It is conceivably the first time the trio of ‘Sean Lemass, The IRA & The FA Cup’ have been mentioned in the same breath, but the one thing connecting them is the relatively unheard story of Dubliner Tom Farquharson.
Tom Farquharson, the son of Thomas Farquharson, a master plumber and a member of the Presbyterian minority, was born in Dublin in 1900. He grew up in Drumcondra and played football as a youth with Annally, as well as playing Gaelic Football.
During this time Farquharson was a close friend of Sean Lemass, who would go on to become Taoiseach between 1959 and 1966. During the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 21) both Lemass and Farquharson were committed ‘Nationalists’, with Farquharson being a fringe or ‘non-violent member’ of the IRA who ran messages, took people to safe houses and that sort of thing. Whatever his status or role in the IRA the pair were arrested for removing wanted posters on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin and detained in Mountjoy Prison. His father was friendly with a British Army Major with whom he did business, and the Major got him off, with the proviso that Farquharson would leave Ireland and he did. This incident would enforce a change in his life and set him on a path which he never conceived plausible.
Farquharson began a new chapter of his life, moving to the Gwent Valleys in Wales where he worked as a painter & decorator or carpenter. On arriving in Wales he took up rugby union and played as a full back for Blackwood. It was about this time he went to watch local Welsh football league side, Oakdale, who were short a goalkeeper and he volunteered to stand in. It turned out he wasn’t a bad handler of the ball from his time playing Gaelic Football back in Ireland. From Oakdale he moved to fellow Welsh league side Abertillery and it was here that Cardiff City, then a top 1st Division club, spotted him in February 1922 and he came on trial. Soon after the trial he signed as a professional and made his debut in the last game of the 1921/22 season, against Manchester United at home.
During his time at Cardiff City Farquharson would go on to make 445 league appearances for the Bluebirds, a club record which stood until 1985. Standing at over 6 feet tall, he became one of the top goalkeepers of that era. He was famed it seems for his tactics when it came to penalty kicks, whereby he would run from the back of the net as the penalty-taker ran in. During the quarter-final of the 1927 FA Cup against Chelsea for example, he charged toward the taker, Andy Wilson and blocked it on the six yard line. So effective was it that in 1929 the rule was changed to require the goalkeeper stand on the goal-line until the ball had been kicked. One of the rumours which surrounded Farquharson’s time at Cardiff City was that he carried a gun in his kit bag. Cardiff City Club historian Richard Shepherd ensures the tale is true, having spoken with a teammate who played with Farquharson and confirmed he had seen his gun on occasions. Farquharson said he carried it because of certain persons back in Ireland but didn’t elaborate further than that.
In his 13 years with Cardiff City he helped them finish as First Division runners up in 1923/24 and reach the FA Cup final in 1925 and 1927. Cardiff City lost the first to Sheffield United but in 1927 they made history, beating Arsenal 1–0, in front of 93,000 fans inside Wembley. It was a historic occasion for a multitude of reasons. Victory ensured Cardiff City as the first, and to date, the only non-English team to win the competition. It was also the final where the FA Cup anthem ‘Abide With Me’ was sung and the first cup final to be broadcast live on BBC Radio, and where we get the phrase ‘Back to Square One’ from. Radio commentators used a grid published in the Radio Times to describe the match action – and square one was the area nearest to one of the goals.
While playing for Cardiff he was also an Ireland International, this was a time when the team came from the whole of Ireland. Following partition there was a Northern Ireland FA & Irish FA but he was still playing for the All-Ireland team. However in September 1931 he refused his selection when picked to play against Scotland on what he called “a matter of principle”. According to Club Historian Shepherd, Farquharson didn’t see why Northern Ireland FA should pick players from the whole of Ireland and he didn’t see why the Irish FA should pick players from the whole of Ireland – so he didn’t play.
Tom Farquharson called time on his football career, retiring at the end of the 1934/35 season. Following his retirement from the game he stayed living in Cardiff after 1935 working as a painter and decorator before later opening a tobacconists kiosk in the middle of Cardiff. In 1958 he emigrated to Toronto to join family members. He died in 1971 at the age of 71, calling time on a colourful character who led a full and eventful life steeped with interest, intrigue and rich historical significance.
With thanks to Richard Shepherd, Club Historian at Cardiff City FC.