1905 – 1983
When Northern Ireland beat Wales 7-0 at Celtic Park Belfast on 1 February 1930, the undoubted man of the match was centre-forward Joe Bambrick who scored a double hat-trick, an unprecedented achievement which has never been equalled by any other international footballer in the seventy-five plus years since.
Chided by the defeated Welsh goalkeeper afterwards for ‘six kicks of the ball and you get six goals’, the usually taciturn Bambrick corrected him. ‘Wait a minute, Taffy, one of them was a header’, he said.
A week later a local soft drinks producer marketed a beverage which they called ‘Joe Six’ to mark his feat.
During his football career Bambrick was credited with almost 1,000 goals and his prolific scoring ability was encapsulated in a fully justified couplet: ‘Head, heel or toe, Slip it to Joe’.
The rhyme originated with Eddie Matthews, another Linfield player, who cried out ‘slip it to Joe’ while coming round after an operation for a knee injury. In the same ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital was a music hall comedian, who turned the cry into a catchphrase for his act at the Empire Theatre.
The football memory Bambrick cherished most himself, however, was the 1929/30 Irish Cup final when he scored all the goals in a 4-3 Linfield victory over Ballymena United.
In December 1930, his career was threatened when he slipped coming out of the bath at Windsor Park, Belfast and put his hand through a pane of glass but skilled surgeons were able to repair the injury and enable him to continue playing.
Joseph Gardiner Absolom Bambrick was born in Burnaby Street, in the Grosvenor Road area of Belfast on 3 November 1905. When he was five the family moved nearby to 219 Roden Street, where he would live for the rest of his life.
His football career started with the junior teams Bridgemount, Ulster Rangers and Broadway before he joined local top-flight football with Glentoran in 1926/27, scoring 44 goals in 37 appearances.
Linfield then managed to prise him away from their greatest rivals and he notched up an incredible 81 goals for them during the 1927/28 season. He succeeded even this profligacy two seasons later when he hit 94 goals, including his amazing double-hat-trick for the national team.
His scoring consistency attracted the interest of the big British clubs and on Christmas Eve 1934, Chelsea paid Linfield the then astronomical transfer fee of £2,500 for him, of which the player received £750. Over the next few years he made 66 appearances for them and scored a total of 37 goals, for two seasons being the club’s leading scorer. Among the most memorable performances was his four goal contribution to a 7-1 defeat of Leeds in early 1935.
He moved to Walsall in 1938 but after 35 appearances, in which he scored 5 goals, he decided to return home after the outbreak of the Second World War and rejoin Linfield, rekindling an association that would see him move progressively from playing to coaching to scouting and enjoy distinction as one of the club’s immortals for the rest of his life.
Despite his double-hat-trick record, he only played for Northern Ireland a total of 11 times scoring just another six goals, one of them an equaliser thirty minutes into his debut match against England on 22 October 1928, although the team finally lost 2-1.
Malcolm Brodie, the former Sports Editor of the Belfast Telegraph, knew Bambrick in the latter stage of his life: ‘There was never any sign that he had been a super-star of the 1920s and 1930s when achieving soccer fame was much more difficult than now. Not from him any prima donna gestures. He was shy, reticent, droll.’
Bambrick, who never married, died on 13 October 1983, aged 79.
Location of plaque: 219 Roden Street, Belfast BT12 5QB
Date of unveiling: 23 November 2006