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I was a hero against Germans, but it was my worst match: Norman Whiteside says our boys can emulate Northern Ireland 1980s heroes

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/10/2016

Teenage kicks: Northern Ireland legend Norman Whiteside
Teenage kicks: Northern Ireland legend Norman Whiteside

Recollecting the night Northern Ireland defeated West Germany 1-0 in Hamburg the memories flooded into Norman Whiteside's mind as powerfully as the fierce tackles he was renowned for.

It's remarkable to think that Whiteside was just 18 when he netted the 50th minute and deciding goal against the Germans in November 1983 in an epic European Championship qualifier.

But that was Norman - ahead of his time.

The previous year he had become the youngest player to ever appear in the World Cup finals.

Whiteside, with silky skills to match all that strength, was a special footballer. One of the greatest to wear the Northern Ireland shirt. He was magnificent for Manchester United too and showed glimpses of his class at Everton before injury cruelly cut his career short when he was only 26.

Now 51 he doesn't dwell on that and will tell you that football's all about modern day players, not those from yesteryear but as we chat and chuckle he's happy to indulge me in a trip down memory lane.

And what a trip... a day before the current Northern Ireland squad take one of their own to Germany to face the World Champions in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier in Hanover.

Billy Bingham's men had already beaten West Germany in their Euro 1984 qualifying group thanks to a superb Ian Stewart effort. But that was at Windsor.

Nobody won on German soil and they were seeking revenge for what they saw as an embarrassment in Belfast. What the hosts didn't reckon on was the determination of Bingham's teriors and a teenage sensation in the shape of Whiteside who was born to score goals on the big occasion.

What was news to me was Whiteside's revelation that his winning strike in Hamburg was the only thing of note he did all night!

"It was the best team I'd played against. Karl-Heinz Forster was up against me and to be honest he had me in his pocket. Seriously I never got a kick...," said Whiteside, with a smile on his face.

"They had players like Hans Peter Briegel at left back, Uli Stielike and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who were top drawer.

"But going forward they weren't making much headway against us and I remember the crowd started to boo them.

"Forster was relieved of his duties in marking me to go further forward and that helped us score our goal.

"Stewy (Ian Stewart) had a good run and shot which was saved, then the ball went to Paul Ramsey who scuffed his shot and the ball fell to me inside the box. I stopped it, swivelled and hit it into the back of the net.

"It was an amazing moment. To score against a team like West Germany was incredible.

"There was a small pocket of our supporters in the ground and they were celebrating like crazy.

"It was brilliant. After the game I got all the adulation. I remember headlines likes 'Whiteside sinks the Germans' but apart from scoring that goal it was the worst game of football I have ever played in my life.

"In the dressing room after the match I was in the bath when Derek McKinley, our kit man, came in to tell me that Karl Heinz Rummenigge had knocked on our door. I had spoken to him before about swapping shirts. He came into our dressing room and said 'Whiteside swap shirts'. That shirt is still in the Manchester United museum."

Whiteside's winner took Northern Ireland to the top of their group. They would have stayed there and qualified for the Euro 1984 finals, but for Germany scoring with 10 minutes to go a few days later to beat Albania and make it to France courtesy of goal difference.

Ironically it was in France earlier this year that Northern Ireland finally got to play in the Euros, to supplement three appearances for the nation in the World Cup finals in 1958, 1982 and 1986.

Whiteside, a respected and fun after dinner speaker who proved a popular pundit for ITV during the Euro 2016 finals, would love to see Michael O'Neill's men reach the glamour stages of another tournament.

"We did fantastically well to qualify for the Euro finals and getting to the last 16 was a great achievement," says Norman, who won 38 caps and netted nine international goals.

"I think the tables have turned for Northern Ireland a bit. We are on the up and up and now more is expected of the team but I'm sure Michael and the boys can cope with that.

"We qualified for the World Cup and I hope today's players can emulate that.

"It is lovely to look back but we've had our day. It is the turn of people like Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and the rest of the boys now.

"In Michael O'Neill we have a very good manager to steer them in the right direction.

"I like that he is not afraid to make big decisions. After the defeat in the first game at the Euro finals in France against Poland, he made five changes to the team for the match with Ukraine and it worked because we won the match. I rate Michael very highly and if anyone can take us to the World Cup finals it is him."

Another manager well regarded by Whiteside is Jose Mourinho in charge at his beloved Manchester United, where he hosts corporate events and is forever revered for his 1985 FA Cup final winner against Everton.

"It's been a rollercoaster start this season, but I'm convinced that Jose will come good for United," states Whiteside.

"The last three years have been disappointing for the fans but the squad has improved and there have been some encouraging signs. I think Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done quite well after signing in the summer and Marcus Rashford is a real prospect. He looks to be a talented boy."

Final word, though, on Northern Ireland's latest trip to Germany. Could Northern Ireland deliver another famous victory?

Whiteside says: "Never say never. We could go over there and get stuffed 5-0 because they have so many quality players but there is also the possibility that we could grind out a 1-0 win scoring from a set play. We can't match them one on one but collectively as a group we can make it difficult for them."

Belfast Telegraph

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