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Billy Bingham

Preceded by
Succeeded by
1963 - 1964

Nobody has been involved in more successes with Northern Ireland than Billy Bingham, World Cup appearances and British Championship successes as both player and manager are testament to this…

Name: William Laurence Bingham
Born: 5 August 1931, Belfast
Died: 9 June 2022, Southport (England) (age 90)
Height: 5.07 ft
Weight: 10.02 st
Position: Outside-Right / Left

Representative Honours: Northern Ireland: 56 Full Caps / 9 Goals (1951-1963); 9 Youth Caps (1948-1949); 4 Schoolboy Caps (including War-Time) (1945-1947); Irish League: 2 Caps (1950).
Club Honours: (with Glentoran) Co. Antrim Shield Winner 1949/50; Gold Cup Runner-Up 1950/51; (with Luton Town) FA Cup Runner-Up 1958/59; (with Everton) Football League Champion 1962/63.

Club Career:
FA Cup
FL Cup
St. Donrad’s Youth Club
60/ 21
(all games)
206/ 45
21/ 2
Luton Town
87/ 27
10/ 6
86/ 23
7/ 2
3/ 1
2/ 0
Port Vale
40/  6
2/ 1
1/ 0
4/ 1
2/ 0

Born and raised in the Bloomfield area of east Belfast through the depression hit 1930s and war-torn 1940s, Billy (Laurie to his school friends) Bingham became known for “incessantly kicking a ball around the district”. He played alongside Jackie Blanchflower in the fields around Orangefield, and the Castlereagh waste grounds that were later graced by a young George Best. In 1945 Bingham, then playing as a goal-grabbing centre-forward, captained his school, Elmgrove, to an Ulster Schools Cup victory. That same year he was selected for the Northern Ireland schoolboy team, scoring twice against Eire in Belfast, and twice in the return match at Dalymount Park, Dublin.

On leaving Elmgrove, young Bingham obtained a scholarship to Belfast Technical College, where he would captain the Under-15s. His father, William senior, keen for young Billy to learn a trade and perhaps follow in his footsteps, got him a job working at the shipyard in the manufacturing shop, while he continued his studies at night. Bingham’s footballing development continued with St Donard’s Youth Club, and in 1947 he was invited to play for a Glentoran side under the tutelage of Johnny Geary in the summer S.J. Taylor Cup. After carrying off the trophy, Bingham was invited to sign amateur forms with Glentoran’s third team, the Co-Op Rec., where he played alongside Jimmy McIlroy and Billy Neill in the Irish Amateur League. During the 1947/48 season Bingham made the first of nine appearances for the Northern Ireland Youth team, and began to draw the attention of English clubs. Pre-empting any move to the Football League, Glentoran’s manager, Frank Grice, offered the cream of his young talent professional terms on £6 a week.

Through the 1948/49 season Bingham’s playing career progressed rapidly, as he continued his free-scoring ways with the Glentoran Second team. On the 12th March 1949 Bingham made his senior debut, in a 1-1 draw with Ballymena United, not at centre-forward, but on the right-wing. Frank Grice’s opinion that Bingham was too light-weight to lead the line in senior football proved a stroke of genius. In April, with Glentoran in the Irish Cup Final, Bingham, feeling the experience would be more beneficial, decided instead to travel with the Northern Ireland Youth team to the International Junior Tournament in the Netherlands. Bingham found the net twice in a 3-3 draw with England, before Northern Ireland lost out to the hosts in the semi-finals.

Bingham established himself in the Glentoran first eleven through the 1949/50 season, and finished it with his only senior honour from the Irish game, a Co. Antrim Shield winner’s medal following a 2-0 defeat of Linfield. The following season started well too, and he was selected for the Irish League side to face the Scottish League in Belfast. It was a match that provided slim-pickings for the young Bingham, as the Scottish side won 4-0. The Inter-League match-up with the Football League two-weeks later brought a similar hammering, but a least the attack made something of an impact in a 6-3 defeat in Blackpool. Immediately after the match a stranger approached Bingham and informed him that he had just been signed by Sunderland. It was October 1950, and the fee was £8,000.

After arriving at Roker Park, Bingham continued his apprenticeship in the Sunderland shipyards. On the playing side of things he found himself as third-choice outside-right, and had to make do with matches for the reserve side in the North-Eastern League. After starring in his debut for the reserves, a 5-0 victory over Spennymoor, there were calls for an immediate elevation to the first-team. In fact Bingham had to wait five more weeks for his first-team debut, partially due to delays in his registration, coming into the side against Stoke City on 2nd December at the expense of the experienced Tommy Wright. His determination in the face of severe tackles, coupled with speed and ball-control, instantly endeared “Little Billy” to the Roker crowd. Bingham found himself in-and-out of the Sunderland team as manager Billy Murray chopped-and-changed his forward line in an attempt to find the right combination. Bingham found the back of the net for the first time in a Sunderland shirt in a 5-3 victory over Manchester United on Boxing Day. Despite this early success, he was finding First Division life strenuous - he was putting in extra training and working on a weights programme he designed himself in an attempt to build up his light physique. Bingham finished his first season with thirteen appearances and four goals to his name, but it had been a poor campaign for “the Bank of England Club”, who finished in a disappointing twelfth place. One last highlight emerged for the nineteen year-old Bingham, as he was called up for his first Northern Ireland cap in the Festival of Britain match against France.

Billy Bingham was first-choice at outside-right for virtually the whole of the 1951/52 season, but the club’s position failed to improve as they again finished twelfth in the First Division. The 1952/53 season brought improvements though, with Sunderland sitting on top of the League for much of the season, however Bingham found himself dropped in favour of Billy Wright who returned after a long-term injury. Sunderland faltered in the second half of the season, eventually finishing in ninth. A spending spree by Sunderland boss Murray prior to the 1953/54 season brought three internationals to Roker Park in the space of a week at a total cost of £70,000. Bingham was left to contest the outside-right position with Wright, and he finished the season having made nineteen appearances. Sunderland had continued to struggle however, and only a £40,000 mid-season spending spree had saved them from relegation.

Finally in 1954/55 the big-money signings and the maturing Bingham seemed to click. Sunderland where dubbed the greatest side never to win the championship, ultimately finishing in fourth place, and an FA Cup run took them to the semi-finals where they missed out to Manchester City at a rain-sodden Villa Park. Had they won they would have faced north-east rivals Newcastle at Wembley. It had been Bingham’s best season with Sunderland, as he found the net a total of ten times in 42 appearances – Sunderland and Bingham where not to see such heights again. The 1955/56 season brought another FA Cup semi-final appearance, this time Sunderland losing out 3-0 to Birmingham. The League campaign was disappointing again too, Sunderland slipping to ninth after a good start.

The 1956/57 season was near disastrous for Sunderland, as they sat in the relegation zone for much of the season. Bingham was dropped in October, and asked for a transfer. Murray turned his request down, dismissing it as impetuousness. Mid-way through the season allegations of illegal signing-on and bonus payments to players rocked Sunderland Football Club. They were in a perilous position in the League at the time, and five of their players (including Bingham), manager Murray, Chairman Bill Ditchburn and three directors were all charged. The players forfeited their qualification for benefits, Murray was fined £200, the club £5,000 and the board members were banned from involvement in football. By 1962 all charges had been dropped and fines refunded, but for some it was too late. Having kept Sunderland in the topflight by the skin of their teeth, Murray resigned when the findings were made public in the summer of 1957. He died a broken man before his name could be cleared.

With Murray replaced by former Burnley boss Alan Brown for the 1957/58 season, Bingham found himself in an awkward position. The new manager had signed Eire international right-winger Ambrose Fogarty from Glentoran, and mid-way through the season installed the southern Irishman in the first eleven. Although both Brown and Bingham shared similar views on training and fitness, the two men could not get on, and after a post-training row, Bingham knew his future lay elsewhere. Sunderland where relegated at the end of Brown’s first season, bringing to an end their famous record as continuous members of the Football League’s elite since its foundation, and losing one of their most popular players, Billy Bingham.

The summer of 1958 placed Billy Bingham on the World stage. He had almost thirty caps behind him when he flew with the Northern Ireland squad to Sweden for the World Cup Finals. Bingham, like team captain Danny Blanchflower, was a willing pupil of Northern Ireland manager Peter Doherty. Doherty appreciated Bingham’s willingness to run himself into the ground for the team, which was evident from an early age, and his ability to track back and fill in at full-back if so required. French full-back Roger Marche, who faced Bingham on his international debut, described him as the best forward he had ever played against; the Ireland Saturday Night lauded the 2-2 draw as “Bingham’s Match”. For just short of a decade, forty-three matches in all, Bingham did not miss an international match, and only then because Everton refused to release him for a Home Nations tie against Wales.

It is testament to Peter Doherty that the Northern Ireland team grew-up together through the 1950s; Danny Blanchflower, Jimmy McIlroy and Billy Bingham “the triangle” at its core, ably assisted by the likes of Alf McMichael, Willie Cunningham, Jackie Blanchflower, Harry Gregg and Peter McParland. Where previously players who performed poorly where dropped immediately by the IFA’s selection committee, Doherty would give players a chance to bed-in, ignoring poor performances if he believed a player had a future in the green shirt. This growth culminated in three shared British Championship titles through the late 1950s, including an historic victory over England at Wembley, and of course, qualification for the 1958 World Cup.

It was Doherty’s philosophy of “why defend and lose by eight or nine goals, when you could attack and lose by eight or nine goals?” that allowed Northern Ireland to surprise teams. Indeed, without an abundance of striking talent, this mentality allowed players such as Bingham to go forward and get his share of goals. Bingham found the net against Scotland in 1954, 1955 and 1957, but perhaps his most important goal came against Portugal in Lisbon, earning Northern Ireland a 1-1 draw in the opening World Cup qualifying match. It was a result which gave the team the confidence needed to go on and top the group. In Sweden Northern Ireland shocked the footballing world by qualifying for the quarter-finals. It was a testament to the determination and team-spirit within the squad in the face of an injury nightmare and poor administrative organisation… Bingham learned much in Sweden that he would use in years to come.

The Northern Ireland squad returned from the World Cup as heroes, Bingham however didn’t return to Roker Park. He had agreed to join Luton Town in an £8,000 deal. Bingham had perhaps the best two years of his footballing career at Kenilworth Road. A bright start to the 1958/59 season found Luton sitting on top of the First Division after two months of the season, but their form was to dip badly and manager Dally Duncan left to take charge of Blackburn Rovers. Club captain Syd Owen stepped off the pitch and into the manager’s chair. Although the team continued to struggle there were highlights, a 6-3 Boxing Day win over Arsenal in which Bingham scored twice, and a 5-1 FA Cup third round defeat of Leeds United - a Cup Run had begun.

In the next round of The Cup, Bingham moved to centre-forward and scored the equaliser away to Leicester. Luton then cruised to a 4-1 replay win at Kenilworth Road, and Ipswich Town were dispatched with equal ease, 5-2 at Portman Road. Luton were in the quarter-finals, a stage that they had never passed before. Blackpool were the opposition, and Bingham scored the opener in a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road. The return was hard-fought, Luton scraping through to the semi-finals for the first time in their history 1-0. The opposition in the semi-finals was to be Division Three side, Norwich City, a club also charting unknown territories in the FA Cup. The first match at White Hart Lane finished 1-1, with former Northern Ireland international, Bobby Brennan almost spoiling Luton’s day. Bingham, who had tortured the Norwich defence throughout the first game, finished a well-worked move with a cracking volley to see Luton through the replay, and to the FA Cup Final for the first time in their history – he had scored in every round. Luton’s day out at Wembley was a disappointing one, Nottingham Forest out-playing them across the field. Forest would surely have won by more than 2-1 had Roy Dwight not left the pitch injured after half-an-hour. Bingham’s scant consolation was that his short corner had set-up Luton’s only goal.

Having finished his first season at Luton with a total of fourteen goals in a struggling side, his best return to date in English football, Bingham could look back on his first season in Bedfordshire with at least some degree of satisfaction. However, the following season’s return of sixteen league goals could do little to console Bingham, as Luton finished bottom of the First Division, and were relegated. A return of three goals in eleven Division Two games the following season, including a 35-yard thunderbolt against Liverpool at Anfield, was enough to convince Johnny Carey that Bingham was the man for Everton. First though the former dual-Irish international had to beat off competition from Arsenal, and it took a fee of £15,000 plus two players to take Bingham to Goodison Park in October 1960.

Everton were in contention for the title until mid-way through the 1960/61 season, when a pre-Christmas defeat by eventual Champions Spurs saw a down-turn in results. The team eventually finished in a respectable fifth place, and it was surprise to many when Carey was sacked in April 1961 to be replaced by Harry Catterick. Catterick set about rebuilding the team in his own image, and in the 1962/63 season Bingham played twenty-three games as the League Championship returned to Goodison for the first time since before the War. The death knell had already been sounded for Bingham’s Everton career with the signing of Rangers and Scotland winger, Alex Scot, for £40,000 in February 1963. Faced with the choices of playing in an unfamiliar outside-left role, reserve team football, or leaving for a new challenge, Bingham decided to sign for Third Division Port Vale in June 1963 in a £15,000 deal.

Contrary to his unwillingness to play in an unfamiliar role at club level, Bingham happily helped out his international boss Bertie Peacock by playing on the left in succession to Peter McParland. The move allowed for Billy Humphries to be accommodated on the right. It was an experiment that lasted three matches through October and November 1962, and brought Bingham one goal, the consolation in a 5-1 defeat by Scotland. It was back on the right-wing, with Humphries pushed to inside-right, and a number of different options tried on the left, that Bingham played out his international career. He took his international goals tally to nine when he scored in a 2-1 win over Scotland in October 1963, and a month later he played his fifty-sixth and final international match in an 8-3 defeat by England. He had played 56 out of a possible 61 games since his debut, including that record-breaking run of forty-three consecutive games. A certain youngster called George Best then claimed the number seven shirt as his own.

Within six months of arriving at Vale Park, Bingham was offered the chance to return to the top-flight, as Johnny Carey, by then manager at Nottingham Forest, offered £12,000 for the winger’s signature. Bingham chose to honour his contract at Port Vale. On the 5th September 1964 Bingham broke his leg during a match with Brentford. At the end of that season he was forced to call time on his playing career - he was thirty-three.

Not a natural wing talent like a Tommy Lawton, Stanley Matthews or Tom Finney, Billy Bingham had realised shortly after his arrival in English football that he would have to work hard, at both the practical ant theoretical side of the game. He developed pace, strength and control to enable him to beat full-backs and deliver incisive balls into the box. He worked on his shooting from range, and his touch within the six-yard box to enable him to effectively poach goals. Above all he was brave enough to take the knocks that were inevitable with his small frame. When talking about Northern Ireland’s great wingers the name of George Best pops up almost immediately, but his achievements in the green shirt pale when compared to the man he succeeded.

With his playing days behind him, Billy Bingham moved into coaching, something he had prepared for during his playing days. His skills as a manager would take him from Southport to the World Cup Finals, via Plymouth, Linfield, Greece, Everton and Mansfield Town, further cementing his status as a legend of the Northern Ireland game.

Northern Ireland: The Managers

Northern Ireland Cap Details:

12-05-1951 France........ (h) D 2-2 FR
06-10-1951 Scotland...... (h) L 0-3 BC
20-11-1951 England....... (a) L 0-2 BC
19-03-1952 Wales......... (a) L 0-3 BC
04-10-1952 England....... (h) D 2-2 BC
05-11-1952 Scotland...... (a) D 1-1 BC
11-11-1952 France........ (a) L 1-3 FR
15-04-1953 Wales......... (h) L 2-3 BC
03-10-1953 Scotland...... (h) L 1-3 WCQ
11-11-1953 England....... (a) L 1-3 WCQ
21-03-1954 Wales......... (a) W 2-1 WCQ
02-10-1954 England....... (h) L 0-2 BC
03-11-1954 Scotland...... (a) D 2-2 BC. 1 goal

20-04-1955 Wales......... (h) L 2-3 BC
08-10-1955 Scotland...... (h) W 2-1 BC. 1 goal
02-11-1955 England....... (a) L 0-3 BC
11-04-1956 Wales......... (a) D 1-1 BC
06-10-1956 England....... (h) D 1-1 BC
07-11-1956 Scotland...... (a) L 0-1 BC
16-01-1957 Portugal...... (a) D 1-1 WCQ 1 goal

10-04-1957 Wales......... (h) D 0-0 BC
25-04-1957 Italy......... (a) L 0-1 WCQ
01-05-1957 Portugal...... (h) W 3-0 WCQ
05-10-1957 Scotland...... (h) D 1-1 BC. 1 goal
06-11-1957 England....... (a) W 3-2 BC
04-12-1957 Italy......... (h) D 2-2 FR
15-01-1958 Italy......... (h) W 2-1 WCQ
16-04-1958 Wales......... (a) D 1-1 BC
08-06-1958 Czechoslovakia (n) W 1-0 WCF
11-06-1958 Argentina..... (n) L 1-3 WCF
15-06-1958 West Germany.. (n) D 2-2 WCF
17-06-1958 Czechoslovakia (n) W 2-1 WCF

19-06-1958 France........ (n) L 0-4 WCF
04-10-1958 England....... (h) D 3-3 BC
15-10-1958 Spain......... (a) L 2-6 FR. *
05-11-1958 Scotland...... (a) D 2-2 BC
22-04-1959 Wales......... (h) W 4-1 BC
03-10-1959 Scotland...... (h) L 0-4 BC
18-11-1959 England....... (a) L 1-2 BC. 1 goal
06-04-1960 Wales......... (a) L 2-3 BC. 1 goal
08-10-1960 England....... (h) L 2-5 BC
26-10-1960 West Germany.. (h) L 3-4 WCQ
09-11-1960 Scotland...... (a) L 2-5 BC
25-04-1961 Italy......... (a) L 2-3 FR
03-05-1961 Greece........ (a) L 1-2 WCQ
10-05-1961 West Germany.. (a) L 1-2 WCQ
17-10-1961 Greece........ (h) W 2-0 WCQ
22-11-1961 England....... (a) D 1-1 BC
10-10-1962 Poland........ (a) W 2-0 ENC
20-10-1962 England....... (h) L 1-3 BC
07-11-1962 Scotland...... (a) L 1-5 BC. 1 goal

28-11-1962 Poland........ (h) W 2-0 ENC 1 goal
30-05-1963 Spain......... (a) D 1-1 ENC
12-10-1963 Scotland...... (h) W 2-1 BC. 1 goal
30-10-1963 Spain......... (h) L 0-1 ENC
20-11-1963 England....... (a) L 3-8 BC

Summary: 56/9. Won 12, Drew 16, Lost 28.

* Bingham had been credited with Northern Ireland's opening goal in this match. It is now believed that Wilbur Cush was in fact the scorer.
* Many sources list Bingham as the scorer of the first Irish goal against Spain. The more probable scorer was Cush, as listed in the following year's News Chronicle Football Annual.


Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
KG said…
Great leader, tactician and motivator.