Irish Soccer's Most Memorable Moments, No 21: Don Givens' hat-trick v USSR, 1974
Next on our countdown is that rarest of things, an Irish hat-trick, and the not so rare, a funny post-match incident.
How do you compete with The Rumble In The Jungle? Well, you can’t. Arguably the greatest and most famous heavyweight bout in history took place on October 30, 1974 in Zaire. As the old song doesn’t go, it’s a long way from Kinshasa to the North Circular and at around the same time that Muhammad Ali was reclaiming his world title from George Foreman in stifling African heat, one of the highlights of Irish soccer in the 1970s was taking place at Dalymount Park.
The mighty USSR came to town that day, and in an era of Frederick Forsyth novels and Cold War paranoia, they carried with them a mystique that is unimaginable to us in the very open world we now live in.
One thing we did know was that they were probably better than us. The Soviet side had been runners up at the 1972 European Championships and while they hadn’t made that summer’s World Cup, in 1974, Irish football was still in a bit of a mess.
John Giles had taken over as manager just 12 months before the visit of USSR and following a historically disastrous South American tour, hopes were low that anything could be achieved against the stoic Soviet visitors.
But Giles had two aces up his sleeve. The first was handing a skinny youngster called Liam Brady his debut (more on this later in the series) but the other was QPR striker Don Givens.
The Limerick born striker would go on to become Ireland’s top goalscorer until Frank Stapleton overtook him in 1990 but the beginning of his purple patch was this game. In front of a crowd of 32,000, though many, many multiples of that claim to have been in attendance, Givens notched the first of his two Irish hat-tricks – he would nab four against Turkey in 1976 – giving Ireland a sensational 3-0 win.
Joe Kinnear, yes that Joe Kinnear, set up the first for Givens, a fine header. The second, Givens admitted years later, was probably offside, and the third was another header, courtesy of a measured free-kick from the boss. “Straight from the training ground,” was how Givens described it.
But, this being 1974, things may have gone well off the pitch, but the post match was suitably chaotic. No chauffer driven trip to Coppers with the match ball for Givens.
The massed crowds outside Dalymount prevented the team bus from leaving. Givens, with Eoin Hand, had to get back to England, so still dressed in their kit they had to try and get to the team hotel, the Tara Towers in Booterstown, to change into their civvies.
They couldn’t find a taxi on the North Circular Road so they stuck their thumbs out and eventually a car stopped, offered them a lift and took them to the hotel. The driver, obviously not a big football fan, asked them had they been at the match. Givens and Hand just laughed.
Since then, Irish hat-tricks have been as rare as top class heavyweight bouts are these days. But on that day, in October 1974, a minnow landed a haymaker, all thanks to Don Givens.
Today marks 21 days to go until the start of Euro 2012, so stick with us every day as we present another memorable Irish soccer moment.