Ards 0 v 0 AS Roma
European Cup Winners’ Cup, First Round, First Leg
At the Oval, Belfast
Wednesday, 17 September, 1969
By Adrian Monaghan
The Romans came, they saw, but they could not conquer a well-organised and resolute Ards
There was a gloomy backdrop to the fixture. By September 1969 ‘The Troubles’ had really
kicked off in Northern Ireland and rioting on the streets of Belfast had become an all too
familiar occurrence. The RUC, already over-stretched, insisted that Ards kick off at 5.00pm
to avoid large gatherings of folk after dark. This undoubtedly led to the small attendance of
just 3,000 (Ards would later make a claim for compensation for loss of revenue to the
Northern Ireland civil authorities).
At one point it was unsure if Roma would travel at all and there were even suggestion that
the game might be played at a neutral venue, Manchester United’s Old Trafford being
mooted as a possible venue.
Boasting a squad of players believed to be valued at £2 million pounds (£28 million in
today’s money), Roma unsurprisingly commenced the game on the attack and Sam Kydd
made a great stop when he smothered the ball at the feet of the onrushing Aldo Bet.
On nineteen minutes Ronnie McAteer manoeuvred himself into a clever position and picked
out the unmarked McAvoy. With only the keeper to beat, Billy’s composure failed him at
the vital moment as he slipped and sent his parting shot harmlessly wide of the post.
Roma had obviously done their homework on McAvoy as they assigned Bet to a man-
marking role on the inside-forward. Like a faithful hound, Bet went everywhere the
Greyabbey man went and his constant shadow had a quietening effect on the Ards danger
Dickie Sands came on for Jim Burke for the second period and Ards had the first chance of
the new half, but Alberto Ginulfi was equal to McAvoy’s shot on target. Sands’ entrance to
the game had re-energized the Newtownards men as the blonde-haired dynamo covered
every inch of grass.
Roma looked certain to score on 68 minutes when centre-forward Landini darted into the
Ards box. He rounded Kydd and his angled shot on goal looked destined for the back of the
net until Alan Bell slid in and scooped the ball away inches from the goal line.
Two minutes later the Oval erupted when the indefatigable Sands crossed for Billy
Humphries to head the ball beyond the reach of Ginulfi, but the cheers soon died out when
Belgian referee Schaut ruled the effort out for off-side.
Fabio Enzo was swapped for inside-forward Giorgio Braglia as the Italians started to take
advantage of tired Ards legs. Seeing more of the ball, the visitors were cautious in their
approach and seemed happy to go home with a draw.
With eight minutes remaining Davy McCoy, racing upfield, almost made the Romans pay for
their restraint when he fired a dangerous ball towards goal. Befitting of a continental
keeper, Ginulfi choose to punch rather than catch and his clearance landed at the feet of the
onrushing Humphries who was unable to check his run and stumbled just when it looked
like he would score. “It came at me too fast and I couldn’t get to it properly” the Ards
captain explained afterwards.
Ards had covered themselves in glory and Roma manager, the Argentinian born Helenio
Herrera, was quick to praise their display and singled out Dickie Sands as their best
performer. Sands, in an interview back in 1985, recalled his time at Ards and in particular
the Roma match:
“I consider my best years in football were the six glorious seasons I had with Ards under
George Eastham. Winning the Irish Cup and later playing against Roma in the Cup Winners
“It was said their manager Helenio Herrera was interested in me after the first leg at The
Oval but I was kicked off the pitch in Rome. It was a great education. My first touch and I
was kicked three feet in the air by a wild tackle.”
Number ten, Capello, in the AS Roma line-up was future England manager Fabio Capello, an
excellent holding midfielder at the time. He recalled the game in Belfast with fondness in a
letter to statistician Billy Graham several years back.
Roma progressed to the next round with a 3-1 with over Ards in the return game at the
Olympic Stadium. The Italians really found their mojo in this competition and only missed
out on a place in the final through the toss of a coin.
Three semi-final games against Górnik Zabrze of Poland could not separate the sides (1-1 in
Rome, 2-2 in Poland and then 1-1 in a play-off in Strasbourg). The away goals rule did not
apply to the semi-final and penalties were not yet widely adopted, so the Italians fate was
cruelly sealed by a flip of a coin.
Ards - S.Kydd, D.McCoy, G.Crothers, A.Bell, B.Stewart, B.Nixon, B.Humphries, B.McAvoy,
R.McAteer, J.Burke, R.Welsh. Sub - D.Sands.
AS Roma – A.Ginulfi, A.Bet, F.Carpenetti, L.Spinosi, F.Cappelli, S.Santarini, J.Peiro, G.Braglia,
F.Landini, F.Capello, F.Scarratti. Sub – F.Enzo
Referee – Robert Schaut (Belgium)
Attendance – 3,000