Thursday, 1 December 2011

Matthew Kunding

The First Irish Footballer in Europe

1909 - 1910 : Torino (Italy)
1910 - 1911 : Juventus (Italy)

100 years ago, organised football in Italy was still very much in its infancy. Beginning in 1898,  regional leagues were being run by the Italian FA. Its main clubs were largely created by ex patriot British students, businessmen and socialites. The game was not professional, most players were semi-amateur, worked on rolling contracts, or were employed by companies who paid them indirectly to play on Sundays for their club.

By 1909, due to increased popularity and affluence, the regional leagues were combined into one, the Prima Categoria. Genoa had been the most successful club, having won 6 titles already, Pro Vercelli, the fallen giant of the Italian game, were then in their ascendancy. Torino, a relatively new team, had already struck up a rivalry with an older team across town, Juventus, and the Italian Championship was beginning to see a steady immigration of foreign players, mainly from Switzerland, England and Scotland.

Into this expanding and increasingly competitive Italian league came an obscure and (possibly) mythical Irish midfielder named Matthew 'Matts' Kunding. Nothing is known about Kunding's origin. His name may seem strange and explicitly un-Irish, but he appears as such on the record books of Torino for that season. A 'British national', birthplace: Ireland. Ireland was part of the United Kingdom in 1909, so this is not unusual.

Wherever he came from or whoever he was is unknown. What we do know about Kunding is that his career in Italian football began as something of a baptism of fire. His first game was the Turin Derby against rivals Juventus. Torino won the game 3-1 at the Velodrome Humbert I. Kunding went on to play most of Torino's games that season, making thirteen appearances in total.

The next year, in 1910, Kunding made history as the first footballer to play for both Torino and Juventus when he moved across Turin to don the black and white stripes of the Old Lady. He made his debut for Juventus on 27th of November 1910 in a 1-1 draw with Piedemeont (a now extinct team). This second term in the Prima Categoria was much less successful than his year with Torino. Kunding made only four appearances for Juve, being dropped after a 0-2 loss to AC Milan, although an early season change in management and staff at the club may have played its part too. Kunding's last mention in Juventus' records, and the history books, comes on 19th March 1911, when he played in a 0-3 defeat to Genoa. Kunding never appears anywhere again, for any football club, and is lost to history.

Kunding remains a mystery. To Italian football statistics trolls, he is sometimes regarded as 'mitico' (mythical). The lack of almost any credible information about him off the football pitch makes his existence sketchy. Even in those semi-amateur days, most players at Prima clubs had a fair degree of notoriety.

However, assuming he is real, Kunding is an important figure in the history of Irish players in European leagues. He may not have been a professional, as we would consider one today, but he did play at the highest level possible, for big teams in a growing powerhouse league. His personal record of seventeen games in two years may not seem spectacular, but they remain more impressive than the records of many other Irish players in Europe.

Who this man was, where he came from and what happened to him are facts lost to history and perhaps municipal records in Turin. But on paper he was the first Irish player in Italy, preceding Liam Brady and Paddy Sloan by many decades, and probably the first Irishman to play in Europe.

Considering Ireland was part of Britain until 1922, this makes Kunding our truly original, football export.

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