Belfast born centre forward Joe Bambrick was a prolific goalscorer, adept at getting into good scoring positions and athletic enough to make the final touch count. “Head, heel or toe, Slip it to Joe” became a famous catch-phrase when referring to him. He started his senior career with Glentoran in May 1926, scoring 28 goals in 22 games before moving to Linfield in August 1927, where he scored an incredible 286 goals in 183 games. His scoring of 6 goals for Ireland against Wales at Celtic Park, Belfast on 1st February 1930 in a 7-0 win, still remains the record score for a British Isles player in an international fixture.
In the pantheon of the world’s great goalscorers, Bambrick’s total of 348 goals in top division league football (with Glentoran, Linfield and Chelsea) places him in the top twenty, six goals ahead of Eusebio (Portugal) and far in front of his nearest “local” rival, Jimmy Jones (331). More impressive still was his goalscoring rate, 1.31 goals scored per match, which ranks fourth in the world behind Fernando Peyroteo (Portugal), Josef Bican (Austria & Czechoslovakia) and Imre Schlosser (Hungary & Austria). As well as his “top division” goals, Bambrick managed 31 in the Irish Cup (placing him fifth equal in the competition’s all-time scorers list). In his nine full seasons in the Irish League he averaged over 62 goals per season and was topscorer four times. While Bambrick’s goalscoring feats have been bettered by some – Fred Roberts retains the British record for goals in a season and Jimmy Jones’ overall career goalscoring tally outstrips Bambrick’s – it should be noted that neither of these players’ goal averages can compare to Bambrck’s and certainly neither transferred their skills to the international stage with such ease.
Bambrick matched his six-goal tally in an international match just once during his Irish League career, claiming a double hattrick for Glentoran in a 6-2 win over Larne on 25th September 1926. Further he claimed five for Linfield on five occasions and four for Glentoran once and Linfield nine times. Among many other cup matches in which Bambrick claimed four goal hauls was the 1930 5-1 Irish Cup final defeat of Bangor, equalling Bob Hill’s 1892 feat in Linfield’s 7-0 final win over Black Watch and since matched by Billy McAvoy for Ards in a 4-2 replay win over Distillery in 1969. Among his numerous hat-tricks were all Linfield’s goals in the 3-2 1928 Gold Cup final defeat of Belfast Celtic and a treble in a 7-1 Co. Antrim Shield final victory over Larne in 1934.
His Ireland international career began with a goal in a 2-1 defeat to England at Goodison Park in October 1928 and besides his double hat-trick against Wales he scored a further 6 goals in his other 10 caps between then and March 1938 when he scored the only goal in a victory over Wales at Windsor Park, Belfast. He also won a single Ireland Amateur international cap playing in a 3-0 defeat to England at Cliftonville Gardens in November 1926, and he represented The Irish League on 12 occasions between September 1927 and October 1932, scoring 9 times including 4 goals in a 6-1 thrashing of The League of Ireland in Dublin in March 1930 a month after his international double hat-trick feat.
He joined First Division Chelsea in December 1934 for £3,000, where he made his Football League debut against Aston Villa on Christmas Day. He claimed four goals in a 7-1 win over Leeds United in March 1935 and again in a 4-2 win over Manchester City a month later. In the FA Cup he scored a hattrick in a 3-1 third round replay win against Norwich City in January 1936. Bambrick continued to find the net regularly scoring 37 goals in 66 games over four seasons at the highest level although he was a fringe player after 1935-36. He later joined Walsall in March 1938, scoring 20 goals in 41 games for The Saddlers during 1938-39, including scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 FA Cup first round victory over Carlisle United in November 1938.
In May 1939 Bambrick returned to Linfield to guest in the end-of-season Charity Cup competition. He left Walsall for good on the outbreak of the Second World War and joined Linfield as coach, however, Walsall retained his registration and they did not permit him to play for the Blues in war-time competitions. He did eventually take the field during the 1942-43 Co. Antrim Shield in which he scored his final goal.