Northern Ireland: Performance History

For years after creation, the Irish Football Association competed solely in the British Home Championship. After their debut blowout, a 0-13 humiliation to England, the Ireland team went on a streak of 14 losses and 1 draw, until their first victory – a 4-1 win over Wales in March 1887. Even after they ended the dry spell, the losses continued to pile up, with two terrible 0-11 losses, first to Wales, and then again two years later to Scotland. These two games, as well as their debut against England, continue to be the biggest wins for the other three countries that make up the UK.

Ireland squad for 1914 match vs Wales

This team revolutionized international football forever when they became the first team in history to use a national team coach. Their coaching led the team to its first major success: when they won the 1913-14 British Home Championship. On February 15th 1913, Ireland beat England for the very first time in a 2-1 win, captained by Val Harris and led by Billy Scott and Billy Gillespie. The next year, these two spearheaded the championship campaign, with a 2-1 win over Wales and a 3-0 victory against England. Their title was clinched with a 1-1 draw with Scotland that would mark the national team’s last match until after World War I.

In the next twenty years after the war, Ireland failed to regain its winning form, only scraping two second placed during the span. Their only bright spot was the association’s record win when they beat Wales 7-0 in 1930, with Joe Bambrick netting six of the seven goals. Despite this historic win, Ireland remained near the bottom of the table up until the British Home Championship was again suspended in 1938 for World War II. Soon after, the IFA and FAI split and the IFA was officially designated as Northern Ireland.

As Northern Ireland, the team went on to win the British Home Championship outright three times, 1958-59, 1979-80, and the last competition ever in 1983-84. Even though they look to forever remain champions, Ireland/Northern Ireland won the fewest competitions out of the four UK teams (England 54, Scotland 41, Wales 12, Ireland/N.Ireland 8).

When it comes to non-UK competition, Northern Ireland’s best performance was in the 1958 World Cup. It was in fact the first World Cup that that new IFA qualified for. Captained by Danny Blanchflower, who was also then the leader of Tottenham Hotspur and twice England’s footballer of the year, the team advanced out of the group stage after beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in a play-off match. In the quarterfinals of the knockout stage Northern Ireland was paired against France, to whom they lost 4-0.

1958 WC Captain Danny Blanchflower (left) with 1968 Ballon d’Or winner George Best (right)

During the 1960s and 70s, Northern Ireland failed to qualify for another World Cup, despite the leadership of legendary forward George Best. Best won the Ballon d’Or in 1968, and many consider him one of the best wingers of all time. Yet Northern Ireland failed to produce World Cup results again until the 1980s.

In both 1982 and 1986, Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup. However, both times the national squad could not make it to the knockout stage. Since then the team has slumped back into irrelevance – that is, until it qualified for the 2016 UEFA European Championship.

Association History

2016 Euro

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Works Cited:

Byrne, Peter (1996). Football Association of Ireland: 75 years. Dublin: Sportsworld.  ISBN 1-900110-06-7.

“Football: George Best: Football’s first icon”. The Guardian (London). 27 November 2005

“Historical Results – Fixtures And Results – International – The Irish Football Association”. 2012-04-29. Retrieved 2012-11-05.


How to cite this page:

“Northern Ireland: Performance History” by Kevin Rhine (2016), European Cup 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University,, (accessed on (date))