Thursday, January 8, 2015

Northern Ireland Greatest All-Time Team

1982 World Cup Finals

Please also see my
 All-Time Team Index.

Ireland/Northern Ireland combined team,
The national team today known as Northern Ireland is organized by the Irish Football Association (IFA).  They were playing under the name Ireland until 1953.  After the Partition of Ireland in 1920's, Southern Ireland founded their own Football Association, namely
the Football Association of Ireland(FAI).  From 1937 to 1952, they also used the name "Ireland" for their national team.  Thus, two "Ireland" was playing in that period.  In 1953, the national team from IFA became Northern Ireland officially while the FAI's team became Republic of Ireland. 

The FAI's team known as Ireland won the British Home Championship in 1914 right before the First World War.  The best ever team for Norther Ireland probably came in the late 1950's.  They qualified for the 1958 World Cup Finals in Switzerland.  Until 2006, they were the least populous country to have qualified for the World Cup Finals.  The team led by Danny Blanchflower advanced to the quarterfinal, becoming and remaining as the smallest country to reach the second round in World Cup history. Despite having George Best in the 1960's and 1970's, Northern Ireland did not qualify for the World Cup Finals until 1982.  Their 1982 World Cup campaign was best remembered by beating the host Spain in Valencia and qualified to the next round.  They also qualified for the WC in 1986.  The 1980's generation was also remembered for beating West Germany twice home and away in the Qualifiers for Euro 1984.  The away match was West Germany's first ever home loss in a WC or European qualifier.

Northern Ireland World Cup 1958

If there were an All-Time World Cup, this would be the 23 players I would bring to the tournament. I have also created  Ireland/Northern Ireland combined team here.

GK: Pat Jennings
Pat Jennings is considered among the greatest goalkeeper of all-time.  The prime of his career was spent with both Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal.  In 1973 the Football Writers' Association named him as its footballer of the year. Three years later he won PFA's version of the award – he was the first goalkeeper to receive this accolade, and to this date remains only one of two, along with Peter Shilton. He earned 119 caps for Northern Ireland and went to two World Cup Finals.
Pat Jennings
GK: Harry Gregg 
Gregg was Matt Busby's goalkeeper from 9 seasons.  He survived the Munich Air Disaster.  He was called a hero of the incident because he pulled out survivors from the burning plane. He was voted best goalkeeper of the tournament at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals. He had 25 caps. H also played for Doncaster Rovers and Stoke City.

GK: Elisha Scott 
Scott played 31 times for Ireland (IFA).  He played for Liverpool from 1912 to 1934 and he remains as the longest-serving goalkeeper for Liverpool.  His career was interrupted by the First World War. He won two English Championships with them. He was known for his rivalry with Everton's Dixie Dean. He also played with Belfast Celtic and Linfield.

RB: Billy McCracken 
McCracken was one of the most successful defender of his time.  He played for Newcastle United from 1904 to 1924, helping them win three League titles and the FA Cup. He was known for setting the offside trap for the attackers.  The offside rule was changed because of him. He was a part of Ireland(IFA) that became the co-champion of the 1903 British Home Championship, the first time the tournament was not won by England or Scotland.

RB: Pat Rice 
Pat Rice played for Arsenal between 1967 and 1980.  He was known for being a member of the team that won the League/FA Cup Double in 1970-1971 season.  He was one of the few Arsenal players who had played for five FA Cup Finals, winning the cup twice. Between 1980 and 1984, he played for Watford, where he helped to gain promotion. He was capped 49 times for Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1979. 
Pat Rice
CB: Robert Milne
Between 1894 and 1906, Robert Milne also made 27 appearances and scored 2 goals for Ireland. He was the captain of Ireland(IFA) as Ireland became the co-champion of the 1903 British Home Championship, the first time the tournament was not won by England or Scotland. It was also the first time that Northern Ireland beat Scotland.

CB: Terry Neill 
Terry Neill played for Arsenal between 1959 and 1970.  He was at one point the youngest ever captain for the club.  He joined Hull City in 1970 as a player-manager at the age of 28, making him one of the youngest ever manager in the English league. He was capped 59 times for Northern Ireland between 1961 and 1973. He became their captain in 1968.

Hunter played for Coleraine Oldham Athletic and Blackburn Rovers before moving to Ipswich Town in 1971. He made over 350 appearances in his eleven years at the club, winning the FA Cup.  He was known for his career with Bobby Robson.  In 1982, Hunter accepted the role of player-manager at Colchester United. Hunter made 53 appearances for Northern Ireland, making him Ipswich Town's most capped international player.

CB: Jackie Blanchflower 
Along with his brother Danny, Jackie Blanchflower helped Northern Ireland to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 1958. He was a member of Manchester United's "Busby Babes". He helped the club win the league title in 1956 and again in 1957. Nicknamed "Twiggy" by his teammates, he was renowned for his versatility. He survived the Munich Air Disaster, but his career was cut short. He retired in 1959 at the age of 24. He only had 12 caps between 1954 and 1958. He missed the 1958 World Cup Finals because of Munich.
Jackie Blanchflower
LB: Alf McMichael
Belfast-born McMichael began his career at Linfield, before signing for Newcastle United in 1949. He remained at Newcastle until 1962, appearing 433 times. He was part of the team that won the 1952 FA Cup Final. At one point he was considered the best left-back in Britain and was a popular player amongst Newcastle United supporters. He represented Northern Ireland 40 times.

Donaghy spent 10 years at Luton Town, overseeing the most successful era of their history to date. He collected a Second Division title winner's medal in 1982, enabling him to experience First Division football for the first time yet. From 1988 to 1992, he played for Manchester United.  He later played for Chelsea.  He earned 91 caps for Norther Ireland.  He went to the 1982 and 1986 World Cup Finals.

UT: John Carey
He was also a dual internationalist, playing for and captaining both Ireland teams – the FAI XI and the IFA XI. In 1949, he was voted the FWA Footballer of the Year and in the same year captained the FAI XI that defeated England, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home.  As a player Carey spent most of his career at Manchester United, where he was team captain from 1946 until he retired as a player in 1953. 

CM/AM:  Danny Blanchflower 
Danny Blanchflower won the Double in 1961 with Tottenham Hotspurs.  He won the FA Cup the following year, and then, a Cup Winners' Cup in 1963.  He was the PWA Player of the Year in 1958 and 1961. He also played for Aston Villa and Barnsley before joining Hotspurs. He had 49 caps for Northern Ireland between 1949 and 1953. He went to the World Cup Finals in 1958, where North Ireland reached the quarterfinal. His brother is Jackie Blanchflower.
Danny Blanchlfower (R) vs England
CM: Sammy McIlroy 
Sammy McIlroy joined Manchester United in 1969, becoming Matt Busby's last signing at the club.  He stayed there until 1982.  At one point, Manchester United dropped to the 2nd division, where he helped them to grain promotion. He joined Stoke as their record signing.  He played in both Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.  He was the captain of the 1986 World Cup side.

RM/CM: Martin O'Neill 
Starting his career in his native Northern Ireland, O'Neill moved to England where he spent most of his playing career with Nottingham Forest, with whom he won the European Cup twice, in 1979 and 1980. He also played for Manchester City, Norwich, Notts County, etc. He was capped 64 times for the Northern Ireland national football team, also captaining the side at the 1982 World Cup.

LW/RW: George Best 
George Best was considered to be one of the greatest players ever played the game.  He was voted #19 as the greatest European player by the UEFA Jublilee Poll. He was known for his "pop star" lifestyle. He was one of the "United's Trinity" that helped Manchester United to their first (and also first ever for an English club) European Cup in 1968.  He won the PWA PLayer of the Year award and the Ballon d'Or that year.
George Best
RW: Billy Bingham 
Billy Bingham was a childhood friend of Jackie Branchflower. He was at one point the cap record holder for Norther Ireland. He helped them to qualify for Sweden 1958, where North Ireland reached the quarter-final.  He won a league title with Everton in 1963. His longest stint was with Sunderland, where he spent 8 years.  He also had a lengthy career with Luton Town.

RW/FW: Patsy Gallacher 
Patsy Gallacher was nicknamed "Mighty Atom".   He was considered one of the greatest Celtic's players ever.  The 1925 Scottish FA Cup Final was called "the Patsy Gallacher" final after he scored a somersault goal. He played for Falkirk at the end of his career. He played 12 times for IFA (now called Northern Ireland) and one time for FAI (Republic of Ireland) in a game against Spain at the age of 41, the oldest ever debutant for their team.

FW: Gerry Armstrong 
In 1982, Gerry Armstrong scored the winning goal against the host Spain during the final group game of the World Cup Finals, which made him a household name.  For his club career, he played for various club in England and he played the most games with Tottenham Hotspurs and Watford.  He also had a brief stunt in Spain after the World Cup Finals with RCD Mallorca.  At the international level,  he had 63 caps for Northern Ireland.
Gerry Armstrong 
AM/FW: Jimmy McIlroy
Jimmy McIlroy is considered Burnley's greatest ever player.  He helped them to win the 1959-1960 First Division League title(1st tier league before the Premiership), and reach the FA Cup Final in 1962.   McIlory was allowed to leave for Stoke City for a cut price £25,000, which came as a shock to the Burnley fans who branded chairman Bob Lord 'insane'..  He went to the World Cup Finals in 1958.

FW/CM Norman Whiteside 
In 1982, Norman Whiteside  became the youngest player ever played in a World Cup Finals.  He also played in the 1986 World Cup Finals.  For his club career, he made his debut with Manchester United as a 16 years old in 1982.  He became a starter in the 1982-1983 season as a teenager.  However, his career was marked with injury problems. He moved to Everton in 1989, which was then a more successful club than Manchester United at the time.  He retired in 1991.
CF: Joe Bambrick 
Bambrick began his career with Glentoran, before moving to Belfast rivals Linfield in 1927. He scored a total of 286 league goals in just 183 games. From 1935 to 1938, he played for Chelsea.  Bambrick scored 12 goals in 11 games for Ireland (IFA), including six in one game against Wales. His goal tally ensures that he still ranks as the joint-fourth highest goalscorer for the Northern Ireland national side.
ST: Peter McParland
Peter McParland scored two goals against Manchester United at the FA Cup Final of 1957.  He was also remembered for injuring Manchester United keeper Ray Wood in a legal move during the game. He also won the Second Division title in 1960 and the League Cup in 1961 while with Aston Villa. Represented Northern Ireland 34 times and starred for them in the 1958 World Cup in which he scored five goals and helped his team to the quarter-finals. 
Peter McParland

Honorable Mention
Malik Taylor, Jim Platt,Tommy Wright, Jimmy Nicholls, Jonny Evans, Billy Cook, Chris Nicholl, John McClelland, Gerry Taggart, David Healy, Jackie Vernon, Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Alex Elder, Alan McDonald, Sammy Nelson, Jim Magilton, Michael Hughes, Keith Gillespie, Jimmy Quinn, Bertie Peacock, Bill Lacey, Billy Cush, Neil Lennon, Billy Gillespie, David McCreery, Derek Dougan, Con Martin, Peter Doherty.

Squad Explanation
-- In October 2021, I completely redid the team.  The defenders were the ones whom I had the most changes.   North Ireland had strong rightbacks, but none of the central defenders stood out and they were on par with each other.
-- Due to the complexity of Irish question, dual international players who played for both the Republic and Northern Ireland between 1908 and 1950 are eligible to be on this team if they were capped by IFA's Ireland, regardless of their background. Patsy Gallacher and John Carey played for both IFA and FAI.  While a few players before the 1960's represented both teams, they were the only players selected who played for both teams. Patsy Gallacher is also on my Ireland (Republic) All-Time team even through he only played once for FAI. He was one of Celtic's greatest goal scorers.  He spent 15 years there, scoring over 180 goals.
-- George Best, Pat Jennings, Danny Blanchflower, and Billy Bingham were undisputed choices without question. Best was probably one of the greatest footballer from the British Isles.  Pat Jennings was also among the greatest ever goalkeepers.  Both of them made their Northern Ireland debut on 15 April 1964 during a British Home Championship match against Wales.  Northern Ireland won the game 3–2.  
-- In 2003, UEFA announced that Pat Jennings was named as Northern Ireland's UEFA Jubilee Player.  However, the UEFA website in 2004 listed George Best as their winner.  The reasons for the discrepancies were not clear.
-- In the 1980's, North Ireland qualified for both 1982 and 1986 World Cup Finals. Martin O'Neill, Pat Jennings, Norman Whiteside, Gerry Armstrong and Sammy McIlroy were from that generation.  Gerry Armstrong was the hero of the 1982 World Cup Finals. North Ireland was remembered for upsetting the host Spain in 1982.  Armstrong  scored the only goal of the game.  I created a unified Ireland team for the 1986 World Cup Finals.
Northern Ireland 1986 World Cup
-- Seven players from Northern Ireland were selected in Football League 100 Legends in 1998. Pat Jennings, Elisha Scott, George Best, Peter Doherty, Danny Blanchflower, Billy McCracken and Jimmy McIlroy.  Johnny Carey who played for IFA was the 8th player, but he was often considered a player from the Republic due to the fact he was born in Dublin. 
-- The All-Time Dream Team created by IFFHS was as followed: Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, John McClelland, Alan McDonald, Mal Donaghy, Danny Blanchflower, Sammy McIlroy, George Best, Norman Whiteside and Peter Doherty and 
Peter McParland.
-- Fourfourtwo published their Top 10 Greatest Players from North Ireland in 2022.  The ranking was as followed: 10) Gareth McCauley 9) Aaronj Hughes, 8) Martin O’Neill 7) Jonny Evans, 6) Norman Whiteside, 5) David Healy, 4) Danny Blanchflower, 3) Pat Kennings, 2) Steven Davis and 1) George Best.
-- In 1958, North Ireland reached the quarter final of the World Cup Finals. Peter McParland scored 5 goals in Sweden. Harry Gregg, Danny Blanchflower, Alf McMichael, Jimmy McIlroy and Billy Bingham were also on that team.  Gregg was voted the goalkeeper of the tournament. Jackie Blanchflower missed the tournament through injuries suffered from the Munich Air Disaster. He retired from football as a result.  Goalkeeper Harry Gregg was also on the plane, but he survived and played in the World Cup.  He was sometimes called 'The Hero of Munich' because he pulled some of his teammates from the burning plane during the Munich air disaster – including Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and Dennis Viollet.
-- For goalkeeper, I took Pat Jennings, Elisha Scott and Harry Gregg. They were easy choices.  Pat Jennings was one of the greatest goalkeepers ever from the United Kingdom.  He also played in two World Cup Finals.
-- Harry Gregg's status with Manchester United made him a household name in the United Kingdom. He was also named in the Team of the Tournament at the 1958 World Cup Finals. 
Harry Gregg
-- Elisha Scott was Liverpool's longest-ever serving player, having made his debut in 1913 and his final appearance in 1934.
-- Malik Taylor, Jim Platt or Tommy Wright never obtained an all-time status with a bigger club.  Maik Taylor had over 80 caps for Norther Ireland. 
--  Then, I took Pat Rice over Jimmy Nicholls, but I was very undecided.  Both players deserved to be on the team.
-- The right-back position was brimming with talent. While many rankings featured Jimmy Nicholls or Pat Rice as the top right-back, my choice was Bill McCracken. His exceptional skill in executing the offside trap led to a modification in the "Offside Rule," reducing the required number of defenders from three to two. I viewed him as a historical player who changed the course of the sport. As for my final decision, I ultimately opted for Pat Rice over Jimmy Nicholls although I must admit I was indeceive. 
-- On the leftback, I chose Alf McMichael who was one of the greatest leftbacks from Newcastle United.  And then, Mal Donaghy remained as Northern Ireland's most capped outfielder.  I also considered Jonny Evans, Alex Elder and Sammy Nelson.
-- Northern Ireland did not have a central defender who could define the position. Jackie Blanchflower's career was cut short because of the Munich Air Disaster.  I might have given him some symphony points because of this incident. We would not know how good he would have became.  In the end, I took him because of the fact he did establish himself as a key player for the Busby Babe.  He was probably the most famous defender from Northern Ireland and the lack of superstar central defender for Northern Ireland helped his clause.
-- Jackie Blanchflower was almost 25 years old at the time of Air Munich Disaster.  George Best left Manchester United at the age of 27.  His decline began around the age of 24.  Norman Whiteside retired at the age of 26.  This should give you a better perspective of why I would still select Blanchflower even through he had a short career.
-- Robert Milne emerged as the premier defender in the United Kingdom after Ireland won the 1903 British Home Championship, a triumph they secured under his captaincy. This historic achievement marked Ireland's first-ever title, accompanied by a groundbreaking victory over Scotland. While I was initially uncertain of Milne's abilities, as he had been playing in Ireland prior to the First World War, I chose him for his pivotal role in the remarkable accomplishments of the 1903 team.
-- Several of the more recent list chose either Aaron Hughes or Gareth McAuley as one of the top centrebacks, but I only named them on my Honorable Mentions. Hughes was a long time captain of the national team. In his prime, he played mainly in the Premiership. Gareth McAuley did not have a club career as glamorous as Hughes and players from the previous generations.  He spent most of his career in the lower division.  Allan Hunter was Ipswich's greatest central defender while McAuley played 127 games for Ipswich and did not have the same honor of being named an Ipswich's all-timer.  I would not select McAuley over Allan Hunter.  Hunter was chosen because of his association with Bobby Robson's Ipswich.
Allan Hunter
-- Aaron Hughes played over 450 games in the Premiership without sending-off, the second best in history after Ryan Giggs.  He is a defender while Giggs is an attacker. He played mainly for Newcastle United and Fulham.  He also played for clubs in India and Scotland. He was capped 109 times, captaining the national team for most part of his career. He was the first player from Northern Ireland to earn 100 caps.  He went to Euro 2016.  
-- Then, I had to choose between Terry Neill and Alan McDonald.  Both spent majority of their careers in the top division.  I took Terry Neill because he seemed to have a better career in Arsenal.  He was at one point the all-time appearance leader for Northern Ireland. 
-- Alan McDonald was my original team that I created in 2015.  He capped 52 times for Northern Ireland between 1986 and 1996. He was a part of the team that went to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He spent most of his career with Queens Park Ranger, reaching the League Cup Final in 1986. He also had short spells with Charlton Athletic while on loan and Swindon Town. 
-- Jackie Vernon represented the Great Britain in 1947.  The game was arranged to celebrate the Home Nations rejoining FIFA. But I was not sure if he was the best defender of his time since most of his club career was outside the top division.  So I put him on Honorable Mention.
-- Danny Blanchflower was the PWA Player of the Year in 1958 and 1961.  He captained Tottenham Hotspur, most notably during its double-winning season of 1960–61. 
-- Johnny Carey was born in Dublin.  His name was often missing on other list of Northern Ireland's greatest players, but he was capped 9 times by IFA, which should make him eligible for this team.  His selection might be controversial, but I went strictly by the book.  He was the FWA Player of the Year in 1949. He was also selected as one of Football league 100. He was noted as a rightback, but he could play in many positions.  So I took him as an utility player largely I also wanted Pat Rice and Bill McCracken.
-- Peter Doherty was on my original team I created in 2015, but I took Martin O'Neill in 2021 because the team did not have enough midfielders.  Martin O'Neill played with Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest during its peak.  His defensive prowess and determination would be something special for this team. Then, I took Sammy McIlroy who was capped 84 times and the captain of the 1986 World Cup team. 
Martin O'Neill 
-- Peter Doherty played for Ireland (IFA) between 1935 and 1950.  He served in the RAF during the War. He won a league title with Manchester City in 1937, an F.A. Cup final with Derby County in 1946.  He also played with Blackpool. His later career saw him as the central figure as player and manager during Doncaster Rovers most successful era.  
-- Con Martin played and captained both Irish national teams. He
played mainly as a center-half, but he literally played in every positions. His stint as a goalkeeper was not a cameo role. He was offered a contract by Manchester United.  He spent a season as Aston Villa's goalkeeper.  However, I only put him on Honorable Mention.
-- Steven Davis is the current most-capped player with 130 caps.  He should be a serious candidate, but I went with the older players.
-- George Best's career was cut short because of his lifestyle off the field.   He was sometimes considered the greatest ever player from the United Kingdom, but he actually left the Red Devils at the age of 27 in 1974.  His decline actually started shortly after Manchester United won the 1968 European Cup.  Was he the greatest ever from the United Kingdom? It was hard to say.  
-- The other winger would be Billy Bingham.  He played in the 1958 World Cup Finals as a player. As a manager, he led Northern Ireland to two World Cup Finals.  Northern Ireland nearly qualified for the Finals of Euro 1984.  They beat West Germany twice in the Qualifiers, but they lost the ticket to France through goal difference. They only managed 8 goals in the campaign.  I noticed a left winger named Ian Stewart.  He scored the winning goal against West Germany at home, and created the winning goal a year later on the away match.  He was about 21 at the time, but he did not do much after 1983.  He played in the 1986 World Cup Finals.
-- Gerry Armstrong was the most important player at the 1982 World Cup Finals.  He scored the winning goal against host Spain.
-- Patsy Gallacher only played once for the FAI (Republic) at the age of 41 because FAI national team did not exist during his prime.  Since he was capped at least once by FAI, he was eligible for the Republic of Ireland. His selection there was controversial.  However, he played 12 times for IFA, which also made him eligible for this team.  He was selected for both this team and the Republic of Ireland.
-- Jimmy McIlroy helped Burnley to win the First Division in 1959–60 and reach the FA Cup Final in 1962.  He was widely viewed as Burnley's greatest player.
-- Norman Whiteside broke Pelé's record as the youngest player to appear in a World Cup, when he debuted for Northern Ireland aged 17 years and 41 days at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. He scored the famous goal that beat West Germany in 1983.  However, his career was cut short by injuries.  He retired by the age of 26.  Nevertheless, he achieved more than most players from Northern Ireland in his short career.  
Norman Whiteside
-- David Healy was on the original team. However, his club career was mainly spent in the lower division as as opposed to other selections on this team. He is the all-time leading scorer for Northern Ireland with 36 goals.  I found Peter McParland scoring 5 goals in the 1958 World Cup Finals more impressive.
-- Billy Gillespie who was a forward played for IFA only.  He was a part of the Ireland side that won the 1914 British Home Championship. But I cannot find him a spot.  I put him on honorable mention.
-- Some said that Joe Bambrick was the greatest player from Northern Ireland after George Best, Pat Jennings and Billy Bingham.  I ignored him with my original team. I replaced David Healy with him in 2021. Bambrick was on my Chelsea All-Time team. He scored around 360 goals in 299 league matches.

 Starting lineup
Formation: 4-4-2
My starting lineup is much older than some of the all-time team I found on the internet.  My youngest starters were George Best and Pat Jennings.  I thought of starting Norman Whiteside.

1 comment:

  1. Jennings
    Rice Gareth-McAuley Neill Alfred-McMichael
    Steven-Davis Blanchflower O'Neill
    Best Joe-Bambrick McParland

    A nice battling team where George Best can get creative without repercussion. Bambrick and McParland can distract the defenders or finish things off.
    Terry Neill was the best captain in North Ireland's history. He can interchange positions with Alfred McMichael for synergy.