Six of the Worst – England in April

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Having looked back at some of England’s best April days in the last blog post, it’s now time to be gluttons for punishment and recall six matches in the month which weren’t quite so enjoyable for a variety of reasons.

April 15, 1967, Scotland (h) 2-3 European Championship qualifier/Home International Championship

A match that will forever be fondly remembered in Scotland as the day they called themselves world champions, but one better best forgotten south of the border. England were World Cup winners and unbeaten since October 1965, but they were to infamously come unstuck with Jim Baxter inspiring his side to victory. The annual fixture had extra spice as the Home International Championships of 1966-67 and 1967-68 were doubling up as qualifying for the 1968 European Championship. It ended 3-2 to Scotland, in a contest that properly sprung to life in the closing stages with a goal rush. A first-half effort by Denis Law was all that separated the sides until Bobby Lennox struck 12 minutes from time to double Scotland’s advantage.

In a hectic last seven minutes Jack Charlton (who bravely played through the pain barrier virtually all match, with no substitutions possible) and Geoff Hurst scored for England, but in between Jim McCalliog got Scotland’s third as they celebrated one of their most famous wins over the Auld Enemy. But England would have the last laugh by advancing to the last eight of the European finals with a 1-1 draw at Hampden Park the following February.

April 29, 1972, West Germany (h) 1-3 European Championship quarter final, first leg

 

No doubt about this one going on the list, the night England could feel themselves slipping from the elite and entering their years in the international wilderness. If their defeat to West Germany at the same stage of the World Cup two years earlier could be dismissed as a bit of bad fortune, there was no sense of injustice here as they were deservedly beaten 3-1. Bobby Moore uncharacteristically lost possession in the build-up to the opening West German goal by Uli Hoeness and it was to be a sobering Saturday night for Englishmen. Although Sir Alf Ramsey’s side pulled themselves back into it thanks to a Francis Lee goal, they were punished twice more in the closing minutes by the superb Gunter Netzer (pen) and Gerd Muller and left with a mountain to climb after their 3-1 defeat. Sir Alf fully accepted the Germans deserved their first Wembley win, but added: “We didn’t get hold of it until the second half. By then West Germany had all the confidence in the world because of the freedom we let them have in the first half.”

Unsurprisingly there was no turnaround in Berlin two weeks later, as the teams drew 0-0 and West Germany went on to win the competition.

April 3, 1974, Portugal (a) 0-0 Friendly

Nothing particularly awful about this result or England’s display, but the match marked an anti-climatic end to Sir Alf Ramsey’s reign in charge of England. He had avoided being axed immediately after they failed to qualify for the World Cup finals the previous October and set about a rebuilding exercise by fielding one of the least experienced England teams in history (there were six debutants and the third most capped player in the starting line-up was Malcolm Macdonald, who was making only his fifth appearance). This was at least partly due to an FA Cup semi-final replay and First Division matches on the same night depriving him of players such as Kevin Keegan, with that match also taking precedence over England’s trip to Portugal in terms of media coverage – the BBC show Sportsnight showed highlights of Liverpool’s win rather than the late-night match in Lisbon.

Several new caps acquitted themselves well including Trevor Brooking and Dave Watson, but giving them a taste of full international life would be Sir Alf’s last act. The man who led England to 1966 World Cup glory was dismissed little more than two weeks later, as he paid a belated price for not reaching the finals this time. One match with Portgual eight years earlier had been a true highlight of his career, but this one would be remembered only for sad reasons as he said farewell.

April 29, 1981, Romania (h) 0-0 World Cup qualifier
It still remains baffling how England managed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup, enduring several poor results along the way like this one. They were jeered off the field by a frustrated Wembley crowd and it could have been even worse after Ilie Balaci almost deceived Peter Shilton with a long-range header in the goalless draw. The display inevitably attracted criticism, including from Daily Express reporter Steve Curry who wrote: “It looks as if English players travelling to Spain next year will be doing so to spend time on the beaches rather than football fields.”

A few months later everyone thought he would be right after things got even worse with defeats for Ron Greenwood’s men in Switzerland and Norway, but they would make it – somehow!

April 29, 1987, Turkey (a) 0-0 European Championship qualifier
More woe on April 29th! Having won 8-0 on their previous visit to Turkey in 1984, there was expectation for England to enjoy another comfortable win as they took a 100% record in Euro ’88 qualifying to Izmir. But it was to be a frustrating afternoon, as Bobby Robson’s side struggled to make the breakthrough against an improved but limited Turkish side and were held to a 0-0 draw.

To make matters worse, there were problems with the transmission of the match as viewers back home were effectively left watching in black and white in the opening few minutes! “Well you’ve seen the apologies for the quality of the pictures this afternoon and may I apologise for the quality of the football you’ve been witnessing,” quipped BBC presenter Jimmy Hill at half-time. It didn’t get much better after the break, as Clive Allen was unable to carry his prolific club form into the international arena. It proved to be the one blemish for England in an excellent qualifying campaign.

April 28, 1993, Netherlands (h) 2-2 World Cup qualifier

 

This was just minutes away from surely making it into the Six of the Best list, but instead Graham Taylor was left reflecting afterwards on “the biggest disappointment of my career”. Norway’s blistering start to the group had put pressure on both England and the Dutch, meaning their head to head meetings could be decisive in who went to the finals in the USA. Taylor’s side started superbly, with John Barnes scoring a free-kick and David Platt doubling the lead. Although a well executed goal from Dennis Bergkamp pulled the Netherlands back into the match before the break and Paul Gascoigne sustained a facial injury thanks to Jan Wouters’ elbow, it looked like England would hold out for a win until the closing stages. Des Walker was uncharacteristically caught for pace and adjudged to have pulled Marc Overmars back in the area (he had first grabbed his shirt outside the box), with Peter van Vossen scoring from the spot.

“We were lucky – England were the better team,” said a relieved Dutch manager Dick Advocaat after the 2-2 draw. As we all know, Taylor would have more reason to curse the Dutch before the qualifying campaign was over.

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