Don Givens – QPR and Irish International Legend

The 30th October 1974 will stand forever in the memory of sports fans the world over, for it was on that date that Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in the heat of Kinshasa, Zaire.

Another event happened on that historic evening in 1974 that will never be forgotten by Irish football fans. The USSR soccer team visited Dublin for the opening fixture in a European Championship qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at Dalymount Park for the 1976 European Championships. The USSR team at that time was made up mainly of the Dynamo Kiev side with a few additions from other Soviet clubs. At the previous European Championships they had finished as runners-up.

Ireland’s international football team had been in a bit of a mess for some time, through lack of organisation until John Giles took over and brought a new level of professionalism. Before this game in the summer of ’74, he took his squad on a tour of South America. Ireland did well to contain a Brazil team that included such celebrated players as Rivelino, Jairzinho, Paulo Cesar and goalkeeper Emerson Leao and the 2-1 win for the home side pointed to a spirited performance from Ireland.

Ireland went on to lose 0-2 to Uruguay but then illustrated the progress that was being made by beating Chile 2-1 with goals from Eion Hand and Jimmy Conway.

The attendance in Dalymount that night is quoted as being 32,000 in some reports and in others as 35,000 but whichever is correct; those who attended witnessed a highly competitive game. Don Givens was celebrating his 25th international appearance and certainly made it an occasion to remember.

Givens was at the peak of his powers and playing consistently for Queen’s Park Rangers. Big, powerful and extremely mobile, he looked the complete centre-forward as he scored a hat-trick of goals to give Ireland a 3-0 success in a match of many highlights. And it was scored in a tough and highly competitive game in which both teams finished with ten players after Ireland’s Terry Mancini, then of Arsenal (yes the same player who later pulled a mooner to the QPR Directors),and Kaplichny had been sent off in the 32nd minute.

The match was also highly significant because it marked the introduction of one of Ireland’s truly great players, Liam Brady. The skilful midfielder had made his debut with Arsenal at 17-years-of-age in October 1972. Player-manager Giles and the young Brady with his flowing locks, controlled midfield, and Givens provided the finishing touches to a memorable night.

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. Givens notched the first of his two Irish hat-tricks – he would nab four against Turkey in 1976.

Right from the start the Irish were on the front foot, a Giles free kick to Mancini went just wide. Then Givens shot wide following a knock down by Treacy. In the 15th minute there were appeals for a penalty as Givens appeared to be pulled back by a defender.

In the 23rd minute, Joe Kinnear, after being fed by Giles, crossed for Givens to score with a fine header, 1-0. Oleg Blokhin then broke through in the 27th minute but his shot sailed harmlessly over the bar and three minutes later it was 2-0. A long throw-in from the right by Steve Heighway, broke to Treacy who headed towards the near up-right and there was Givens to force the ball home.

Then in the 37th minute as Giles prepared to take a corner from the right, Mancini and Kaplichny were getting to grips with each other in the penalty area. The Soviet finished up on the ground and after receiving treatment both he and Mancini were sent off. Just before half-time Heighway had a shot punched away by Pilgui.

Three minutes into the second-half Brady had a 30-yard shot saved. In the 57th minute Roche made a save in the Irish goal and watched as the rebound was sent wide. Then in the 70th minute Givens sealed the victory, heading home a Giles free kick. Giles himself nearly scored in the 85th minute with a left-footed volley that the keeper tipped over the bar.

Things may have gone well on the pitch, but after the game 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 out in Booterstown, outside the city to change into their civvies.

Many years later Givens gave an interview, he said: “It’s true that myself and Eoin Hand had to get back to England. We skipped the showers in Dalymount, we battered our way through the crowds down the lane outside ‘Dayler’, me still with ball and we walked down St. Peter’s Road and decided to hitch a lift,” smiled Givens. “We couldn’t get a taxi for love nor money.”

On and on they went down to the old cattle market on the North Circular Road, when a passer-by pulled up. They jumped into the car, full of sweat and out of breath. “Howyiz lads” the driver beckoned. “Were yizzer at the match ?” The two boys just looked at each other and burst out laughing. “It turned out he actually knew my father, so instead of just dropping us at the taxi rank, he brought us all the way out to the hotel.”

Along with USSR in the group were Turkey and Switzerland. The winner of this group would have to play-off against the winner of another group to determine the qualifier. That 3-0 win in the opening game courtesy of Given’s goals had given Ireland a fighting chance of making the play-off.

He scored again in a 1-1 draw against Turkey in Izmir on 20th November 1974. Ireland conceded an own goal in the 56th minute but eight minutes later Givens struck a marvellous equaliser. It was, however, a very settled and focused Irish team that looked well on course to a convincing win over Switzerland at Dalymount on May 10th after Mick Martin and Ray Treacy put them two goals in front. Then a late goal for Switzerland made for a tense closing fifteen minutes.

Two points were awarded for a win in those days and with five from a possible six now safely harvested, Ireland travelled away for a hectic two games in four days later that month in May with spirits high and confidence surging.

The Soviet Union were first up on May 18th 1975, and the game was played in Kiev in deference to the fact that the Soviet Union were represented almost exclusively by the Dynamo Kiev players who had won the European Cup Winners Cup just a few days previously.

The atmosphere generated by an excited crowd of 100,000 was remarkable and Ireland had to endure a torrid time as the Soviets played dynamic football at breath-neck speed. They were inspired when Oleg Blokhin scored after just eleven minutes and goalkeeper Paddy Roche had to play brilliantly to hold them at bay after Kolotov scored a second in the 28th minute.

Ireland were a confident and competitive group, however, and they worked their way back into the contest. The Soviets’ early sparkle was dulled by determined Irish football and after Eoin Hand had scored in the 79th minute, Ireland pushed for an equaliser. Terry Conroy narrowly missed once and the Soviets were mightily relieved at the final whistle.

The huge effort Ireland made in Kiev took its toll when they faced Switzerland three days later in Berne. Jimmy Holmes and Ray Treacy came into the team in place of Joe Kinnear and Steve Heighway but it was a tired Irish side that fell to the only goal of a poor match. Qualification for the finals was now the property of the Soviet Union and Ireland showed what a pity this was when they played Turkey in the final match on October 29th, 1975, at Dalymount Park. The ill-feeling that had been evident between the teams in their first meeting in Izmir now surfaced again.

Twice the action on the pitch inflamed the crowd so the referee twice threatened to abandon the match. The referee sent off Mick Martin and Turkey’s Alpaslan eleven minutes from the end, but amidst the confusion Ireland played some compelling football and Don Givens illustrated just what a special player he was, scoring all four goals in a memorable 4-0 victory.

International Career:

Givens made 56 appearances for the senior team between 1969 and 1982, scoring 19 goals, including the record four-goal haul against Turkey, and becoming his country’s leading goalscorer for a period. He currently ranks joint forth on that list along with Tony Cascarino, behind Frank Stapleton on 20, Niall Quinn on 21 and Robbie Keane on 53 and still counting.

Givens’ time in an Ireland shirt was one of frustration. He began playing during the ill-fated 1970 World Cup qualifying campaign, when an Irish team with great names including Givens, Mick Meagan and John Giles, could not find enough consistency to make an impact, and finished last in a group containing Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Denmark. Givens did open his competitive scoring for Ireland with goals against Hungary and Denmark.

In the following 1972 European Championships and subsequent 1974 World Cup, Ireland faced tough opposition and never found themselves in with a chance of qualification. Givens did not score in either of these tournaments.

The 1976 European Championships has been well documented above and it was now on to the 1978 World Cup, Ireland was paired with France again, and Bulgaria. Ireland beat France 1-0 in their new home stadium, Lansdowne Road, but lost 0-2 in Paris. Givens scored in Sofia, but it was a consolation as Ireland lost 1-2 and subsequently went out of the World Cup with a 0-0 draw in the final game against Bulgaria at Lansdowne Road.

For the 1980 European Championships, Ireland were drawn in a group alongside England, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Denmark. It was a disappointing campaign for Givens, who, despite scoring against Denmark, was unable to make an impact in a group where Ireland would manage just two wins from eight games.

By the 1982 World Cup, Ireland had acquired a world class team, with Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Mark Lawrenson, Chris Hughton, Gerry Daly and others, and there was excitement that this team could not only qualify for the World Cup, they could make some waves there.

It was therefore devastating to the team to hear their draw: Belgium, France, Holland and Cyprus. Ireland would end up losing out to France on goal difference, but Givens was no longer the main threat, and his last appearance for Ireland was in the 3-2 win at home to France.

Don Givens the QPR striker made history that cold October night in Dublin in 1974 and I’m proud to have been a witness to it. Nights like that don’t come around too often. Muhammed Ali never did float like a butterfly that fateful night in 1974, as with Givens, but they both did sting like a bee and with devastating effect !!!

John O’Donohue

4 thoughts on “Don Givens – QPR and Irish International Legend

  1. The story goes that Terry Mancini turned to Don Givens whilst the anthems were playing before the USSR match and said, ‘Their anthem goes on a bit, doesn’t it?’, only to be informed by Don that it was the Irish anthem that was playing. No doubt apocryphal but no less entertaining for all that. This was long before Jack Charlton’s days under the FAI [Find Another Irishman], of course, and no one could quite work out by which means Mancini qualified to play for Ireland. Regarding Givens, he was a steal for Rangers at ¬£40,000 from Luton in 1972. One wonders what on earth Manchester United – whose team was ageing at the time – were thinking of letting Givens go in the first place. Givens was a superb player but vastly underrated, I feel. He combined power,subtlety,elegance and intelligence. He had that ability to ‘hang’ in the air; he was excellent with his head. Also, he had the capability of shooting powerfully and accurately with both feet. I have never seen a player before or since at Rangers who scored from so many ridiculous angles, with sheer uninhibited power and unerring placement,usually sending his shots ripping unstoppably across the keeper into the far corner of the net. A very fondly remembered player, part of the triumvirate of players – Bowles and Thomas being the other two, of course – who were signed by Gordon Jago within the space of 3 months and who completely transformed the Rangers attack. Three tremendous players who all complemented each other perfectly with their different qualities. What great days they were, and thanks for remembering Don Givens on here, John: a fine player, indeed.

  2. Did’nt Don go on to play in his forties, playing sweeper for a Swiss side? Him and Parksy were the last of the great Rangers 70’s side to hang up their boots

  3. Great article. Liam Brady was of course the (much) younger brother of Pat and Ray Brady, Rs stalwarts of the early 60s. A programme from that era mentions their younger brother William being at the game!

  4. great article. i decided to follow don givens after he scored 4 against turkey and have been a QPR diehard since. Going to Wembley for play off final but no ticket yet. Any ideas?

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