Belfast Telegraph

'No accolade would be too great'... IFA backs calls for Bingham knighthood

By Claire McNeilly

Should legendary Northern Ireland football manager Billy Bingham have been knighted in the New Year Honours list? The Irish FA certainly think so.

Current incumbent Michael O'Neill was awarded an MBE last week after taking Northern Ireland to the Euros for the first time last year.

Bingham, on the other hand, guided his country to two World Cups, as well as being a key player when the team first made it to the global finals in 1958.

The 85-year-old did receive an MBE for services to football in 1981 - but that preceded the World Cup adventures in Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986, and it was also before Northern Ireland won the British Championship for a second time under his stewardship in 1984.

Irish FA president David Martin told the Belfast Telegraph that the association hopes to welcome 'Bingy' - whose health is failing - to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park early this year.

Mr Martin added that the 56-times capped former winger had been invited to join a host of Northern football Ireland legends, including Harry Gregg and Pat Jennings, at the opening of the rebuilt stadium last October, but he was unable to make it.

"We have our Tennent's Billy Bingham hospitality lounge at Windsor Park and we'll certainly be inviting him to that," he said.

Mr Martin also said the IFA would have "absolutely no hesitation" in supporting a nomination for the ex-Glentoran and Sunderland star in a future New Year Honours list.

"We would support any honour bestowed on Billy Bingham," he said. "He's been a fantastic servant, both as a player and as a manager, to Northern Ireland."

Gerry Armstrong, hero of Northern Ireland's 1982 World Cup finals campaign, said his former boss deserved further recognition for his incredible service to sport over the years.

"I've known Billy for a long, long time and I don't think anyone will ever achieve what he did as a player and also obviously as a manager. And I don't think any accolade would be too great for him," said the 62-year-old.

Armstrong, now a Spanish football TV pundit, said he believed Bingham should have got something on the 30th anniversary of the Mexico finals.

"Billy played a lot of games for Northern Ireland, scored a lot of goals, played in a World Cup and took us to two others," said Armstrong.

"I don't think anybody's ever going to emulate that. He also won the British Championships twice -and that will certainly never happen again."

As the championships - also known as the Home Internationals - were abandoned after 1984, Northern Ireland are, technically, the defending champions.

The trophy that Bingham's squad won is now the centrepiece of the Irish FA's new Education and Heritage Centre at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland, having won the final tournament, were allowed to keep it in perpetuity.

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