Northern Ireland

Euro 2016 finals: Billy Hamilton recalls Northern Ireland's glory years of the 1980s

Billy Hamilton (second left) with Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, 1958 World Cup star Peter McParland and legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings at the announcement of the squad for the Euro 2016 finals Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Billy Hamilton (second left) with Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, 1958 World Cup star Peter McParland (left) and legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings (far right) at the announcement of the squad for the Euro 2016 finals

Billy Hamilton knows all about the disappointment of missing out on a European Championship.

The former Burnley and Oxford United striker was a fixture of the last Northern Ireland team that qualified for the finals of a major tournament, playing at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

He is delighted that the latest generation have reached the Euro 2016 event, but still regrets his side failed to qualify for the 1984 finals in France, despite beating West Germany twice.

"It was heartbreaking to beat West Germany home and away and finish on the same points as them and just be pipped by goal difference," he said.

"I remember listening to the last game on the radio, they were playing Turkey it was still 0-0 and West Germany scored with eight minutes to go. So we were eight minutes away from qualifying.

"I think Northern Ireland might be a surprise package at these finals. Michael O'Neill the manager has got the team playing in such a way that we are very hard to beat."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Norman Whiteside in his heyday with Northern Ireland. He broke Pele's record as the youngest participant at the World Cup finals in 1982.

Hamilton was centre stage when Northern Ireland famously beat Spain at the 1982 World Cup finals, setting up Gerry Armstrong's goal in that game and grabbing two of his own when they later drew with Austria.

"I hadn't scored in the competition up until the Austria game. It was such a relief - you have made your mark on the World Cup and it is something to tell the grandchildren," Hamilton added.

"I think if you looked at my celebration, I rammed about seven different celebrations into the one goal. It is just a release of emotions and excitement. It is hard to recreate it and get that feeling again."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Billy Hamilton (front) with Sammy McIlroy and Norman Whiteside at Heathrow Airport following the Northern Ireland team's exit from the 1982 World Cup

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.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNI Football: Jimmy Hill predicts Gerry Armstrong will score against Spain ahead of the match at the 1982 World Cup

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."

Image caption Billy Hamilton was capped 41 times for Northern Ireland, scoring five goals

However, he also reflects on the irony that when they did defeat Spain most of the players had to wait a full 90 minutes before they could toast their success with a beer.

"I remember we couldn't wait to get back to the hotel to celebrate our famous victory and Gerry Armstrong and someone else were called in for a drug test," he added.

"We were sitting on the bus for an hour and a half because they were so dehydrated they couldn't give the urine sample. They were feeding them with Champagne and beer to get them to go to the toilet and we are sitting on the bus dying to get back to the hotel and couldn't get a drink.

"We were gagging for one - 'let's get home and celebrate' - and when we got back there was about 300 Northern Ireland supporters around the hotel, so it was a big party."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Billy Hamilton and Gerry Armstrong launching an art project at Windsor Park in Belfast in 2003

Related Topics

More on this story