18/11/1981 Belfast Israel 1-0 Gerry Armstrong
Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, Chris Nicholl, John O’Neill, David McCreery, Noel Brotherston, Tommy Cassidy, Billy Hamilton, Gerry Armstrong, Sammy McIlroy
40,000 packed into Windsor Park to watch the Irish confirm their place in the Finals. Needing only a draw, they made certain of qualification when Gerry Armstrong scored, what proved to be, the only goal of the game after 27 minutes. A free-kick wide on the right was floated into the area by Jimmy Nicholl and Billy Hamilton rose above the defence to nod the ball down and Armstrong met it first time on the turn and the Irish had their lead. This Armstrong/Hamilton partnership was becoming crucial to the team’s success, and more was to come.
Northern Ireland had qualified and conceding just 3 goals. Bingham had tightened up the defence and this proved to be the cornerstone to their success. In the previous twelve months before he took over they’d conceded 17 goals in 8 matches.
The draw for the finals in Spain was held on 16th January 1982. The 24 qualifiers would be drawn into six groups. Northern Ireland was drawn into Group Five along with hosts, Spain, Yugoslavia, and first time qualifiers, Honduras. With two to qualify, everyone was expected to beat Honduras, so the Irish knew they needed to get something out of the Spanish or Yugoslav games in order to progress.
Author: Pete Spencer
The Formation and History of the Irish Football Association
Founded in the Queens Hotel, Belfast back on 18th November 1880 the Irish Football Association is the fourth oldest governing body in the world behind the other three home associations.
At the invitation of Cliftonville Football Club, clubs in Belfast and District created a unifying constitution and set of rules, adhering to those laid down by the Scottish Football Association which had been formed seven years earlier in 1873.
The aims of this embryonic organisation were to promote, foster and develop the game of football throughout Ireland. The new association elected as its first President, Major Spencer Chichester and agreed to stage an annual Challenge Cup Competition which would later be known as ‘The Irish Cup’.
It is said that Scottish sailors in Coleraine, while waiting for their cargo to be loaded, first played football in Ireland. This may be fact but one name will be always be linked with the origins of organised football on the island, John McAlery.
McAlery was reputed to be on his honeymoon in Scotland when he came across a group of youngsters playing football, a game which was then strange to him. He took the time to learn something of it and then armed with the rules of this new sport, he set about introducing it to Ireland. Personally I could have found other things to do on honeymoon, but I guess this was Victorian Britain.
At McAlery’s invitation, two of Scotland’s leading clubs at the time, Queens Park and Caledonians, came to Belfast to play an exhibition match at the Ulster Cricket Ground on the 24th October 1878. The reaction from the general public to the fixture seemed to be enthusiastic.
McAlery was there to capitalise on that enthusiasm. He went on a soccer pilgrimage throughout Ulster and as a result of his fervent preaching was the establishment of Irelands first club, Cliftonville FC. They were followed by Ulster FC and gradually other clubs sprung up.
The growing popularity of football demanded further organisation and once again McAlery stepped into the picture. He convened a major meeting at the Queens Hotel in Belfast on the 18th November 1880 and from this came the formation of the Irish Football Association. McAlery was the Association’s first secretary with Major Spencer Chichester the first President.
Fifteen months later on the 18th February 1882, Ireland played their first international game. England were the opposition at Knock FC in Bloomfield east Belfast, and ran out 13-0. Ireland’s hapless captain was, yes you guess it, John McAlery!
Meanwhile in the south of the country football was slowly catching on. In 1883 Dublin Association were formed and later that year played Dublin University in Dublin’s first football game.
Belfast and the Northeast of Ireland was the hotbed of football although Dublin was the capital of the country. Dublin didn’t host an international game until St Patrick’s Day 1900, a 2-0 defeat by England. Only one southern Irish player made the team that day and Ireland wore blue shirts with a shamrock badge. In fact up until the First World War, Dublin only hosted 5 out of the 42 home international games Ireland played. The IFA became affiliated to FIFA in 1911.
In 1913 Ireland gained their first long awaited win over England. A year later they then recorded their first Home International Championship, recording wins over England and Wales and a draw against Scotland.
The years during and following the First World War saw major changes on the island of Ireland. Political relationships between north and south Ireland were strained to breaking point eventually leading to island to split. The creation of independent parliaments in Belfast and Dublin after the dividing of the island into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in 1921 also meant changes to the football hierarchy. The Football Association of Ireland based in Dublin was formed on the 1st September 1921. This came about after a series of incidents:
The Intermediate Cup holders, St James’s Gate refused to defend the trophy after the IFA reneged a decision to play the final in Dublin due to civil unrest in the south. The Irish Cup Final was thrown into turmoil after Shelbourne would not travel to Belfast for their replay with Glentoran. Northern players refused to leave the dressing room for an amateur international against France in Dublin after spotting nationalist flags in the crowd.
For two years the FAI remained without recognition. However following a meeting of the International Board comprising of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, meaning the Belfast based IFA, they were granted recognition. This was on the condition that their name would be changed to the Football Association of the Irish Free State. Later that year in August 1923 the FAIFS was accepted into membership of FIFA.
The 1920’s and 1930’s are not recalled with relish by supporters. A committee was selecting the players and therefore the team suffered, the only highlight of that period was the 7-0 demolition of Wales in 1930. Joe Bramick of Linfield scored six of the goals. In 1931 the IFA change their shirt colour from blue to green.
By now the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland should have been separate entities as far as international competition was concerned. This was not the case however; the IFA in Belfast was able to continue to pick players from the Free State. Tom Farquharson, who had been capped by both Ireland (Northern) and the Free State in the 1920’s declared in 1931 that he no longer wished to be picked for Ireland (Northern). This didn’t alter the situation and even after the Second World War the IFA continued to pick players from the Free State. In 1946 Johnny Carey of Manchester United played for both countries against England within 3 days of each other!
In 1949 the Free State declared itself a republic, the FAIFS was then able to get an undertaking from all of its members that they would not play for any country other than the Republic of Ireland. FIFA then cleared up the last bone of contention between the two Irish Associations. There had been constant confusion and bitterness over the fact that both North and South insisted on being called Ireland. FIFA ruled that from then on the IFA would use the name Northern Ireland and the FAI would use the name Republic of Ireland. 1954 saw the IFA become affiliated to UEFA.
The post war years where a boom time for the crowds at Northern Ireland games with 50000 plus the norm. In August 1951 Peter Doherty was appointed as team manager and after a couple of years of hard work, patience and enthusiasm he turns the fortunes of Northern Ireland side around. With a team including such great as Harry Gregg, the Blanchflower brothers, Bertie Peacock, Billy Bingham, Peter McParland and Jimmy McIlroy, Northern Ireland defeated England at Wembley for the first time and qualified for the 1958 World Cup.
The defeat of England at Wembley was a tribute to Danny Blanchflowers captaincy. Twice he ordered tactical dispositions on the field in response to the changing phases of the game. Sammy McCrory of Southend Utd scored the second Northern Ireland goal. In that mornings papers Duncan Edwards of England had asked “What is an old man like McCrory doing in a game like this?” “Not bad for an old man eh?” McCrory said as he passed Edwards on his way back to the centre after the goal. This was McCrory’s, then aged 33, one and only appearance for Northern Ireland. Three months later Edwards was killed in the Munich air crash and Harry Gregg and Jackie Blanchflower’s injured.
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden saw Northern Ireland reach the quarterfinals. Their first round group contained Czechoslovakia, West Germany, and Argentina. After beating Czechoslovakia 1-0 they were defeated 3-1 by Argentina, a 2-2 draw against the West Germans meant a play off against the Czechs, the winner getting a quarterfinal place. Northern Ireland won 2-1 despite Uprichard in nets playing with a broken hand and an injured ankle. The tired, injury-ridden side went into the quarter final against France and not surprisingly lost 4-0.
Peter Doherty retired in 1961 and Bertie Peacock took over after Danny Blanchflower had turned the job down. It was Peacock who introduced George Best to international football, he stated “Harry Gregg was really responsible, for he kept telling me what a wonderful player Best was. After his first game against Wales at Swansea it was easy to see that he was going to be one of the world’s greatest players.”
Equally self-effacing was his admission that he was to blame for the failure to qualify for the 1966 World Cup. A win against nonentity’s Albania would have meant a play off with Switzerland. “I made a terrible mistake” Peacock confessed, “I watched Albania in Holland and Switzerland but I should have gone to see them in Albania. We were not prepared for the conditions. If I had known we would have taken our own food, because the players couldn’t eat the food they got and therefore weren’t in the right mood for the game.” A 1-1 draw in a comic opera game, ruined by a fussy Bulgarian referee who made George Best stand to attention when he spoke to him, put us out. Even then the team tried to keep spirits high. A singsong was arranged in the team’s hotel in Tirana, the only hotel in the city then, but an Albanian official who announced that singing was strictly forbidden silenced even this!
Peacock resignation in 1967 saw Billy Bingham take over. After resounding victories over Turkey home and away, and a home draw with the Russians a 2-0 away defeat ended the Mexico 70 dream. Bingham stayed for another year before moving overseas to manage the Greek national side.
Terry Neill then player manager of Hull City took over the running of the side in 1971. Neill also had the honour of scoring the winner over England at Wembley in 1972. Northern Ireland football was entering perhaps its most difficult phase as Neill took over. Due to the civil conflict between 1972 and 1975 the international side was unable to play it’s home games in Belfast. Such English cities as Hull, Liverpool, Coventry, Sheffield and London all played host to Northern Ireland ‘home’ games.
Neill’s contract wasn’t renewed as he had commitments with Spurs and in 1975 Dave Clements took over. Clements management saw the return of international football to Windsor Park with a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia in April 1975. The following month England and Wales returned, the Scots didn’t return until 1980. After a disastrous Home International campaign in the spring of 1976, 3 defeats and no goals scored, Clements resigned. In March of that year he had joined New York Cosmos, playing along side Pele, and unsuccessfully tried running the team from the states.
Danny Blanchflower arrived that summer and in his first game in charge provided the highlight of the seventies. In a World Cup qualifier against the Dutch in October 1976 Northern Ireland came away with a 2-2 draw. This was against a Holland team that included Cruyff, Krol and Neeskens. Typical Northern Ireland however, 8 months later in the same qualifiers, they lost to Iceland.
The end of the seventies saw Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland drawn together in a European Championship qualifying group. In Dublin on the 20th September 1978 the first game between to two teams in Ireland ended in a 0-0 draw, by all accounts a dull encounter. Off the pitch the game passed off peacefully apart from a few minor incidents. The 2000 travelling Northern Ireland fans booed the Soldiers Song and chanted “What a load of rubbish” at the Irish police band! A year later in Belfast, a single Gerry Armstrong goal separated the sides after a thrilling end to end encounter. Gerry Daly needed 3 stitches in a head wound after he was felled from an object thrown from the crowd. The Republic failed to bring a single supporter to the game. This victory also saw the departure of Blanchflower and in 1980 the reappointment of Billy Bingham as manager.
An away 0-0 World Cup draw in Israel in his first game in charge gave little hint of what was to follow. That spring, for the first time in 66 years, Northern Ireland won the Home International Championship. In the IFA centenary year a victory over Scotland a draw with England and a victory in Wales clinched the title for Northern Ireland. After a summer tour of Australia the squad returned to World Cup business and in November 1981 in front of 40000 Bingham guided Northern Ireland to a 1-0 victory over Israel to qualify for the World Cup in Spain the following year.
Northern Ireland’s World Cup adventures in Spain started with two draws, Yugoslavia 0-0 and Honduras 1-1. The Yugoslavia game saw Bingham include Norman Whiteside in the team. Whiteside became the youngest player ever to play in the World Cup finals, he was only 17 and 51 days, younger than Pele in Sweden 58. Spain, the hosts, stood between Northern Ireland and the second round. On the 25th of June 1982 in the Luis Casanova Stadium Valencia, for my generation, was Northern Irelands greatest 90 minutes. A partisan crowd, a referee who didn’t know what he was doing, and down to 10 men for most of the second half Northern Ireland won 1-0. Gerry Armstrong scoring just after the start of the second half.
The second round in Spain saw Northern Ireland drawn with Austria and France. A 2-2 draw against the Austrians meant that victory over France would see Northern Ireland in the World Cup semi finals, 1958 all over again. An early Martin O’Neill goal was ruled out unfairly for offside and Northern Ireland then went on to lose 4-1. The dream was over.
Bingham had taken Northern Ireland to another level in world football but it was to get better. West Germany, the World Cup runners up, came to Belfast in November 82 and for the first time in their history were beaten in a qualifying game for a major championship. Ian Stewart scoring the only goal of the game. In the return game of the Euro 84 qualifiers they were beaten again 1-0 in Hamburg, Whiteside scoring. Typical Northern Ireland but, a draw in Albania and a defeat in Turkey meant they missed out on Euro 84 by goal difference.
1984 saw the final Home International Championship. A victory over Scotland a defeat by England and a draw against the Welsh left Northern Ireland on 3 points. A draw between Scotland and England also left them on 3 points. As this was the last championship it had been decided that for the first time goal difference would be used to decided the winners. Northern Ireland having scored 3 and conceded 2 goals were crowned British Champions.
The Mexico 86 qualifying started with a defeat in Finland. Home wins over Rumania, Turkey and Finland followed leaving us needing 3 points from the final two games. Unfortunately these 2 games were away to Rumania and England. An unexpected 1-0 win in Bucharest meant we went to Wembley needing only a draw against the English. Battling against constant English pressure Northern Ireland held on to draw 0-0 and qualify for Mexico 86.
Mexico saw the end of six glorious years as a Northern Ireland supporter. A draw with Algeria in the opening game was followed by defeats from Spain and Brazil. The Brazil game also saw the retirement of Pat Jennings from the Northern Ireland goal after 119 caps. At that time a world record.
With many of the team joining Jennings in retirement after Mexico the team went into a downward spiral. Euro 88, Italia 90, Euro 92 and USA 94 came and went without us getting anywhere near the finals. This period also saw our lowest ever crowds, sometimes lower than 4000, and such delights as 1-1 home draws against the Faroe Islands. Looking back over that period the only highlight was a 1-1 draw against the Germans in Bremen prior to Euro 92. It was that bad! Bingham retired after a 1-1 draw against the Republic just failed to stop them qualifying for USA 94. With hindsight perhaps Bingham lived on the glory years of the early eighties too long.
Bryan Hamilton took charge in 1994 and over saw some bizarre results which have now become Northern Ireland trade mark. The Euro 96 qualifiers saw us beat Austria in Vienna and then get hammered by the republic at home. We then drew with them in Dublin, beat Latvia away and then lost at home to them. We then went to Portugal, drew 1-1 and then beat Austria 5-3 in Belfast. The 5-3 Austria game, played in a downpour, was the best performance supporters had seen by the team in recent years. As it was, the defeat by Latvia cost Northern Ireland a play off spot for Euro 96.
The failed France 98 campaign ended Hamilton reign and provided us with yet more bizarre results. 1-1 at home against Armenia followed by holding the Germans, European Champions at the time, 1-1 in Nuremberg. The result sealed Hamilton’s fate was the defeat away to Albania. Played in Zurich due to internal problems in Albania, Northern Ireland lost 1-0. After the defeat in Portugal a month later Hamilton was told his contract was not going to be renewed.
Supporters were split on the decision, some feeling he should have been given another chance. Unfortunately Hamilton wasn’t strict enough with the players and discipline was lacking in the squad. Players seemed to be treating away games as a chance of a piss-up. This was reflected by the results.
Spring 1998 saw the appointment of Northern Irelands first ‘foreign’ coach, Englishman Lawrie McMenemy assited by Joe Jordan and Pat Jennings. Once again supporters were split, one side pointing out as assistant to Taylor at England he failed, the other saying that he was enthusiastic and would being discipline to the squad. At first results were favourable, defeats of Switzerland and Slovakia but the Euro 2000 group games started with defeat, 3-0 in Turkey. Hopes were raised with a 1-0 home victory over Finland. A 2-2 home draw against Moldova followed by a hiding from Germany and a 0-0 away draw in Moldova saw the Euro 2000 chance gone.
An injury time equaliser in a friendly against Canada saw the first signs of disquiet from supporters but a win over the Republic in Dublin in another ‘friendly’ has lifted expectations once again. The final three games in the Euro 2000 qualifiers all finished in heavy defeats. 0-3 at home to Turkey and 4-0 and 4-1 away to Germany and Finland.
Although the IFA offered to extend the contract of McMenemy, he declined. At the end of November 1999 the mangers job was open to application. On the 4th of January 2000 it was annouced that 88 time capped Sammy McIlroy was to be the next Northern Ireland manager.