The forgotten story of … Jimmy Hasty, Irish football’s one-armed wonder

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In October 1960 Jim Malone, the chairman of Dundalk football club, told the board he had discovered an exciting talent, a centre-forward who was scoring goal after goal for Newry Town, just across the border in Northern Ireland. He was tall and strong, had preternatural balance and was lethal in the air. Dundalk should sign him immediately, said Malone. The player’s name was Jimmy Hasty.Another board member piped up. He had heard of Hasty, heard something fanciful – that the fellow had only one arm. Malone conceded this was true. Hasty had only one arm. But Dundalk should sign him, he said.The board did not often say no to its ebullient chairman but did so this time. We are not, Malone was told, in the business of freaks. Malone then revealed he had in fact already signed the player with a personal cheque. Jimmy Hasty was coming to Dundalk.Sixty years later the reverberations still ripple for Hasty’s family and for Dundalk, where the story of the one-armed striker is told and retold as something wondrous, something verging on fairytale. “The board weren’t happy but Jim Malone believed in Jimmy,” recalls John Murphy, 82, who captained the team in the early 60s. “We didn’t know what to expect.”Forgotten Stories of FootballForgotten stories of footballSorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen badgered the board into fielding Hasty and on 20 November 1960 he made his debut in a home match at Oriel Park against Cork Celtic. Curiosity swelled the attendance. It seemed as if half of Dundalk turned up to watch.Hasty played a blinder. “He scored once and brought gasps of astonishment at his football skills,” notes the club’s official record. “His ability to ghost past defenders was greeted with disbelief. Nor was he just a scorer – he was the general of every attack, holding the ball until executing perfect passes to his colleagues.”Hasty in action for Dundalk in the early 1960s. Photograph: Paddy MaloneMalone’s faith was vindicated, says Murphy. “Jimmy had brilliant balance and could score with both feet; a brilliant header of the ball; he had everything you’d want.”So began the reign of one of football’s most remarkable and overlooked players, a man who defied biology, inspired teammates, electrified spectators and touched sporting history – and then, one cold morning in Belfast, fell victim to a different, malignant arc of history.Hasty was born in 1936 in Sailortown, a multicultural dockland in north Belfast, a decade before that other prodigy, George Best, was born in east Belfast. He grew up playing on cinder pitches – possibly a key to his toughness – and aged 14 got a job at a mill. On his first day a machine snagged his left arm. It had to be amputated.The mill’s loss was football’s gain because Hasty learned to play again, first in junior leagues and then for Newry Town in Northern Ireland’s B division. Malone, on a scouting mission, signed him on the spot. The contract vaulted Hasty 15 miles south of the border to Dundalk, a once-formidable force in the League of Ireland.Teammates marvelled at their new 6ft 1in striker. “It’s not easy to be a footballer with an arm missing, you use your arms an awful lot in running, movement, balance,” says Francie Callan, 85, who partnered Hasty up front. “But somehow you wouldn’t know he had only one arm.”Forgotten Stories of FootballForgotten Stories of FootballSorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen at first hesitated to tackle him but that changed after Hasty scored a flurry of goals in his first 10 games. One secret to his aerial dominance: grounding defenders with his stump. “He could lean on you with that stump so you couldn’t get off the ground, and the ref could be looking and see only a sleeve dangling,” recalls Murphy.Goals flowed, Dundalk moved up the table and the crowds swelled. “Everyone wanted to see the one-armed bandit,” says Murphy. “It was like the circus coming to town. He took the League of Ireland by the cobblers.”Dundalk’s 1963 League of Ireland-winning team. Photograph: Paddy MaloneAs a child Paddy Malone, son of the late chairman and himself a club stalwart, says he and other boys played football with an arm tucked in a sweater, the sleeve flapping, to emulate their hero. “We never considered that Jimmy Hasty had a disability, we just considered that he was a great player.”Hasty was affable and gregarious, happy to sign autographs and socialise with teammates. He was handsome and dapper.When Callan, the other striker, was grieving the death of a child to cot death he saw a sensitive side to his teammate. “Jimmy sent me a letter, a wonderful letter so full of love and feeling. I’ll never forget it.” Callan later passed the letter to another grieving parent who also found consolation in Hasty’s words.Though often sidelined through injury, Hasty scored 103 goals over six seasons. In 1963 Dundalk won the league, ending a 30-year wait. “He filled every ground in the League of Ireland. Attempts to mark him out of the game were doomed to failure – he could create goals and space for others,” records the club’s official history.Perhaps the only other one-armed player to surpass Hasty’s exploits was Héctor Castro, who played and scored for Uruguay in the 1930 World Cup final.Glory in Ireland did not lead to England, though there was a rumour Nottingham Forest considered buying Hasty. The transfer market was in its infancy and the missing arm deterred interest, says Des Casey, a Dundalk club administrator who later became vice-president of Uefa. “He was perceived to be severely handicapped.”Forgotten Stories of FootballForgotten Stories of FootballSorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen league title win yielded a European Cup tie against Zurich. Dundalk were overawed in the home leg, played in Dublin, and lost 3-0. They flew to Zurich for the second leg so deflated and depleted by injuries the joke was they should have gone to Lourdes.They almost got a miracle. Hasty set up a goal for Dermot Cross, scored a second goal himself and almost bagged a third with a shot against the crossbar from 15 yards. Dundalk ended up winning 2-1, so Zurich went through 4-2 on aggregate, but it was the first time an Irish team had won a match in Europe.Hasty grabbed other honours, such as sharing the League of Ireland top scorer of the year award, before retiring in the late 1960s.The Troubles were erupting around him in Belfast but he made a new life: married his childhood sweetheart, Margaret, had two sons, Paul and Martin, and got a job at a bookmakers.Just before 8am on 11 October 1974, Hasty – then aged 38 – was walking his usual route to work, down Brougham Street. A car stopped. A gunman got out and opened fire, hitting Hasty three times in the back. Witnesses said he staggered across the street and collapsed.It was a sectarian murder attributed to the Protestant Action Group, a cover name for the Ulster Volunteer Force. No one was ever charged. Lost Lives, a catalogue of people killed in the Troubles, lists Hasty as victim 1,205.“It was to spread fear to the Catholic community by shooting a well-known character,” says Paul Hasty, who was two years old when he lost his father. “It was a message that everyone’s a target. I think they knew what they were doing.”

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