Steve Penney painfully remembers the moment The Vulture swooped to end his World Cup dream.

The Northern Ireland winger was one of only three players to date to play in the World Cup finals while with Albion.

He went to the 1986 finals in Mexico, starting the first two games against Algeria and Spain.

But the big one for Penney and most of the squad was the final group match against Brazil.

Penney, a player good enough to be voted by The Argus readers into Albion’s greatest ever XI, would almost certainly have kept his place to face the Brazilians but his tournament was ended by a tackle from Spain striker Emilio Butragueno, a player known as The Vulture.

Steve Penney plays a prominent early role in the 1-1 draw with Algeria in 1986

It was just one of a number of injury blows which blighted the career of Penney but he is not bitter.

Now 50 and living happily back in Ballymena, Penney can reflect on the fact that he got to play on football’s greatest stage in the last Northern Ireland team to reach the World Cup finals.

He recalled: “We had a good squad of players, many of whom had been in the 1982 squad and I was one of the younger lads.

“I played against Algeria and I was brought down for a free-kick from which Norman Whiteside scored to put us 1-0 up. We should really have won that game but we drew 1-1. Then the second game was a big game against Spain. We lost 2-1 and Spain were the better team.

“There was a little guy called Butragueno who used to play for Real Madrid. Just before half-time he caught me on the edge of the box and I twisted my ankle which meant I had to come off and missed the Brazil match.

“You are not likely to play Brazil too often in your career. If you had to pick one game you wanted to play in it would be the Brazil match but I had to sit and watch. They beat us quite comfortably but it would have been nice to play against players like Zico.”

Penney won 17 caps for Northern Ireland, which makes him the most capped of any player while on Albion’s books.

Like his club career, there were highs and lows, most of the latter concerning injuries.

He rates qualifying for the 1986 finals as a greater highlight than actually playing in the tournament.

Penney said: “We were third seeds in a tough group behind England and Romania. We needed three points out of four against those two teams in our final two games and we got them.

How the Irish got to Mexico '86

“We won in Romania and then drew with England at Wembley. For me, the biggest achievement was qualifying for the World Cup.

“I was playing right-wing at Wembley but I must have spent 90% of the game in front of my right-back. We just played two solid fours. We worked hard and frustrated England.

“I remember Pat Jennings pulling off two or three fantastic saves but if you are going to get a result at Wembley you are going to need your keeper to play well. It was a good, disciplined performance.

“There was talk of the time that the Romanians were worried England would throw the match because a draw suited Northern Ireland and didn’t suit Romania. But professional football doesn’t work like that. These guys were playing for their places at the World Cup so it was a normal, serious, committed game. We just defended very well and had a bit of luck on the evening.”

Penney played 162 games for Albion. Now he spends a lot of his week playing golf while also running an opticians franchise with his wife and cousin but the Seagulls will always be close to his heart.

He said: “Looking back I wouldn’t change much, just with all the injuries I would have loved to have played for a few more years. Things have worked out for the best in the long run but it was tough at the time.

“I follow Brighton’s results all the time. I haven’t been over to see the new stadium yet but it is something I would love to do.”