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Northern Ireland team reunion: Legends of 1982 back together 40 years on

Bingham’s squad gets together just weeks after legendary manager’s passing

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Stars of the ‘82 campaign who attended the reunion (from left) Billy Hamilton, Felix Healy, John McClelland, Jim Cleary, Jimmy Nicholl, Gerry Armstrong, Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings

Stars of the ‘82 campaign who attended the reunion (from left) Billy Hamilton, Felix Healy, John McClelland, Jim Cleary, Jimmy Nicholl, Gerry Armstrong, Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings

Pat Jennings (left) with his wife Eleanor Toner and Gerry Armstrong

Pat Jennings (left) with his wife Eleanor Toner and Gerry Armstrong

Martin O'Neill and Billy Bingham salute the fans after beating Spain 1-0

Martin O'Neill and Billy Bingham salute the fans after beating Spain 1-0

Gerry Armstrong rifles home the winner against Spain

Gerry Armstrong rifles home the winner against Spain

Gerry Armstrong at the reunion

Gerry Armstrong at the reunion

Arthur Allison/ PacemakerPress.

Billy Bingham plants a kiss on Billy Hamilton

Billy Bingham plants a kiss on Billy Hamilton

Stars of the ‘82 campaign who attended the reunion (from left) Billy Hamilton, Felix Healy, John McClelland, Jim Cleary, Jimmy Nicholl, Gerry Armstrong, Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings

Stars of the ‘82 campaign who attended the reunion (from left) Billy Hamilton, Felix Healy, John McClelland, Jim Cleary, Jimmy Nicholl, Gerry Armstrong, Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings

Billy Hamilton celebrates his goal against Austria at Spain 82

Billy Hamilton celebrates his goal against Austria at Spain 82

Getty Images

Billy Bingham relaxing poolside in Spain

Billy Bingham relaxing poolside in Spain

A jubilant Gerry Armstrong

A jubilant Gerry Armstrong

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Stars of the ‘82 campaign who attended the reunion (from left) Billy Hamilton, Felix Healy, John McClelland, Jim Cleary, Jimmy Nicholl, Gerry Armstrong, Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings

There were tears, laughter and tons of craic on Saturday as the Northern Ireland legends of 1982 were reunited on the 40th anniversary of their World Cup heroics.

Martin O’Neill, Gerry Armstong and Pat Jennings were just some of the heroes who descended on Belfast’s Europa Hotel to reminisce and reconnect.

The famous hotel’s Library Room was buzzing tonight with chatter while guests arrived while dinner was delayed slightly as some of squad of ‘82 stayed a little longer than expected in the Crown Bar opposite.

Captain of the famous side and former manager of the Republic of Ireland, Martin O’Neill said: “It was the first time I’d seen Billy Hamilton in some time, he was an absolute warrior for us.

“Of course Gerry Armstrong and his wife deserve all the credit for getting it going, it was unreal.

“He called it a chore of love, I’m not sure those words go together but I know what he means, it’s been brilliant and I’m delighted to have been there.

“To see some of the lads was really great. I went to Billy’s funeral on Friday and it really was fantastic and well done by his son.

“I wonder whether last night was a night he would’ve enjoyed being at, he was fantastic for us and I really don’t think that can be underestimated.”

Former Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal legend Pat Jennings echoed Martin’s thoughts about getting together with his old pals.

He said: “It’s just unbelievable that it was 40 years ago, it feels like only yesterday and now we’re all back together again.

“It’s been brilliant to see all the boys, I see Gerry (Armstrong) every other week but I haven’t seen some of the other guys for a long time.”

The event took place the day after the funeral of legendary manager Billy Bingham who took Northern Ireland to World Cups in 1982 and 1986.

Former Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and Real Mallorca forward Gerry Armstrong told Sunday Life it was an incredible night of mixed emotions with money raised for Dementia NI.

He said: “It’s been a very traumatic couple of weeks because the man who led us to two World Cups, the mastermind, Billy Bingham has very sadly passed away.

“We had a lovely toast to him last and he was always a person to celebrate success, the last time we were together was 15 years ago for the 25th anniversary and we had a really good turn out then also.

“I’m sure he’d have wanted us to enjoy the occasion and remember the fantastic time we had last night which we did.

“I don’t know how many more of these reunions we’ll be able to put together with the passage of time, some of the members are ill and some can’t attend because of dementia which is sad.

“Billy himself had dementia but he was nearly 91, I don’t think he did too badly, he was a fit wee man but it’s hard when you don’t remember things.

“It’s a cause close to a lot of us for those reasons and that’s why Dementia NI was our nominated charity for the evening.

“It was a pleasure to be there and catch up with guys like Jim Cleary, Felix Healy, George Dunlop and of course the legendary Pat Jennings, he pulled out us out of so many situations over the years, what a goalkeeper. He was the best in the world for six or seven years.

“It was also great to catch up with the captain Martin O’Neill, we don’t get to see Martin too often so that was great.

“I loved seeing Billy Hamilton and John McClelland too, Billy was my striking partner and we had a lot of fun together, they used to call us Biff and Bash. You wouldn’t get away with that nowadays, it’s much more difficult to make a challenge in football these days sadly!”

The glitzy bash at the Europa hotel, sponsored by merchant service provider SmartPayNI, was hosted by BBC NI sports presenter Stephen Watson with entertainment from The Voice Kids UK star Conor Marcus among others.

The event was also used to launch a special whisky commemorating the team’s achievements called Spirit of ’82.

When it comes to the legacy of what the players achieved Gerry says what happened off the pitch was more important than what they did off it.

He continued: “It wasn’t just a reunion, it was an event to mark the spirit of ’82 when we beat the Spaniards and people partied all over Northern Ireland from the Falls Road to the Shankill.

“People all over Ireland celebrated us beating Spain and qualifying for the quarter-finals, we didn’t realise it at the time but we did such a big thing for our country and for the people.

“The people really needed a lift back then and it came at the right time so it’s great to look back at what we achieved both on and off the pitch.

“In fact that togetherness was bigger than beating Spain, people still stop me in the street and tell me exactly where they were or what they were doing when it happened, that’s how much of an impact it had.

“It’s a bit like the JFK assassination, everyone knows where they were when Northern Ireland beat Spain with ten men, it was a real special time for football in Northern Ireland but also for the people.”

Gerry’s good friend and former strike-partner Billy Hamilton was also in attendance at the bash and echoed his pal’s sentiments, adding he thought Billy Bingham would have been smiling down on them all.

He said: “It was lovely to join up with all the lads again, it was a great experience in 1982 and we always enjoy getting together for a bit of a laugh, the banter and the craic started flowing again as usual.

“Billy’s death was very sad but we all knew he was not in the best of health for a while, we all respected him so much and it was very much a celebration of what he achieved.

“I think he was looking down with a bit of a smile and wishing he was there with us.

“It was one of the greatest sporting feats this country has ever achieved, to punch above our weight like that and beat Spain at home was incredible so it was great to celebrate that.

“The troubles were still going then and the one important thing it showed was that a group of people from mixed backgrounds could come together and play hard for each other.

“The highest accolade we ever achieved was that for a while we united this country together, people from both sides of the community were wanting us to do well and that is probably one of our greatest achievements.

“People still remember that time fondly and it was great to reflect on that, we’re all good friends and try to keep in touch but it’s hard because we’re scattered about so it was great to see everybody.”

Find out more about Dementia NI at dementia.org


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