If you’re talking about the most gifted footballer to come out of Northern Ireland then I imagine that George Best would be the man that most people would pick. However if you’re looking for a footballer who has legendary status playing for Northern Ireland and the man that united a nation in 1982, then step forward Gerry Armstrong.
I am very lucky to call Gerry and his lovely Wife Debbie friends. They lived here in Mallorca for a few years and their very talented daughter Mariana used to attend my Wife’s Theatre school. They moved back to Northern Ireland a few years ago but we still keep in touch. In last years lockdown we did a few video and podcasts together as Gerry’s football knowledge is second to none.
I spoke to Gerry this week as he has an autobiography coming out in a couple of weeks. It’s called “Gerry Armstrong My Story, My Journey” and it is a real in depth look at his life. Before we talk about the book, Gerry tells me that next year is the 40th anniversary of the 1982 World Cup and that famous night in Valencia on June 25th when Northern Ireland beat Spain 1-0 and John Motson said one immortal word “ARMSTRONG!” In celebration of that triumph over the host nation, Gerry along with some local brewers has been preparing a whiskey called “The Spirit of 82”. It’s been in barrels for three years now and will be ready next year. He said he and Debbie went to a tasting and tasted 17 different whiskies. They settled on one that was close in taste to Jameson, Gerrys favourite Irish Whiskey. Suffice to say they had to get a cab home that night!
The idea for the book had come before the lockdown but when the stoppage did arrive he said it helped him concentrate more on the content. Believe me when I say Gerry packs a lot into the book. It’s 23 chapters and over 100,000 words. I don’t want to ruin it for you but there are a few things to highlight. Firstly that he actually wasn’t going to be a footballer at all. He was playing Gaelic Football at a high standard but whilst serving a ban he fell into it. He was that good, Tottenham Hotspur paid £25,000 for his services in 1975. As we were chatting I was trying to remember if I’d seen him play. I was an Arsenal fan but all my mates were Spurs, so I used to go with them to watch games. I’m sure that between 1975 and 1980 before he left I would have seen him play. Watford broke their transfer record and paid Spurs £250,000 to sign him in 1980. This move put him on the then Northern Ireland manager Billy Binghams radar. He had made his Northern Ireland debut way back in 1976 alongside George Best but playing regularly for Watford definitely helped.
I ask him about that night in Valencia in 1982 and he can remember it like yesterday. He says it was the very warm and humid and there weren’t many Northern Ireland fans amongst the 49,562. So what about that goal? “I picked the ball up just outside our penalty area and drove forward. Billy Hamilton was over to my right and I managed to get the
ball to him. I then just kept on running and as the cross came over I thought their keeper Arconada was going to claim it. But instead he flapped at it straight to me. I hit it first time and it nestled nicely into the net and the rest is history.”
That goal earned him a move to Real Mallorca, where his love for the island began. He was loved by the Mallorca fans for his no nonsense style and spent two successful years here. He said “I did get stick, particularly when we went to play Valencia, obviously the home fans remembered only too well what I had done to them the year previous, but I was pleased to say we drew 2–2 with Valencia and I scored a goal into the very same net that I’d scored for Northern Ireland.”
After his playing career finished, Gerry started working on TV and was part of Sky Sports La Liga coverage for many years. I said earlier, his football knowledge is second to none and without doubt he is one of the best interviewees I’ve spoken to on radio.
This is a great autobiography and I’ve only touched the surface so as not to ruin it. But there’s some great stories about George Best, Elton John and Diego Maradona to name a few. It is released next month, it will make a great Christmas present for anyone who loves their football and I’m trying to get Gerry over before Christmas to do a book signing.
Take care everyone and enjoy your Weekend!
Richie presents the Radio One Mallorca Breakfast show Monday to Friday 07.30-11.00am on 93.8fm in Mallorca and 102fm in Calvià, online at www.radioonemallorca.com on mobile through their free App for IPhone & Android, The Tunein Radio App, iTunes, the Spanish TDT TV service and all smart speakers. If you can’t hear him on the radio then you’ll find him working at Pirates Adventure the islands number one night out and every now and again he may make an understudy appearance!
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