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Farewell Billy Bingham - Sunderland star of the 1950s

Roker Report was deeply saddened to learn of the death of the much-loved Billy Bingham, a mainstay at Sunderland over sixty years ago

Bingham, back row furthest right, lines up alongside his teammates in 1954. Image from Sunderland: A History of the Lads by Brett and Curtis

Football is mourning the loss of the ever popular Billy Bingham, who passed away on Thursday at the age of ninety.

Although perhaps best known for his success with Northern Ireland, his club career centred around a marvellous eight-year spell at Sunderland, and so we pay tribute to a man who will be sorely missed throughout the game…

The son of a shipbuilder, Billy Bingham’s footballing career was burgeoning when he moved to Roker Park as a teenager.

A County Antrim Shield winner with Glentoran in his native Belfast, the winger was approached by the club following a standout performance for the Irish League representative side against a Football League XI at Blackpool in October 1950.

Bingham limbers up. Image from All the Lads

The game was Bingham’s second appearance, but away from football, the winger had been learning a trade, having followed his father into the shipyards.

Allowed to complete his apprenticeship on Wearside, a £8,000 move was sealed and barely a month later, the new man was playing in the First Division. An early appearance saw him score at Old Trafford as the Lads beat title-chasing Manchester United 5-3, and by the end of the season, Bingham had made the outside right berth his own.

Like many of his counterparts in the top division, Bingham had plenty of pace and an excellent touch. What set him apart however was his strength – being a weightlifter in his youth meant he could battle it out with tough defenders and come out on top.

In addition, he was also a goal threat and so despite the embarrassment of riches at the ‘Bank of England’ club, Bingham invariably kept his place ahead of more costly options.

Bingham smiles for the camera. Image from All the Lads

A derby day win over Newcastle United in October 1954 saw Bingham at his peak. He set up Sunderland’s first goal and scored twice in a 4-2 victory, and in the following two years he was a major force behind consecutive runs to the last four of the FA Cup.

At various points during the decade, the side had been serious contenders for the league title, but there was trouble ahead. In 1956/1957, the club became embroiled in an illegal payments scandal and a first ever relegation followed the season after.

By that point, Bingham had been dropped by Alan Brown, only to secure an immediate return to Division One when he was sold to Luton Town in the summer.

Sunderland were not so lucky however, and as the side continued to slide their fans saw their former favourite reach the FA Cup final. He then won the league in 1963 after he had joined Everton, and after playing for Port Vale he embarked on a long and varied management career.

Bingham gets into international mode. Image from the 1992 Sunderland Annual

During his time at Roker, Bingham earned thirty three international caps, scoring four goals for his country in that time.

One of his strikes, against Portugal in 1957, helped Northern Ireland reach the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and although no longer part of Brown’s plans at that stage, he became the first Sunderland player to feature in the finals.

He was a star performer en route to the quarter finals, but it was during his two spells as manager where he really secured his legacy.

During a golden period for Northern Ireland, Bingham masterminded two British Championships and two further trips to the World Cup finals in the 1980s. He won trophies with Linfield and Al-Nassr too, and was awarded an MBE in 1981.

Diagnosed with dementia in 2006, the announcement of his death on Friday afternoon the was greeted by an outpouring of love which underlined just how much his achievements meant.

Fans from Sunderland and beyond hope you rest in peace, Billy.


William ‘Billy’ Bingham MBE

Born:

Belfast, Northern Ireland 5 August 1931

SAFC debut:

Sunderland 1 (Kirtley 87)

Stoke City 1 (Bowyer 3)

Football League Division One, Roker Park 2 December 1950

Final SAFC appearance:

Sunderland 2 (O’Neill 48, Hannigan 83)

Burnley 3 (Robson 6, 74, Pointer 42)

Football League Division One, 22 February 1958

Total appearances/goals for SAFC:

227/47


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