Billy Bingham will always be remembered for masterminding Linfield’s famous European Cup Winners’ Cup win against Manchester City — but Blues legend Alan Fraser insists he was no one-game wonder.
Although the 90-year-old, who sadly passed away late last week after a long illness, carved out an illustrious football career in England and at international level — both as player and manager — he also left an indelible mark in a season-long stint at Windsor Park.
A fresh-faced Fraser had just broken into the squad under previous manager Ewan Fenton, but when Billy arrived he became his first-choice right-back — even though he was still only 17 years of age.
Within two months of Billy’s appointment, Joe Mercer’s Man City aristocrats arrived in South Belfast still rocking from an epic display by the Blues the previous week at Maine Road when a late Colin Bell goal spared the blushes of the English giants.
And Bingham’s pre-match prediction of “we can beat Man City” was realised, courtesy of a double strike by Billy Millen, after Francis Lee had shot the European Cup Winners’ Cup holders into an early lead.
Although City progressed to the next round on the away goal rule, the Blues went on to dominate the local season, winning four trophies —the Irish League title, the Ulster Cup, the Gold Cup and the Blaxnit (All-Ireland) Cup.
“Billy will always be remembered for the games against City, but what he achieved in his season at Windsor Park was phenomenal in terms of trophy success,” recalls Fraser.
“We won the Irish Cup, beating Ballymena United in the Final at Solitude, the previous season under Ewan Fenton. I had been in and out of the team; I was only 16 and took over from Ken Gilliland when he was injured.
“When Billy came in, he established me as the right-back when Gilliland retired. It was all new to me; my first pre-season training with the senior team.
“It was something else. Even the senior players would have talked about it, Billy had us in four nights a week, sometimes five.
“When the European draw was made, he emphasised it was a big draw against the European champions, but stated he would have us fit enough to beat them. He basically motivated us and brainwashed us — but it worked.
“When you put it into perspective, it was equivalent to Linfield playing Manchester City in the present sense. City back then were the top team, just as they are now.”
Billy was a master craftsman when it came to motivating players, as Fraser points out.
He adds: “I remember Billy coming to me on the morning of the City game in Manchester and sitting down beside me in the hotel. He said, ‘Alan, I want you to read something’.
“He handed me a newspaper, the Manchester Evening News. There was an article from City player Neil Young. He was an England international, but in his piece he stated if he couldn’t score a hat-trick against a part-time team, he’d be better packing it all in.
“Billy gave me that to psyche me up and basically to say, ‘Are you going to let this boy score a hat-trick?’ It was all about motivation. He had good players at Linfield and he got the best out of every one of us.”
Although the Blues made their European exit, the best was yet to come.
“Everyone will tell you, Bingy was ahead of his time in terms of his man-management and coaching. He was only 40 when he arrived at Windsor Park,” adds Fraser.
“He could be ruthless in his own way, but he could also have a nice way of building your confidence. Most of the squad was there (at the Blues) when Billy arrived.
“Eric Magee and Derek Humphries had both came back from England that summer before Billy’s appointment. Ronnie McAteer and Dessie Cathcart came in from Ards and Ivan McAllister arrived from Bangor.
“The rest of us were already there. Knowing Billy, he had already done his homework on the club before his appointment. He basically took charge of a new team, reshaped it and had immediate success.
“We won the Ulster and Gold Cup competitions. When you look back, there were good Glentoran teams, good Coleraine, Ards and Derry City teams. We won the League title at The Oval that season.
“To win the League at The Oval was a big achievement. We were beaten in the Semi-Final of the Irish Cup.
“Billy was unlucky not to possibly win five trophies. Then we went down to beat Cork Hibs to win the Blaxnit (All-Ireland) Cup with a weakened team at the end of the season. Bryan Hamilton was away with the Northern Ireland international squad.
“Winning that trophy was a big achievement and proves just what Billy was capable of.”