Norman Whiteside on Spain 82

Norman Whiteside broke Pele's record for the young ever World Cup finals appearance - he was just 17 years and 41 days when picked by Northern Ireland against Yugoslavia at Spain 82...

Did you expect to play for Northern Ireland in the World Cup at the age of 17, becoming the youngest player ever to appear in the finals?
I knew I was doing alright in practice matches. We prepared at the University of Sussex in Brighton and I don’t think I’ve ever been fitter. I was at my physical peak at 17 so I wasn’t surprised to be picked for the opener. 

Billy [Bingham] always tells the story that a goal I scored at the university made his mind up about me starting. It was the spit of the goal I scored in the 1985 FA Cup Final, only this one eluded Pat Jennings’ snow-shovel hands by millimetres.

I was given the No.16 shirt, maybe to throw reporters off the scent. Billy always maintained that he knew I’d line up against Yugoslavia after a few days at Brighton, but he carried on the illusion that I was more possible than probable. He knew the firestorm would come and instructed television crews to steer clear of me and stop going on about "the new George Best".

What are your memories of Gerry Armstrong’s goal against Spain?
Our couple of thousand fans were going deranged in the corner, but Gerry thought the goal had been disallowed because there was a silence in the rest of the stadium. Then he heard me yelling, “Gerry, Gerry, it’s a goal!” as I jumped on his back. The match up to then had been the most physically and mentally demanding of my career, but the remaining 43 minutes were more like the Alamo than a game of football.

How was the homecoming?
Because of holidays and a sense of surprise at our quarter-final achievement, no civic reception had been arranged and we didn’t do the open-top bus ride through Belfast until November. My memories of walking through three airport arrivals halls at Heathrow, Manchester and Belfast in the space of 24 hours are dominated by flash-bulbs and reporters thrusting microphones in my face. I walked into a media storm.

Can you describe Billy Bingham’s management?
The levels of professionalism he showed were remarkable. He had booked all the training facilities and had back-up plans if they didn’t work out. He had attention to detail, but his strength was his motivational skills. His methods worked for me; it was great to know that he believed in me.

Interview: May 2010. Determined, Norman Whiteside’s autobiography, is published by Headline


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