Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Down Memory Lane: Armstrong's goal against Spain is the one we all remember

Mention THAT goal to any Northern Ireland football fan and they instantly know what you are talking about.

Gerry Armstrong’s 49th minute strike which gave Northern Ireland a historic victory over host nation Spain at Valencia, in the 1982 World Cup, is part of football folklore.

Gerry, one of the most personable of people I’ve known in sport, has dined out – we all have — on that goal for 28 years. It has been replayed countless times on television and occupies a special place in Irish FA history.

Gerry — full name Gerard Joseph Armstrong – born in Fintona, Co Tyrone, in May, 1954, proud son of West Belfast, played 62 times for his country, scoring 12 goals. He didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone but ate it, qualifying him to talk for Ireland. In fact, he was named “Don Quick Quote” by fellow international Sammy Nelson because of his facility with the Press. His recollection of matches, incidents, dates and goals is phenomenal.

During his career he was transferred from Bangor to Tottenham Hotspur and he was with Second Division Watford when he darted into the World Cup squad.

His goal that incredible night in the Luis Casanova Stadium was an example of opportunism supreme. Collecting the ball in his own half he powered down the middle past three opponents, and flicked it to Burnley centre-forward Billy Hamilton on the right flank. He too moved at pace his strength shrugging off the challenge from Miguel Tendilllo and whipped it low into the goalmouth where Spanish goalkeeper and captain Luis Arconada pushed it out — straight to Armstrong who promptly drove it into the net.

Delirium from the huge Northern Ireland support. Depression by the Spaniards who proceeded to increase the quota of tough tackles and intimidation aided by a sub-standard display from Paraguayan referee Hector Ortiz.

Now Northern Ireland had a real battle on their hands and that final whistle was a long time away. Life was made even more difficult when Mal Donaghy was ludicrously ordered off for pushing full-back Jose Camacho — a minor incident compared with some of the Spanish antics.

Northern Ireland triumphed, qualifying as group leaders for the next round — a repeat of Sweden, 1958. Spain, runners-up, sneaked in too but the defeat dented their morale and generated fierce criticism from their Press,

Just Gerry’s luck to be selected for the urine drug test at the finish. Like most of the others he was so dehydrated in the intensive heat it took him an eternity to produce the sample. Team-mates and manager Billy Bingham would not leave without him. That was the spirit, the camaraderie of Northern Ireland, Spain 82. A wonderful memory.