Foreign Footballers Who Were at Northern Irish Clubs and Went to the World Cup (Non-Irish)

As a Northern Irishman, growing up watching the Irish League supporting Glentoran FC, there were not an abudance of foreigners in our league, nor many foreign World Cup stars. But football was always beautiful regardless of that.

Sam Robinson with Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)

Foreign Footballers Who Were at Northern Irish Clubs and Went to the World Cup (Non-Irish)

I saw a load of Northern Ireland internationals playing live in the Irish League though! Down the years, we saw the likes of John Devine, Rory Hamill, Gary Hamilton, Liam Coyle, Sammy Clingan, Andrew Smith, Gerry McMahon, Stuart Dallas, Keith Gillespie, Michael O’Neill, Ray McCoy…it’s a long list. Dozens and dozens. But they’re all Northern Irish and that’s just not exotic when you grow up in Bangor!

Keith Gillespie – played for Northern Ireland, Glentoran, and a load of Uniteds.

If I was to add in Republic of Ireland internationals who also played in the Irish League, there would also be quite a long list here too – especially in the days when the IFA and FAI were choosing players from all over the place – the likes of Con Martin. Then there are also Northern Irish players who went to the World Cup and were uncapped, like Johnny Jameson. Johnny was a hero of mine as a kid watching Glentoran FC, and he went to the 1982 World Cup, never to be capped by Northern Ireland. Johnny’s heroics saw him play in three different decades though, including putting Glentoran 1-0 up v. Paris St. Germain, scoring in a 4-0 dicking of Progres Niedercorn and 10 years later he played in the Champions League, against Marseille!

Childhood hero Johnny Jameson of Glentoran FC and Northern Ireland

Childhood hero Joh,n,n,y Jameson of Glentoran FC and Northern Ireland

So when we consider Northern Irishmen, we have different brackets and levels here also:

1.Northern Irishmen who played for Irish League clubs, but uncapped (example – Gary McCartney)
2.Northern Irishmen who played for Irish League clubs, and capped (example – Michael O’Neill)
3.Northern Irishmen who played for Irish League clubs, and played in the World Cup (example – Jim Platt)
4.Northern Irishmen who played for Irish League clubs, and played in the Euros (example – Stuart Dallas)
5.Northern Irishmen who played for Irish League clubs, and made Northern Ireland squads but uncapped (example – Raymond Campbell)

With Glentoran’s Ron Manley and Joh,n,n,y Jameson (who was in the 1982 Northern Ireland World Cup squad)

Then we look at foreigners, and this is where it gets interesting and what this post is all about. Firstly, there are players that were at Irish League clubs and capped by other countries, but never went to a World Cup. One such player is Colin Ramirez of Glentoran and Gibraltar. He was a flop at the Oval but is well respected in the Gibraltar football world. And finally there were also foreign players (or local players with foreign ancestry and family trees) but none of them were capped – I am thinking Stevie Cowan (Scotland), Pat Fenlon (Republic of Ireland) or Zeke Rowe (England). That list is long and they weren’t at a World Cup…so move over Zeke Rowe.

Zeke Rowe of Bangor FC, but never even played for England, never mind World Cupping it

Remember, I have included only non-Northern Ireland, Ireland or Republic of Ireland internationals for this post. There are only four rules here:

1.The player must have been in a World Cup squad (whether they played or not, doesn’t matter).
2.The player must have either played for or been registered for a club whose address is in Northern Ireland (whether they played or not, doesn’t matter and whether it was in a friendly, league or cup match also doesn’t matter).
3.The player must NOT have played for Northern Ireland or be Northern Irish.
4.The player must NOT have played for Republic of Ireland or be (Republic of) Irish.

Let’s have a look at my list. Of course, there could be errors here – players left out, players added by mistake, but I have checked a few sources and this is what I found. And don’t mention Jose Luis Brown…nice day for a…red herring!

World Cup Winners Who Were At Irish League Clubs

George Eastham (Ards and England 1966)

Believe it or not, I could only find ONE World Cup winner who has played for a club team from Northern Ireland!! While the likes of Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Gordon Banks all played in Ireland too – they did it for Republic of Ireland clubs. As did World Cup runner up Uwe Seeler. This means George Eastham is the ONLY (Northern) Irish League player to have won the World Cup.

George Eastham - Ards FC and England - the ONLY World Cup winner to play in the Northern Irish league?

George Eastham – Ards FC and England – the ONLY World Cup winner to play in the Northern Irish league?

George was at Ards FC from 1953 – 1956. 10 years later he won the World Cup with England, despite the fact he didn’t play in the tournament. Weirdly George didn’t get his World Cup winner’s medal until 2007, as in the old days, the non playing squad members of the final were not given medals. You can read more about the legendary George Eastham (and his father) on the Ards FC website.

Wales World Cup Squad Members Who Were At Irish League Clubs

Understandably, Scotland, Wales and England provide quite a few of Northern Ireland’s club based World Cup players. As of 2020, Wales have only qualified for one World Cup and as far as I could tell there was only one player from that 1958 squad who played for a Northern Irish club. That man was Mel Hopkins.

Mel Hopkins (Ballymena United and Wales 1958)

Mel was a well travelled man. He played league football in England in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was at the 1958 World Cup, he won 34 caps and in the 1960s he was at Ballymena United.

Mel Hopkins (Ballymena United and Wales 1958)

Scotland World Cup Squad Members Who Were At Irish League Clubs

Understandably, Scotland, Wales and England provide quite a few of Northern Ireland’s club based World Cup players. Here are four Scottish ones who were at Irish League clubs.

Alex Parker (Ballymena United and Scotland 1958)

Alex Parker played in the 1958 World Cup for Scotland and later turned out for Ballymena United in Northern Ireland as well as Drumcondra in the Republic of Ireland. He was player manager of Ballymena too.

Alex Parker (Ballymena United and Scotland 1958)

Willie Fernie (Coleraine, Bangor and Scotland 1958)

Willie Fernie was also at the 1958 with Scotland and made his only appearance in the Paraguay match. That was also his last cap. But bigger days were ahead as he plied his trade with a brace of top-notch Irish League coastal clubs – first Coleraine and then Bangor. Willie also had a great career at Glasgow Celtic.

Willie Fernie who played for Coleraine and Bangor

Willie Fernie who played for Coleraine and Bangor

Frank McAvennie (Cliftonville and Scotland 1986)

The legendary journeyman Frank McAvennie was at the 1986 World Cup with Scotland. That was an interesting World Cup for the Irish League, as three teams featured players who were at Irish League clubs at some point. Canada had Terry Moore of Glentoran and of course Northern Ireland also qualified and had Jim Platt of Coleraine. Frank’s wacky career took him to Celtic, China and Cliftonville! What I love is that Frank only won 5 caps, yet TWO of them were in the World Cup – against Denmark and West Germany. The journeyman was all over the papers on sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I first heard of him when I had the 1986 Panini sticker book and he was on the West Ham United pages.

Frank McAvennie (Cliftonville and Scotland 1986)

John McKenzie (Derry City and Scotland 1954)

John McKenzie seems to be the first Scottish World Cup player that was also at a club from Northern Ireland during his career. John was in the Scotland squad in 1954, and also lifted the Irish Cup while at Derry City. Of course at the time, Derry City played in the Northern Irish league.

John McKenzie Derry City

John McKenzie Derry City

England World Cup Squad Members Who Were At Irish League Clubs

Tom Finney (Distillery and England 1950, 1954, 1958)

Tom Finney is possibly the most famous wacaday World Cup Journeyman to turn out for an Irish League Club. He famously played for Distillery (then of course they were not called “Lisburn Distillery” nor based at Ballyskeagh) in the early 1960s. As my Dad recalls, Tom Finney was inspirational as Distillery drew 3-3 with the mighty Benfica in a European Cup match at Windsor Park. While playing for England however, he scored in three different matches against Northern Ireland.

Tom Finney (Distillery and England 1950, 1954, 1958)

Tom Finney played in 3 World Cups for England (1950, 1954 and 1958), scoring a goal in the World Cup Quarter Final against Uruguay in 1954 and in the first round against USSR in 1958. I believe he is the only player to have played for an Irish League club and also played in three World Cups. I also believe he is the only player to have played for an Irish League club and also scored in a World Cup, never mind two. In the irony of life, when Northern Ireland qualified for a World Cup again in 1982, we also had a Tommy Finney who was at Manchester United. And if the Tom Finney story isn’t fascinating enough, you can always rock up The Sir Tom Finney Pub in Preston and order a pint…

Tom Finney (Distillery and England 1950, 1954, 1958)

The Sir Tom Finney Pub (Distillery and England 1950, 1954, 1958)

Jackie Milburn (Linfield and England 1950)

The famous Jackie Milburn was the first non-Irishman to become the Irish League’s top scorer. Before he joined Linfield though, he was at the 1950 World Cup. He has some other crazy records and facts about him – he had a nickname of Wor Jackie and his cousin was the mother of two World Cup winners! Jack and Bobby Charlton. He’s gonna take that tiger outside for a ride…

Jackie Milburn (Linfield and England 1950)

Jackie Milburn (Linfield and England 1950)

Crazy Gang – Wacaday Irish League World Cup Squad Members

These are the Wacaday Lads! All you need is Timmy Mallet to bang them on the head with a hammer. Quite why Jorge Campos, Magico Gonzalez and Emmanuel Amuneke haven’t joined this list yet is a baffler! This next group are the real crazy gang. These guys went to the World Cups with non-European countries and were also at Irish League Clubs during their career. This crazy gang are the serious rock’n’roll legends of Irish League World Cupic fame! What a life…

Foreign Footballers Who Were at Northern Irish Clubs and Went to the World Cup (Non-Irish)

Terry Moore (Glentoran and Canada 1986)
Terry Moore is a Glentoran former captain and legend at The Oval in East Belfast. Despite being born in Canada and playing for the Canada National team, he moved to Northern Ireland and subsequently ended up at Glentoran FC in 1985. Around the same time, he had helped Canada qualify for their first ever World Cup. Moore was a hero for many a Glentoran fan after not just helping the club to numerous Irish Cup wins and the Irish League, but the memorable European nights. Moore famously headed past USSR goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev to put Glentoran 1-0 up against Spartak Moscow in the European Cup (Champions League). Glentoran lost the away leg by 2 quick and unlucky goals. Ever heard the quiz question “Who wasn’t born in Europe but scored in the Irish League, the Champions League and went to the World Cup?”. Terry Moore.

Terry Moore (Glentoran and Canada 1986)

Terry Moore (Glentoran and Canada 1986)

John Hill (Glentoran and New Zealand 1982)

Who was born in Belfast, played against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup and lost that match by 3 clear goals? The answer is not Norman Whiteside, as Whiteside did that in 1986. John Hill, once of Glentoran did it against (Alan) Brazil of Scotland in 1982. He left Belfast and emigrated to New Zealand, becoming a big part of the All Whites qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup. To date, he remains the only person born in Northern Ireland to play for another country at the World Cup, although Brian Quinn (USA international yet Belfast born) almost did it in 1990, and many falsely think that Alan Kernaghan (Republic of Ireland international yet England born) was born in Northern Ireland – he was not. John Hill did it in 1982 and also played for Gisborne City before deciding to permanently lived in New Zealand.

John Hill (Glentoran and New Zealand 1982)

John Hill (Glentoran and New Zealand 1982)

Sam Malcolmson (Portadown and New Zealand 1982)

As well as John Hill, New Zealand also boasted Sam Malcolmson in their 1982 World Cup squad. Sam played for Portadown in the 1970s and even scored 2 goals for his country, in 15 caps.

Sam Malcolmson (Portadown and New Zealand 1982)

Sam Malcolmson (Portadown and New Zealand 1982)

Fitzroy Simpson (Linfield and Jamaica 1998)

Fitzroy Simpson is an oddball inclusion on this list. The Man City and Reggae Boyz journeyman fancied a bash at the Irish League and wound up at Belfast Linfield in 2004-2005. He played Premier League, World Cup, Irish League and even ended up at Eastleigh with Matt le Tissier. At the 1998 World Cup, Fitzroy played in all three group games though the Reggae Boyz went out in their debut World Cup.

Fitzroy Simpson – The Blues and the Reggae Boyz

David Atiba Charles (Glenavon and Trinidad and Tobago 2006)
Having represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 World Cup, David Atiba Charles later signed for mid-Ulster club Glenavon.

David Atiba Charles (Glenavon and Trinidad and Tobago 2006)

David Atiba Charles (Glenavon and Trinidad and Tobago 2006)

Andy Barron (Distillery and New Zealand 2010)
It seems the rule for New Zealand is that they must have a player in every World Cup squad that was also at a Northern Irish club at some point. Andy Barron came on as a sub for the All Whites against Italy in their unbeaten World Cup run of 2010.

Andy Barron (Distillery and New Zealand 2010)

Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)
The story of Afriyie Acquah is another completely off the wall one, check his story. This guy oozes class, journeymanship and backpacking grit. From the streets of Ghana to the Glentoran Academy to the German Bundesliga, to the World Cup, to the Turkish Top Flight and the Serie A in Italy!

Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)

Sam Robinson with Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)

He speaks English and Italian, he made his international debut for Ghana in the USA, he scored in the Serie A, he uses the number 94 in dedication to his Mum who died in a car crash in 1994. He is also good friends with Glentoran Guru Sam Robinson, who runs guided tours of the famous Oval Grounds. Afriyie was part of the Glentoran Academy. Afriyie made his World Cup debut in 2014, Ghana didn’t qualify in 2018 but perhaps he will be back for 2022.

Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)

Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana 2014)

The list of players who were at Northern Irish League Clubs and went to the World Cup for an non-Ireland named country…

1.George Eastham (Ards and England)
2.Alex Parker (Ballymena United and Scotland)
3.Willie Fernie (Coleraine, Bangor and Scotland)
4.Terry Moore (Glentoran and Canada)
5.Frank McAvennie (Cliftonville and Scotland)
6.Tom Finney (Distillery and England)
7.Jackie Milburn (Linfield and England)
8.John McKenzie (Derry City and Scotland)
9.Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana)
10.John Hill (Glentoran and New Zealand)
11.Fitzroy Simpson (Linfield and Jamaica)
12.Andy Barron (Distillery and New Zealand)
13.David Atiba Charles (Glenavon and Trinidad and Tobago)
14.Mel Hopkins (Ballymena United and Wales)
15.Sam Malcolmson (Portadown and New Zealand)

Managers and Coaches:

Dave Beasant (Northern Ireland and England 1990)
Lawrie McMenemy (Northern Ireland and England 1990)
Joe Jordan (Northern Ireland and Scotland 1978)

The Nearly Men – the guys that almost were at Irish League Clubs and the World Cup

I decided to do a list of nearly men too, and compile a squad of 23. These guys either didn’t play in the World Cup or were ineligible for the list yet had links to Northern Ireland based clubs down the years.

Sammy Baird (Died in Bangor, played for Scotland 1958)
Sammy Baird played in the 1958 World Cup for Scotland and later lived in Northern Ireland. He died in the seaside town of Bangor in 2010. Despite living in Northern Ireland when he was older, he never actually played for an Irish League club though, only kicked ball on Ballyholme beach.

Peter Barnes (Cliftonville and England, 1982, 1986)
Pete was at Cliftonville and England but never made it into a World Cup squad in 1982 and 1986. He did make my legendary journeymen list though!

Peter Barnes at Manchester City

Luther Blissett (Derry City and England, 1982, 1986)
Luther played and scored for Derry City in the 1990s, and scored a hat-trick for England in the 1980s, but he wasn’t taken to a World Cup.

Alan Sunderland (Derry City and England, 1982, 1986)
FA Cup final winner Alan Sunderland played and scored for Derry City in the 1980s, but only won 1 England cap and wasn’t included in the 1982 or 1986 World Cup squad.

John Colrain (Glentoran and Scotland, 1958)
Despite winning a few caps for Scottish national teams at the end of the 1950s, John Colrain didn’t go to the 1958 World Cup.

Brian Quinn (Larne and USA, 1990, 1994)
Brian Quinn won many caps for the USA in the early 90s and yet was axed from their 1994 World Cup at late notice.

Brian Quinn

Andrej Prean Nagy (Glentoran / Detroit Cougars and Hungary 1950, 1954)
While Andy Nagy managed the Detroit Cougars (AKA Glentoran) in the 1960s, he didn’t quite make the list. Despite being capped by Hungary, his only 3 caps were in the 1940s and he wasn’t selected for the 1950 or 1954 World Cups.

Cecil Moore (Glentoran and USA 1950)
Cecil Moore was at Glentoran and was capped for Northern Ireland (Ireland) in the 1940s. Cecil Moore moved to the USA and played once for them. But that was in 1953, three years too late for their 1950 World Cup squad.

Dale Ervine (Belfast-born and USA 1990, 1994)
Like Cecil and Brian, Dale Irvine was another Northern Irish born footballer who ended up winning caps for the USA. He was a member of the USA squad on many occasions between 1985 and

David Forde (Derry City and Republic of Ireland 2016)
David Forde went to the Euros with Republic of Ireland and was also at Derry City, but he wasn’t at a World Cup. So why is he even mentioned? Well I am an AFC Bournemouth fan and my squad below needed a goalkeeper and he fits 3 of the 4 criteria.

David Kelly (Derry City and Republic of Ireland 1990, 1994)
David Kelly was at a World Cup with Republic of Ireland and was also at Derry City. As I mentioned before, Irish players were not considered for this list, however David was actually born in Birmingham in England!

Fake News – A Brace of Red Herrings

Billy Wright (The Maze Prison FC and England 1950)
It’s just a namesake and a total red herring! Maze Prisoner Billy Wright was not the same Billy Wright that went to the World Cup three times with England – 1950, 1954 and 1958. Plus the Northern Irish Billy Wright might have fired a few shots in his time, but they weren’t for Portadown at Shamrock Park. Both Billy Wrights missed the cut.

Billy Wright (The Maze Prison FC and England 1950)

Would the real Billy Wright please stand up? (England 1950)

Jose Luis Brown (Irish Ancestry and Argentina 1986)
As much as a fairytale this sounds, there is no concrete proof that Argentine World Cup winner Jose Luis Brown was Irish at all. If he is, we then need to check if it was Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. If we nab him, then we not only have another Irish World Cup winner, but a World Cup final goalscorer! He scored in Argentina’s 3-2 win over West Germany in 1986 – Maradona’s dream. And then the catch – even if we get that fairytale to match up, we forgot that Jose never kicked a ball at Inver Park in his life. He might have played against Linfield in a friendly at Windsor Park though, but he ain’t making the cut. Sorry Jose, and rest in peace.

Jose Luis Brown, the man with Northern Irish ancestry scores in the World Cup final?

Jose Luis Brown, the man with Northern Irish ancestry scores in the World Cup final?

My Final Squad of 23 (to take to Qatar 2022)

Only 15 of these players seem to qualify for my original 4 points (see further up the article) but I have added others to make up the squad of 23. Where I put a line through it, it means they didn’t match a certain criteria on my list).

1.Dave Beasant (NI and England)
2.George Eastham (Ards and England)
3.Alex Parker (Ballymena United and Scotland)
4.Terry Moore (Glentoran and Canada)
5.Frank McAvennie (Cliftonville and Scotland)
6.Tom Finney (Distillery and England)
7.Jackie Milburn (Linfield and England)
8.John McKenzie (Derry City and Scotland)
9.Afriyie Acquah (Glentoran and Ghana)
10.John Hill (Glentoran and New Zealand)
11.Fitzroy Simpson (Linfield and Jamaica)
12. Sammy Baird (Bangor and Scotland)
13.Willie Fernie (Coleraine, Bangor and Scotland)
14.Peter Barnes (Cliftonville and England)
15.Luther Blissett (Derry City and England)
16.Alan Sunderland (Derry City and England)
17.John Colrain (Glentoran and Scotland)
18.Brian Quinn (Larne and USA)
19.Andrej Prean Nagy (Glentoran and Hungary)
20.David Atiba Charles (Glenavon and Trinidad and Tobago)
21.Andy Barron (Distillery and New Zealand)
22.Mel Hopkins (Ballymena United and Wales)
23.Sam Malcolmson (Portadown and New Zealand)

That’s my final squad for the World Cup. Who have I missed out? Are there any other World Cup players who were once at an Irish League club? (as of 30.06.2020) If you know any, get in touch! jonnyscottblair [at] hot,mail [dot] com.

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