A beautiful señorita, a shock referee and relieved that Northern Ireland didn’t knock Spain out of the 1982 World Cup final are Billy Hamilton’s recollections of the country’s most famous football night.
Riday, June 25, 1982, was the night Billy Bingham’s guys beat the Spaniards 1-0 in Valencia thanks to an unforgettable goal from Jerry Armstrong that shook the hosts to the core. Northern Ireland had drawn Yugoslavia, Honduras and Spain in Group 5 and, after two draws, were desperate for a win over mighty Spain at the hectic Luis Casanova Stadium in Valencia.
Hamilton scored Armstrong’s goal with a sharp run and a cross from the right flank, which his shooting partner scored when Luis Arconada failed to control the cross, and a 1–0 win secured both teams from the group.
Hamilton says that the 40th anniversary of the famous victory is approaching. STEVEN LOONEY about their memories of this event.
I remember assembly–Good.
Yugoslavia was first and it was a tough game because they were a very strong team.
But it was a good time to play them because opening games are usually stealthy. It ended with the score 0:0 and we took a point from it.
We were happy with that because we were optimistic about beating Honduras in the next game, but it didn’t work out.
They were physically and technically better than we expected and they shocked us a bit, but the game ended 1-1, giving us another point.
Since Spain was the host nation, this was the toughest game in the group and the expectations for the game were not particularly high.
But Billy Bingham had a good group of players and he reinforced the camaraderie by taking us to Brighton before the final and there was so much madness and spirit in the camp.
We really bonded, players from both sides of the community, which I am very proud of, and you knew that if someone on your team was targeted by the enemy, retribution is guaranteed.
There was no selfishness, no superstars, no truants, we all knew we had to work very hard and were hard to beat if we wanted to succeed, and that’s exactly what we did.
I remember the night before the game, a hot Friday night in Valencia, the streets were filled with people two and a half hours before the match, and the Spanish fans were milling around the stadium, they were in full force.
Bobby Campbell was on the bus when we approached the stadium and he was always a jokester, always ready to smile or make a joke.
A beautiful Spaniard in a bikini and short skirt was standing next to the bus, and Bobby simply opened the window to say, “And you, dear?”
The boys laughed, but Sammy Nelson didn’t find it funny. He said, “For God’s sake, get in, Bobby, the Spaniards will think it’s a cattle truck!”
It helped take the pressure off before the game and as soon as we got on the pitch you could feel how tense the atmosphere was. It was electric, you could almost touch it.
The referee was Hector Ortiz from Paraguay, a Spanish speaking country, and Billy didn’t like that. He was right to be worried because in my opinion the judge let Spain go with the murder.
It was a very physical game and there was no love between the two teams. Sammy McIlroy was hit on the back of his leg and Dave McCreery was checked, but nothing happened.
Miguel Tendillo kneed me in the face after I won the toss and when I went after him the referee showed me a warning!
Then there was a red card from Mel Donaghy, which was absolutely ridiculous. Camacho didn’t give him the ball, Mal pushed him lightly in the chest and was sent off for it. Ridiculous.
I had questions for the referee but at the time we had to live with it, but Jerry’s goal was a shot in the arm that we needed.
I remember looking at my teammates after the goal and something worked. We believed that we could continue and complete the work, which we did, but for this we had to work very hard.
They were playing in their backyard, the stands were very close to the field in this stadium, and we felt hostile towards us.
I distinctly remember the hair standing on end at the back of my neck, and it didn’t happen very often.
I also remember that an electronic scoreboard was one of the first to appear at the stadium, I looked up and saw that there were 10 minutes left. After what seemed to me a few minutes, I looked up and saw that there were still 10 minutes left!
We could hear our fans on the ground and they really cheered us up, but I was also worried about their safety.
If we had beaten Spain 2-0 they would have been knocked out of the final and I was afraid there would be problems because the Spaniards were pretty aggressive that night.
After that I spoke to some of our fans and they told me that the Spanish fans were making threatening gestures like cutting their throats with a knife, so it could get out of control.
After the final whistle, the Spaniards immediately withdrew. They weren’t humiliated, but they were humiliated, and they didn’t want to stay and shake hands with us.
I never faced any of them after that in my career, and to be honest, I didn’t want to. As I said, there was no love between the players. It was a cruel game.
But Billy had a game plan that worked. He wanted us to be strong defensively and keep the Spaniards out of the box to play intricate deuces that could expose us.
He was happy that we were keeping Spain at arm’s length and limiting them to long-range shots that Pat Jennings could handle and that’s exactly what happened.
Looking back, I can say that this was undoubtedly the climax of my career. It’s all Billy’s fault, and I’m so sorry he passed away recently.
He believed in me when I played in the old Third Division of English football for Oxford when most of the guys played in the First Division.
Billy believed in me and gave me an opportunity for which I will always be grateful.
But perhaps what I was most proud of when I recalled the victory over Spain is that the team was assembled from both communities in Northern Ireland, and for an hour and a half the whole country gathered for this game.
Few athletes can boast of this, and I will always be immensely proud of it.