Steven Davis: ‘Hero’ Billy Bingham showed Northern Ireland what was possible

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has paid tribute to Billy Bingham, saying his achievements as a player and manager gave the nation belief they could regularly qualify for major tournaments.

Bingham, who played at the 1958 World Cup and later guided Northern Ireland to both the 1982 and 1986 editions as manager, died on Thursday night at the age of 90.

Though Davis, 37, is too young to remember those feats first hand, he grew up in a country where the footballing landscape had changed as a result.

“First of all, my condolences go to the family,” Davis said. “I was never fortunate enough to meet him in person, but obviously everybody knows the legacy he leaves behind.

“What the country achieved in that period was incredible. The fans remember him very fondly for everything he did for the country and he’s a sporting hero for what he did.”

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Asked if Bingham changed perceptions about how far Northern Ireland could go, Davis added: “Speaking to Jimmy (Nicholl), who was obviously part of his squad, that has certainly been the case.

“It was about changing the mentality, having that belief in themselves, and it just shows how far that can take you, obviously with the quality they had in the squad as well.

For a nation of our size to qualify for back-to-back World Cups under his stewardship was incredible and really very inspiring

“I think in the lead-up to our success, qualifying for the Euros, you get a lot of flashbacks of previous success of the country and that was certainly the case for us. For a nation of our size to qualify for back-to-back World Cups under his stewardship was incredible and really very inspiring.”

There will be a minute’s applause in memory of Bingham ahead of Sunday’s Nations League match against Cyprus, in which players will wear black armbands. There will also be tributes on the video screens at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland’s players and staff learned the news of Bingham’s death as they landed back in Belfast from Kosovo, with Ian Baraclough’s assistant manager Nicholl quick to pay an emotional tribute to a man he worked with as a player and coach.

Baraclough paid his own tribute and said Bingham’s influence remained strong within the current set-up thanks to the likes of Nicholl.

“Everybody from Northern Ireland has a story from that time and memories of ’82 and ’86 especially and not only as a manager, but as a player in ’58,” he said.

“It’s sad to see him passing and hopefully tomorrow can be a celebration of his life and what he meant to the Northern Irish people and Northern Irish team.

“I spoke to (Jimmy) about that period and you try to relate to everything and what can you learn from these great managers. There are all the stories of the stuff what went on off the pitch, leading up to the World Cups and during World Cups and he said Billy went through a tough time after ’86.

“He had a rebuilding period trying to win games, bringing young players in, I certainly listened intently on that and what the situation was like trying to rebuild.

“I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to sit down with him and pick his brains, but I know he was a wise old owl and someone you could learn from.”

Davis may be too young, but Baraclough was on a family holiday in Spain during the 1982 World Cup, and watched the 1986 edition as a teenager hooked on the game.

“There have only been a couple of managers who have qualified for major tournaments and it’s not easy for this country,” Baraclough added.

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“For someone to do it at back-to-back World Cups was phenomenal and hopefully we will be in that position again.

“It took time and a lot of hard work.”

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