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How Joe Bambrick became the king of local terrace talk

Eddie McIlwaine

It was a freezing festive season day at Windsor Park in December 1933 and the Linfield and Belfast Celtic fans were keeping themselves warm at the derby game by chanting their support for their respective heroes on either side.

And the call that the Linfield crowd on the terraces loved best of all was the one that went: Head, heel or toe, slip it to Joe.

It was in praise of goalscoring legend Joe Bambrick who three years before scored six of the goals in a 7-0 win by Ireland over Wales at Celtic Park.

The double hat- trick is a record that still stands to this day – it has never been bettered by a British player in an international match. Altogether Joe scored 12 goals in 11 games for Ireland.

As the final whistle blew, the Welsh goalkeeper shouted at Bambrick: "Six kicks at the ball and you get six goals."

And immediately Joe retorted:"You forget, old friend, that one of them was a header."

I was reminded of Joe, whom I used to sit beside in the press box at matches years after his retirement, by amateur soccer historian Clarence Baker of Larne who explained that this distinguished player Bambrick was in the Linfield side that afternoon of the '33 derby as the Blues pulled off a 3-1 victory after which he was transferred to Chelsea.

In fact, in a 1935 match against the Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, he scored the Chelsea goal in a 1-1 draw. What made the match remarkable is the fact that to this day, it holds the record for the largest crowd at a competitive game between the sides – 82,905.

Joe Bambrick, who also played for Glentoran early in his career, died 30 years ago at 77. He is still revered in football circles to this day and an Ulster History Blue Plaque hangs on the wall of his home in Roden Street.

A week after the six-timer against Wales, Cantrell & Cochrane, a local soft drinks firm, marketed a beverage which they called 'Joe Six' to mark the feat.

During his football career, Bambrick was credited with almost 1,000 goals such was his prolific scoring ability.

The couplet, 'Head Heel or Toe, Slip it to Joe' was created by another Linfield player, Eddie Matthews, who was heard shouting out the words as he came round from the anaesthetic after undergoing an operation in hospital. His rhyme was picked up by a comedian, a patient in the same ward, who turned it into a catchphase for his music hall act.

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