Watford fans who watched Senegal beat Ecuador on Tuesday will remember where they were when Ismaila Sarr became only the second Hornet to score at a World Cup Finals.

However, you’d need to be well into your 40s to remember the first player to net at a World Cup while being on the books at Vicarage Road – that was Gerry Armstrong for Northern Ireland as they stunned hosts Spain by beating them 1-0 at the Estadio Luis Casanova in Valencia on June 25, 1982.

Armstrong, now 68, had just helped Watford achieve promotion to the First Division for the first time in the club’s history, and headed off to Spain as part of a Northern Ireland squad that many felt were just there to make up the numbers.

However, having drawn their first two group games with Yugoslavia and Honduras, they then achieved the seemingly unthinkable and beat Spain in their own back yard to top the group and reach the next round.

Back in 1982 there was a second group phase where Northern Ireland drew with Austria before losing to France, who topped the group and progressed.

For Watford fans, though, seeing one of their own score on the biggest stage was incredible given the club had been in the old Fourth Division just four years earlier.

And it was that goal which meant Armstrong carved his name in Vicarage Road history, and now Sarr can etch his alongside the jovial Irishman.

“I actually scored one before that against Honduras when we drew 1-1, and then I scored against France in the next round when they beat us 4-1, so young Sarr has got another couple of goals he needs to score,” joked Armstrong, who now lives back in his birthplace Belfast after many years living in Spain.

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“That goal against Spain was the one though, because nobody else remembers the other goals. Spain were the host nation and one of the favourites to win the competition, and we were regarded as no-hopers.

“We played so well that night, we were well organised and we didn’t get that many chances.

“The goal came early in the second half. I was playing as a right-sided midfield player, and I won the ball off the Spanish left-back Gordillo. I went on a run for about 60 yards, went past a couple of players – I remember Xavi Alonso’s father, Joaquin, tried to clip my heels – but I then played the ball out wide to Billy Hamilton and kept my run going.

“Billy put in a great cross which the keeper, Luis Arconada, came for and palmed straight out to me. I was about 12 yards out and I just got my head and my knee over the ball and hammered it as hard as I could, and it hit the back of the net.

Watford Observer: Armstrong pounces to score for Northern Ireland against Spain in 1982Armstrong pounces to score for Northern Ireland against Spain in 1982 (Image: BBC)

“It was actually a funny one as the ground went silent because the Spaniards weren’t going to celebrate, and the South American referee had been so poor and given us nothing. I was worried and I remember thinking ‘why isn’t anybody cheering?’

“But then I saw Norman Whiteside and Sammy McIlroy throwing their hands in the air, and then I looked at the ref and he was pointing to the centre. Once I knew he’d given the goal, that’s when the celebrations started.”

Scoring so early in the second half meant it was going to be a long second half for the Irish, and their task was made harder when defender Mal Donaghy was harshly sent off.

“That was about  10 minutes later and it was never a sending off, but it summed the referee up,” recalled Armstrong.

“The linesman said to the ref that Mal had hit Camacho, but that wasn’t the case. The two of them went for the ball, and Camacho confronted Mal, who just pushed him away.

“To be fair to Camacho, he didn’t react and fall to the ground like players do now. But the referee still sent Mal off, and that was one of a number of awful decisions that night.

“But it made no difference: we were down to 10 men and that made us more determined. We could have played for two hours and they wouldn’t have scored against us that night.”

A former Hornet was providing the last line of defence: veteran goalkeeper Pat Jennings, who made 48 appearances for Watford between 1963 and 1964 before a £27,000 move to Tottenham.

“Pat was 37 at that World Cup and he was outstanding,” said Armstrong.

“Who then would have believed he’d be playing for us again at the World Cup in Mexico four years later?

“Pat’s last game for Northern Ireland was on his 41st birthday against Brazil. It capped off another unbelievable World Cup for us.

“But that night in Spain was the special one for all of us. We really surpassed everything any of us could have hoped for.”

Just playing at World Cup is a dream for all footballers – to score goals, and beat the host nation was even more special.

“I problem didn’t realise the significance of it at the time, to be honest,” Armstrong admitted.

“We were just happy to be there because Northern Ireland had only qualified once before, and that was in 1958.

“We were so pleased to get there in the first place. The importance of it only sunk in later.

“Our preparation was really good. Billy Bingham, the manager, took us down to Brighton for two weeks before the tournament and we were really fit and organised.”

Bingham had a surprise ace up his sleeve: a young striker called Norman Whiteside, who had been scoring goals in youth football and had just broken into Manchester United’s senior squad. He was only 17, and about to become the youngest player ever to play at a World Cup Finals.

“The first time I had seen Norman Whiteside play was about six weeks earlier when he was in the Manchester United team that lost to Watford in the FA Youth Cup Final. He was up front with Mark Hughes: what a forward line that was,” said Armstrong.

“Billy Bingham asked me the week after that game if I had watched it, and I said I had. I told him Norman and Hughes had been brilliant up front, and Billy said he’d been thinking about him for the senior squad.

“So Billy took a chance on him, and brought him into the senior international squad, and that was a great decision.”

A great recommendation and endorsement from Armstrong, who also provided scouting advice to Graham Taylor and Watford.

“When I moved to Real Mallorca after leaving Watford I kept in touch with the lads and Graham Taylor had phoned me every two or three months to see how I was settling in.

“Graham said he was looking for a centre half, and I remember saying: 'Do you know who you’d love? John McClelland'.

“He asked me if John was quick enough and I said he was plenty quick enough. I just said to Graham he would be perfect, you’d love him. So he said he’d go and have a look at him.

“Then he came back after a bit and said he was going to go after signing him, and I said he wouldn’t be disappointed.

“Years later, in a chat, Graham said he was looking for a left-footed player who could take a good dead ball. I said straight away: Peter Kennedy.

“He was at Notts County but was heading back to Ireland, and I said to Graham he was too good to do that. I recommended him to go and look at Peter.

“After both those signings, a few weeks later Graham called me to say thanks for helping him make a good choice. That was typical of Graham. He was a very good man.”

Armstrong moved to Tottenham as a teenager in 1975, establishing himself as a first-team forward before Taylor paid £250,000 for his services in November 1980.

“If you look at the year and a half before the 1982 World Cup Finals, I was on a great run of form in a Watford team that was going for promotion to the old First Division,” he said.

“I joined at the same time as Pat Rice and Les Taylor in 1980. Watford were pretty low down in the table when I joined them midway through the season, but I think the three of us joined at the perfect time as we got to know the other players, the routine, what Graham expected from you and what sort of manager he was.

Watford Observer: Gerry Armstrong in action for Watford with Kenny Jackett.Gerry Armstrong in action for Watford with Kenny Jackett. (Image: Watford Observer)

“So the rest of that season was a learning curve for us. Then before the next season Graham said to us ‘We want promotion this season. We’re going for it’.

“I remember our first league game was away to Newcastle, and I got booked in the first few minutes because Graham had got me that fired up!

“But we won that day at Newcastle and went on a great run where we won seven of our first 10 league games. And that coincided with me playing the final World Cup qualifying games for Northern Ireland.

“We’d lost to Portugal in qualifying, and we had to beat them in Belfast, which we did and I scored the only goal. Then we drew with Scotland when we should have beaten them, so we had to beat Israel in our last game. I scored a left-foot volley and we won 1-0 to qualify us for the World Cup.

“So I was in good form for club and country in that run of games.”

However, injury interrupted Armstrong’s run in the Watford side.

“In the January I pulled a muscle and I was out injured, and then when I came back after a few weeks the team were flying and I must have been sub for about six games in a row.

“I wasn’t getting much game time so I was actually training on my own, doing work on my own where I lived in St Albans. I’d go and do five or six-mile runs to get myself primed. I really pushed myself as I wanted to make sure I was fit for Watford but also for the World Cup.

“Then in April we had a run of league games, and Billy Bingham wanted to pick me for a Northern Ireland friendly. Graham said no, he said he needed me for a game away at Crystal Palace. It was a Tuesday night at Selhurst Park and Graham said he couldn’t let me go for the friendly with Northern Ireland.

“I was fine that with that, because it was more important that I played for Watford and we got promotion than playing in an international friendly match.

“So I played at Palace, and I actually scored one and got an assist, and we won 3-0.

“After the game that Tuesday night I remember Graham coming over to me, patting me on the back and saying well done. Then he said: 'Oh, by the way, there’s a flight booked for you in the morning so you can go over for the friendly. You’re not going to start, but you’ll be on the bench for Northern Ireland.'

“That meant so much to me, and it was a big surprise too. It meant I got to see the lads and also I hadn’t missed a game in about five years for Northern Ireland.

“That was typical Graham Taylor. He was different class.”

Only a few weeks later Watford secured promotion to the top-flight of English football for the first time, and Armstrong flew to Spain with his Northern Ireland teammates where they exceeded all expectations including that unforgettable victory against Spain.

When he returned, he then had to hope his World Cup exertions didn’t prevent him from being part of Watford’s inaugural First Division match.

“Graham tweaked things a bit on that first day against Everton. He left Les Taylor out, he played Luther Blissett deeper in the middle of the park and I was up front with big Ross Jenkins.

“That was great because I had a target man that I could play off rather than me having to go in and try to win the ball and feed Luther, John Barnes, Nigel Callaghan or whoever.

“Ross was a brilliant target man. He was 6ft 4ins but he had a fantastic touch for a big man. He was a Peter Crouch type player.”

That Jenkins/Armstrong combo soon delivered and, after 21 minutes, Armstrong quickly followed becoming the first Watford player to score at a World Cup by becoming the first Watford player to score in the First Division as well.

“I remember the free kick came in from the left and Ross put their defenders under pressure, the ball dropped very kindly to me and I just stuck it in the back of the net.

“I was in good form, my confidence was high and I felt good. Little did I know three weeks later I’d break both my tibia and fibula.”

Football is a game of highs and lows, and after such a memorable and successful summer, Armstrong was destined for a spell on the sidelines.

“We’d had a really good start in the First Division, and we’d been top of the league. There was a trip for the players to the Midlands to do some promotional work for a car showroom, and I really wanted a day off. I’d got a new house and I actually needed to buy a load of stuff for it

“So Graham said that was ok, I could play in the Reserves on the Tuesday night – Steve Harrison was in charge and Graham knew I would have trained properly and had a good workout, and that meant it was okay for me to have the Wednesday off.

“About five minutes into that Reserves game I jumped for a ball, landed on one leg and went over on one side of my ankle. I thought I’d just sprained it, but I’d broken both bones.

“Billy Hails the physio had me in for the operation the next morning at 6.30am, and a specialist from London had come to do the surgery. And that was me out for eight or nine weeks.

“I remember watching games like the win at my old club Tottenham and then the game at Liverpool, and when I came back it took me a couple of weeks to properly get going again. I came off the bench as a sub a lot to get fit, and then I played more games towards the end of the season.”

His exploits for club and country had attracted attention, and Taylor revealed to Armstrong there had been a firm offer from abroad.

“Graham told me a couple of Spanish clubs had come in for me, but Real Mallorca had made an offer and it was a good one,” said Armstrong.

“He said they he didn’t want me to go, but it was up to me.

“I said I thought I’d like to talk them as I was 28 or 29, and it was a good opportunity for me. I knew I had two or three good years left in me, and I took a chance to go out there. Luther went off to Italy to play for AC Milan, and I went to Spain to play for Mallorca.

“After I’d gone out to Spain to sign, I flew back on the Saturday night and then on the Sunday we had the end of season party at Elton John’s house, and that gave me my chance to say my farewells to the lads.”

Watford Observer: Armstrong, as Northern Ireland assistant manager, with former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson.Armstrong, as Northern Ireland assistant manager, with former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson. (Image: Action Images)

The striker spent two years in Mallorca before returning to the UK and playing for West Brom, Chesterfield, Brighton and Crawley.

Armstrong had a spell managing non-league Worthing and had two periods as assistant manager of the Northern Ireland senior team.

He became a popular and successful Sky Sports commentator on Spanish football for many year, and currently provides co-commentary for Virgin Media in Ireland.

However, he still talks so fondly about his time at Vicarage Road, and working with Graham Taylor.

“Watford is the best family club I ever played for,” he said.

“Graham was so personal and hands on. I never knew a manager like him. Keith Burkenshaw at Tottenham was brilliant but Graham was on another level.

“I have only great memories of my three years at Watford. They were very successful for me and I was really pleased to help them be successful for Watford.

“I’m aiming to come over in February. I get back over as often as I can. I’ve just created a new whiskey which is called Spirit of 82, and that refers to that Northern Ireland team at the World Cup, but also means for me that Watford team that got to the First Division as well.

“That Watford squad I was part of had that spirit. Every single player looked after each other. That Watford group was very much like the Northern Ireland squad as we had spirit and camaraderie. There was a brilliant togetherness.

“That’s still the case now as I still stay in touch with Luther. We have a group that messages each other so I hear from Steve Terry, Paul Franklin, Kenny Jackett and the like. I came over for the Elton John concert in the summer and I got to see them all, which was great.”

As well as his whiskey, Armstrong has also penned his autobiography: ‘My Story, My Journey’.

“I haven’t properly released it in England but it’s proving popular in Ireland. I hope to go and launch it at the clubs I played for, so Watford, Tottenham, Brighton.

“I’d love to do a book signing at Watford. I always enjoy going back to Vicarage Road, and I’ve done a few book signings in Ireland and always seem to get a good turn-out.”

• You can buy Gerry’s ‘Spirit of 82’ whiskey from https://www.spiritof82.com/ while his book ‘My Story, My Journey’ is available from Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3XN6dBm