Belfast born right half Sam Irving began his footballing career in the north east of England, playing for Shildon Athletic in 1910, and Galashiels United in 1911. He also had an unsuccessful trial with Newcastle United and played for Esh Winning in 1912. Finally given his break in the Football League by Second Division Bristol City, for whom he signed in November 1913, he made his Football League debut at Grimsby Town the next month, making 18 appearances, mainly at inside or centre forward, scoring 4 goals before signing with Dundee in March 1915. After the First World War, Irving had spells back in the north east playing with Blyth Spartans in 1918, and also returning to Shildon Athletic in 1919, before a return to Scotland and Dundee in 1920.
During his time at Dens Park, Irving won a total of ten caps for Ireland, making his international debut against Scotland in March 1923, and including an appearance in the famous win over England in October 1923, playing at wing half. A Scottish Cup runner up in 1925 when Celtic defeated Dundee 2-1, Irving joined Cardiff City in an exchange deal that took Joe Cassidy the other way in June 1926, after 5 goals in 160 games for The Dees.
He made his Bluebirds’ debut in a 0-0 draw at Leeds early in the season and remained a regular in the side throughout the campaign, initially at right half, but later shifting to inside right, where he played in the still celebrated 1927 FA Cup Final victory over Arsenal, Cardiff taking the trophy outside England for the first time. He continued as a regular in the Irish half back line throughout his time at Ninian Park, filling in as inside left for a match against Scotland in 1927 and also captaining the side.
In March 1928 Irving joined Chelsea after 4 goals in 57 appearances for The Bluebirds, serving as “a sharp tackling fetch-and-carry” wing half in their 1929-30 promotion campaign, Chelsea finishing as Second Division runners-up. While with Chelsea, Irving toured South America in 1929. The team were surprised by the unsporting behaviour of their opponents, and antics of the crowd who pelted them with oranges. Irving’s answer was to catch the fruit, peel it and eat it! It was while at Stamford Bridge that Irving brought his international career to a close, winning his final cap at the age of 36 in a 3-2 defeat by Wales in April 1931. After 5 goals in 97 appearances for The Pensioners he returned to Bristol in May 1932, this time signing for Bristol Rovers, scoring twice in 26 appearances during 1932-33, from where he joined Brechin City for a spell before retiring from playing.
In 1938 he was involved in a takeover of Dundee United, taking control of the team as joint-manager/director for the 1938-39 season. He stepped down from the manager’s role after a year, but remained with the club as a director.