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Thursday, February 18, 2016


Social media has been in uproar since last week's penalty-pass routine carried out by Barcelona duo Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez during their 6:1 demolition of Celta Vigo, when Messi prodded his penalty a yard forward and two yards to the right in the direction of the onrushing Suarez, who smashed the ball past the Celta Vigo goalkeeper.

An audacious move, indeed, and one that paid off handsomely (though some commentators felt that the spot-kick antics of the Barça pair were a slight on the opposing goalkeeper). It also had reporters, bloggers et all scrambling for footage on YouTube showing a similar incident which might have pre-dated the Messi and Suarez spot-kick double-act.

And, lo and behold, footage was to be found of Johan Cruyff and Jesper Olsen's penalty-one-two against Helmond Sport on 5 December 1982; many assume that this is the father of all penalty-pass moves.

But, no! That particular honour most probably belongs to Northern Irish pair Jackie Blanchflower and Jimmy McIlroy, who scored one against Portugal at Belfast's Windsor Park on May Day, 1957, during a 3:0 win for the hosts. Unfortunately, Blanchflower's goal was ruled out by the referee who ruled that he had encroached into the penalty-area before the whistle had blown for McIlroy to take the penalty. 

It would have been the end of a perfect day for manager Peter Doherty's team, who were leading 2:0 at the time in full of a full house at Windsor. Unpeturbed, McIlroy stepped up, re-took the penalty and put it to the Portuguese 'keeper's right and into the bottom corner for Northern Ireland's third.

The following January, Northern Ireland defeated Italy by 2 goals to 1 to qualify for the World Cup Finals for the very first time. Sadly, Jackie Blanchflower, a Manchester United player, would not make to the World Cup Finals in Sweden; he was seriously injured in the Munich Disaster just a month after the victory against Italy. He was read his last rites in the days after the disaster, and was hospitalised for two months. After unsucessfully attempting to make a comeback, he eventually had to retire, aged just 24, having won two League Championship medals and 12 caps for his country. He died from cancer in 1998, aged 65.

At the time of the match against Portugal, Jimmy McIlroy was playing for Burnley, then playing in the old First Division, who he had joined from Glentoran (where he had been a huge success in his one and only season for the club) in 1950. After being in the team that defeated Italy, he went on to play at the World Cup Finals - alongside Blanchflower's club colleague Harry Gregg, who not only survived the Munich Disaster, but pulled other passengers out of the wreckage - where he started all of Northern Ireland's matches at the tournament, when they were eliminated by France at the quarter-final stage. He won a League Championship medal with Burnley before moving to Stoke, and retired as a player in 1967 after two seasons with Oldham Athletic. He won 55 caps in all for Northern Ireland.

The footage of the McIlroy-Blanchflower penalty-pass, made by British Movietone News and at first thought to have been lost for good, appears to have turned up during the making of a documentary film and book, Spirit of '58, which chronicle the Northern Ireland team's successful quest to qualify for the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden. (The book is due for release in May of this year, but there are no plans as yet to put the documentary on DVD.)

Belgian pair Rik Coppens and André Piters are believed to be the first to have successfully pulled off the penalty-one-two - in the televisual era, at least - when Coppens scored against Iceland in a World Cup qualifier on 6 June 1957 at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. With 43 minutes gone, Belgium were already 6:1 ahead, Coppens having scored the sixth just a minute earlier.

Coppens took the penalty, prodding the ball sideways, which was collected by Piters, who prodded the ball back towards Coppens and past goalkeeper Björgvin Hermannsson, which left Coppens to tap the ball into an empty net from four yards while a somewhat bemused Hermannsson could only remain prostrate and watch. Belgium went on the win the match by 8 goals to 3.

Years later, in an interview included in archive material shown on an episode of De Grootste Belg, a documentary series on the top 100 or so Belgians of all time which was shown on Belgian television in 2005 (Coppens came 73rd on the VRT/Canvas list), Coppens said that neither he nor Piters had planned the move; it just happened when Coppens was about to take the penalty. Coppens stepped up to take the kick, saw "Popeye" Piters out of the corner of his eye, turned to him and said: "One-two, then..and the lad knew exactly what I meant..It was a..a reflex, and don't ask me why it happened. I don't know." 

Coppens spent the vast majority of his career with Beerschot; although he attracted interest from clubs such as Barcelona and Inter Milan, the club simply refused to release him. He was known not only for his goalscoring prowess, but also for his flamboyant style on the pitch and his rows with managers off it. He scored over 260 goals in 360 league games for Beerschot, Olympic de Charleroi, Crossing Molenbeek, Berchem Sport and Turbantia Borgerhout, where he hung up his boots in 1970. He later managed a number of clubs, beginning with Turbantia, before retiring in 1984. Coppens played 47 times for Belgium, scoring 21 goals. He died on 5 February 2015 after a long illness, aged 84.

Piters, on the other hand, was a less flamboyant figure, but was still well-respected within the game in Belgium and the Netherlands. He began his career as a youngster with Hervé FC before going on to wear the red and white of Standard Liège, where he gained not only a reputation as an excellent dribbler, but also the moniker "Popeye." He won two league championships with Standard before moving to Olympic de Charleroi. He spent two years there before moving to Dutch side Fortuna '54, where he won the KNVB Beker in 1964 and retired in 1967. Piters played only 23 times for Belgium, and scored 7 goals. He died on 24 October 2014, aged 83, just twelve days after losing his wife, Ivette.

There were probably others who had attempted the penalty-pass long before Blanchflower and McIlroy or Coppens and Piters, but their attempts have been lost in the mists of timeTelevision was still in its infancy throughout much of Europe, and footage of football matches played abroad would have been at a premium. In all probablility, neither Coppens nor Piters were aware of Blanchflower and McIlroy's unsuccessful attempt to bamboozle both goalkeeper and referee, but they were two audacious, clever, pieces of play

Yes, you can splash posts all over the internet eulogising Messi and Suarez's cleverness and claim that Cruyff and Olsen's one-two set a trend, but remember that Blanchflower and McIlroy or Coppens and Piters were there first..and that it's all there in black-and-white.

Link to footage of Rik Coppens and André Piters' penalty-one-two and De Grootste Belg feature on Coppens:

Link to footage of Jimmy McIlroy and Jackie Blanchflower's penalty-pass, and highlights of the match against Portugal:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Much of the information above was taken from Wikipedia and a host of websites including those of FIFA, the New York Times, RTBF, Canvas, Sporza, Nieuwsblad, La Meuse, BBC and

Kindly note that, should you wish to view the two pieces of film mentioned at the end of the article, you may be required do things the old-school way and copy and paste the links to the browser bar.

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