Given that Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina have all got pretty useful international soccer teams it’s hardly surprising that when they operated together as Yugoslavia old Tito’s boys could hold their own with the best. The Yugoslavs were good enough to come to Dublin in October 1955 and beat Ireland 4-1 at Dalymount Park.
Not good enough for Archbishop John Charles McQuaid however. He didn’t like Communists very much whether they wore suits, uniforms or football boots. In fact in 1952 McQuaid had successfully lobbied the Football Association of Ireland and prevented an equivalent fixture from taking place at all. On that occasion the FAI had actually consulted the archbishop and asked him if it was all right to play the Yugoslavs, who, in 1947, had jailed Archbishop Stepinac, an erstwhile supporter of the Croatian Fascist Ustashe regime. In 1955 the FAI went ahead with the fixture without consulting McQuaid, who only found out about it a few days before it was due to take place. The Archbishop obviously wasn’t a big reader of the sports pages or he would have become aware of it a lot sooner.
McQuaid managed, indirectly, to get Radio Eireann to pull out of covering a game with one of the world’s top rated sides when the station’s soccer commentator, Phillip Greene, declined to lend his vocal chords to a fixture of which the Archbishop disapproved. This prompted one newspaper headline, ‘Reds turn Greene yellow’. Around 22,000 people showed up in the 40,000 capacity stadium to see the game – there’s no point in calling it a match because, as the scoreline suggests, it wasn’t.
Archbishop McQuaid’s illustrious sporting career – as in his tendency to interfere with anything of a sporting nature that offending his moral or religious sensibilities – went back to the 1930’s when he occupied the only slightly less exalted position of President of Blackrock College. In 1934, for example, he took issue with the notion of girls and women being allowed to compete in the sport of athletics.
In 1928 women had been admitted to the Olympic Games for the first time but McQuaid came from the same school as the founder of the modern Olympiad, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who believed that ‘women have but one task [in the Olympics] that of the role of crowning the winner with garlands’. In 1934 the National Athletic and Cycling Association [grandparent of Athletics Ireland] was contemplating adding a women’s 100 yards dash to the national championships. McQuaid, principal of an all-male rugby playing school, was profoundly unhappy. And when he was displeased he liked to share. He wrote a letter on the subject to the Irish Pressnewspaper on 24 February 1934 in which he observed that:
‘mixed athletics and all cognate immodesties are abuses that right-minded people reprobate, wherever and whenever they exist.’
He then proceeded to invoke one of only two superior beings he recognised, by pointing out that ‘God is not modern; nor is his Law’. Women who sought to compete athletically in the vicinity of men were ‘un-Irish and un-Catholic’, and the entire phenomenon was a ‘social abuse’. He concluded by quoting from the only other superior being he acknowledged, the Pope, who was, apparently, of the opinion that:
‘ …in athletic sports and exercises, wherein the Christian modesty of girls must be, in a special way, safeguarded … it is supremely unbecoming that they flaunt themselves and display themselves before the eyes of all.’
So that was pretty conclusive, God, the Pope and John Charles were on the same side and the option of Catholic women competing in burqas was not available. The NACA decided not to include female athletes … even for the ten or eleven seconds it would have taken them to run 100 yards. To their eternal shame the Irish Camogie Association supported McQuaid, although that may have been not unconnected with the fact that its secretary was a man, Sean O’Duffy. He promised that his association:
‘ …would do all in its power to ensure that no girl would appear on any sports ground in a costume to which any exception could be taken. If they remained Irish in the ordinary acception [sic] of the word they could not go wrong.’
He never quite explained where he had come across the word ‘acception’.
Not until 1956 did Maeve Kyle become Ireland’s first female athletics competitor at the Olympics. It probably helped that she was a Northern Protestant and therefore an utterly lost cause.
The Archbishop further expanded his sporting horizons at a later date when he expressed concern about the dangers of hockey for women. He feared that the frequent twisting movements would lead to infertility, or what he called ‘hockey parturition’. The sport of lacrosse, which he believed to involve less midriff action, was encouraged in Roman Catholic girls’ schools in the Dublin archdiocese. The fact that lacrosse had originated among Native Americans using the heads of defeated opponents did not seem to occur to him as making it in any way unsuitable. Without doubt the intervention of Sean O’Duffy on behalf of the Archbishop in the Hundred Yard Dash controversy of 1934 had resulted in McQuaid refraining from expressing similar anxieties about the bendiness of the sport of camogie.
All of which illustrates that the Archbishop’s interest in sport did not just emerge from a clear blue sky when he took on the Dublin soccer public in 1955, something for which he was criticised at the time.
To the consternation of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid Ireland met, and were soundly trounced by Yugoslavia in a friendly soccer international sixty-three years ago, on this day.
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