Roy McDonald has revealed Crusaders’ secret weapon as they went into battle against Liverpool in 1976 — Billy Bingham!
The legendary Northern Ireland boss was managing Everton when the Shore Road minnows faced their daunting David v Goliath test in the European Cup.
The Merseysiders boasted an awesome squad in the mid-1970s, containing famous names such as Phil Neal, John Toshack, Terry McDermott, Ray Clemence and Kevin Keegan.
So strong were the Anfield giants that they went on to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 in the final to grab the glittering European prize for the first time.
The ‘wee Crues’ may have won the Irish League title but they couldn’t stop the Reds’ march into the history books under the guidance of Bob Paisley.
However, for players such as goalkeeper McDonald — now a coach at the club — Walter McFarland, John McPolin, Paul Kirk and Bob Strain it was the stuff of footballing dreams.
As the Irish League part-timers entered the lion’s den of Anfield weak at the knees they were given strength and encouragement by a pre-match pep talk from Bingham. The man who guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup Finals in 1982 and 1986 agreed to address the Crues squad the night before the battle of Anfield.
Crusaders needed all the help they could get and Bingham was more than happy to offer a few words of wisdom to his fellow countrymen. The Hatchetmen lost the opening leg 2-0 but not before displaying the kind of fighting spirit Bingham always demanded from his teams.
“Billy gave us a talk the night before the game and the boys were keen to hear what he had to say,” revealed McDonald who has given the Crues 40 years of loyal service.
“Billy said to us ‘you better not lose concentration’. Well he didn’t have to say that to me as I was the goalkeeper! I wasn’t going to be caught napping!
“Everyone was geared up for it and the message was simply that these players are so good that if you take your eye off the ball for a second — at any stage of the game — they will ruthlessly punish you. Some of the boys were nervous because it was a very big game but at the same time we knew we had to stick together and fight for one another to prevent getting heavily beaten.
“But I didn’t get a chance to lose my concentration! Phil Neal beat me from the penalty spot in the first half and then we managed to contain them until John Toshack popped up with a second in the 64th minute.”
Crusaders produced another spirited performance in the second leg but they were overpowered in a 5-0 loss. Four of the goals, though, came in the last ten minutes as Liverpool’s superior fitness told.
Dessie Bell, who was the Crusaders physio in those great European battles with Liverpool has sadly passed away at the age of 77 after a short illness.
Dessie will also be fondly remembered at Glenavon, Ballyclare Comrades and Dundela where he lent his expertise.
Former Duns boss Mervyn Bell said: “The players loved him, he was widely respected in the local game.”
Dessie is survived by his wife Anne and daughter June.