Former Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Glentoran, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Hull City, Aston Villa and Leeds United players feature for Northern Ireland, as well as the current Linfield boss.
Northern Ireland has had a tricky footballing past, at times playing as a unified Ireland and at times as separate sides. As was the case with our Republic of Ireland squad, players who played for an all-Ireland team will only be eligible based on where they were born, whether that be Northern or the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland themselves arguably boast a stronger squad than the Republic, and certainly Ireland’s greatest footballing export in the form of George Best, who some claim is the greatest British footballer of all-time. The Green and White Army’s greatest footballing success came in 1958, their first World Cup, as the country reached the Quarter-Finals, losing to an outstanding France team.
Since then, Norn Iron have qualified for two World Cup’s, in 1982 and 1986, and played in their first European Championship finals last year in France, where they got out of their group but were defeated by home nation rivals Wales. Below is Northern Ireland’s definite 15 man squad, plus their 8 reserves from which you choose which 3 join the initial 15 to create a final 18 man squad.
A near-certainty to be Northern Ireland’s number one at the Legends World Cup, Pat Jennings is Northern Ireland’s most capped player of all-time, having made 119 appearances for his country. A rare legend of both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, Jennings won the FA Cup with both clubs and three further trophies at White Hart Lane.
Northern Ireland have a strong deputy should anything happen to Pat Jennings during the tournament. Harry Gregg spent nine years at Manchester United, where he survived the Munich air disaster. Capped 25 times by Northern Ireland, Gregg was named best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup, and is one of only two Irish players to make the World Cup All-Star Team.
Belonging to a rare breed of footballer who has such an influence upon the game that they cause the rules of the sport to be altered, Bill McCracken’s offside trap did just that. A one-club man who spent two decades at Newcastle United, McCracken was a quick and intelligent full-back, who went on to become the long-term manager of Hull City and Aldershot.
Aged 37 but still a full international with Northern Ireland, Aaron Hughes has won 106 caps for his country, and has been a rock at the back for almost 20 years. The former Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham centre-back who spent almost all his career in the Premier League is now playing north of the border in Scotland for Hearts.
The second defender in this squad to have managed Hull City, Terry Neill is best remembered for his eleven years as centre-back at Highbury with Arsenal. It was a barren spell for the Gunners, but Neill was always impressive, winning 59 caps for Northern Ireland whilst at Arsenal and whilst serving as a player-manager at Hull City. He later managed Northern Ireland, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal themselves.
Northern Ireland have a lot of options in both full-back positions, with the likes of Alex Elder and Pat Rice missing out. One man who does get the nod at left-back though, is Mel Donaghy. A former Manchester United man who spent the majority of his career with Luton Town, Donaghy won trophies with both and won 91 caps for Northern Ireland.
The lesser known of the Blanchflower’s, younger brother Jackie had his career ended at the age of 24 by the Munich air disaster. A classy defensive midfielder, Blanchflower had already scored 26 goals and made more than 100 appearances for Manchester United when his career was cruelly stripped from him, and had won 12 caps for Northern Ireland.
Whilst Jackie played solely for Manchester United, Danny made his name with Barnsley, Aston Villa and most of all Tottenham Hotspur. Ranked as Spurs’ greatest ever player in 2009, Blanchflower spent a decade at the Lane, winning two FA Cup’s, one league title and one European title, being named FWA Footballer of the Year twice. He also won 56 caps for Northern Ireland.
Widely regarded as the greatest player in the long history of Burnley FC, Jimmy McIlroy will bring a touch of flair and creativity to Northern Ireland’s squad for the International Legends World Cup. A quick and creative attacking midfielder with excellent technique, McIlroy spent 12 years at Turf Moor, as well as playing for Glentoran, Stoke and Oldham. A First Division title winner in 1960 and an FA Cup finalist in 1962, McIlroy won 55 caps for Northern Ireland.
Other than between the sticks, Northern Ireland probably have more strength in wide areas than anywhere else. Billy Bingham is the first of three wingers to make the initial 15. A quick and industrious right winger who was a handful for any full-back in the 1950’s and early 60’s, Bingham spent his best years with Sunderland, as well as turning out for the likes of Glentoran, Luton and Everton.
Northern Ireland’s best performance in a tournament came at the 1958 World Cup, and Peter McParland was a standout performer. He scored just one goal fewer than Pele at the tournament, which was held in Sweden, scoring braces against West Germany and Czechoslovakia, as well as a strike against Argentina as Northern Ireland progressed to the Quarter-Finals. At club level, McParland spent a decade with Aston Villa, winning the FA Cup in 1957, a game in which he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Manchester United.
The greatest Northern Irish footballer to have ever lived, and one of the most naturally gifted players to have graced the game, George Best had won the First Division, European Cup and Ballon d’Or at the age of 22. Perhaps it was peaking so early, twinned with his well-documented lifestyle, that saw the Manchester United legend effectively depart top level football at the age of 27. He scored a total of 181 goals in 474 games for Manchester United, and won 37 caps for Northern Ireland.
In terms of ability, David Healy may be among the weakest in this squad. He scored semi-regularly in the Championship with Preston and Leeds United for most of his career, never handling the step up to the Premier League. With Northern Ireland though, Healy was prolific, scoring 36 goals from 95 caps, making him the countries all-time leading scorer and impossible to leave out of this squad. Healy now manages Linfield.
A centre-forward who certainly did seem at ease in the English top flight was Joe Bambrick. Despite spending most of his career in Northern Ireland with Glentoran and Linfield, where he scored an eye-watering 314 goals in just 205 games, he joined Chelsea at the age of 30. In three seasons with the Blues, Bambrick scored 34 goals in 59 games. His international record stands at 12 goals from 11 caps for the IFA and 9 goals from 12 caps for the Irish League.
Billy Cush brings versatility as well as ability to this squad, capable of playing throughout the spine of a team, but most notably as either a central defender or centre-forward. The man who replaced John Charles as the captain of Leeds United, Cush scored Northern Ireland’s first ever goal at a World Cup, scoring the winner against Czechoslovakia in 1958.
That’s it for Northern Ireland’s definite 15, now it’s over to you to pick which three reserve players get the nod and join the likes of Jennings and Best in Northern Ireland’s final 18. The eight reserve players to choose from are as follows:
1. Elisha Scott – Former Liverpool and Linfield goalkeeper – 31 caps
2. Gareth McAuley – Former Ipswich Town and current West Brom defender – 72 caps*
3. Jimmy Nicholl – Former Manchester United and Raith Rovers full-back – 73 caps
4. Martin O’Neill – Former Nottingham Forest midfielder – 64 caps
5. Neil Lennon – Former Leicester City and Celtic midfielder – 40 caps
6. Norman Whiteside – Former Manchester United midfielder/forward – 38 caps
7. Peter Doherty – Former Blackpool, Man City, Huddersfield and Doncaster midfielder – 16 caps
8. Derek Dougan – Former Aston Villa, Leicester City and Wolves forward – 43 caps