By Philip O’Rourke (@effect_phil)
In life you meet some incredible people. Some effect you in ways you don’t realise until you are little bit older to understand. You process what they have said years later, and when you do, you realise that they have taught you a life lesson that has helped you in your life and still do. One of those people in my life was an Irish footballing legend, but one that maybe some have never heard about. This was probably because the man himself wasn’t a flash and frills type person and just enjoyed talking about football. I will start off by talking about the facts, but please stay with me as I will tell you about the person. This is the story of man who played for Ireland, Arsenal and several League of Ireland clubs. That man was Joe Haverty.
Born on the 17th February 1936, Joe Haverty was an Irish footballer who played as a winger and was known for his unbelievable dribbling ability. He started off at League of Ireland club St Patrick’s Athletic and played nine times in the 1953-54 season, scoring just once. He was immediately spotted and brought over to England where he signed for Arsenal.
Although he played a few games in his early seasons it wasn’t until the season of 1956-57 that he made his mark, playing 32 times and scoring 9 goals. Joe had made the left-wing position his own, exciting the fans with his pace, skill and dribbling. He had already made his Republic of Ireland debut on the 10th May 1955 against the Netherlands. He also played in a London XI that made the final of the Inter City Fairs Cup, scoring in the semi-final against Lausanne but not making the cut to face Barcelona in the final. (Maybe that’s why they lost 6-1 on aggregate!).
He enjoyed seven years with the North London club, racking up 122 appearances and scoring 26 goals. Injury and losing his place in the side saw him leave for first team football, and he was sold for £25,000 to Blackburn Rovers. He spent one season there, and went on to play for many other clubs including, Millwall, Celtic and Bristol Rovers, until he returned home and played for Shelbourne for one season, making 26 appearances, scoring 3 goals.
In 1965, he went on to play for Chicago Spurs and Kansas City Spurs each for a season before coming back home again to play for Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers, playing twice in the European Cup Winners Cup for the Hoops, before then ending his career with Drogheda United.Joe had made 32 appearances for the Republic of Ireland, scoring three goals.
His best game, and these were in his words as you will read next, was the 1-0 win against the then European Champions Spain at Dalymount Park in a World Cup Qualifying match in 1965, in a team that also included Johnny Giles. Joe Haverty was inducted in the Republic of Ireland Hall of Fame in 2000.
That’s the facts about the man himself, and they are impressive enough, but let me tell you what he was like in person. A small man in stature but a larger than life character.
I had just started working in my local garage, it was a little box where I would simply take money off customers who were getting petrol. A standard teenager job. You would defiantly not expect a former Republic Ireland international and Arsenal player to come in and chat to you about football. In fact, I had no idea at first. I thought Joe was just an old timer who knew his football from years ago. He was good friends with the shop owner and he came in every evening to sit down in the office to watch whatever football was on the tele.
But first, he would venture into the garage and talk to whoever was working at the time, be it me or my mates, he would come in and talk football. One of them, Joey Reilly, who was a decent footballer playing for the local team, Rivervalley Rangers, was always giving advice on how to play and I remember Joe telling me many times, ‘He has what it takes you know’.
You see Joe was a scout for Arsenal, again a story I did not really believe at first, but he had told me that he had picked out loads of players here in Ireland, including Anthony Stokes, although he did say, ‘He is a quality player, but his attitude will get him nowhere’. Looking back on a lot of things Joe said to me, he was right.
As I said, I used to enjoy Joe’s visits and his stories of how he played for Drumcondra and Shelbourne, which again were believable but it wasn’t until he started talking about his career in England that I started to wonder was he going mad. We had started talking about Arsenal and Joe had said, ‘It’s not the club it was when I played there’. You see he never bragged or boasted about playing for Arsenal but would just mention it in passing. I never really took notice until he talked about playing for Ireland alongside Johnny Giles. He had mentioned he had played against Spain, who were the reigning European Champions at the time and they had beaten them 1-0 at Dalymount Park. I didn’t question him at the time as I enjoyed the stories, but I knew he could see I didn’t believe him.
How do I know this? The next day he brought in a picture to show me of him and Johnny Giles standing together for the national anthem. It was a black and white picture and, of course Joe looked much younger, but it was definitely him. He had other pictures but that was the one that stood out. I couldn’t believe it. That means all the other stories of him playing for Arsenal and Millwall must have been true I thought!
I went home that night and asked my dad about it as he was a huge Arsenal fan. He told me that Joe had played for Arsenal, but it would have been before he was even born. I checked up one of my dads’ books on the history of Arsenal and there was his name. Joe Haverty 1955-61. Stats and all. This to me was amazing. Joe was an actual former Arsenal and Republic of Ireland player. From then on I listened even more intently to his stories and there were some good ones.
One of the stories that stood out was at a time when he was playing for Millwall and a young Eamaon Dunphy had joined. Joe had said Dunphy was nervous about playing in front of the infamous Millwall crowd. They were in the tunnel before kick-off and they could hear the crowd chanting something, but they couldn’t quite make it out. Dunphy turned to Joe and asked him what they were chanting. Joe quickly replied. ‘There chanting my name Eamon’. That would be Joe alright. Quick witted. But it was a story after his playing career that really influenced me and at the time, I didn’t realise it would be a life lesson.
As mentioned previously, Joe was a scout for Ireland and would regularly go over to Aresnal’s academy and sit with Liam Brady and watch the younger teams play. Joe had told me about one time he and Brady were watching a youth match and Brady asked him to pick out the best player on the pitch. Joe picked out the Brazilian Denilson straight away as being far the best player on the pitch. Brady agreed but shocked Joe in his response. ‘We are letting him go Joe’, he said. Joe couldn’t believe it. ‘Why? He asked. ‘You should know Joe that football is all about improvement and trying to get better and better. That young lad is gifted but he hasn’t improved in the last six months he has been here.’ Joe told me he agreed with Brady but asked him to give the lad a chance. Joe always believed everyone should get a second chance. ‘So you see Phil, even if you are at the top of your game at anything you do, you should always try to improve’. Of course, Denilson went on to play in the first team at Arsenal and although he never set the world alight, I can’t help wonder if he ever knew that was down to little Joe Haverty.
I was sitting in my house, aged 19 watching something on the television when the news came to me that Joe had passed away. It was the 7th February 2009. I actually remember telling my dad and we both agreed we would go to the funeral as it was held in our local church in Rivervalley. I don’t go to funerals as a rule, I hate them for obvious reasons, but I felt I had to go to this one. The man was a legend and it showed as other former players turned up, including Johnny Giles. It was fitting that there was an Ireland international on later that week and Eamon Dunphy himself gave Joe a special mention and there was a minutes applause for him at the game. As silly as it may sound, I stood up in my living room and joined in, for the man that he was, the legend Joe Haverty.