Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland beating England at Windsor Park was simply magic

It’s five years to the day since Northern Ireland famously defeated England at Windsor. The manager then, Lawrie Sanchez, tells us about the lasting legacy of that night

Northern Ireland fans are walking around with an extra spring in their step at the moment after the 1-0 win in Slovenia.

Five years ago to the day they were floating in the air following victory over England by the same score.

Yes, it really is five years since that epic night at Windsor Park when David Healy smashed home the winner to stun Sven, Rio, Becks, Stevie G, Lamps, and Wayne Rooney, who thought they would stroll past Lawrie Sanchez’s men in the World Cup qualifier.

They didn’t for one second believe that the desire of the Northern Ireland players and the astonishing atmosphere generated by the home fans would overcome them.

But on September 7, 2005 that’s exactly what happened.

And it led to more amazing occasions at Windsor when Spain, who would go on to win the European Championships and World Cup, Sweden, Denmark and Poland left Belfast wondering what had hit them.

Sanchez recalled: “We didn’t have too many Premier League regulars in our side but obviously the England side was littered with them, so I told our team to make it a Championship game and get in the faces of the England players.

“Keith Gillespie cleared out Wayne Rooney which got him upset and James Quinn bullied Rio Ferdinand and Jamie Carragher, while in midfield we won virtually every challenge.

“Defensively we were excellent and when the big chance came thankfully it landed at David’s feet and he provided a fantastic finish.

“Looking back, the win over England was a turning point for Northern Ireland.

“We had started scoring goals and winning games after I had been appointed the year before, but I believe it was only that night that all the players and the general public bought in to what we were attempting to do.

“After that I think everyone thought that we were capable of achieving anything.

“The players that didn’t buy into it or let the side down in my opinion, like (Paul) McVeigh, (Philip) Mulryne, (George) McCartney and (Jeff) Whitley were no longer part of the squad.

“And once we got the England win, everyone had the belief that we could defeat anyone in the world, especially in front of our fans at Windsor Park.

“The next year we beat Spain, which in hindsight was an even better result than England, and then went on a great run that gave the team a real chance of qualifying for the 2008 European Championship finals.”

Sanchez, of course, left midway through that campaign to take charge of Fulham.

At the time Northern Ireland were top of their group and on course to make a major finals for the first time since 1986.

He admits now that he has regrets about how he departed.

“I do believe we should have qualified for Euro 2008 and in many ways I blame myself for leaving midway through the campaign,” said the man, who first made his name playing alongside Vinny Jones in the Wimbledon midfield.

“Yes, I do regret leaving when I did. Fulham came in for me — they were the third Premier League side to show an interest — and I didn’t think I could turn the opportunity down.

“I did think, though, that I could do both jobs, with Fulham and Northern Ireland, but Fulham didn’t want that. I wish I had been stronger with Fulham and made it clear that I was going to finish the campaign with Northern Ireland.

“In that sense I feel as though I let the Northern Ireland fans down.

“In the end I suppose you could say I got my comeuppance with what happened at Fulham because I wasn’t there for as long as I had hoped.”

Sanchez was replaced by Nigel Worthington, who masterminded Friday’s win in Slovenia, which hopefully is a sign of things to come.

“After the England game and the success that followed, interest in Northern Ireland suddenly increased,” added Sanchez.

“Sky TV came on board and the Irish FA made millions from that deal. Every company now, even Sky, are looking at their finances and that’s why it is vital that Northern Ireland keep getting good results because otherwise interest will decrease and they won’t have a lot to barter with when new contract discussions come around.”

Northern Ireland: Taylor, Baird, Capaldi, Hughes, Craigan, Davis, Gillespie, Johnson, Healy (Sproule 88), Quinn (Feeney 79), Elliott (Duff 90). Subs Not Used: Ingham, Robinson, Jones, Brunt.

England: Robinson, Young, Ferdinand, Carragher, Ashley Cole, Lampard (Hargreaves 80), Beckham, Gerrard (Defoe 75), Wright-Phillips (Joe Cole 54), Owen, Rooney.

Subs Not Used: Upson, Kirkland, Neville, Bent.

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