Tommy Breen

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Tommy Breen
Personal information
Full name Thomas Breen
Date of birth (1912-04-27)27 April 1912
Place of birth Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland
Date of death 1 March 1988(1988-03-01)
Playing position Goalkeeper
Youth career
192? Drogheda Commercials
192? Drogheda United
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1929–1932 Newry Town ? (?)
1932–1937 Belfast Celtic ? (?)
1937–1939 Manchester United 65 (0)
1939–1944 Belfast Celtic ? (?)
1944–1946 Linfield ? (?)
1946–1947 Shamrock Rovers ? (?)
1947–1948 Glentoran 14 (0)
National team
1935–1946 Ireland (IFA) 13 (0)
1937–1947 Ireland (FAI) 5 (0)
1932–1946 Irish League XI 8 (0)
1946–1947 League of Ireland XI 3 (0)
1935 Ireland/Wales XI 1 (0)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Tommy Breen (27 April 1912 – 1 March 1988) was an Irish footballer who played as a goalkeeper for, among others, Belfast Celtic, Manchester United, Linfield and Shamrock Rovers. Breen was a dual international and played for both Ireland teams: the IFA XI and the FAI XI.

Breen replaced Elisha Scott as first-choice goalkeeper for both Belfast Celtic and the IFA XI and was rated by Billy Behan, one of his predecessors at Manchester United and a renowned scout, as one of the best goalkeepers Ireland ever produced. He was also the first Manchester United player ever to play for an FAI XI. During his career, Breen was involved in several controversies; in November 1937, he turned down the chance to play for the FAI XI in a 1938 World Cup qualifier to play for the IFA XI in the 1938 British Home Championship. Then, in 1944, he transferred from Belfast Celtic to their rivals Linfield after a financial dispute.

Club career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Born in Drogheda, County Louth, Breen began his career playing as a forward for local teams, Drogheda Commercials and Drogheda United. However, a leg injury temporarily prevented him from playing up front and, rather than miss playing, he switched positions and became a goalkeeper. Then, in 1929, he was signed as an amateur by Newry Town.

Belfast Celtic[edit]

In 1932, Breen signed for Belfast Celtic and subsequently represented the Irish League XI within months of arriving at the club. During his first season, he also collected his first Irish League winner's medal. Together with Jackie Brown, Jimmy McAlinden, Billy McMillan, Jackie Vernon and Charlie Tully, he was a prominent member of the Celtic team managed by Elisha Scott. This team dominated the Irish League before and during the Second World War. After a spell at Manchester United, Breen returned to Celtic during the Second World War, and in 1941, he helped them win the Irish Cup when they beat Linfield.

Manchester United[edit]

Breen signed for Manchester United in 1936 and conceded his first goal in the first minute of his debut, on 28 November against Leeds United in 2–1 away defeat. Despite his best efforts, Breen could not stop United from being relegated at the end of the 1936–37 season. However, the following season, with a team that also included Johnny Carey, Harry Baird, Tommy Bamford, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson, Breen helped United gain promotion back to the First Division. During his time with United, he played in 65 league games for the club. He also played six games for United in the FA Cup. However, the competition was not kind to Breen; on 30 January 1937, he featured in a 5–0 defeat to Arsenal in the fourth round. Then, a year later, on 22 February 1938, in a tie against Barnsley, Breen touched a long throw-in into his own goal.


In 1944, Breen left Belfast Celtic for the second time, after a dispute about wages. He then joined their local rivals, Linfield who paid him 10 shillings more. Breen subsequently captained a Linfield team that also included Davy Walsh to two successive Irish Cup victories, winning 4–2 against Glentoran in 1945 and 3–0 against Distillery in 1946. In 1946, Manchester United attempted to re-sign Breen but Linfield were unwilling to accept the £1,000 valuation. However he then joined Shamrock Rovers on a free transfer.

Shamrock Rovers[edit]

Breen spent just one season, 1946–47, at Shamrock Rovers where he played alongside Paddy Coad. During his season at Rovers, he was recalled to the FAI XI and played for the League of Ireland XI on three occasions.


After just one season with Shamrock Rovers, Breen returned to the Irish League and signed for Glentoran. However, he made just 14 league appearances for the Glens before dislocating the cartilage in his knee during a match against Bangor. Unable to continue playing, he later claimed £175 from Glentoran under the Workman's Compensation Act.

International career[edit]

When Breen began his international career in 1935, there were, in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations, the Northern Ireland-based IFA and the Irish Free State-based FAI claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and selected players from the whole island. As a result, several notable Irish players from this era, including Breen, played for both teams.

1937 Dispute[edit]

In November 1937, Breen was caught in the middle of a dispute between the FAI and the IFA, when both associations wanted him to play for their respective national teams within the same week. Breen was called up by the FAI XI to play in a 1938 World Cup qualifier against Norway on 7 November. However, the IFA XI also called him up to play in a 1938 British Home Championship game against Scotland on 10 November.

The IFA's own rules, however, stated that a player must not play for three days before an international fixture. Thus, if Breen lined up for the FAI XI against Norway, he would have been ineligible to play for the IFA XI against Scotland. As a result, when the IFA offered Breen a place in their team, it came with the condition that he drop out of the FAI XI. Breen's club at the time, Manchester United, even offered to arrange for him to travel from Dublin to Aberdeen after the first game, but the rival associations failed to reach an agreement. Breen eventually opted to play for the IFA XI, and helped them to a 1–1 draw, but the decision cost him his place in the FAI XI.

IFA XI[edit]

Between 1935 and 1946, Breen made 13 appearances for the IFA XI. He made his international debut in a 2–1 defeat to England on 6 February 1935. Later in the same year, on 11 May at Goodison Park, Breen also played for an Ireland/Wales XI in a 10–2 defeat against an English League XI. During the seasons approaching the Second World War, Breen established himself as the IFA XI's first-choice keeper, making nine appearances between 1935 and 1939. On 9 September 1944, at Windsor Park, Breen played for the IFA XI in an 8–4 defeat against a Combined Services XI. This team was basically a Great Britain XI and featured, among others, Matt Busby, Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Stan Mortensen. During the 1945–46 season, he also played in the three Victory Internationals. He made his last appearance for the IFA XI in a 1–0 win against Wales on 4 May 1946. This was the only time Breen featured in a winning IFA XI.

FAI XI[edit]

Between 1937 and 1947, Breen made five appearances for the FAI XI. He made his first two appearances for the FAI XI in May 1937 while playing for Manchester United and as a result became the first United player to play for an FAI XI. The FAI had organised a European tour with a squad that included Breen, Paddy Farrell, Jackie Brown and Jimmy Dunne. Breen subsequently made his debut for the FAI XI on 17 May in a 1–0 win against Switzerland. A week later, on 23 May, he also helped the FAI XI defeat France 2–0. Keeping a clean sheet against the French meant Breen became the first goalkeeper to keep two consecutive clean sheets for the FAI XI. After his fall out with the FAI in 1937, Breen did not play for the FAI XI again until 1946, making his last three appearances while at Shamrock Rovers. On 30 September 1946, he made his comeback in a 1–0 defeat to England at Dalymount Park. Then, on 2 March 1947, he helped the FAI XI to a respectable 3–2 win against Spain. On 4 May 1947, he made his last appearance for the FAI XI in 2–0 defeat against Portugal.


Belfast Celtic
  • Irish League (7): 1932–33, 1935–36, 1936–37, 1939–40, 1940–41, 1941–42, 1943–44
  • Irish Cup (1): 1941


  • The Boys in Green – The FAI International Story (1997): Sean Ryan
  • Soccer at War – 1939 – 45 (2005): Jack Rollin
  • DUFC A Claret and Blue History by Brian Whelan (2010)

External links[edit]