Saturday, 11 August 2012

Peter Fitzgerald



1959 - 1960 : Sparta Rotterdam (Netherlands)

Born in Waterford in 1937, Peter Fitzgerald was a fairly succesful League of Ireland footballer in his native city. He began playing for local side Bohemians as a minor. He moved to Waterford United at the age of nineteen and would go on to make a number of appearances for the Blues over the next three years. With Waterford he would win two Munster Senior Cups as well as reach the FAI Cup Final in 1959, only to loose to St. Pat's.


Fitzgerald and the Waterford 1959 FAI Cup Final side
In the summer of that year, Fitzgerald was signed by Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam. Founded in 1888, Sparta are the Netherlands' oldest football club. Since 1916, they have played their home matches at the unique Stadion Het Kasteel. Between 1908 and 1915, they won five league titles. Soon thereafter, Dutch football would become dominated by Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eidnhoven. However, in 1958-59 Sparta reclaimed the title after an absence of 45 years. It was into this team that Fitzgerald was brought.



Football in the Netherlands had turned professional in 1954, but Sparta Rotterdam, in spite of being national champions, had still not adopted a full-time structure as of yet. Fitzgerald was therefore hired as a part-time footballer and given a job in the city. All of Sparta's players were employed on part-time contracts, these included dockers, labourers, clerks, salesmen, an engineer, a physiotherapist, a Naval officer and an airport worker. Fitzgerald was given the lucky job of working in the local brewery.

He would link up with other English speakers at Sparta. The manager at the time was an Englishman named Denis Neville. A continental journey-man manager, Nevile had previously managed Odense in Denmark and Atalanta in Italy. He was appointed Sparta's manager in 1955 and led them to their league success in 1959. In later years he would even manage the Dutch National team.

Also in the squad was Northern Ireland's inside forward Johnny Crossan. He arrived in the same summer as Fitzgerald after he had been banned from British football for a breach of contract regulations. In spite of the ban, he would later be capped by Northern Ireland 24 times and return to Britain in 1962.

Sparta Rotterdam 1960
As champions of Holland the previous year, Sparta were thus entitled to compete in the 1959-60 European Cup. in the first round they came out on top against Swedish champions IFK Goteborg, drawing 4-4 on aggregate before defeating them in a play-off. Fitzgerald played no part in any of these matches. However in the Quarter Finals Sparta drew Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. Neville decided to call upon Crossan and Fitzgerald for this tie, believing their British/Irish style to be a good match for the Gers. The first leg was a disappointment however, as Sparta fell to a 2-3 defeat at home, with neither the Irishman nor the Northern Irishman able to get on the scoresheet. The second leg at the Ibrox resulted in a 0-1 win for Sparta, as Dutch international and life-time Sparta player Tonny van Ede smacked home an 82nd minute winner for the part-timers. A play-off at London's Highbury ground saw Rangers run out 3-2 winners. Neither Irishman hit the net yet again, and Sparta's Euro dream was over. The Cup would eventually be won by Real Madrid.


Fitzgerald played for Sparta against Rangers at Highbury

Domestically, the season was an upset for the club. Fitzgerald played in the club's humiliating 0-5 drubbing in their own ground to bitter rivals Feyenoord. In spite of finishing the previous year as champions, Sparta slumped to a finish of 7th place, missing out on European qualification in the process. No Dutch Cup was played that year. 

Games were hard to come by for Fitzgerald, and in the whole season he only made 14 appearances for Sparta. He did however put in a respectable tally of 7 goals for 1959-60. The next August he was signed by Leeds United manager Jack Taylor for 7,000 pounds, as part of a large overhaul of his ageing squad. At Leeds, Fitzgerlad would link up with future Ireland manager Jack Charlton. The season wasn't a happy one for him however, and he would soon move to Chester City where would spend three happy years before returning to Ireland and Waterford United in the mid-1960s. He finished his career in 1979 with non-league English side Hyde United. While at Chester, he would even make four appearances for the Republic of Ireland.

Still considered a legend at Waterford United, Fitzgerald was probably never good enough to play for Sparta Rotterdam. But his adventurous spirit drove him to go to Holland and try. 


4 comments:

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  2. As a child Uncle peter was always somebody to look up to.A gentleman and a very talanted sportsman.
    RIP .

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