As World Cup fever currently sweeps the globe with the 2014 tournament in Brazil in full swing, we take a look back at the careers of the four Derry footballers (Fay Coyle, John O’Neill, David Campbell and Felix Healy) who have graced the biggest stage of all.
This week we concentrate on former Derry City and Coleraine gifted forward, the late Fay Coyle as he recalled his experience playing for N. Ireland in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Speaking to the ‘Journal’ back in 1997, Fay revives those magical moments of yesteryear . . .
1958 was the year in which Brazil gave Europe a lesson in tactics as well as in football.
All their players displayed a complete mastery of the ball and their stars entertained with outstanding skills, from Didi’s midfield genius to Pele’s precocious finishing.
The home countries were pedestrian by comparison, light-years behind in technique. Northern Ireland, however, with Derry’s Fay Coyle spearheading its attack, came out of their first World Cup covered in glory.
Captain Danny Blanchflower famously summed up his side’s mindset when he declared: “Our tactics are to equalise before the other side scores.”
Northern Ireland, for so long regarded as the minnows of British international football, excelled themselves in their first World Cup finals and restored some of Europe’s lost pride.
They had a world-class player in Blanchflower - a huge influence on the squad - and a fine goalkeeping talent in Co. Derry’s Harry Gregg.
Gregg, indeed, was still recovering from February’s Munich air crash which cruelly wiped out his Manchester United clubmates.
Astutely managed by former inside-forward Peter Doherty, Northern Ireland had the skilful, scheming Jimmy McIlroy to link up with Blanchflower, and two dangerous wingers in Billy Bingham and Peter McPartland, complemented by a group of players guaranteed to rise to the occasion in the green shirts.
Fay Coyle, who, at the time of the Sweden finals, was playing club football with Nottingham Forest, took part in the 3-1 defeat against Argentina.
Fay readily admits to “playing well below par” against the “big, strong and skilful” Argentinians.
“We weren’t in awe of the Argentinians,” he told the ‘Journal’, “they were just too good for us”.
Based in the Swedish seaside town of Hamlstad, the Northern Ireland squad didn’t see much of the country. Indeed, Fay recalled: “We were in Stockholm twice - at the airport when we arrived and when we left!”
Early morning workouts were something entirely new to the Irish players.
“Because of the heat - and it was hot - we had to train at 8 a.m. This was the coolest time of the day.”
The Argentina game, he says, proved a real eyeopener for some of the Irish players.
Argentina, he says, seemed to view the encounter as no more than a bit of a kick-about.
Not only did their squad include the 39-year-old Angel Labruna - a once genuinely great player - but the Argentinians were heard whistling and singing before the match!
They eventually dominated it after Ireland took a surprise lead. Bingham’s cross, from a Blanchflower backheel, had been headed home by McPartland.
Menendez netted a precise pass by Avio who headed the third goal, while Dick Keith was unlucky to concede a penalty when a cross by Avio came up off his thigh on to his hand.
By the end of the game, the Argentinians were taking the ball off each other to perform party tricks. Both Harry Gregg and Jimmy McIlroy used the phrase “taking the mickey.”
Coyle was on the bench for the crucial game against West Germany. A brilliant goalkeeping performance from Gregg and two McPartland goals were enough to earn a draw with the Germans.
This put them in a playoff where they had to beat Czechoslovakia, sensational 6-1 victors over Argentina.
“With Harry Gregg injured, we were given no chance. Yet, we came back from a goal down, and two more goals from McPartland, the second in extra time, saw us through to the quarter-finals.” A magnificent performance.
However, the Czech play-off proved to be Northern Ireland’s final game of the tournament.
Exhausted from their exertions, and with the injured Gregg back in goal because replacement Norman Uprichard was in even poorer shape, the Irish were no match for the French.
Raymond Kopa tormented them, and the great Juste Fontaine added two more goals to what was to prove a record-breaking tally.
The Irish, who’d suffered enough by then, had done themselves proud. They were heralded in the world Press as the only British team to win two matches in the tournament.
Coyle returned to Derry and within a matter of months was to return to the North to play Irish League football with Coleraine.
He later returned to Derry City where he won various honours with his hometown club.
Fay Coyle was rightly proud of his achievement - the first Derry man to play in the World Cup Finals.