25/06/1982 Valencia Spain 1-0 Gerry Armstrong
Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, Chris Nicholl, John McClelland, David McCreery, Norman Whiteside (Sammy Nelson), Martin O’Neill, Billy Hamilton, Gerry Armstrong, Sammy McIlroy (Tommy Cassidy)
Northern Ireland went into the match with Spain needing to defeat the tournament hosts in their own back yard (Estadio Luis Casanova Stadium, Valencia) to guarantee qualification for the second round group stage. In fact all four teams in the group (the other two being Yugoslavia and Honduras) could in theory qualify for the next stage. Yugoslavia and Spain were the two favourites to qualify from Group 5 after previous results and the expectant victories in their final group matches against Honduras and Northern Ireland respectively. Spain however, had only drawn with Honduras in their first match with a penalty saving their blushes while Yugoslavia had drawn 0-0 with Northern Ireland. In the second round of matches Spain defeated Yugoslavia while Northern Ireland drew 1-1 with Honduras.
In the simulcast match from the same group Yugoslavia defeated Honduras 1-0 with a penalty from Petrovic so Yugoslavia now looked set to qualify unless Northern Ireland could conjure either an odd goal win or a score draw against the hosts.
Billy Bingham had selected the same side which has drawn the previous two games against Yugoslavia and Honduras respectively. He said, “Admittedly it will take much effort, passion, commitment and skill, but we possess these qualities in abundance.” The Spanish journalists probably thought Billy had been out in the sun for too long! Bingham believed the thrusting runs by Billy Hamilton, Norman Whiteside and Gerry Armstrong (“The Three Musketeers”), could expose the Spanish defensive gaps. His message to his players was simple… “Don’t concede an early goal!”
Spain as expected were the dominant side straight from kick-off with Pat Jennings pulling off saves from Roberto Lopez Ufarte on more than one occasion in the first ten minutes. It wasn’t until the 27th minute until Northern Ireland managed to have their first shot of the game when the “boy-man” and world record holder Norman Whiteside (youngest player ever to play in a World Cup finals tournament aged 17 years and 41 days) brought an easy save from Luis Arconada the Spanish goalkeeper.
The referee for the match Hector Ortiz from Paraguay who had never refereed before in Europe appeared to be influenced by the ferocious Spanish crowd as he let vicious tackles, elbowing and body checking from Spanish players go unpunished. In fact just before half time he booked Billy Hamilton for a tame foul on a Spanish player which Sammy McIlroy remonstrated with the referee about and received a yellow card himself for the protest and would later be replaced by Tommy Cassidy due to injury! A blatant shoulder charge on David McCreery also went unpunished.
After half time Billy Bingham made a tactical change and brought Gerry Armstrong back deeper into midfield to help defuse the hard tackling Spanish midfield. With an almost instant reward on 47 minutes the millions watching the television coverage in the UK heard John Motson’s infamous commentary. “Gerry Armstrong, what a worker he is… Striding away there with Hamilton to his right and Whiteside up on the far side of the area… Still Billy Hamilton, he’s gone past Tendillo… Arconada… ARMSTRONG!” The translation of that well-known phrase is as follows. Rafael Gordillo attempted a pass to Lopez Ufarte which Gerry Armstrong intercepted. In his new deeper role and confronted by three Spanish players (including Xavi Alonso’s father Perico Alonso) Gerry Armstrong passed the ball out wide to his right where Billy Hamilton picked it up and ran down the touchline jostling with Miguel Tendillo until he almost ran out of room. Hamilton managed to fight off Tendillo and cross low into the Spanish six-yard area. The Spanish goalkeeper and captain Arconada, who at the time was described as the best in Europe, dived low off his line to push the ball away from the danger area. However, Gerry Armstrong was in the same path of the ball and shot low and hard into the net despite the diving efforts of the Spanish defenders.
Gerry describes the moment he entered Northern Irish footballing folklore: “It was low and I just couldn’t reach it but fortunately the Spanish goalkeeper Arconada came off his line and palmed it straight into my path. I decided to keep it low and hit it right foot into the net. The silence from the Spaniards was astonishing and it wasn’t until I noticed several Irish players running towards me that I realised we had scored.”
Northern Ireland and Billy Bingham knew that if they could hang onto their slender lead they would qualify for the next round as group winners, potentially having an easier group to contend with.
As expected the Spaniards resumed control of the game in search of an equalizer. Unlike today’s Spanish possession game, the Spanish game plan that night was to knock long balls and crosses into the Northern Irish goalmouth as well as shot as often as possible. This tactic was upped a notch or two when Northern Ireland had taken the lead. On 53 minutes Lopez Ufarte was yet again foiled by a Pat Jennings save while a long range shot by Quini was tipped over the crossbar.
Disaster struck for Northern Ireland however on the hour mark when left-back Mal Donaghy was harshly sent off for shoving Jose Camacho at the advertising hoardings after Camacho had blocked Donaghy when trying to retrieve the ball after it was deflected off him and out for a throw in to Spain. Camacho was also partaking in the tussle but the linesman placed the blame onto Donaghy and the referee reduced Northern Ireland to 10 men.
The odds were stacked against the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup (a record held until 2006). Could Northern Ireland hold onto their slender lead against their Spanish hosts in the cauldron of noise being created within the Estadio Luis Casanova Stadium all in temperatures of 34oC?
Another tactical change by Bingham and an understandable one at that, with the remaining 10 men told to stay back and defend the lead. The Spanish could only shot from long distance or ping balls into the box hoping that one of their attackers could get onto the end of the cross due to the number of Irish players in and around the final third of the pitch. In the few instances where the Northern Irish defence was breached Gordillo managed a shot which Jennings saved and a further two world class saves were produced from shots by Camacho, one coming only 2 minutes from time which had Northern Irish fans hearts in their mouths. There was another scare just before the final whistle when a deflected Spanish shot rose high in the air bounced awkwardly towards the Northern Ireland goal which Jennings had to tip over the head of the Juan Juanito before collecting. Pat Jennings recalls the moment: “The ball almost landed on Juanito’s head but I sensed if I made contact I might be penalised so I simply tipped it over him and dived to retrieve it.”
Incredibly, when the final whistle came, Northern Ireland had won the group and would face Austria and France, whilst the hosts would now find themselves placed in a very tough 2nd phase pool with England and West Germany. Yugoslavia’s victory over Honduras was all in vein. The small pocket of Northern Ireland fans went wild!
Billy Bingham said afterwards with tears in his eyes; “What can I say?” … “It is absolutely fantastic… The decisions by the referee were quite harsh against us, there was a lot of physical contact and the referee seemed to take it out on us, but we did marvelously well, particularly when we were down to ten men… They killed the Spanish bull in its own ring!” Gerry Armstrong said; “We were always in with a chance of getting one, but they were trying to intimidate us and it made us more determined.” Pat Jennings added; “It is one of the most fantastic nights I’ve ever had. The Spaniards only troubled me in the first few minutes and we knew if we could brave the storm in the first few minutes, we could hold on. Donaghy was sent off for nothing and after that I thought we had had it, but I have never seen a bunch of players battle so hard.”
John McClelland was the last player to leave the pitch: “I have never exchanged one of my shirts before in any match and I thought ‘Why not in this one? Why not get a Spaniards to remind me of the night.'”
Gerry Armstrong and Tommy Cassidy were selected for the urine drug test after the match. Like most of the other players he was so dehydrated in the intensive heat it took him an eternity to produce the sample. Tommy Cassidy describes the situation: “One of the things I’ll never ever forget was immediately after the game finished, myself and Gerry Armstrong were taken away for a drugs test.” “Obviously, we’d love to have gone straight into the dressing room to celebrate with the rest of the lads, but there wasn’t an issue with me and Gerry giving a urine sample. “The only problem was that we were both so dehydrated that it took us an hour and a half to give a sample. “We were sat under armed guards, next to Fifa doctors and officials, and it was just so funny that it took us so long. We simply couldn’t pee! “We tried and tried, drinking water, lager and even wine to help us. Gerry drank so much alcohol that he was a little bit drunk. He was singing ‘Danny Boy’ and all sorts. It was hilarious — even one of the guards began to sway to his singing. That will stick with me forever. “All the other lads waited for us and it took us so long that we didn”t have time to change before getting on the coach to travel back to our hotel. We just wanted to celebrate.” Gerry Armstrong recalls: “They poured everything into me – champagne, water, beer, Coca Cola. Nothing would happen and then it did. Fair play to them all for waiting. What a night followed [in the Sidi Saler Hotel].”
As the bus containing the team travelled through Valencia to the hotel crowds gathered on the route to applaud the squad.
Norman Whiteside made an early morning call to his mother back home in Belfast. After the call Norman informed the party, “People are dancing in the streets in Belfast and it’s pouring with rain!”
Dawn had just broken over the Sidi Saler Hotel, Valencia the morning after the famous victory. However, the band was still playing and there were repeated renditions of Danny Boy and When Irish Eyes Are Smiling by players, staff and fans!
Jimmy Nicholl: “You can forget your FA Cup finals, your league titles. There was twice as much happiness and euphoria in our dressing room after that game than I have ever seen before.”
Group 5 Final Table
1. N.Ireland +1 4
2. Spain 0 3
3. Yugoslavia 0 3
4. Honduras -1 2
Your Place and Mine Interview With Gerry Armstrong & Billy Hamilton
Peter Johnston: What did Billy Bingham say to you before you went out on the pitch to face Spain?
Billy Hamilton : He was very good at motivating players. He would make you feel 10 feet tall when you went onto the pitch. He never made you feel second best. He had a very good tactical plan He knew that if we could swamp the mid field that would stop the Spaniards passing through us and getting into the box. If they got into the box he knew they would dive and try and get penalties and that and if you watch the game again you will see most of the defending was done just outside our box He just told us to feed on the crumbs we would get a chance during the games and hopefully we would take it and that’s what Gerry Armstrong did.
Gavin Nixon: That Night in Valencia is like our 1966. Do you think we go on about it too often?
Gerry Armstrong: Not really every so often it raises its head like this week because we played Spain in a friendly match at Windsor and it coincided with the 20 year reunion at the weekend. It’s always mentioned when there’s a world cup here I think to give inspiration to a lot of the smaller countries because trying to emulate what Northern Ireland achieved in 82. I think it’s a great inspiration for smaller nations who have a bond like we had and can also achieve success if they’re organised.
John McBride: Would you put that goal down to bad keeping Gerry?
Gerry Armstrong: I think he made a mistake certainly Arconada came for the cross I think also it was a quality cross from Billy and it tempted the goalkeeper to come for it I could not have got on the end of it but I think you need a little stoke of luck in football to win and our luck was Arconada came out and pushed it out to me. Obviously I didn’t turn the chance down but he was renowned as one of the best goalkeepers in the world but they do make mistakes.
Sean Hughes: Billy, do you think your “slight nudge” on the Spanish player as you ran down the wing would be allowed today?
Billy Hamilton: Possibly not. The game is not as physical today as it was 20 years ago. But if anyone was deserving of a slap it was Tendillio. He was a bit of an animal and he probably never felt it anyway but it wasn’t as much an elbow as a leverage to get past him. But I don’t think it would be allowed today no.
Billy Hamilton recalls Northern Ireland’s glory years of the 1980s
The 1-0 win against Spain in Valencia was particularly sweet for the Northern Ireland players who had been labelled as boozers by the Spanish press before the match.
Hamilton recalls the background to that tag which he says arose from a practical joke played by the Northern Ireland team.
“There was one day Billy Bingham the manager was going to a ceramics factory where they make replicas for the World Cup,” he said.
“Billy said ‘you can have the day off, I don’t want you to leave the hotel – you can have a few drinks but stay in the confines of the hotel’.
“There must have been about 40 empties between us all. We put a cowboy hat on Tommy Cassidy – he had fallen asleep on a lounger and we piled all the beer cans up round his ankles.
“Little did we know that the Spanish press had got into the hotel and they came round and they were taking photographs.
“They took a picture of Tommy and it was in the papers the next day and they said this is how the Irish prepare for the big game.
“That was before the Spanish match and later I think Billy Bingham took great delight, joking you should have prepared more like us.”
Hamilton says that any consumption of alcohol by the team was “in moderation”.
“Nobody took advantage or went overboard,” he added. “The team spirit that built up was brilliant. Unfortunately in the modern game I don’t think you would be able to do that now.”
25/06/2016 Paris Wales 0-1
M. McGovern; A. Hughes, J. Evans, G. McAuley, C. Cathcart; C. Evans, O. Norwood [N. McGinn 79], S. Davis, J. Ward [C. Washington 69], S. Dallas; K. Lafferty
Northern Ireland shaded much of the game and largely snuffed out Wales’ attacking threat, but they also lacked a cutting edge in attack.
Wales only managed one shot on target and the game was settled by the one moment of real quality at Parc des Princes.
Northern Ireland’s resistance was finally broken when centre-back McAuley turned Gareth Bale’s low, whipped cross into his own net.
It means Wales rather than Northern Ireland – in their first major tournament finals since the 1958 World Cup – will face Belgium or Hungary in the last eight in Lille.
What they said
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill: “It’s devastating. We were the better team on the day. I couldn’t ask anything more of the players throughout the tournament. Gareth McAuley knows he has to make one of those decisions on the cross – he had to judge whether there was someone behind him or not.”