World Cup hero should have been given a knighthood, says Fullerton
Legendary manager Billy Bingham will leave an “amazing legacy” in Northern Irish football history, one of his former players said on Friday night.
Tributes from across the sporting world have poured in after the icon passed away aged 90.
Regarded as Northern Ireland’s most successful manager, he led the team to successive World Cups in Spain in 1982 and Mexico four years later before being diagnosed with dementia in 2006.
His son, David, said: “I think it is a tribute to his will that he managed another 16 years from that diagnosis to the time he passed away.
“He passed away peacefully last night [Thursday] at 10.30pm in a care home in Southport. We are very proud of all our dad achieved.”
As well as David, Bingham is survived by his daughter, Sharon.
He was born in east Belfast and was an electrician by trade before he went on to enjoy a distinguished playing career, both as a Northern Ireland international and with club sides Glentoran, Sunderland, Luton Town, Everton and Port Vale.
He was a part of the Northern Ireland side that reached the quarter finals of the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
It would be another 24 years before the team qualified again, this time under his leadership.
The crowning moment of his management career was Gerry Armstrong’s famous goal in Valencia in 1982, which sealed a magnificent victory over Spain in their back yard.
Armstrong said: “The tributes have been pouring in for Billy, and he deserves every one. He was a top man. We’ll never find anyone as good as Billy again.”
Pat Jennings added: “The memories he gave us are unbelievable. It’s an amazing legacy. We aren’t the biggest country, but we achieved great things.”
Former Northern Ireland international Keith Gillespie described him as the side’s greatest manager, adding he had “such great memories of growing up and watching him take us to Spain ‘82 and Mexico ‘86.”
Broadcaster Jackie Fullerton, who often travelled the world with Bingham and was mistaken for him on multiple occasions, also paid tribute to the legendary football boss.
“I know he’s been ill over the last few years, but it still came as a shock today [to hear] that little Billy had gone,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He was a top man, great company. But above all, what he did for Northern Ireland was above and beyond.
“I’ve often said that what he did in getting Northern Ireland to two World Cups back-to-back in ‘82 and ‘86 with our limited resources and number of players... he deserved a knighthood.”
Recalling that famous victory in Valencia, Mr Fullerton told how he was tasked with securing on-pitch interviews with the manager.
“When the final whistle went, I set off, and within 15 seconds I was at the centre circle as Billy was about to embrace Gerry Armstrong, the hero of the hour,” he said.
“There were almost tears in both their eyes, such was the memorable thing they had just achieved.
“I remember when I spoke to Billy on camera, I said, ‘What a performance, what a result’.
“He always called me ‘Jeekie’ because of his Belfast-English accent, and he said, ‘Jeekie, we beat the Spaniards in their own bullring’. I just thought, ‘What a great line’.”
He also recalled being mistaken for Mr Bingham by reporters during a training session for the 1986 World Cup.
As a former footballer, Mr Fullerton would sometimes be allowed to train with the team to fill in if players were injured.
“[At] the first training session in Guadalajara, it became obvious that several of the pressmen were from Brazil,” he said.
“I’m standing there in the shorts and boots, and these guys surrounded me and said, ‘Ah, Senor Bingham’.
“Malcolm Brodie (former sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph) the legend, was nearby. I said, ‘Malcolm, it’s happened again. They think I’m Bingham’.
“So, Malcolm says, ‘He’s not Bingham, he’s not a coach. He’s a singer’.
“So, that did happen, but Billy and myself always laughed at it.”
The Irish FA said it was with “great sadness” that it had learned of the passing of the former player and manager.
“He was everything that a Northern Ireland manager needs to be: tactically astute, innovative and inspirational,” it added.
Among politicians paying their respects was DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, who said: Billy was a hero of mine. He gave great pride to Northern Ireland, particularly in the difficult times of the 1980s. Our greatest ever manager leaves us with wonderful memories.”