The 1958 World Cup is best remembered for Brazil’s brilliance, Just Fontaine’s 13 goals and the emergence of a 17-year-old superstar by the name of Edson Arantes do Nascimento. This is Geordie Boot Boys though, so of course we’re not here to talk about any of those. Besides, they’re much too well-known anyway. Instead, we’re going to be taking a look at Newcastle United’s representation at the 1958 finals in Sweden.
Prior to ’58, only three Newcastle United players had gone to the World Cup. There was England’s Jackie Milburn and Chile’s George Robledo in 1950, as well as another Englishman Ivor Broadis in 1954. At the 1958 World Cup, however, which was England’s third, not a single Newcastle United player was selected by the Three Lions for the first time. After an excellent start to the decade which began with back-to-back FA Cup wins and a third in 1955, the wheels had somewhat fallen off at St James’ Park. A 17th placed finish in the 1956-57 season was followed by a 19th placed finish in the season which immediately preceded the 1958 World Cup, only surviving relegation to the Second Division on goal difference.
That didn’t mean the Magpies weren’t represented in Sweden though, as Peter Doherty selected a trio of Newcastle players in his Northern Ireland squad. Arguably Northern Ireland’s greatest player until George Best came along, Doherty had taken the reins in 1951, and he guided the Green and White Army to qualification in a group containing only themselves, Italy and Portugal. It was some feat, and it showed that Doherty’s men would be no pushovers in Sweden.
The former Manchester City stars final squad of 17 included three Newcastle United players – Portsmouth were the only other team to have more than a sole representative in the squad. Those players were left-back Alf McMichael, right-back Richard ‘Dick’ Keith, and half-back Thomas ‘Tommy’ Casey. McMichael was the most experienced of the trio, and he had also spent the longest with Newcastle United, having joined the club from Linfield in 1950. A sure starter for the Northern Irish, only Spurs star Danny Blanchflower (30) had more caps than McMichael (29) in Doherty’s squad.
Dick Keith had significantly less experience, aged 25 at the time and having only amassed 3 caps for the country prior to the tournament kicking off. He was also the most recent recruit on Tyneside, having only joined the club the previous summer, coming close to relegation in his debut campaign. A tough-tackling holding midfielder, Casey joined Newcastle from Bournemouth in 1952, as well as briefly playing alongside John Charles at Leeds United. Capped eight times prior to the tournament in Sweden, he was nicknamed ‘Cast Iron Casey’ due to his hard tackling and no nonsense approach.
Just as they had been in qualifying, Northern Ireland were handed a tough group at the tournament proper. Drawn in Group 1 against West Germany, Argentina and Czechoslovakia, there would be no gimmes for Northern Ireland in Sweden. Doherty’s men began the tournament in Europe’s northernmost city, Halmstad, against Czechoslovakia. In a talented squad, Josef Masopust was the countries standout player. One of the finest midfielders Europe has ever produced, Masopust would go on to score in a World Cup final and win a Ballon d’Or, but not in 1958. McMichael and Keith started for Northern Ireland, and in a closely fought match, Billy Cush scored the only goal of the game to give them a great start to the competition.
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Orjans Vall stadium up in Halmstad hosted only two games at the 1958 World Cup, and both of them involved Northern Ireland. In their second match, McMichael and Keith started in the full-back positions once more, this time against Argentina. The South Americans came out on top though, taking their chances in a 3-1 win. It was incredibly tight going into the final group game, with every team still capable of qualifying, and every team capable of going out. As Northern Ireland headed to Malmo to face the West Germans, who were reigning world champions, Tommy Casey was given the nod, meaning all three Newcastle players would start against the 1954 winners.
A strong German side could call upon the likes of Fritz Walter, Uwe Seeler and Helmut Rahn, two of whom scored against Northern Ireland, but a Peter McParland brace earnt them a 2-2 draw. Elsewhere, Czechoslovakia thrashed Argentina 6-1, meaning Argentina were out and a play-off would be required to see who progressed between Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia. Fresh off the back of a thumping victory over the Argentinians, Czechoslovakia may have fancied their chances, but McParland was in flying form. He scored twice yet again, once to equalise in normal time, and another to win it in extra-time.
Casey had been dropped for the 2-1 win over the Czechs, but he returned as Northern Ireland were drawn against France in the Quarter-Finals. The French team of the 1958 World Cup are one of the great forgotten international outfits. France had topped their group, and stand-in centre-forward Just Fontaine had already bagged six goals in three games. He added another two against Northern Ireland, as the Home Nation was dumped out 4-0 by a scintillating French side who would only be beaten by eventually winners Brazil.
Newcastle-less England and Scotland were both knocked out in the group stages. It took 24 years before Northern Ireland next qualified for a World Cup, and today – 60 years on – they still haven’t been able to better or equal reaching the Quarter-Finals in ’58. Alf McMichael, the pick of the Newcastle United trio who starred for Northern Ireland, went on to manage South Shields and Bangor. Tommy Casey left Newcastle United shortly after the World Cup, but kept playing into his later 30’s, later managing Northern Ireland’s youth team and in Scandinavia.
Dick Keith gave a further six years of service to Newcastle United after the tournament, racking up more than 200 appearances and even captaining the side before a 1964 transfer to Bournemouth. By 1967, Keith was still playing, but by now it was non-league stuff with Southern League side Weymouth, which he combined with working in a builder’s yard. On February 28th, there was an accident on site. Keith fractured his skull, and the injuries killed him, aged 33.