James (Joe) Bambrick was born in Belfast on 3rd November 1905. A talented centre-foward, he played for Ulster Rangers and Glentoran where he scored 44 goals in 37 appearances. Bambrick signed for Linfield in 1925.
He was an immediate success and scored 81 goals for them during the 1927/28 season. He continued to be a prolific goalscorer and in the 1929-30 season he scored an incredible 94 goals. Bambrick also scored all the goals in a 4-3 Linfield victory over Ballymena United in the 1930 Irish Cup Final. Linfield fans used to chant: "Head, heel or toe, Slip it to Joe".
Bambrick also won eleven international caps for Northern Ireland. He actually scored six goals in one game against Wales at Belfast in February 1930. This is still a world record for an international game. After the game the Welsh goalkeeper said to Bambrick "six kicks of the ball and you get six goals". Bambrick replied: "Wait a minute, Taffy, one of them was a header".
In December 1934 Bambrick joined Chelsea for a fee of £2,500. Bambrick is reported to have been given a signing on fee of £750. According to Tony Matthews (Who's Who of Chelsea): "Strong, hard to knock off the ball, he could shoot with both feet and was also powerful when using his head."
Bambrick scored four goals in the 7-1 victory over Leeds United on 16th March, 1935. During his time at Chelsea he averaged more than a goal every two games.
On 1st February 1936, Sunderland played Chelsea at Roker Park. According to newspaper reports it was a particularly ill-tempered game and Chelsea's Billy Mitchell, the Northern Ireland international wing-half, was sent off. The visiting forwards appeared to be targeting the Sunderland goalkeeper, Jimmy Thorpe, who took a terrible battering during the match.
Sunderland took a 3-1 lead but Chelsea fought back and Joe Bambrick, scored with a shot outside the area. A few minutes later, with Bambrick rushing in at full speed, Jimmy Thorpe misjudged a back-pass and allowed it to run over his arm. Bambrick continued his run and had an easy tap in to make it 3-3. One newspaper reported that "atrocious goalkeeping cost Sunderland a point".
As a result of the battering he had received, Jimmy Thorpe was admitted to the local Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital suffering from broken ribs and a badly bruised head. Thorpe had also suffered a recurrence of a diabetic condition that he had been treated for two years earlier. Thorpe died of diabetes mellitus and heart failure on 9th February, 1936. Thorpe, who was only 22 years old, left a wife and young son.
Joe Bambrick joined Walsall in March 1938. During his time at Chelsea he scored 37 goals in 66 games. He was now 33 years old and only managed five more goals before retiring from professional football on the outbreak of the Second World War. Bambrick rejoined Linfield where he worked as a coach.
Joe Bambrick died in Belfast on 13th October, 1983.
Following our 3 - 3 draw with Chelsea on 1st February, one of the dailies reported that "Atrocious goalkeeping cost Sunderland a point". The goalkeeping referred to was that of James Thorpe; four days later, he died, baring sustained injuries to both his ribs and his face, the latter resulting in a very swollen eye. In a rough game that saw Chelsea's right half Mitchell being given his marching orders, Thorpe had sustained serious injuries that brought his life to an untimely end. At the subsequent inquest it was revealed that Jimmy suffered from diabetes and took insulin regularly He had fallen into a diabetic coma and the official cause of death was given as both diabetes mellitus and heart failure.
Although he had to work hard and long to compete earnestly in League football with Chelsea, he still averaged more than a goal every two games. Strong, hard to knock off the ball, he could shoot with both feet and was also powerful when using his head.