September 25th, 1963 is a date that will be etched in the annals of Irish sporting achievements.
On that evening, 1,670 kilometres away from Oriel Park, history was made at the Stadion Letzigrund in Zurich as Dundalk Football Club did what no other Irish club had done before: win a game away from home in Europe.
Following the introduction of European club competitions in the late fifties, Shamrock Rovers, Drumcondra, Limerick, St Patrick’s Athletic, and Shelbourne all tried, but failed, to win on continental soil and it was Dundalk who wrote their name into the record books as goals from Dermot Cross and Jimmy Hasty secured a 2-1 win against the Swiss champions.
As Francie Callan remarked with a wry smile in the recent documentary about Jimmy Hasty, “It was the first win in a European match away from home by an Irish team. And it still is!”
The win in Zurich came at a time when the European Champions Cup, ie: the Champions League, was a competition that was true to its name, a straight knockout for the best team from each country.
Nowadays, the chances of the League of Ireland champions even coming face-to-face, never mind beating their Swiss Super League counterparts, is extremely remote, which makes achievements like ’63 even more significant.
Writing in the club’s Golden Jubilee Yearbook in 1976, the late Des Casey described the innocence of the travelling party, who unwittingly, were on the way to becoming legends.
“We set off for the return match in Switzerland late, as complete no-hopers but the good spirits of Jimmy Hasty, John Murphy, Ted Harte, Dermot Cross, and Tommy Dunne set the mood. They were ably assisted by Dublin-based Jimmy O’Meara, a lifelong friend of Dundalk, and later to become a director.
“We went on a day tour of the Alps and Lake Lucerne and stopped in Einseden, a mountain village famous for its church and history of miraculous cures. Father Brendan Maguire said Mass, and we had lunch.
“We were strolling back to the coach when we heard a commotion several hundred yards away – loud cheering and clanging of bells. It is the custom in Switzerland to bring cattle from the foothills at the end of September.
“We had noticed a few small droves, all with cowbells, being driven through the village earlier in the day. Suddenly, there emerged from a side street a young heifer, careering at full stretch, with the bell around its neck clanging furiously!
“That wasn’t the only thing around its neck. Jimmy O’Meara was half-running, half hunker-sliding with one arm firmly gripping the animal, and the other poised with a bottle of Jameson, trying to persuade the poor beast to savour the delights of Irish whiskey!
“A crowd of several hundred villagers and local pressmen whooped, cheered, and followed until the heifer finally wrested itself from Jimmy’s grasp.
“The Swiss daily papers gave Herr Jimmy O’Meara full coverage the following morning, complete with pictures, but they didn’t fancy our chances against the local champions. How wrong they were.”
The names of Francie, Christy Barron, John Murphy, Patsy ’Tootsie; McKeown, Tommy Rowe, Leo O’Reilly, Mick Dalton, Billie Kennedy, Stan Powell, Jimmy Hasty, Timmy Lyons, and Davy McArdle will live forever in these parts, men that set the standard for the rest, like Stephen Kenny’s history-makers of 2016, to follow.
Tonight marks the 60th anniversary of that historic win and it is our absolute pleasure to welcome four of the survivors, John Murphy, Tootsie McKeown, Francie Callan, and Davy McArdle back to Oriel Park to celebrate the occasion.
It wasn’t widely known at the time, but the historic win in Switzerland came 60 years, almost to the day, since the formation of the Great Northern Railway football team, as reported in the Dundalk Democrat on September 26th, 1963.
‘Though not aspiring to any great heights as yet, they give promise of turning out a couple of clever elevens.’
The eleven who made history in Zurich will go down as one of the ‘cleverest’ of them all.