Wednesday 11 December 2019

O'Neill's charges look to repeat heroics of 1983

Michael O’Neill prepares for training in Frankfurt last night. Photo: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Michael O’Neill prepares for training in Frankfurt last night. Photo: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Paul Ferguson

Norman Whiteside may have scored Northern Ireland’s famous winning goal against West Germany in November 1983, but it was debut boy Gerry McElhinney who landed the first blow.

The Germans, 36 years ago, were ferocious opposition, especially at home. They were reigning European champions, they’d just been beaten in the 1982 World Cup final.

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But Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland, during qualification for Euro 1984, managed a rare event in international football – they defeated the Germans home and away in a single campaign.

In Hamburg, Bayern Munich’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was the star attraction for Germany. He was a sensational striker, who had already scored eight international goals that year alone and was a two-time Ballon d’Or recipient.

However, after a collision with former Derry GAA star McElhinney in the opening exchanges, Rummenigge was virtually anonymous for the rest of the game.

Northern Ireland 1982 World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong won his 50th cap that night and recalled: “We had a number of players missing that night, so Billy brought Gerry in.

“Gerry didn’t play many games for us, however he certainly made his presence known in that game.

“After just a few minutes Rummenigge tried to control the ball on his chest and Gerry came in with his big size 11 boots and caught him in the chest and on the chin. There were stud markings on his cheek.

“That was Rummenigge done. He never went near Gerry again and drifted out to the wing where he was least effective.”

The Germans were a formidable outfit during that era with Thomas Schumacher in goal, Real Madrid’s Uli Stielike at the back, an emerging Lothar Matthaus in midfield, Rummenigge up front and Pierre Littbarski on the bench.

But it was a Kaiserslautern player who was the most frightening prospect in Hamburg.

“They had a tank on the left wing, Hans Peter Briegel,” explained Armstrong.

“He was a decathlete and a monster. I had to tackle him and keep him quiet. It was my job to make sure he didn’t get near Jimmy Nicholl.

The Germans, as you would expect when they are at home, came at us in the first half and really put us under pressure, but we managed to keep them at bay.

Then, in the second half, we turned it around and instead of me chasing down Briegel he was forced onto the back foot.

“After some excellent play down the left, Norman smashed home a great goal and we were able to hold on for the win.

“It was incredible because we’d done the double over the Germans in a qualifying series and I don’t think any team had done that.

“Billy Bingham was so pleased and proud of our performance that he even bought all the players a drink.

“That was a big deal because Billy certainly didn’t like to get his wallet out too much.

“Then I found out from David Bowen (IFA general secretary) that he’d put the drinks through as IFA expenses!”


Northern Ireland, since that magical victory in Hamburg 36 years ago, have played four times in Germany without success, although there have been two creditable draws during that time.

Tonight, Michael O’Neill’s squad are in Frankfurt to tackle the Germans for the fifth time in three years.

With the Germans having already secured qualification to Euro 2020 and Northern Ireland confirmed to be in next March’s play-offs, tonight’s clash is virtually a dead-rubber.

But Michael O’Neill’s men have made a habit of rewriting history and they will have a hunger to join Armstrong and Co as conquerors on German soil.

Germany v Northern Ireland Live, Sky Sports, 7.45

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