10 greatest matches no. 5 Northern Ireland 1 Yugoslavia 0

February 1, 2007

Published: Happy Days Issue 7

Ten Greatest NI Matches. No.5
16/04/1975 Belfast; Attendance: 25,847
Northern Ireland 1- 0 Yugoslavia (ECQ)

Belfast has never had a great reputation at the best of times, but at the height of the Troubles in the early 1970s it was particularly negative. So much so, that for four years international opponents didn’t appear at Windsor Park, and Northern Ireland were forced to play their ‘home’ games up and down the mainland at grounds like Highfield Road and Goodison Park. Incredibly, in Terry Neill’s three year reign as player-manager his team only played at Windsor Park once; a 1-1 draw against the Soviet Union in October 1971 which proved to be the last international match in Belfast for almost four years. It was a depressing reminder of the situation at home, so when the Yugoslavian FA casually agreed to fulfill the fixture it was greeted with great cheer as well as relief that some sense of normality would be restored.

An early 5pm kick off was arranged to minimize the number of intoxicated spectators as well as facilitating the poor floodlights. As the Yugoslavian players emerged they were greeted with a huge roar of approval from an emotional and appreciative crowd, who were touched by the enormity of the gesture. Northern Ireland fielded a full strength team. Indeed, nine of the starting eleven hold places in the 30 most capped Irish internationals of all time, and three have managed the national side. The match itself began as a predictably cagey affair, although Northern Ireland dominated proceedings against a strong Slavic team. Complimenting now player-manager Dave Clements was Martin O’Neill, instrumental in the middle of the park. Here was a player who had improved greatly since his debut in that match against the Soviets some four years previously. It was a shame that the fans had missed witnessing the development of players like O’Neill and the mesmerizing skill of favorite son George Best. Another honorable performance was put in by debutant Derek Spence, who was playing above his third division status and causing the experienced Yugoslavian defence plenty of problems.

With the team keen to impress and show the home crowd what they had been missing, they were creating plenty of chances which were either fluffed or saved by the in-form Ljupko Petrovic. The solitary goal belied the classy nature of the performance, a scrappy left foot shot from Bryan Hamilton greeted by a huge cheer from the Spion Kop. The relief and joy were tangible, for a crowd which had waited nearly four years for a home goal.

Sammy McIlroy – who knows all about goal droughts – was on the receiving end of some more Slavic hospitality. Going down with cramp in the Yugoslav penalty area, play continued without the trainer being allowed on as at that time it wasn’t convention to kick the ball out of play. With the match continuing at the other end of the pitch, Petrovic came out of his goal to help McIlroy stretch. It was that kind of day.

The game itself may not have been a great spectacle, but the significance was far reaching. In the years following, only neighbours Scotland refused to play in ‘unsafe Belfast’ in 1976. It is a decision which still holds bitterness amongst some Northern Ireland supporters, although it is speculated that the IFA did not object too much with the prospect of increased revenue from a ‘home’ game at Hampden. How teams like England, Portugal and Spain would love to use politics as an excuse nowadays to avoid the wrath of Windsor.

Team: P. Jennings, P. Rice, S. Nelson, A. Hunter, C.Nicholl, D. Clements, B. Hamilton, M. O’Neill, D. Spence, S. McIlroy, T. Jackson

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Ten Greatest Matches No.1 Northern Ireland 7 Wales 0

February 1, 2007

Published: Happy Days issue 7

10 Greatest matches

Over the next few issues of HD, I will be looking at matches which Northern Ireland have played down the years which have helped define us as a footballing nation. Picking the ten greatest matches that Northern Ireland have been involved in isn’t an easy task. Defining greatness in itself is not easy. Entertainment is important, but so to is significance, so for this reason I have not included any ‘International Friendly’ games. The recent games which form the ‘Wednesday nights in September’ series have been overlooked as enough has been written about them in past HD issues. After much deliberation, here is the final ten

1. Wales 1930 (7-0)
2. England 1947 (2-2)
3. West Germany 1958 (2-2)
4. Scotland 1967 (1-0)
5. Yugoslavia 1975 (1-0)
6. Netherlands 1976 (2-2)
7. Spain 1982 (1-0)
8. West Germany 1982 and 1983 (1-0, 1-0)
9. England 1985 (0-0)
10. Austria 1995 (5-3)

Ten Greatest NI matches. No.1
1/2/1930 Belfast
Northern Ireland 7 Wales 0

Northern Ireland’s biggest ever win came against a Wales team who were enjoying arguably the most successful period in their history. Between 1920 and 1937 they won the Home Internationals Championship no fewer than seven times outright, no mean achievement considering the usual dominance of England and Scotland. However the 1929/1930 was to prove to be a disastrous campaign for the Welsh. Having already shipped four goals to Scotland and six to England, they may have arrived in Belfast looking to salvage some pride as the two traditionally weaker teams in the championship battled to lose the ‘wooden spoon’ tag. However, it was the Irish team that went home with their pride and a winning margin which remains unsurpassed to this day, slamming in seven goals against Wrexham goalkeeper Dick Finnegan who was never to play for his country again. The scoreline was all the more remarkable considering the Irish team featured three debutants, namely goalkeeper Alf Gardiner, James McCambridge and Jack ‘Soldier’ Jones. For Jones, international appearances were a family tradition. His brother Sam, uncles Sam and Joe Burnison and brother-in-law Billy Mitchell all turned out for Ireland. Only the Feeney family can claim such strong family ties with senior Irish representation.

The hero of the day was Linfield striker Joe Bambrick. Thought to have scored around 1000 goals in his 15 year career, he notched an unprecedented double hat-trick against the Welsh. Whilst captain Andy McCluggage scored the other goal, the day belonged to Bambrick in his greatest hour in a green shirt. His six goals in one match stood as a record in the championships until their conclusion in 1984. Such was his feat, that a week later a local soft drinks producer marketed a beverage called ‘Joe Six’ to mark his achievement. Indeed, he scored a total of 94 goals in the 1929/1930 season including all of the goals in Linfield’s 4-3 victory over Ballymena United to clench the Irish Cup Final. Over the course of his 11 caps, he managed an impressive 12 goals coining the phrase, “Head, Heel or Toe, Slip it to Joe.”

Team: A Gardiner, A. McCluggage, R.P. Fulton, W. McCleery, J. Jones, T. Sloan, R.J. Chambers, R.W.M. Rowley, J. Bambrick, J. McCambridge, J. Mahood


European Championship Group F Preview

September 1, 2006

Published: StateOfTheGame.co.uk, 1st September 2006, http://stateofthegame.co.uk/2006/09/01/euro-group-f-preview/

Robin Peake runs a low down on who can block Northern Ireland’s path to Austria and Switzerland.

Country: Sweden
FIFA Ranking: 20
Odds to qualify: 9/4
N.Ireland’s record against: P5 W2 D0 L3 F7 A5
Last game against N.I: 0-1 (Gothenburg, 3.6.81)
After a timid exit to the World Cup in June, Sweden will be out to prove that they deserve to be the top seed in this group. Yet Lawrie Sanchez has reason to be optimistic ahead of meeting Sweden. Their only world class player Henrik Larsson has retired from international football (again) and recent results suggest the team is on the decline. Before reaching the World Cup they were thrashed 3-0 in Dublin in Steve Staunton’s first match in charge and a shaky start to the tournament saw the dogged tenacity of Trinidad and Tobago earn a well deserved point by producing a tactically astute performance which Lawrie and co. can take great comfort in. Traditionally strong in defence, their strikers, in particular Ibrahimovic, will need to start to live up to their billing if Sweden are to qualify.
Key player: Olaf Mellberg

Country: Spain
FIFA Ranking: 7
Odds to qualify: 4/5
N.Ireland’s record against: P16 W1 D5 L10 F8 A35
Last game against N.I: 0-0 (Belfast, 11.6.03)
At 6/1 to win the tournament outright in two years time, Spain are certainly a force to be reckoned with on paper. However, turning potential into performance has always been their greatest problem, particularly on the big stage as millions watched them go out with a whimper in the second round of the World Cup to an ageing French team. Nevertheless, Spain have a history of easing through qualification: Since 1974 they have only missed one major tournament. How Northern Ireland fare against them may depend on how much input the recently resigned Gerry Armstrong has with his immense knowledge of Spanish football, but don’t expect a repeat of the famous victory in Valencia ?82 as Spain march towards the top of the group.
Key player: Fernando Torres

Country: Denmark
FIFA Ranking: 17
Odds to qualify: 3/1
N.Ireland’s record against: P9 W1 D4 L4 F7 A13
Last game against N.I: 1-1 (Copenhagen 1.9.01)
Many Danish players have made their mark in Britain over the years: Schmeichel, the Laudrup brothers, Gravesen, Rommedahl. But it is two who haven’t who perhaps pose the greatest threat in this Danish team. John Dahl Tomasson was a flop at Newcastle but since moving on to Feyenoord, Milan and now Stuttgart he has rediscovered the golden touch that evaded him during his one year stint on Tyneside. And worryingly for Northern Ireland supporters, the golden touch includes international football where he has scored 38 goals in 79 appearances, roughly a goal every other game. His strike partner for these qualifiers may well be another striker who hasn’t made his name in Britain yet. Niklas Bendtner who is on the books at Arsenal but currently on loan to Birmingham City scored on his international debut in the 2-0 victory over Poland this month. And with 2 goals for the Midlands club already this season, things look bright for the 18 year old. The Green and White Army will hope that fellow team-mates Maik Taylor and Damien Johnson can warn their international colleagues fully.
Key player: Jon Dahl Tomasson

Country: Latvia
FIFA Ranking: 78
Odds to qualify: 33/1
N.Ireland’s record against: P4 W3 D0 L1 F6 A3
Last game against N.I: 1-2 (Belfast, 7.6.95)
The country which dashed Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro ‘96 managed to qualify for (and give a good account of themselves) the last European Championships. However, a lot can change in football in the space of a qualifying campaign as Northern Ireland fans will testify. A Latvian side built on discipline in Portugal two years ago conceded nearly two goals a game in their last qualifying campaign and it was only for the saving grace of having Luxembourg and Liechtenstein in the same group that bumped up their points tally to a respectable 15. Whilst Marian Pahars is a familiar name to Southampton fans, an injury prone 30 year old should not strike fear into Sanchez’s heart. Expect this campaign to be one of rebuilding for the Latvians.
Key player: Maris Verpakovskis

Country: Iceland
FIFA Ranking: 106
Odds to qualify: 100/1
N.Ireland’s record against: P4 W2 D0 L2 F5 A2
Last game against N.I: 3-0 (Belfast, 5.9.01)
While Northern Ireland were gaining some much needed confidence from a victory over Finland, Iceland were holding Spain to a goalless draw in Reykjavik as Raul collected his 100th cap. Astonishingly, the result was achieved against a team ranked 99 places higher than them without their captain and most recognisable player, Eidur Gudjohnsen who ironically requested to withdraw so he could play for his new club Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. Make no doubt about it, Reykjavik has seen some wonderful results over the last few years (wins over Sweden, Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic and draws against Germany and France) but it is on their travels that Iceland have traditionally struggled. Hence why a win for Northern Ireland on Saturday is so important and anything else can be classed as a disappointment. Much of this will depend on Maik Taylor and the back four as they fend off not just Gudjohnsen but Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson, top scorer in the Swedish Premiership last season and now with Hannover 96. Some minor injuries and a lack of competitive action so far may take the edge of his game, but a repeat of defensive mistakes seen in opening day against Poland 2 years ago is not an option with a striker of his quality around
Key player: Gunnar Heidar Thorvaldsson

Country: Liechtenstein
FIFA Ranking: 124
Odds to qualify: 1000/1
N.Ireland’s record against: P3 W2 D1 L0 F8 A1
Last game against N.I: 0-0 (Vaduz, 27.03.02)
The only team in the group with a lower seeding than Northern Ireland, they still cannot afford to be taken lightly. The last time the two teams met it was the beginning of a 13 game goal drought. Whilst that is unlikely to be the same again, Northern Ireland fans shouldn’t expect goal feasts against a team which obtains results through discipline and a team ethic. In their last campaign both Slovakia (0-0) and Portugal (2-2) left Vaduz humiliated and we can only hope that Northern Ireland don’t underestimate the team of journeymen otherwise there is potential for valuable points to be lost
Key Player: Peter Jehle