qual.
25 May Allen Park, Antrim (H) England 1–8 1987 Euro qual. Gillian Wilson
2 November Allen Park, Antrim (H) Republic of Ireland 1–1 Friendly Fiona Glendinning
23 November ‘Junior National Stadium’, Sydenham, Belfast (H) Scotland 1–9 1987 Euro qual.

1986:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
16 March Ewood Park, Blackburn (A) England 0–10 1987 Euro qual.
20 April United Park, Drogheda (A) Republic of Ireland ?–? Friendly
25 May Boghead Park, Dumbarton (A) Scotland 0–7 1987 Euro qual.
30 August Belfast (H) Republic of Ireland 0–1 1987 Euro qual.

1987:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
11 April Elland Road, Leeds (A) England 0–6 Friendly

1988:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
26 November Tolka Park, Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 0–2 Friendly

1989:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
9 December Clandeboye Park, Bangor (H) Republic of Ireland 0–1 1991 Euro qual.

1990s


1990:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
21 April Stair Park, Stranraer (A) Scotland 1–4 Friendly O’Neill
17 March or 19 March Solitude, Belfast (H) Netherlands 0–6 1991 Euro qual. 7
22 September Sportpark Eikendijk, Kaatsheuvel (A) Netherlands 0–9 1991 Euro qual.
7 October Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 0–4 1991 Euro qual.

1993:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
17 October Ray MacSharry Park, Sligo (A) Republic of Ireland  0–2 Friendly

1995:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
3 September United Park, Drogheda (A) Republic of Ireland  0–6 Friendly

1996:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
? October Republic of Ireland Friendly 15

1997:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
6 June Belfast (H) Wales 1–2 Friendly

1999:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
29 May Lansdowne Road, Dublin (A) Republic of Ireland 1–1 Friendly (20 mins each way) Claire Rea 16
19 July? Coleraine (H) Republic of Ireland ?–? Friendly 14

2000s


2000:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
22 September Carryduff (H) Isle of Man 6–0 or 7–0 Celt Cup 8
23 September Carryduff (H) Republic of Ireland 0–2 Celt Cup
29 November David Keswick Centre, Dumfries (A) Scotland 0–9 Friendly

2004:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
14 March Estádio de São Luís, Faro (A) Portugal 0–2 Algarve Cup
16 March Estádio Municipal, Albufeira (N) Greece 0–2 Algarve Cup
18 March Complexo Desportivo Arsénio Catuna, Guia (N) Wales 1–3 Algarve Cup Kimberley Turner
20 March Hotel Montechoro Fields, Albufeira (N) Greece 0–2 Algarve Cup 9

2005:

Date Venue Opponents Score Competition Northern Ireland scorers Notes
9 March Estádio Municipal, Paderne (N) England 0–4 Algarve Cup
11 March Estádio de São Luís, Faro (N) Mexico 0–2 Algarve Cup
13 March Estádio Municipal, Lagos (A) Portugal 2–1 Algarve Cup Stacey Hall, Ashley Hutton or Ashleen Kealey 10
15 March Hotel Montechoro Fields, Albufeira (N) Portugal 1–3 Algarve Cup Sarah McFadden 11
31 July McDiarmid Park, Perth (A) Scotland 1–2 Friendly Helen McKenna
29 October Stadionul Mogosoaia, Mogosoaia (A) Romania 2–3 2007 World Cup qual. Rachel Furness, Stacey Hall 12
10 November Showgrounds, Ballymena (H) Slovakia 2–1 2007 World Cup qual. Lisa O’Neill, Rachel Furness 13

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 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) suggested Italy won 4–1.

5. The England v NI match programme 19.9.82 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. First win? 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 McGrory moonlighted as a favour to the NIWFA who were struggling to put out a team.

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.

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

  1. 1977 “unrecorded” result – Northern Ireland lost 6-0 to the Republic in Dublin. This was mentioned in a report of Republic of Ireland 4-1 Wales (friendly match on 24th May 1987) – “biggest win since beating N.I. 6-0 in Dublin in 1977”.

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  2. The match report also notes that the NI scorer, Lorraine Carey, was “deaf and dumb”. Might be an interesting blog article for you there if you can track her down!

    Like

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