Cavan, Harry (Henry Hartrick) (1916–2000), football administrator and trade union official, was born on 19 May 1916 in Mary Street, Newtownards, Co. Down, the eldest child of Walter Cavan, a motor body maker, and his wife Clara (née Quinn). Educated locally, he left school at 14 to take up his father's trade. In his youth he was an excellent table tennis player, winning Ulster, Irish and international honours, and was appointed a member of the Irish Table Tennis Council. He also played soccer, but had to stop after suffering a foot injury in a junior match. His father Walter was a member of the Ards FC management committee, and Harry served the club at all levels, from ball boy to groundsman to PA announcer. He was also the club's secretary (1938–82) and president (1982–2000).
Cavan spent most of his working life as a full-time trade union official, first for the Association of Supervisory Staffs, Executives and Technicians (ASSET), which merged with the Association of Scientific Workers in 1968 to form the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS). He served as Northern Ireland industrial officer with the ASTMS until his retirement in May 1981. His trade union activities led him to become a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, and he stood unsuccessfully as an NILP candidate for Ards Council in 1956.
In 1940 he was elected to the Irish Football League management committee, and from 1941 represented Ards FC on the Irish Football Association (IFA) council, making his mark as an articulate and able administrator with a persuasive manner and an astute grasp of procedure. In 1958 he was one of three selectors of the Northern Ireland team that played in the World Cup tournament in Sweden, although in practice he favoured leaving selection decisions to the manager, Peter Doherty (qv), whose appointment he had helped secure. Northern Ireland performed above expectations, drawing with West Germany and beating Czechoslovakia (twice) to qualify for the quarter-finals. After the tournament, Cavan was elected president of the IFA. This rounded off a memorable year in which his beloved Ards won the Irish League for the first and only time in their history.
At the time, the British football associations regarded FIFA as a relatively unimportant body, and were happy in 1960 for Cavan to take the vice-presidential post reserved for them on FIFA's executive committee. Cavan held the position without interruption until 1990, making him one of the longest continuous-serving FIFA officials of all time. He established a good working relationship with Sir Stanley Rous, FIFA president (1961–74), and an even better one with his successor, the Brazilian businessman and athlete, João Havelange (1974–98). It was Cavan who chaired the FIFA congress in Frankfurt in 1974 when Havelange ousted Rous as president. This Havelange did by canvassing the votes of South American, African and Asian delegates by promising them additional places at World Cup tournaments and a new World Youth Championship, which they would be eligible to host. Cavan played a key role in all of this and was suitably rewarded by Havelange, who often presented him as proof of his good relations with the British football associations, and made him a senior vice-president of FIFA in 1980. Cavan was appointed to a variety of FIFA committees, including the organising committees for all World Cups from 1970 to 1986. He also chaired the rule-making technical committee, the development programmes committee, the world youth tournament committee, the medical committee and the referees' committee (on which he used his influence to have referees from Northern Ireland nominated for World Cup tournaments and other important fixtures). Havelange also employed him as a FIFA trouble-shooter on awkward issues such as apartheid in South Africa, disputes between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, and China's demand for jurisdiction over Taiwan.
Cavan spearheaded the creation of the FIFA World Youth Championship, and chaired the tournament committee when the inaugural championship was held in Tunisia in 1977. He was also chairman of the Under-16 World Championships in China (1985), Canada (1987) and Scotland (1989). Cavan was particularly pleased by the progress made in this competition by teams from developing countries, and played an active part in assisting the development of soccer in Africa and Asia, regularly inspecting stadia in emerging countries and ensuring that the appropriate FIFA guidelines were observed. For a period in 1981, after the abrupt resignation of Helmut Kaiser, Cavan acted as FIFA's general secretary, filling the post on a caretaker basis for six months by commuting between Belfast and Zurich until Sepp Blatter (Havelange's preferred candidate) was appointed at the end of the year. Cavan had known Blatter since 1975, and the two men became close, with Cavan often referring to Blatter as his protégé. Cavan's various roles involved extensive travelling, and he enjoyed the perks and prestige that went with being a senior FIFA official. He was a popular figure among administrators in developing countries, but less so among European critics of FIFA's leadership, who tended to regard him as Havelange's lackey.
The negotiating skills that served Cavan well in FIFA were also employed in his dealings with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), particularly on the question of union between the two associations. Cavan was very protective of the IFA's separate status and its close links with the British football associations, but worked to maintain cordial relations with the FAI, attending several of their games and celebratory functions. He was also a supporter of cross-border club competitions, such as the Blaxnit Cup (1967–74). Although Cavan was generally regarded as an opponent of the match played between Brazil and an all-Ireland team in Dublin on 3 July 1973, Liam Tuohy, who managed the Irish side, maintained that he saw no evidence of this. The match helped promote the idea of a united international team, which was discussed on several occasions by the two associations, most notably at conferences in 1973, 1974 and 1978. At the IFA's annual meeting in 1979, Cavan surprised his colleagues by declaring that 'two teams in a small country like this was nonsensical' (Donegal News, 7 July 1979), and spoke of the possibility of the creation of an Irish federation to compete in international football.
More often, though, he tended to pour cold water on FAI proposals, maintaining that union would entail a host of intractable administrative problems and a serious loss in revenue for a combined association. When negotiations broke down in 1980, Cavan declared: 'The plain truth of the matter is that the people of Northern Ireland do not want an all-Ireland team. And we are acting on their behalf' (Ir. Independent, 26 February 1980). Northern Ireland's success in winning the British championship in 1980 and 1984 and qualifying for the 1982 and 1986 World Cups reinforced this attitude, with Cavan commenting that with such achievements 'who needs a united Irish soccer team?' (Moore, 228). This success of the Northern Ireland team led to hopes among British politicians that it could act as a unifying force in the province, and Cavan proved adept at capitalising on such optimism to obtain funding for the renovation of Windsor Park and increased grants to Irish League clubs. Unity was again discussed periodically, but generally by those who had most to lose, and northern disinclination, southern half-heartedness and a fraught political situation combined to maintain the status quo. As the IFA's most visible and influential official, Cavan was usually identified by southerners as the main obstacle to unity, and by northern nationalists as a bulwark of the IFA's unionist ethos.
As an old-style administrator, Cavan believed that players should know their place, and became increasingly appalled by what he regarded as the exorbitant financial demands being made by international footballers. In 1974 he expressed his horror that 'the players appear to be running World Cups and not FIFA' (Ir. Independent, 19 June 1974). He also did his best to curb the wage demands of Northern Ireland players when they qualified for the 1982 World Cup tournament.
Cavan became a well-known figure in Northern Ireland: he presented a six-part series, Harry Cavan's World Cup, on BBC television (November–December 1970), and BBC Radio Ulster broadcast Home and away, a documentary on his life in football (20 June 1981). He was generally available to the media, although there were times when discretion might have served him better, such as in November 1986 when he announced that the IFA might unite with the FAI if African nations succeeded in forcing the four UK associations to amalgamate and enter a single team for World Cup qualification. Cavan withdrew the remarks after they were repudiated by IFA colleagues and criticised by unionist politicians and by Ted Croker, secretary of the English FA.
By the end of his career, Cavan was a senior and much-respected figure in FIFA. It fell to him in 1988 to announce the results of the vote of FIFA's executive committee that the 1994 World Cup would be held in the USA. In 1989 he presided over the elections that returned Havelange unopposed as FIFA president. When he tendered his resignation as a FIFA vice-president in 1990, Cavan was immediately made an honorary vice-president. He remained president of the IFA until 1994. He was made OBE (1976) and CBE (1990), and awarded the Olympic order of merit (1984) in recognition of his services to football.
After suffering from Parkinson's disease for several years, Harry Cavan died on 16 January 2000 at Beechvale nursing home, Killinchy, Co. Down. His wife Anna predeceased him in 1994, and he was survived by three daughters. David Bowen, the IFA general secretary, described him as 'a man of great dignity, dedication and principle … [and] unquestionably Northern Ireland's greatest football ambassador' (Belfast Telegraph, 17 January 2000).