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Former Northern Ireland manager Billy Bingham dies aged 90

Billy Bingham twice guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals (PA Archive)
Billy Bingham twice guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals (PA Archive)

Former Northern Ireland international and manager Billy Bingham has died aged 90, his family announced on Friday.

Bingham, who had been diagnosed with dementia in 2006, twice guided Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals, first in 1982 when they famously beat hosts Spain, and again in 1986.

Born in East Belfast, Bingham, an outside right, was capped 56 times. He came through the ranks of Glentoran before joining Sunderland in 1950 and going on to have spells with Luton, Everton, whom he later also managed, and Port Vale.

In a statement, Bingham’s son David said: “Dad was diagnosed with dementia back in 2006 and I think it is a tribute to his will that he managed another 16 years from that diagnosis to the time he passed away.

“He passed away peacefully last night at 10.30pm in a care home in Southport.

“We are very proud of all our dad achieved.”

Bingham had been part of the Northern Ireland side which reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, only to lose to France.

 Billy Bingham is chaired by delighted Luton supporters
Billy Bingham helped Luton reach the 1959 FA Cup final (PA Archive)

It was Bingham’s goal which secured Luton victory in the 1959 FA Cup semi-final over then Third Division Norwich to reach Wembley, where they lost to Nottingham Forest.

He won the 1962–63 First Division title with Everton prior to moving into management, which included roles when he was also in charge of the Northern Ireland national team as well as a spell with Greece.

Bingham’s second stint as manager of his country began in 1980.

He went on to appoint future Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill as his captain, the first Catholic to have the honour bestowed on him during the Troubles, and received threatening letters as a result.

The 1980 British Championship success was Northern Ireland’s first in 66 years and was followed by a memorable World Cup campaign and a 1-0 victory over Spain at the Mestalla in Valencia.

Gerry Armstrong and Jimmy Nicholl, who played under Bingham, both remembered him as a “great man”.

Armstrong, who scored the winner against Spain, said on talkSPORT: “He was an amazing manager and certainly the best manager Northern Ireland has had.

“Billy was a giant. We loved him and he was a very successful manager.

“He was tough at times, but could be fun as well.

“He was a great man and we loved him.”

Asked for his fondest memories of Bingham, Nicholl said: “That night in Spain – I think that performance, it just summed Billy up, what he could get out of the players. Great man, great memories.”

Bingham, made an MBE for services to football in 1981, left the Northern Ireland job in 1993 and later worked as director of football at Blackpool.

The Irish Football Association paid tribute to Bingham.

“Billy holds a unique place in the football hearts of Northern Ireland in that he both played at and managed in World Cup final tournaments with Northern Ireland, being part of Peter Doherty’s historic team of 1958 in Sweden and then managing Northern Ireland in the 1982 and 1986 finals,” a statement on the Irish FA website read.

“Billy was a tricky winger in the days when such a position was revered, but there was more to him than wing play.

“Billy was not afraid to mix it when needed, had an eye for goal and had a wonderful tactical and positional brain – attributes which would come to the fore in his managerial career.

“He was everything that a Northern Ireland manager needs to be: tactically astute, innovative and inspirational.

“He led the team to British Championship glory in 1980 and 1984, qualified for two World Cups in 1982 and 1986, and recorded the first home and away victories over West Germany in the qualification for the Euros in ’84.

“His greatest achievement was probably the qualification of the team for the second phase of the World Cup in 1982 with the historic and unexpected victory over Spain in Valencia.

“The Association would wish to send its condolences to Billy’s wider family circle.”

Everton said the club were “deeply saddened” to learn of Bingham’s death.

Returning to Goodison Park to succeed his former manager Harry Catterick in May 1973, Bingham’s side were edged out in the 1974-75 title race by Derby.

“The thoughts of everybody at Everton Football Club are with Billy’s family and friends,” a club statement read.

Bingham scored 33 goals in 100 appearances for Luton.

In October 1960, with the Hatters then in the Second Division, Bingham joined Everton for a fee of £15,000.

A statement from Luton read: “Our thoughts are with Billy’s family and friends at this sad time.”

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