Gerry Armstrong

June 25th, 1982. A night no Northern Irish football fan will ever forget. The Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain is the location. Northern Ireland are playing their final game of the first group stage of the World Cup Finals against the host nation. They need a win to progress to the second stage.  

No one thinks the boys in green have a chance against one of the tournament favourites. But the second half is barely underway when Gerry Armstrong takes the ball in his own half and charges up the pitch, passing to Billy Hamilton on the wing. The Spanish goalkeeper can only parry his curving cross and Armstrong fires home.  

Despite going down to ten men, Northern Ireland hold out for a famous victory and top their group. It is an extraordinary achievement. Only defeat by France in the next group stage prevents them reaching the semi-finals. 

That night in Valencia has come to symbolise the ability of Northern Ireland’s sporting heroes to punch above their weight. Now, the scorer of that famous goal is hoping its iconic status will help to raise vital funds for the Northern Ireland Hospice in their work to help children with cancer. 

After a successful career playing for the likes of Watford and Spurs in the English First Division, Gerry Armstrong has become a popular broadcaster on television and radio. For the last few years he has used his high public profile as an ambassador for the Hospice.  

His work began after he and his family were taken around the Children’s Hospice by its CEO, Heather Weir.

“Their work is incredible,” Gerry says, “they help children and parents in so many ways. It was heartbreaking too, meeting a kid of seven with a few weeks to live. It made a huge impression on us and we’ve been helping ever since.”

During the pandemic, the Hospice’s fundraising activities were severely curtailed, so Gerry came up with the idea of the ‘Night in Valencia’ face mask, offering fans several different designs. It has proved a big success with all profits heading to the Hospice. 

As part of the fundraising drive, Barbara Best donated some memorabilia belonging to her brother George, one of Northern Ireland’s greatest gifts to the world of sport. 

Gerry is a passionate believer in the power of sport to do good.

“We didn’t realise at the time but that night in Valencia we had united the country, everyone was happy. We brought people together in a way only sport can do.”

Even today Northern Ireland remain the least populous country in the world to have qualified for more than one World Cup finals tournament (they have reached three), to win a World Cup Finals match, to have scored at a World Cup Finals, and to have progressed from the first round of the World Cup finals.

It’s not just football, Gerry says. “We punch way above our weight in many sports. Motorcycling, boxing, golf, the list goes on. There’s other areas where we excel too, like music and acting. For a population our size, there’s nowhere in the world like this. We should be very proud.”

Gerry knows what he is talking about. He regularly interviews those people on his ‘Gerry and Friends’ show, broadcast on YouTube and Facebook. “We talk to sporting heroes like Carl Frampton, actors like Bronagh Gallagher and James Nesbitt, musicians like Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol.” 

And he believes the Northern Irish story of the underdog triumphing is far from over. He is thrilled at the success of the Northern Ireland Women’s football team in qualifying for the Euros this summer, under the managership of long-time friend Kenny Shiels. “I think Kenny has done a fantastic job. They beat a team 25 places above them home and away. Many of those girls are amateurs, it’s an amazing achievement.” 

And his advice for the team? 

“Believe in yourselves, together you can do anything. And you have to enjoy it. Enjoy being underdog and making history. That’s what we did for years.”