Table of Contents


Praise for The Development of Sport in Donegal 1880–1935

[A] fine book … Curran has produced a meticulously researched study of the spread of modern sports to a small, predominantly rural county on the north-western seaboard of Ireland.

DR PAUL ROUSE (University College Dublin) in International Journal of the History of Sport

The Development of Sport in Donegal 1880–1935 is a fascinating, groundbreaking and meticulously detailed analysis of sport in the county in the years under consideration published in an impressively produced volume by Cork University Press…placed within a detailed survey of the social context of Donegal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including the social, cultural, religious and geographic diversity of Donegal and its implications for sport... this book will undoubtedly become a crucial reference text for those interested in the history of sport not just in Donegal, but across the island of Ireland as a whole.

DR SEÁN CROSSAN (National University of Ireland, Galway) in Sport in Society

The book is also a fascinating social history as much as a study of the development of sport. This book is a very significant contribution to the history of sports in the broadest sense but it goes beyond that; it is also a thorough analysis of socio-cultural and political structures.

DR SEÁN BEATTIE (editor, Donegal Annual) in the Donegal Annual

The great strength of Curran’s book is that it challenges on a micro level some of the assumed notions we have about the intersection of class, identity and politics when it comes to sport in Ireland.

DR DAVID TOMS (Independent Scholar) in Sport in History

Painstakingly researched using a rich and voluminous array of primary sources … This level of rigour [is] deeply impressive throughout

DR LIAM O’CALLAGHAN (Liverpool Hope University) in Irish Historical Studies


Irish Soccer Migrants:
A Social and Cultural History



First published in 2017

by Cork university Press

Youngline Industrial Estate

Pouladuff Road, Togher


T12 HT6V


© Conor Curran, 2017

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording or otherwise, without either the prior written permission of the publishers or a licence permitting restricted copying in Ireland issued by the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd., 25 Denzille Lane, Dublin 2.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978–1-78205–216-6

Printed by Gutenberg Press, Malta.

Print origination & design by Carrigboy Typesetting Services,




INTRODUCTION: Irish-born Football Migrants and History

1The Geography of Irish Soccer Migrants

2Schools’ Soccer and Coaching in Ireland

3The Movement Process

4Playing Experiences

5Migration to Scotland, Europe and North America

6Post-playing Careers

7The Decline of Irish-born Football Migrants in Top-flight English League Football






In February 1992, when the Republic of Ireland international soccer team were captivating the nation with a run that was unprecedented in the country’s soccer history, I heard the news that every schoolboy footballer wants to hear. It was then that Denis McDaid, the manager of my schoolboy soccer club, Dunkineely Celtic under 15s, and a superb mentor, told myself and two other players, Conal Doherty and Mark Boyle, that he was going to try to get a cross-channel scout to look at us after some strong performances in the South Donegal League. Unfortunately for me, I suffered a stress fracture of a bone in my spine the following month and, having battled for six months with an arrogant local doctor who told me the injury was all in my head, I took up temporary residence with my brother John in Dublin where I eventually underwent an operation. This followed correct diagnosis from a leading surgeon in Crumlin Hospital, Dr Esmond E. Fogarty, who understood the ins and outs of the spine. I happily returned to play soccer for Dunkineely Celtic’s youth team in the summer of 1994 as we won the South Donegal League, and later became a trainee with a then League of Ireland club, Home Farm, before eventually the lure of Gaelic football and my home town club, Ardara, proved greater than quiet Saturday nights in Dublin waiting for matches in the Leinster Senior League that were often rained off.

Undertaking this study has allowed me to temporarily glimpse a world which has always fascinated me. Academically, to be the first scholar to take on the study of Irish football migrants as the recipient of a FIFA Havelange Research Scholarship has been a privilege and I have enjoyed every moment of it. The research conducted for this book would not have been possible without the financial assistance of this award given to me by CIES (Centre International d’Étude du Sport) and FIFA in 2013. That this award actually existed was brought to my attention initially by Professor Mike Cronin of Boston College, who suggested that I submit an application proposal based on the above research topic and even interrupted his holidays to advise me on the process required. I am also indebted to my other former PhD supervisor, Professor Matthew Taylor of De Montfort university, who also gave me much guidance throughout my PhD and has continued to do this through his assessment of my postdoctoral research and acted as supervisor for this project. I am also very grateful to Dr Tom Hunt and Dr Seamus Kelly for their friendship and advice on the migration of Irish footballers.

A large part of this project involved player interviews and I was able to contact a number of footballers with the help of those involved in the game. This part of the research essentially began for me with a meeting with Gerard Mooney of Belvedere FC in May 2013 and as well as giving me an insight into modern-day player recruitment, he was able to arrange a number of interviews which helped ease my passage into this method of research. Vincent Butler and Stephen McGuinness also took time to speak and discuss their views on the state of player migration from the republic of Ireland to Britain. I am grateful too to former Irish Independent journalist, Seán ryan, who invited me to his home and spent a full day discussing players. Dr Patrick McGovern also took time to discuss our similar research interests, although unfortunately we were unable to meet. Eoin Hand supplied me with a number of documents which otherwise I would not have been able to obtain and also showed a strong interest in my work.

In northern Ireland, I was assisted initially in my search for interviewees by Professor David Hassan who put me in touch with Shane McCullough and I was able to contact a number of players based there after this. northern Ireland football historian, John Duffy, also helped me in tracking down former footballers and was always available for conversation, while Andrew McCullough (Ards FC), richard McKinney (Derry City FC), Trevor Clydesdale (Portadown FC), Laura Hillen (newry City FC) and Andrew Conn of Linfield FC helped organise interviews which otherwise would not have been possible. Seamus Heath, formerly a professional footballer and now an IFA development officer, pointed me in the direction of a number of players who were available for interviews as well as looking after me on my visit to Downpatrick to discuss his career. On hearing of my scholarship, Robin Peake was quick to send me his master’s thesis on earlier Irish football migration, which added to my understanding of the subject. I am also grateful to Bethany Sinclair and Lorraine Bourke for their help in gaining access to the archives of the Irish Football Association; they have always been very accommodating in dealing with my requests. Part of this book has been published in the academic journals, Soccer & Society and Sport in Society, and I am grateful to Taylor & Francis for granting me permission to publish part of the following articles which are available at www.tandfonline:

‘The Migration of Irish-born footballers to England, 1945–2010’ in Soccer and Society vol. 16, 2–3, Special Issue: 150 Years of Association Football (2015), pp. 360–76.

‘The post-playing careers of Irish-born footballers in England, 1945–2010’ in Sport in Society, Vol. 18, 10 (2015) pp. 1273–1286.

‘Irish born players in Britain’s football leagues, 1945–2010: A Geographical Assessment’ in Sport and Society, vol. 19, 1, Special Issue: Sport in Ireland: Social and Historical Perspectives (2016), pp. 74–94.

‘The Development of Schoolboy Coaching Structures for Association Football in Ireland, 1945–2010’ in Conor Curran and David Toms (eds.) Soccer and Society (2016) ‘Going beyond the “Garrison Game”: New Perspectives on Association football in Irish history,

Yves Brown of West Bromwich Albion took time to speak to me about the underage football system in England, while one of my former Gaelic football team mates, Gareth Concarr, gave me an interesting insight into his time as a trial player at Nottingham Forest although it was decided to include only the interviews of those who played league football in Britain. Dr Alex Jackson of the National Football Museum in Manchester was very helpful during my visits to the Football League Archives in Preston, while the staff of the British Library at Colindale also deserve praise for their assistance during the course of my research in London. The staff of the national Library of Ireland were, as always, courteous and accommodating during my visits there. Dr Kevin Tallec Marston took time to read a number of my interim reports to CIES and provided me with a number of suggestions. I am also grateful to Dr Matthew Stout, who drew the map which appears in this book, and to Laura Gleeson of Inpho Sports Photography for supplying me with most of the photographs. In addition, I am indebted to Alfie Hale, Seamus Heath, Andrew Conn and Declan Doherty (Donegal News) for kindly granting me permission to use a number of their photographs.

I would also like to thank Mike Collins and Maria ü’Donovan of Cork university Press for agreeing to publish my work, and the two peer reviewers for their positive reviews and feedback.

Finally I would like to thank my girlfriend, Joanne O’Keeffe, and my family for their continuous support, and the thirty players who took time to meet or speak on the telephone and showed great patience and understanding in answering my questions, although unfortunately not all of their views have been published. I hope that my book has managed to share some of their playing experiences and views in a satisfactory manner and that it may be of benefit to those who contemplate a career in professional football, and that it will be of interest to historians and supporters of the game alike.



1.1Places of birth of Irish-born football migrants by county, 1888–1939

1.2Birthplaces of players who migrated from the Republic of Ireland to England, 1945–2010

1.3Birthplaces by decade of players who migrated from the Republic of Ireland to England, 1945–2010

1.4Top ten Republic of Ireland-born migrants’ source clubs, 1945–2010

1.5Birthplaces of players who migrated from Northern Ireland to England, 1945–2010

3.1Breakdown of Irish-born footballers’ migration to English league football, 1888–1939

3.2Categories of primary employment of pre-Second World War Irish-born football migrants’ parents, 1888–1939

3.3Republic of Ireland-born players’ migration to England, 1945–2010: categories of migration

3.4Northern Irish-born players’ migration to England, 1945–2010: categories of migration

3.5Leading initial recruiting clubs by decade of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland-born football migrants, 1945–2010

5.1Number of Irish-born footballers who migrated to Scotland (and played in the First Division) by decade, 1888–1939

5.2Number of Republic of Ireland- and Northern Ireland-born football migrants to Scotland by decade, 1945–2010 (who played in Scottish Football’s top division)

5.3Republic of Ireland- and Northern Ireland-born football migrants to England, 1945–2010, who also played for European clubs in the same period

5.4Irish-born players’ migration to the American Soccer League, 1921–31

5.5Irish-born players’ migration to the ASL by club, 1921–31

5.6Republic of Ireland and northern Ireland-born players appearing in the NASL, 1968–84

6.1Post-playing careers of Republic of Ireland and northern Ireland-born players, 1945–2010

6.2Number of Irish-born football migrants identified as having returned to Ireland to play League of Ireland or Irish League football, 1945–2010

7.1Republic of Ireland-born Premier League/pre-1992 First Division and senior international players, 1945–2010

7.2Northern Ireland-born Premier League/pre-1992 First Division and senior international players, 1945–2010

7.3Average age of Republic of Ireland and northern Ireland-born players signing as Premier League or English Football League professionals per decade, 1945–2010

7.4Number and percentage of Irish-born footballers who played English league or Premier League football having earlier migrated from League of Ireland or Irish League clubs, 1945–2010


1.1Birthplaces of Irish-born footballers who played in the English Premier and football leagues, 1945–2010, shown by each county’s number of football migrants (ROI=500, m=417) 30


Damien Richardson

Michael Carvill

Michael McHugh

Seamus Kelly

Dean Kelly

Paddy Mulligan

Billy Humphries

Hubert Barr

Mick Meagan

Denis Behan

Andy Waterworth

John McClelland

Seamus Heath

Brendan Bradley

Alfie Hale

Gerry Burrell

Richie Sadlier

Barry Prenderville

Alan Blayney

David Miskelly

Brian Mooney

Shane Supple

Raymond Campbell

Martin Russell