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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In 1982 three British teams qualified. For Scotland at this time qualifying was the norm. England reaching it was a relief after two failed attempts. The real eyebrow raiser was the involvement of the charming Billy Bingham, and his Northern Ireland team.

Little was expected of Northern Ireland. The resilience shown in the 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia was tempered by throwing a precious lead away to draw 1-1 with Honduras. To progress victory against Honduras was deemed essential as the final game was against hosts Spain. Nobody could have expected their game against Spain to conjure one of the most dramatic gripping games in the history of the competition.

Watching the grace of Xavi Iniesta and Torres gliding around the stadiums of Europe can be misleading. Spain weren’t always so graceful. In fact in 1982 their team was downright nasty. A horrible combination of diving and off the ball hacks accompanied by laboured unproductive play. An uneventful first half finished goalless then in the 47th minute the unthinkable happened. Billy Hamilton crossed for NI, the hapless Arconada parried weakly and Gerry Armstrong gratefully drove into the empty net. Amazingly Norn iron were leading.

Their problem was scoring 2 minutes into the half meant having to hold on for 43!!  Spains attacking gained momentuim. The unfortunately named Ufarte had two shots stopped by Jennings. In the 62nd minute NI had Mal Dongahy sent off for an innocuous shove on Camacho. Hanging on for 30 minutes with 10 men? Surely it can’t be done!!

Wave upon wave of attacks beseiged the Norn Ireland penalty area. The desperation of the defending was balanced by the calm cool calculated keeping of Pat Jennings. Jennings delivered a performance that epitomised grace under pressure, collecting cross after cross and blocking shot after shot. Outside there was a huge thunderstorm and the norm back then would be to turn electrical appliances off BUT there was now way we were turning this off!

Eventually the final whistle blew and NI had completed their incredible achievement. An example of players becoming more than the sum of their parts. NI v Spain 1982 was one of the truly great World Cup stories.

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