William Laurence Bingham or more affectionately known as Billy Bingham, was a Northern Ireland international footballer and renowned football manager who was one of the leading causes of the revival of the Irish football scene on a worldwide stage. From 1951 to 1963, he played in various clubs, which earned him 56 caps for his country. After his retirement, he moved on to the managerial aspects of the game. He was able to manage the Northern Ireland national team on numerous occasions. This brings us to one of the “worst nights” of Irish football history, which for many years stood true. However, revelations about the cause of the supposed “Worst Night” seems to portray the night in a different, much better light.
It all began in Windsor Park in 1993. A World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was scheduled to be played on a Wednesday night. The tie was a huge affair, given the political history of the two countries. All the drama was present to make it a historic night. To top it all off, it was going to be Billy Bingham’s last game of his managerial career.
The build-up to the match was tumultuous, to say the least. The presence of a large police force was in attendance and stood guard due to the IRA bombing on Shankill Road just weeks before the event. Plus, the ongoing loyalist attacks in places like Greysteel meant the unrest in the country was a recipe for disaster waiting to happen. On Wednesday night, as scheduled, the pre-match ceremony too was marred with confrontations between Billy Bingham and Jack Charlton, which did not stop till the end of the match. Known for his calm and composed manner of speaking, Billy Bingham shocked the fans and opposition manager Jack Charlton when he launched a verbal attack on the Republic national team by calling them “Mercenaries”. He further went on to vow to crush The Republic of Ireland’s World Cup dream. This revelation suddenly made the tie a personal rivalry.
The FAI officials tried to act behind the scenes and change the venue of the match, given the ferocious environment surrounding the match venue. However, when the Northern Ireland fans came to know about this plan, they vehemently revolted against the idea, as they felt it was a ploy to grant The Republic an advantage. The match went on as planned, with the opening goal coming in the second half by the feet of Jimmy Quinn. The opening goal sent the Northern Ireland fans wild with joy and jubilation. However, this marked the beginning of the conspiracy that was about to unfold. Minutes later, Alan McLoughlin equalized for The Republic. The draw proved enough for the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the final stages of the World Cup to be played in the US, and Northern Ireland was dumped out.
The home crowd was exuberant in nature, however, they meant no harm and ultimately were silent when their home team failed to qualify. They also had to bid their country footballing legend Billy Bingham goodbye, as this marked his retirement from the world of football. After the match, Jack Charlton had the intention to congratulate Billy Bingham, however, he was too caught up in the moment and blurted out insults, a move he has admitted many times to have regretted. However, this was not the end of the saga that was about to unfold.
The next morning, the newspapers were all over the historic event as they penned it down as an important event in the history of the two countries and football in general. However, Irish News Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph chose to report on the unsavory moments between Billy Bingham and Jack Charlton. This slowly took a turn for the worst as many news media houses started blaming Billy Bingham for inciting the crowd and allowing for sectarian behavior. The News Letter’s Morning View on Friday, seeing the slander on Billy Bingham, decided to defend the man’s honor and integrity.
With news journalists falsely accusing the entirety of Northern Ireland fans of sectarian remarks, the false allegations were printed so many times that they slowly started to cover up the actual truth. For decades, Billy Bingham and the Northern Ireland fans were accused of inciting sectarian behavior. It was up until 2016 that people started reviewing the recording of the full match on YouTube, which was uploaded by BBC. People started to realize that a handful few sectarian shouts from very troubled individuals falsely accused 10000 fans of being sectarian for decades. Ultimately, Ian McKinney made a formal complaint to the press complaints body IPSO, which prompted a full retraction of the claim and an apology from Belfast Live.