Tommy Breen born in Drogheda, County Louth Ireland; died 1988) is a former Irish footballer who played as a goalkeeper for, amongst others, Belfast Celtic, Manchester United, Linfield and Shamrock Rovers. As an international, Breen also played for both Ireland teams - the IFA XI and the FAI XI.
Breen replaced Elisha Scott as first choice goalkeeper for both Belfast Celtic and the IFA XI and was rated by Billy Behan, one of his predecessors at Manchester United and a renowned scout, as one of the best goalkeepers Ireland ever produced. He was also the first Manchester United player ever to play for an FAI XI.
During his career, Breen was involved in several controversies. In November 1937 he turned down the chance to play for the FAI XI in a 1938 World Cup qualifier in order to play for the IFA XI in the 1938 British Home Championship. Then in 1944 he transferred from Belfast Celtic to their rivals Linfield in a dispute about money.
Breen began his career playing as a forward for local teams, Drogheda Commercials and Drogheda United. However a leg injury temporarily prevented him from playing upfront and, rather than miss playing, he switched positions and became a goalkeeper. Then in 1929 he was signed as an amateur by Newry Town.
In 1932 Breen signed for Belfast Celtic and subsequently represented the Irish League XI within months of arriving at the club. During his first season he also collected his first Irish League winners medal. Together with Jackie Brown, Jimmy McAlinden, Billy McMillan, Jackie Vernon and Charlie Tully, he was a prominent member of the Celtic team managed by Elisha Scott. This team dominated the Irish League before and during the Second World War. After a spell at Manchester United, Breen returned to Celtic during the Second World War, and in 1941 helped them win the Irish Cup when they beat Linfield.
Breen signed for Manchester United in 1936 and was beaten within a minute of his debut, on November 28 against Leeds United in 2-1 away defeat. Despite his best efforts, Breen could not stop United from being relegated at the end of the 1936-37 season. However the following season, with a team that also included, Johnny Carey, Harry Baird, Tommy Bamford, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson, Breen helped United gain promotion back to the First Division. During his time with United, he played in 65 league games for the club. He also played 6 games for United in the FA Cup. However the competition was not kind to Breen. On January 30 1937 he featured in a 5-0 defeat to Arsenal in the fourth round. Then a year later on February 22 1938 in a tie against Barnsley, Breen touched a long throw-in into his own goal.
In 1944 Breen left Belfast Celtic for the second time, after a dispute about wages. He then joined their local rivals, Linfield. Breen subsequently captained a Linfield team that also included Davy Walsh, to two successive Irish Cup victories, winning 4-2 against Glentoran in 1945 and 3-0 against Distillery in 1946. In 1946 Manchester United attempted to re-sign Breen but Linfield were unwilling to accept the £1,000 valuation. However he then joined Shamrock Rovers on a free transfer.
Breen spent just one season, 1946-47, at Shamrock Rovers where he played alongside Paddy Coad. During his season at Rovers he was recalled to the FAI XI and played for the League of Ireland XI on three occasions.
After just one season with Shamrock Rovers, Breen returned to the Irish League and signed for Glentoran. However he made just 14 league appearances for the Glens before dislocating the cartilage in his knee during a match against Bangor. Unable to continue playing, he later claimed £175 from Glentoran under the Workman's Compensation Act
When Breen began his international career in 1935 there were in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations. Both associations, the Northern Ireland - based IFA and the Irish Free State - based FAI claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and selected players from the whole island. As a result several notable Irish players from this era, including Breen played for both teams.
In November 1937 Breen was caught in the middle of a dispute between the FAI and the IFA when both associations wanted him to play for their respective national teams within the same week. Breen was called up by the FAI XI to play in a 1938 World Cup qualifier against Norway on November 7. However the IFA XI also called him up to play in a 1938 British Home Championship game against Scotland on November 10.
The IFA’s own rules, however, stated that a player must not play for three days before an international fixture. Thus if Breen lined out for the FAI XI against Norway he would have been ineligible to play for the IFA XI against Scotland. As a result when the IFA offered Breen a place in their team, it came with the condition that he drop out of the FAI XI. Breen’s club at the time, Manchester United, even offered to arrange for him to travel from Dublin to Aberdeen after the first game, but the rival associations failed to reach an agreement. Breen eventually opted to play for the IFA XI, and helped them gain a 1-1 draw, but the decision cost him his place in the FAI XI.
Between 1935 and 1946, Breen made 13 appearances for the IFA XI. He made his international debut in a 2-1 defeat to England on February 6 1935. Later in the same year, on May 11 at Goodison Park, Breen also played for an Ireland/Wales XI in a 10-2 defeat against an English League XI. During the seasons approaching the Second World War, Breen established himself as the IFA XI’s first choice keeper, making 9 appearances between 1935 and 1939. On September 9 1944 at Windsor Park, Breen played for the IFA XI in an 8-4 defeat against a Combined Services XI. This team was basically a Great Britain XI and featured, among others, Matt Busby, Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton and Stan Mortensen. During the 1945-46 season he also played in the three Victory internationals. He made his last appearance for the IFA XI in a 1-0 win against Wales on May 4 1946. This was the only time Breen featured in a winning IFA XI.
Between 1937 and 1947 Breen made 5 appearances for the FAI XI. He made his first two appearances for the FAI XI in May 1937 while playing for Manchester United and as a result became the first United player to play for an FAI XI. The FAI had organised a European tour with a squad that included Breen, Paddy Farrell, Jackie Brown and Jimmy Dunne. Breen subsequently made his debut for the FAI XI on May 17 in a 1-0 win against Switzerland. A week later, on May 23, he also helped the FAI XI defeat France 2-0. After his fall out with the FAI in 1937, Breen did not play for the FAI XI again until 1946, making his last three appearances while at Shamrock Rovers. On September 30 1946 he made his comeback in a 1-0 defeat to England at Dalymount Park. Then on March 2 1947 he helped the FAI XI to a respectable 3-2 win against Spain. On May 4 1947 he made his last appearance for the FAI XI in 2-0 defeat against Portugal.