What has the Northern League ever done for us?

#14 Cardiff City, #15 Dundee and #16 Dundee United.

1927 wasn’t a particularly momentous year for Esh Winning Football Club. They finished last of the Northern League’s fourteen teams with just eleven points and four wins from their twenty-six games. But for Cardiff City, 1927 was the most momentous year of all. On St George’s Day at Wembley, in the first FA Cup Final to be broadcast by the BBC, a single goal was enough to defeat Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal and take the Cup out of England for the first and only time in its history. As 91,000 fans and Arsenal’s beaten players looked on, Fred Keenor, son of a Cardiff bricklayer, ascended the thirty-nine steps to the Royal box, where he was presented with the trophy by a beaming, bowler-hatted King George V. Among the ten men who followed was a 33-year-old inside-right by the name of Samuel Johnstone Irving.

Born in Belfast in 1893, Irving began his career alongside Stan Seymour – a future First Division title and FA Cup winner with Newcastle – at Shildon Athletic in the now-defunct North Eastern League, where he played against Hartlepools United, Darlington and the reserve sides of Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. After an unsuccessful trial at Newcastle and a spell with Galashiels, he arrived at Esh Winning in 1912 and became an integral part of the side which won the title in the club’s first ever Northern League season. Irving’s performances for Esh were enough to earn a professional contract with Bristol City – a Second Division side which had reached the FA Cup Final only four years previously – where he would make eighteen appearances before moving on to the Scottish top flight with Dundee. Irving’s two spells with the Dark Blues – either side of a return to the North Eastern League with Blyth Spartans and Shildon – saw him win the first ten of his eighteen caps for Northern Ireland and a runners-up medal in the 1925 Scottish FA Cup Final, Dundee losing 2-1 to Celtic at Hampden Park. Within a year of that defeat he had journeyed south once again, arriving at Cardiff City, his eleventh club, in a swap deal which saw Scottish international and Military Medal recipient Joe Cassidy move in the opposite direction.

FA Cup, Welsh Cup and Charity Shield medals followed, Irving playing fifty-seven games in all competitions for Cardiff scoring four times, including the first goal of the 3-2 1927 FA Cup quarter final replay win over Chelsea. Ironically enough, it was Stamford Bridge that would be his next port of call.

After transferring to Chelsea in March 1928, Irving was a member of the team which clinched promotion back to the First Division in 1930. He also toured South America, where the Blues became the first professional side to play in Sao Paolo and were pelted with oranges to go with the leeks which had been hurled at Irving and his Cardiff teammates before their famous victory over Arsenal. Aged 38, he wound down his playing career in Division Three (South) with Bristol Rovers, finishing above a Cardiff side which had plummeted down the leagues in the years immediately following their Wembley success.

After retiring as a player, Irving opened a billiards hall back in Dundee, but soon found himself drawn back into football. Part of a consortium of businessmen that bought control of Dundee United in 1937, he served as joint-manager alongside Tannadice legend Jimmy Brownlie for a single season before stepping down to take up the post of director. After the war, he ran a newsagent’s and bar in the city, where he died, aged 75, in 1968.

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