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Northern Ireland hero Gerry Armstrong can’t wait to raise glass with fellow 1982 icons as 40th anniversary of infamous win over Spain nears

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Gerry Armstrong poses alongside the famous image of his goal that sent Northern Ireland to the World Cup in Spain, where he would go on to further write his name in footballing folklore

Gerry Armstrong poses alongside the famous image of his goal that sent Northern Ireland to the World Cup in Spain, where he would go on to further write his name in footballing folklore

Gerry Armstrong blasts his infamous strike past Luis Arconada

Gerry Armstrong blasts his infamous strike past Luis Arconada

Gerry Armstrong celebrating victory with NI boss Billy Bingham

Gerry Armstrong celebrating victory with NI boss Billy Bingham

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Gerry Armstrong poses alongside the famous image of his goal that sent Northern Ireland to the World Cup in Spain, where he would go on to further write his name in footballing folklore

There are two pieces of iconic football television commentary that will live forever.

Who will ever forget Kenneth Wolstenholme’s summarisation of England’s 1966 World Cup win over West Germany at Wembley when Geoff Hurst burst forward to lash home his country’s fourth goal of a memorable afternoon?

“Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over — it is now!”

The second observation came from legendary commentator John Motson, who was working for the BBC at the 1982 World Cup on a balmy night in Valencia.

On a rare Northern Ireland foray into the host nation’s half, Motty produced another moment of magic when Gerry Armstrong wrote himself into the record books with an astonishing winner against a star-studded Spanish side.

“Gerry Armstrong, what a worker he is... Striding away there with Hamilton to his right. Norman Whiteside is up on the far side of the area... still Billy Hamilton. He’s got past Tendillo.

“And Arconada... Armstrong! Northern Ireland have scored through Gerry Armstrong.”

Incredibly, it was the 100th goal of the 1982 World Cup.

Some people would say that Gerry is still dining out on that little piece of Northern Ireland history, but he would beg to differ.

Now, just a couple of weeks after the sad passing of team boss Billy Bingham, members of that Northern Ireland squad will be together again at Belfast’s Europa Hotel in Belfast on next Saturday’s 40th anniversary of that epic World Cup journey.

Headlined the Spirit of 82 and organised by the irrepressible Armstrong, proceeds from the event will be donated to Dementia NI.

“It’s going to be a momentous evening,” said Armstrong, who has carved out a high-profile career as a television co-commentator since his playing days ended.

“It’s a chance for the boys to get together again and reminisce over what is a piece of the country’s football history.

“It will be great to have a lot of the boys together — Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, David McCreery, John McClelland, Martin O’Neill, Billy Hamilton, John O’Neill, Felix Healy, George Dunlop, Johnny Jameson, Jim Cleary and Sammy Nelson.

“There is little doubt it will be a pretty emotional occasion. We will also toast the late, great Billy Bingham, who sadly passed away last week. Our World Cup journey wouldn’t have been possible without him, so we will be paying tribute to the wee man.

“And it’s a chance for the supporters to join us as well. They played a big part of that success. It’s a once in a lifetime event, to have all the players under the same roof 40 years after Spain.”

As for the night itself back in ’82, Armstrong remembers it vividly.

He went on: “The atmosphere was unbelievable. Let’s face it, we were in the lion’s den. The Spanish fans were baying for blood, it was really a hostile atmosphere.

“Quite rightly, we were given little chance of winning the game. Inspired by big Pat, our goal lived a charmed life at times. Thankfully, I managed to put away the one chance that came our way over the 90 minutes.

“I remember Martin (O’Neill) saying they will come at us right from the start, but if we stay disciplined and do our jobs, we would get a chance and that’s what happened.”

On the goal, Armstrong recalled: “I picked up the ball inside our own half and just began running. I threaded it to Billy on the right and he did brilliantly to get past his man.

“His low cross caused quite a bit of panic and Arconada decided to come off his line in an attempt to cut it out.

“He could only parry the ball to me. I had to focus on hitting it hard and low because there were a few defenders on the line.

“I hit it first time — and the rest is history. What made the win even more remarkable was the fact that we had to play the last 20 minutes or so with only 10 men after Mal (Donaghy) was sent off.”

Armstrong was named British Player of the Tournament and he later joined Spanish side Real Mallorca, spending two years at the club.

No doubt there will be a glass or two raised to toast that goal and that iconic night in Spain when all of those old team-mates gather together in Belfast next Saturday.

It proved dreams do come true.

* Fans can still purchase tickets for next week’s event from www.ticketsource.co.uk/spirit-of-82.


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