The “group of brothers” came together again 40 years after “the time of their lives.” Paul McCartney rocked the crowd at Glastonbury on Saturday night, and Northern Ireland’s legendary heroes at the 1982 World Cup did the same at the Europa Hotel in Belfast.
Arry City great Felix Healy even delivered an exhilarating rendition of Danny Boy as the people in the Library Room reveled in the stories of Captain Martin O’Neill, scoring hero Jerry Armstrong and giant goaltender Pat Jennings exactly four decades after an epic 1-0 victory over Spain in Valencia.
Armstrong was determined to have a reunion to celebrate the “Spirit of the ’82” and just like on that memorable night at the Luis Casanova Stadium when he smashed the ball past Luis Arconada, he did.
Sadly, inspiring boss Billy Bingham passed away earlier this month. Some of the players from the 1982 World Cup are no longer with us either, others are battling illness and some didn’t survive, but listening to O’Neal, Armstrong, Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Billy Hamilton, John McClelland, Jim Cleary and Healy who were part of the group that stunned football and united Northern Ireland during the Troubles was a joy to watch.
O’Neill, a league champion and two-time European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest before Espana 82, was in fantastic form, sometimes baffling with his wit and wisdom.
He recalled that the Irish Football Federation did not think that Northern Ireland would be able to qualify for the second stage, a feat they achieved thanks to a shocking success over the host country, Spain.
“Did we think we would break through? I don’t know when we hit the road, whether we did it or not, but of course the Irish Football Association didn’t think we could make it because we didn’t have a hotel to go to after the win over Spain.” the midfielder said. , who went on to become a successful manager at Leicester City and Celtic, among others, and led Ireland to Euro 2016.
“We woke up in the morning in awe, thinking we were heading to Madrid, and at breakfast came the news that we had no hotel to go to. This is absolutely true. Incredible!”
Referring mischievously to his friend and underboss with his Republic and an incident in Saipan before the 2002 World Cup, Martin added, “Do you have any idea what Roy Keane might have thought about that?”
Cause explosions of laughter and applause throughout the hall.
With a twinkle in his eye, O’Neal added, “Roy Keane went home because they didn’t have bibs. We didn’t have a hotel. We didn’t mind breastplates.”
In a serious and touching moment, O’Neill paid tribute to Bingham, who made him captain years ago. Martin, Jimmy Nicholl and Sammy McIlroy attended Billy’s funeral in England the day before.
“Jimmy Nick, Sammy Mac and I were at Billy Bingham’s funeral on Friday and I just want to say we had some really good players but I don’t think we could have done it without him,” O’Neal said.
“Definitely not because he instilled discipline and forced us to play at our best, hiding our weaknesses, but we had them, and we played strong every time. The camaraderie between us was absolutely sensational. All this combined helped us achieve what we have achieved.
“It was the time of our lives. It was really fantastic. I couldn’t be more proud.”
At the party itself, Martin added: “It is a great pleasure for us to celebrate our 40th anniversary together again. It was Jerry’s idea, and when Jerry says something, you agree.”
Armstrong, a charismatic and generous character, paid tribute to all those who helped make the evening a hit, including his wife Deborah and their girlfriend Michelle McTiernan who worked hard behind the scenes, the main sponsors of SmartPayNI and host Stephen Watson who did an excellent job. asking players questions with thousands of pounds raised for selected charity Dementia NI.
Jerry’s new “Spirit of 82” whiskey was on the table for everyone to taste along with the sweets of the decade and the sombrero.
There was pride in Armstrong’s voice as he told the crowd, “We were a group of brothers and loved to play together and compete. We had something special and after 40 years I think our biggest achievement as a team was to bring the country together during this World Cup.”
You could see the chemistry between the guys, which is a key component of any successful team.
There was a lot of laughter on stage and in the audience as Billy Hamilton and Jimmy Nicholl talked about their adventures and how they left hotel rooms to rest during the World Cup.
“What you have to understand is that you were in a hotel room for six weeks and watched the flies crawl up and down the wall and it was like Colditz was wondering how you were going to avoid it. but Jimmy always found a way,” Hamilton said. with a knowing smile.
“Well, you only live once, don’t you?” was Nicolas’ brilliant answer.
Jimmy Nick also spoke highly of Bingham as a manager and the discipline he instilled on and off the pitch.
McClelland gave a glimpse of the close nature of the relationship between the players, saying, “If we called each other, we would be next to each other. We all worked hard together and received awards together.”
He added to great amusement that when he first joined the team as a Mansfield player and shared a room with then-Forest star O’Neal, he had to make tea for the captain and “bring his suitcases out of the room”.
O’Neill’s response: “Fast forward a few years when John was with Glasgow Rangers and I was with Notts County… I carried his bags.”
The 1982 World Cup in Northern Ireland featured four Irish League stars: Cleary, Healy, George Dunlop and Johnny Jameson.
Glentoran Cleary’s greatest player has revealed he left for Spain after quitting his job at the Shorts without a paycheck.
“When the Spanish team was chosen, I had to go to work and ask for the day off to go to the World Cup, which my employer gave me for free. It was a holiday without pay,” said Gentleman Jim of Fermanagh.
“I supported Northern Ireland and was on the terraces in 1981 when Jerry scored a goal and we went to the 1982 World Cup. In May 1982, I was called up to the Northern Ireland squad for the first time.
“I have a completely different background than these guys. They had the experience of a full game, but I’m very, very proud to be on the squad for the 1982 World Cup.”
They were all like that, even such an icon as Jennings, who accomplished so many other feats in his glorious career.
“I have been lucky enough to play in many big matches at club and international level but I can honestly say that I have never been as proud to be part of a team as I was with the boys the night we beat Spain. “, – said Pat, summing up another magical evening 40 years later.