Eddie Gannon: a joy to watch

Pictured above: Notts County FC 1946/47. Eddie Gannon is sixth from left in the middle row.

Eddie Gannon was born in 1921 and grew up in Pearse House flats on Pearse Street. He was football mad and became known as ‘a good little player’.

When he left school at fifteen, he worked at the Hammond Lane foundry and played as a forward for the foundry works team.

When he turned eighteen, he got a break and signed for Shelbourne in 1940. Even with his obvious talent, Gannon wasn’t ready for the Shelbourne team and he was sent on loan to the junior league club, Drumcondra Distillery.

With Distillery, Gannon began playing in midfield instead of up front, and the change in position was the making of him as a player. His excellent play helped Distillery win the 1942 Leinster Senior Cup final.

Gannon returned to Shelbourne for the 1942/43 season and became a regular player in the first team. In his second season, he was a star for the Reds, as they won the League of Ireland in thrilling style by beating Shamrock Rovers 5-3 in the deciding game of the championship.

A report about the winning team praised Gannon as “the personification of a modern midfield player, his boundless energy and tremendous enthusiasm making him an ideal link between defence and attack.”

Gannon’s talent attracted attention from clubs across the Irish Sea and he was signed by Notts County in July 1946. He settled in to English football quickly, and his committed and consistent style of play made him a club favourite.

He spent two and a half years with County, playing 107 league games, before leaving the club in March 1949. On his departure, the Nottingham Evening Post called Gannon “one of the best who ever played for County.” That’s not bad praise, coming from the oldest professional football club in the world.

Sheffield Wednesday bought Gannon for £15,000, a big fee but it proved to be well worth it. Wednesday was a big club with a proud tradition of success, but they had been stuck in Division Two for twelve seasons until Gannon arrived.

During the 1949/50 season Gannon played 40 league games for Sheffield Wednesday, who won promotion to Division One, and he was brilliant throughout.

Good as he was, the 1950/51 season ended with relegation back to the second division. This time, their stay there was a short one. In the 1951/52 season Gannon played extremely well for Wednesday and they won the Division Two championship. It was the club’s first trophy in 22 years.

In 1948, Gannon won his first international cap for the Republic of Ireland, in a loss against Switzerland. The Irish Independent reported that he “gave Ireland’s forwards sufficient of the ball to win the match.” He played in each of Ireland’s next four matches. His first win in a green shirt came when the highly-rated Portugal were beaten 1-0 at Dalymount Park in May 1949. The Irish Independent praised his playmaking skills which “kept Ireland on the offensive all the time” against the Portuguese.

The victory gave the Irish some grounds for optimism regarding their attempt to qualify for the 1950 World Cup. However, Ireland lost their first two qualifying matches, against Sweden and Spain, and in September, 1949 they faced into their next qualifier, against Finland with no reasonable expectation of success.

Ireland beat Finland, cleanly and comprehensively, scoring three and conceding none. Gannon’s contribution to the game was noted. The archive praised how he “covered an amazing amount of ground.” History was made that day – it was the Republic of Ireland’s first-ever win in a World Cup qualifying match.

It was the first step on a long, long road into the future, to the football fields of Europe, America and Asia. All the famous Irish football nights in Stuttgart, Genoa and New Jersey held echoes of that long ago, almost forgotten, win against Finland.

After beating the Finns, things were looking up for Ireland. Qualification was still possible but on account of Gannon’s value to Sheffield Wednesday, they often refused to release him for Ireland duty. While the Finland match had been his sixth consecutive appearance for Ireland, he did not play in the last two World Cup qualifiers. Ireland failed to qualify.

Subsequently, while playing thirty or forty matches a season for Sheffield Wednesday, Gannon was consistently absent from the Ireland team. He played only three internationals over the next three years, before being recalled to the Ireland team during the 1954 World Cup qualifying campaign. His first two games back were Ireland’s win against Luxembourg in Dublin in October 1953 and the loss in Paris against France that November.

That result finished off Ireland’s chances of qualifying for the ‘54 World Cup and, at the age of 33, Gannon would not have another chance to play at a World Cup tournament. He played three more games for Ireland after the France match, gaining rave press notices in this last phase of his international career. In Ireland’s win against Norway in November ‘54, Gannon was “right on top in the middle of the field, playing a stream of passes and keeping the forwards pinned down,” according to the Irish Times.

In May 1955, Gannon played his last match for Ireland in Hamburg against the world champions, West Germany. He was 34 at the time, but gave a typically excellent and energetic performance which helped keep Ireland in the game. He was back at Shelbourne by then, having played his last game for Sheffield Wednesday in February 1955.

After nine seasons and 311 league games in England, he was ready to go home. He played two more seasons with ‘Shels’, before retiring in 1957 as a hero to football fans in England and Ireland. One of those, a long-time Shelbourne supporter, said: “Eddie Gannon was the best trapper of a ball in the world, I can see it now, a ball would be in the air and he’d just stick his foot up and whip it down. He was a joy to watch.”

By Gavan Bergin