Billy Bingham ‘a genius and the best manager we ever had’

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Billy Bingham has been praised as a “genius” and the “best Northern Ireland manager ever” following his death on Thursday by another Spirit of ‘82 legend Gerry Armstrong.

The 90-year-old former Everton and Sunderland outside right, who would go on to lead Northern Ireland to back to back World Cup tournaments in the 1980s, had been diagnosed with dementia in 2006.

In a statement on Friday, Bingham’s son David said: “Dad was diagnosed with dementia back in 2006 and I think it is a tribute to his will that he managed another 16 years from that diagnosis to the time he passed away.

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“He passed away peacefully last night at 10.30pm in a care home in Southport. We are very proud of all our dad achieved.”

Manager Billy Bingham with Pat Jennings celebrate Northern Ireland qualifying for the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. PacemakerManager Billy Bingham with Pat Jennings celebrate Northern Ireland qualifying for the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. Pacemaker
Manager Billy Bingham with Pat Jennings celebrate Northern Ireland qualifying for the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. Pacemaker

Bingham had also been part of the Northern Ireland side which reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, only to lose to France.

He was awarded an MBE for services to football in 1981, left the Northern Ireland job in 1993 and later worked as director of football at Blackpool FC.

Gerry Armstrong described his former international boss as a master tactician who knew how to build a team and how get the very best from his players.

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“He more than over-achieved – he was just incredible. But we wanted to play for him and that was the key for me. All the players wanted to play for him, they listened to him, they trusted him, they believed in him, and that is why we had that spirit, why we had that team and that bond,” he said.

“We had total respect for him. For us to start and do what we did, and the matches that we won. We qualified out of a group with Sweden and Portugal to go to the World Cup [in 1982]. Huge nations in football and yet we beat them.”

Gerry said Billy Bingham was a master at moving players into different positions to strengthen a team.

“These were all strokes of genius. He know where to strengthen the team and he knew where the opposition had weaknesses, and he told us ‘this is how you beat them.’

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“And his motivational speeches were brilliant. But it wasn’t just that – he did tell you ‘this is how you can break them down,’ and then when you actually go out and do it, you realise that he’s telling the truth.

“We all believed in each other and that team was unbeaten at Windsor Park for nearly six years – and we played England, Portugal, Germany, some of the biggest nations in the world, and nobody wanted to play us at Windsor Park.

“And we are the only team in a major tournament to beat Germany home and away. Nobody has ever beaten Germany home and away. Those are fantastic memories for me.”

“In my opinion, and I am convinced, he we the best manager we ever had – there is nobody can get anywhere near him. The spirit of ‘82 was something special and it went on for a long time.”

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He added: “For a population of what we had, to do what he did during that six-year period that I played for Billy (1980-1986), winning the British Championships in 1980 outright, and then win it again in 1984 outright, then 1982 World Cup qualified, 1986 World Cup qualified back to back, and then beat Germany home and away, I mean that is just incredible.”

Gerry, who played gaelic football and hurling for Antrim in the early 1970s, was best man at Billy Bingham’s wedding.

He said any allegations that Bingham engaged in sectarian behaviour are nonsense, and added: “I can 100% confirm that there was never any sectarianism that went on in our squad, ever.

“Billy picked his best team regardless of who they were or what they were or where they were from, and that was always the way.”

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Gerry also pointed out that “the whole of Ireland celebrated” what the Northern Ireland team was achieving in 1982.

“The politicians could never do what we did and that is a credit to the manager,” he added.

Tributes to Bingham have poured in from right across the UK, including the many clubs he was associated with as both player and manager – Glentoran, Linfield, Sunderland, Everton, Southport, Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle.

Speaking to BBC Radio Merseyside, another former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton said: “He was in love with Everton. I think he was very proud of being the manager of Everton and it was just a shame that it wasn’t more successful than it was.”