Wednesday 13 December 1983 - the last-ever Home International staged on Irish soil. Almost 40 years ago, something that no doubt will come as mild shock to those of a certain age.
Each season we couldn’t wait for these games especially when the schedule moved them to the end of the domestic season and a week-long round-robin.
Ironically Scotland was the last visitor to these shores in the competition. It was the Scots who first refused to travel to Belfast due to civil unrest in 1972 and the last to return eight years later, when Burnley’s Billy Hamilton provided the “Welcome Back” goal as the Irish took the verdict on a sunny Friday evening.
That goal set in motion a glorious six year period beginning with the capture of Northern Ireland’s first-ever outright championship victory. Ireland had won it outright in 1913/14, but the team represented all 32 counties in those days.
The Home Internationals also doubled as qualifying for the World Cup (1949/50) and the European Championships (1966/67 and 1967/68).
The oldest competition in international football, it ran for 101 seasons, the only disruptions coming across five seasons for WW1, six for WW2 and also in 1980/81 when tensions arising connected to the IRA hunger strikes (May ‘81) forced its abandonment.
There were plenty of Belfast highlights down through the years too, many involving the mercurial talents of one, George Best...
... as a 20-year-old in ‘67 running Scotland ragged, inspiring Pat Crerand to coin his ‘twisted blood’ phrase referring to the Scotland full-backs...
... in 1970 being dismissed in the teeming rain for throwing mud at English referee Eric Jennings, and of course;
... his moment of genius a year later which left the great Gordon Banks looking foolish.
We shouldn’t forget another amusing incident either, Gerry Armstrong kicking ass in 1979, Terry Cochrane’s to be exact, against England.
The great Jock Stein managed that last Scotland team to descend upon Belfast 38 years ago, his squad full of Scottish Premier League players. They’ve not been back since! Of the 12 who played in Belfast, only the captain, Liverpool’s Graeme Souness, was an Anglo. Six were from Alex Ferguson’s brilliant Aberdeen, three from Celtic and two from Dundee United.
Rangers were also represented, but both their players were on the green side; Jimmy Nicholl and John McClelland.
Sammy McIlroy, then of Stoke City, sealed victory for Northern Ireland, rifling home at the Kop End in the 55th minute, the last British Home International Championship goal ever scored at Windsor Park!
Eighteen year-old Norman Whiteside had given the Irish a first-half lead, reading Billy Hamilton’s low cross across a bumpy goalmouth and beating Jim Leighton at the far post.
It was the best of times for the youngster. Already an FA Cup winner, the previous month he'd scored the winner in Hamburg past Harald Schumacher as Northern Ireland became the first (and so far only) nation in history, to defeat the Germans home and away in the same qualifying campaign.
The victory over Scotland helped propel Northern Ireland towards securing that last Home International Championship. Justifiably they still claim the title, reigning champions. The trophy originally presented by the FA to King George V on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee remains on display at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.
On the night of the game, Doug Rougvie of Aberdeen was the only debutant on the pitch. He never won another cap and it was also the last Scotland appearances of both Davie Dodds (Dundee United) and Peter Weir (Aberdeen).
Pat Jennings extended his NI cap record, celebrating with a clean sheet on his 103rd.
The Home Internationals despite infrequent, nostalgic pleas for their return, will never again see the light of day. The modern football calendar and changing trends in the game have emphatically seen to that.
The line-ups 38 years years ago were...
Northern Ireland: Jennings (Arsenal) - J Nicholl (Rangers), McClelland (Rangers), McElhinney (Bolton W), Donaghy (Luton Town) - Cochrane (Gillingham) sub O’Neill (Leicester C) 86 mins, McIlroy (Stoke C), Ramsey (Leicester C), Stewart (QPR) - Hamilton (Burnley), Whiteside (Manchester United).
Subs not used: Platt (Ballymena United), Worthington (Notts County), Cleary (Glentoran), Doherty (Linfield)
Manager: Billy Bingham
Scotland: Leighton (Aberdeen) - Gough (Dundee U), McLeish (Aberdeen), Aitken (Celtic), Rougvie (Aberdeen) - Strachan (Aberdeen), McStay (Celtic), Souness (Liverpool), Weir (Aberdeen) - Dodds (Dundee U), McGarvey (Celtic) sub McGhee (Aberdeen) 58 mins.
Subs not used: Thomson (St Mirren), Stewart (West Ham), Narey (Dundee U), Burns (Celtic)
Manager: Jock Stein
Referee: Neil Midgley (Salford, England)