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Billy Bingham ‘lifted the entire country in some of its darkest days’

Tributes have been paid to legendary football player and manager Billy Bingham who led Northern Ireland to two World Cup finals.

News of the death at the age of 90 was announced today.

The Irish FA spoke of “great sadness” of learning of the passing of the esteemed former player and manager.

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“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.

“Billy had an illustrious playing career starting at Glentoran and moving to Sunderland, Luton Town, Everton and Port Vale, earning 56 caps between 1951 and 1964 and scoring 10 goals,” the Irish FA said.

“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. One of the first names on the teamsheet for Northern Ireland, he played with his east Belfast colleagues Danny and Jackie Blanchflower and Jimmy McIlroy.

“As a manager he had a rich and varied career which took him from Southport to Plymouth, Linfield, Northern Ireland (twice), Greece, PAOK, Mansfield Town, Everton and As-Nassr (Saudi Arabia).

“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.

Billy Bingham share a joke with Pat Jennings before a World Cup qualifying match against Romania in Bucharest in 1985

“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.

“His success in the 1980-86 period was built upon a solid defence in front of Pat Jennings and the tactical acumen using the talents of Norman Whiteside, Martin O’Neill, Sammy McIlroy, Billy Hamilton and Gerry Armstrong among others to create and score the goals at the other end.”

Many tributes have been paid from across Northern Ireland and further afield.

Northern Ireland International goalkeeper Jim Platt said: “Very sad to hear Billy Bingham has passed away. Billy gave N.Ireland probably their most successful period. Won British Championship, qualified for TWO World Cup finals. I was honoured to be part of that team. RIP Billy.”.

Northern Ireland footballing legend Gerry Armstrong said: “Who can forget the wonderful memories that Billy has left us with.”

Mike Nesbitt MLA added: “Personally, I owe him a huge debt as he got me to Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986 as a reporter, commentator and a fan. He and his players lifted the entire country in some of its darkest days.”