BE PART OF THE TEAM

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 5°C Saturday 17 April 2021
Advertisement

When Glenn Hoddle and a pair of World Cup winners starred at Thomond Park

Forty years ago, during the golden age of football in Limerick, the reigning FA Cup holders came to town.

spurs

AHEAD OF THE imminent arrival of footballing royalty, Eoin Hand made his way out towards Bunratty on a summer’s afternoon in 1981.

At the time, Hand was known predominantly as the man overseeing the Republic of Ireland’s bid to qualify for the following year’s World Cup – a campaign that had suffered a decisive blow with a controversial defeat in Belgium a few months prior.

However, when he embarked on a charm offensive at the Shannon Shamrock Hotel, the 35-year-old Dubliner was acting in his concurrent capacity as player-manager of Limerick United.

To accommodate a visiting team, Hand needed a dozen rooms for a couple of nights at a favourable rate. What Limerick United didn’t need was a reminder of the importance of financial prudence.

When the club last hosted a glamour tie, a potentially gainful exercise became an unmitigated disaster. They were intent on yielding a more lucrative outcome from a meeting with the reigning FA Cup holders.

Before additional costs were factored in, the appearance fee alone for bringing Tottenham Hotspur to town amounted to more than three times what Limerick had just spent on strengthening the attacking options in their squad.

“Limerick’s task is a mighty one,” reported the Limerick Leader newspaper following the announcement of the pre-season friendly, which was scheduled for 10 August.

“While Spurs talk in telephone numbers when it comes to buying players, Limerick’s biggest gamble was the £4,000 they paid Altrincham for the return of Gary Hulmes.”

  • For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >

Among the football fraternity in the city and county, the Eoin Hand era is affectionately remembered as a golden age for the game in Limerick.

Hand’s managerial career began when he left Portsmouth ahead of the 1979-80 season. He returned to Ireland and arrived at Markets Field to be presented with a Limerick United team that didn’t initially resemble prospective title winners.

the-limerick-team The Limerick United side that played Tottenham at Thomond Park. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Although progress had been made in the meantime, they finished 12th in a 14-team League of Ireland just two years before he was entrusted with the job.

Defying his inexperience in management, Hand made an instant impact. Limerick United ended his inaugural season as champions for the first time since their only previous triumph in 1960, and he was subsequently offered the national team role as successor to John Giles.

For the Limerick players, the biggest reward came via the draw for the first round of the European Cup, which paired them with six-time champions Real Madrid.

With 20 minutes of the first leg remaining, an upset was on the cards thanks to a Des Kennedy goal. Juanito and Francisco Pineda eventually intervened to send the Spanish champions back to the Bernabeu with a 2-1 lead, yet for a game that was arguably the biggest in the club’s history, many Limerick United supporters were absent.

Concerns over Markets Field’s suitability to host a club of Real Madrid’s stature, combined with Lansdowne Road’s scope to increase the gate receipts, convinced the Limerick United board to move the home leg to Dublin. Instead of turning the £30,000 profit that they forecasted, the club lost £13,000 and a considerable amount of local goodwill to boot. 

The staging of the game in the capital didn’t sit well with those who frequented Markets Field, plenty of whom opted for a boycott. Only around 2,000 made the journey to Ballsbridge, with the overall attendance totalling less than 7,000. 

Real Madrid, who were ultimately beaten in the final by Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, exerted their superiority in the second leg against the Irish champions by running out 5-1 winners.

Eleven months later, Tottenham provided the people of Limerick with the opportunity to welcome superstars to Shannonside that they had previously been deprived of. 

“It was a busy, busy time. There was a lot going on,” Eoin Hand recalls of his dual mandate as Ireland boss and Limerick United player-manager.

“As national team manager I had been over to watch Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin playing for Tottenham earlier that year. I knew Keith Burkinshaw, their manager, and asked if they’d be interested in coming over to play a game. Thankfully they went for it.”

PA-145308 Des Kennedy gives Limerick United the lead against Real Madrid. Source: Peter Robinson/EMPICS Sport

Hand had become a hero in Limerick, and if there was a Robin to his Batman, it was Dave Mahedy. Fitness was Mahedy’s brief and his methods put Limerick United ahead of the curve.

“We were the fittest team in the league and it played a huge part in our success,” says Hand. “Weight training was a regular thing for us but it was kind of unheard of back then. We had access to all the facilities at the University of Limerick so we had no excuses there. Dave looked after all of that so he brought a huge amount to the whole thing.”

Mahedy would leave a profound imprint on Limerick’s sporting landscape, contributing to success in hurling with the county’s senior team, in rugby with Shannon and Munster, and through his role as UL’s Director of Sport.

A native of Stillorgan who enrolled as a student at Thomond College in 1974, Mahedy soon became an adopted Limerickman. Speaking to Brendan McKenna of the Evening Press as the Tottenham game approached, he completed a culchie’s rite of passage by bemoaning the luxuries afforded to the Dubs.

“We are starved of matches like this down here,” Mahedy said. “It’s alright for fellas like you up in the big city – you can see clubs like Spurs almost at will – but we down in the country areas do not have the same opportunities.”

As Markets Field was undergoing a facelift, Limerick United were able to benefit from the slightly larger capacity available at Thomond Park. An agreement for the rental of the ground was reached with the Munster Branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union. 

It would mark the return of football to the Cratloe Road venue for the first time since Limerick were beaten 1-0 by Torino a decade earlier in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

“The build-up has been absolutely unbelievable,” added Mahedy. “It seems as if everyone wants to go to Thomond Park. We decided to make the match all-ticket and, judging by the interest it has created around the city, it was just as well we did.” 

Entering the final few months of the 1981-82 season, Tottenham fans dared to dream of an unprecedented quadruple as their team remained in contention for honours on four fronts. While sustaining challenges in the First Division, FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, they accounted for the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Ajax along the way.

For Keith Burkinshaw’s side, preparations for the campaign had begun in earnest with a trip across the Irish Sea for a couple of friendlies. Forty-eight hours after being hosted by Glentoran in Belfast, Spurs took to the field at Thomond Park.

Untitled The match programme for Tottenham's visit to Limerick.

The North London club boasted players of the highest quality throughout their side, from captain Steve Perryman at the back, to striker Steve Archibald, who’d go on to win a La Liga title and play in a European Cup final with Barcelona. However, it was across the middle where this Tottenham team distinguished itself.

Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles helped Argentina win the World Cup on home soil three years earlier, with Villa also scoring an iconic goal that clinched the FA Cup for his club in a final against Manchester City that went to a replay.

Yet on the days when Spurs clicked, Glenn Hoddle was generally the chief architect. A homegrown 23-year-old, he was the playmaker with the number 10 on his back. 

“Hoddle’s vision and the technical ability he had to pick a pass, the only one I might compare him to would have been John Giles,” says Eoin Hand. “He was a very, very special player. A joy to watch.”

Ireland full-back Chris Hughton and winger Tony Galvin, who’d make his senior international debut under Hand in 1982, were also key members of the Tottenham side. Both men, although English-born, qualified to represent the Boys in Green via Limerick connections: Galvin’s maternal grandfather was born there, as was Hughton’s mother.

The pace of ticket sales suggested that Limerick United’s fixture against Tottenham didn’t require an additional promotional push, but Hand managed to coax Hughton into a flying visit to his ancestral home a couple of weeks out from the game nevertheless.

Accompanied by striker Garth Crooks, nowadays of BBC fame, Hughton agreed to make the trip as part of a PR exercise which lent a few decent snaps to the next edition of the Limerick Leader. 

“Hundreds of young Tottenham Hotspur fans invaded the Markets Field to get a glimpse of million pound stars Garth Crooks and Chris Hughton, brought here by Limerick United as part of the build-up to the forthcoming friendly between the two clubs at Thomond Park,” wrote John O’Shaughnessy, the paper’s sports editor.

“It was a particularly memorable day for Hughton in that he met some Limerick relations. Although born in London, his mother hails from the Ballinacurra Weston area of the city. There was a special hug for his grandmother, Mrs Burke, and his relations Gerard, Theresa and Thomas Browne.

“Garth Crooks could not claim any Limerick relations.”

Untitled 10.44.14 A snapshot of the August 1st 1981 edition of the Limerick Leader. Source: Limerick Leader

Ticket prices for the game were set at £5 for the stand and £3 for the terrace, with a £1 charge for juveniles. It didn’t quite compare to film enthusiasts making the pilgrimage from Gdansk to Craggy Island for screenings of The Passion of St Tibulus, but a Limerick United spokesperson illustrated the level of demand by telling the Irish Press: “We have had many inquiries from as far away as Sligo, Longford and Donegal.”  

Of the clamour for tickets, John O’Shaughnessy noted: “Indications are that upwards of 12,000 will pack into Thomond Park. All stand tickets were sold within hours of going on sale. We heard a story over the weekend of one being put on offer at £12.”

The star attractions were undeniably Hoddle, Ardiles, Villa et al, but a late addition to the Limerick United squad caused a stir around town and in the press.

Before he rose to prominence as an out-half with Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions, Tony Ward was a promising prospect making his way in the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers.

As his rugby career gathered momentum, Ward opted to focus entirely on the oval ball. He hadn’t played football in over six years by the time Eoin Hand and Dave Mahedy – who was managing Ward’s sports shop on Thomas Street – asked the two-time European Rugby Player of the Year if he fancied togging out against the mighty Tottenham.

“Tony’s ability was outstanding,” Hand says of Ward, who won Ireland youth caps alongside Liam Brady. “He could have been a pro in England, undoubtedly.

“With the exception of maybe one or two players, his ability on the ball was way ahead of anybody else in Ireland at that stage. He had incredible balance, which obviously stood to him in rugby as well. But as a footballer his skills were quite amazing. It was a great thing for us to get him in because he was a superstar in rugby.”

Ward was selected among the substitutes, before being introduced as a half-time replacement for Hand. The player-manager was one of three members of the Limerick team with senior international experience, alongside Al Finucane and veteran goalkeeper Kevin Fitzpatrick. Johnny Walsh, who was capped the following May, also featured.

Of the Tottenham team that played in their recent FA Cup final triumph, only Garth Crooks was absent through injury. They were still a few days away from completing the signing of Ray Clemence from Liverpool, so Milija Aleksic stayed between the posts.

In the days before the game, the effect on the Thomond Park pitch of a spell of warm weather became a cause for concern among Limerick United officials, which prompted promotions officer Michael Crowe to take irrigative matters into his own hands.

glenn-hoddle Tottenham's Glenn Hoddle pictured ahead of kick-off. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As reported by John O’Shaughnessy: “Mick was stopped in his tracks by officials from Limerick Corporation, who expressed concern that the reservoir might run down. But not before Mr Crowe had pumped in an estimated 3,000 gallons through a 500-foot hose.”

After the FA Cup had been paraded to those in attendance, Cork referee Kevin O’Sullivan blew for kick-off and Limerick United largely held their own. On the night, however, Glenn Hoddle was untouchable. Steve Archibald and Mark Falco both struck second-half goals for Tottenham, but by then Hoddle had already scored four.  

“Hoddle was just so exceptionally talented on a football pitch,” says Hand. “One of the goals in that game was absolutely sensational. He was amazing that night.”

Pat Healy, who was one of the many Irish supporters of Tottenham in attendance, recalls: “Limerick really put it up to Spurs for long periods, but Hoddle was immense. He got one memorable goal when he controlled the ball on his thigh and scored on the volley. For Limerick, Tony Ward really stood out.”

At that juncture, Hoddle had been used somewhat sparingly on the international stage. He wasn’t called upon in any of England’s six World Cup qualifiers to date, with Trevor Brooking, Terry McDermott, Ray Wilkins and Bryan Robson providing an embarrassment of midfield riches to manager Ron Greenwood.

“Twelve thousand Limerick United fans must have left Thomond Park last night wondering why Glenn Hoddle is not permanently in the England team,” began the report on Tottenham’s 6-2 win in the following morning’s Irish Independent.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Hoddle could have finished the game with six or even seven goals. The tall midfield man showed class in almost everything he did.

“All of his goals were superb efforts and one had to sympathise with Kevin Fitzpatrick in the Limerick United goal. Hoddle’s ball control and passing also had the Limerick defence in all sorts of trouble.”

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

Hoddle had a hat-trick by half-time, but Limerick were only one behind after Des Kennedy again demonstrated his prowess as a goalscorer by beating Milija Aleksic twice.

Kennedy also scored both goals in the 7-2 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid, which was a particularly impressive feat given that Real only conceded twice more – once to Inter and once to Liverpool – throughout that European Cup campaign.

chris-houghton Chris Hughton in possession for Tottenham at Thomond Park. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We received a magnificent welcome and I think it does not matter in this country, whether you are in the north or the south, the welcome we got was tremendous,” Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw said after the game. “We obviously have a lot of support here and we enjoy coming here to play football for the many who would not be able to see us otherwise.” 

Reflecting with 40 years’ worth of hindsight, Eoin Hand says: “It was a great experience, both for the players and for the people who came to see the game. They thrashed us, but there’s always a chance of that when you play a team of that quality. Despite the result, and it was only a friendly, it was a very successful event and a great exhibition of football.”

While Tottenham did go on to successfully defend the FA Cup at the end of the 1981-82 season, their efforts to obtain additional silverware fell narrowly short. An extra-time defeat against Liverpool in the League Cup final was followed by a 2-1 aggregate loss to Barcelona in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup – a campaign during which they needed a late goal from Garth Crooks to eliminate Dundalk.

A fourth-place finish in the First Division was their best in a decade, but Spurs had been in title contention until their challenge unravelled with a harvest of just one point from their final four games.

Despite the unavailability of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who sat the occasion out amid the ongoing Falklands War and the escalating tensions between Argentina and the UK, they overcame Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup decider of May 1982.

Earlier that month, there were celebrations too for Limerick United – for the second time in the club’s history, they won the FAI Cup. Brendan Storan scored the only goal and the late Joe O’Mahony was an inspirational captain in a victory over Bohemians at Dalymount Park.

The game also represented a footballing swansong for winger Tony Ward, who had remained involved with the squad throughout the season.  

“Rugby was still his priority but he played a huge part in us winning the cup,” explains Hand. “He was a big asset. It brought us a lot of attention too because it was something so unique. Tony didn’t want any money to play for us either – it didn’t interest him, he just loved playing.”

Football and rugby clashed on a few occasions that season, with Ward always maintaining his commitment to the latter. However, when the Triple Crown-winning Ireland squad was announced for the 1982 Five Nations, his name was a notable omission.

In his 2015 autobiography, Twelve Feet Tall, Ward expressed his belief that he “bugged the hell out of the IRFU” by joining Limerick United. Relations between the player and the Union were already strained due to the 27-year-old’s stance on apartheid, which was behind his refusal to travel on a tour to South Africa in 1981.

tony-ward Tony Ward under pressure from Tottenham's Ricky Villa and Tony Galvin. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“The IRFU had long viewed me as a sort of ‘golden boy’, ‘a prima donna’, ‘a celebrity’. Certain elements within the IRFU obviously did not like this and wanted to cut me down to size,” he wrote.

“The newspapers were full of me playing for Limerick. While the IRFU were preoccupied with trying to get players to go to South Africa over the preceding months, I was preparing for big Uefa Cup games. There is no doubt that my activities with Limerick United were relegating a lot of the rugby coverage in the national press.”

The Uefa Cup involvement Ward refers to was Limerick United’s first-round tie against Southampton, for which the Tottenham fixture had transpired to be ideal preparation.

Limerick’s plans to stage the home leg against the Saints at Thomond Park were hindered in the closing stages of the friendly against Spurs. As they readied themselves for the pursuit of valuable autographs, some fans began to encroach on the pitch, causing the full-time whistle to be sounded a few minutes early. Gardaí subsequently directed the club to find an alternative venue for Southampton’s visit. 

In an apparent underestimation of the quarter-of-a-century’s worth of red tape that still required cutting before Rule 42 could be amended, Limerick United chairman Pat Grace made an audacious but futile approach to Limerick GAA for the use of the Gaelic Grounds.

In the end, they went back to the Markets Field to tackle a Southampton side that included Kevin Keegan and Alan Ball, with Keegan scoring in the English club’s 4-1 aggregate win.

Four decades removed, Eoin Hand remains the last manager to bring the League of Ireland and FAI Cup titles to Limerick. Since then, the city’s relationship with football has often been turbulent, with the demise of Limerick FC stripping it of any representation in the SSE Airtricity League in 2020.

Treaty United will fill that vacancy with the launch of their First Division campaign away to Bray Wanderers later this month. When fans are eventually permitted to return, the new club will hope that the backing of the Limerick public will be manifested on the Markets Field turnstiles.

Thanks to a team who are being widely tipped to dominate hurling over the next several years, the Liam MacCarthy Cup currently resides in Limerick. The city is also home to one of the leading sides in European club rugby, who possess the clout to sign World Cup winners of their own.

Neither of those factors should be viewed as impediments to the progress of Treaty United, according to Eoin Hand – the man who was at the coalface when football in Limerick uncovered its potential.

eoin-hand Eoin Hand pictured in 1981. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Having senior football in Limerick is important, but also to have a pathway for young lads coming through in a city like Limerick is absolutely vital,” he says.

“Whatever about politics that might have gone on behind the scenes in the past, the right outcome is to ensure that a city like Limerick always has senior football and that’s something that should never be lost sight of.

“I’m delighted that Limerick is being represented again and long may that last.”

Limerick United 2-6 Tottenham Hotspur
Thomond Park, Limerick – Monday, 10 August, 1981

Limerick United: Fitzpatrick, Nolan, O’Mahony, Storan, Finucane, Hand, Meaney, Walsh, Hulmes, Kennedy, Duggan. Subs: Ward, Morris, Nodwell.
Tottenham Hotspur: Aleksic, Perryman, Price, Miller, Roberts, Ardiles, Hoddle, Villa, Brooke, Archibald, Galvin. Subs: Hughton, Parkes, Falco, Cooper.
Referee: Kevin O’Sullivan (Cork).

For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >

About the author:

Paul Dollery

Read next:

COMMENTS (9)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel