Month: June 2015

Great England Goals – David Platt v Belgium (Italia ’90)

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Turning the clock back exactly 25 years in the latest of our recollections of Italia ’90, we recall one of the most joyful moments for any England fan – David Platt’s dramatic and perfectly executed last minute winner against Belgium.

June 26, 1990 was a tense and long night in Bologna. The Belgians, with the dynamic Enzo Scifo pulling the strings, had been unfortunate not to forge ahead as both Jan Ceulemans and Scifo – with a stunning effort – were denied by the woodwork. But the luck was not totally on England’s side, as John Barnes had been flagged offside when he put the ball in the net during the first half despite TV footage suggesting it should have stood.

England captain Bryan Robson had flown home injured, with Steve McMahon having stepped into the combative midfield role. But after 71 minutes McMahon was taken off, with David Platt brought on. The fresh legs offered by Platt and fellow substitute Steve Bull proved welcome as the match meandered into extra-time. That had brought no change to the score, as the clock passed the 118 minute mark. Then Paul Gascoigne used up one last surge of energy to go on a run into the Belgian half and earn a free-kick after being fouled.


As Gascoigne lined up to take it, Bobby Robson hollered at him to get it into the box rather than trying to do anything fancy. He lofted it into a crowded penalty area and it reached Platt, who had just remained onside. He brilliantly swiveled to volley the ball past Michel Preud’homme. Platt had managed to correctly follow the flight of the ball and time his connection just perfectly. It was a goal of quality and equally one of real joy for England.

“And England have done it in the last minute of extra-time,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson – words that were fairly obvious but fitted perfectly. His ITV counterpart Brian Moore was hailing the “fantastic finale”, as England spared themselves the agony of a penalty-shoot-out. It certainly wasn’t a bad time for Platt to net his first England goal.

Suddenly, there were scenes of sheer joy. Platt sank to his knees and was being mobbed by most of his team-mates, with Gary Lineker looking particularly delirious. Bobby Robson danced a little jig on the touchline, knowing he had at the very least matched his achievement of four years earlier of leading England into the last eight of the World Cup. After the final whistle sounded a minute or so later, the party was in full swing and there was the memorable sight of Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle dancing (mimicked in plenty of school playgrounds the following day) as “let’s all have a disco” rang out. Sadly for Platt, he was whisked away from the party and taken for a drugs test as he endured the customary long wait to be able to give a sample.

“Don’t get me wrong, the goal wasn’t a fluke. I had an eye for getting on the end of that sort of ball and the technical ability to finish those chances off. I worked hard on practising overhead kicks and volleys in training at Aston Villa but, even so, if I had re-enacted that chance against Belgium 10 times in training the next day there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have scored once from it. It was just one of life’s rare, perfect moments.” David Platt in an excellent interview with The Guardian in 2010.

Platt’s rise to prominence was particularly impressive. In 1986 he had found himself surplus to requirements at Manchester United and dropped into the Fourth Division with Crewe Alexandra, where he thrived before moving to Aston Villa two years later. His form with Villa early in the 1989-90 season brought a first England cap against Italy in November 1989 and he never looked back. Although he had gone into Italia ’90 on the fringes, the goal against Belgium thrust the 24-year-old into the spotlight. He started the next game against Cameroon and opened the scoring, before netting in the penalty-shoot-out against West Germany and then heading home in the third place play-off against Italy. He could return home as one of England’s leading success stories. The tournament had made the Italian public aware of Platt and he would spend several years playing there from 1991 with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. Platt continued to be a regular for his country until 1996, proving a natural successor to Bryan Robson as a goal scoring midfielder and often being England’s main marksman during the early 1990s.

But had Platt not scored against Belgium, then who knows how things would have panned out? Had they lost on penalties then one suspects Italia ’90 would not be as fondly remembered in England as it is. Bobby Robson would not have bowed out a hero and Paul Gascoigne would almost certainly not have been voted Sports Personality of the Year. There would have been no dramatic win over Cameroon and no tears from Gazza against West Germany. Platt’s goal was the moment that World Cup sprung to life for England, not unlike Bobby Charlton’s goal against Mexico in 1966 or Gascoigne’s against Scotland in Euro ’96. It was a special moment for both the player and the country.

Critics may argue England may have been a bit lucky to win on the balance of play. But Robson’s men had also made their own luck and Platt’s goal was anything but lucky.

TV Memories of Italia ’90 (Part One)

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There’s currently a fair bit of nostalgia around for Italia ’90 as the tournament took place this time 25 years ago. Our next few blog posts will focus upon that competition and we begin by recalling what it was like to watch ‘on the box’ in the UK, focusing mainly today on the early stages of the competition.

“You’ll be humming it soon”

Mention Italia ’90 to anyone who watched it in the UK and there’s a fair chance Nessun Dorma will soon crop up in nostalgic discussion. The BBC made a fairly bold choice to start each broadcast with Luciano Pavarotti’s operatic recording – there was a risk the stereotypical football fan would loathe it, while the opera buff could resent seeing it used for a sport which had developed a poor image in recent times – but it couldn’t have worked out better all-round. Pavarotti developed a new-found success, the BBC’s coverage was lauded thanks to the tune and there was now a greater and wider appreciation for opera thanks to millions hearing it every day. Given the simultaneous success of World in Motion, football and music have rarely seen so intrinsically linked as they were in the summer of 1990.

  
Presenter Des Lynam certainly could see the potential in Nessun Dorma. “You’ll be humming it soon – you’ll know the words to it by July 8,” he said as the first BBC broadcast began on June 8. And he was right. The situation was parodied in an early episode of the Channel 4 comedy Drop the Dead Donkey a few weeks later, where the equivalent of a swearbox was installed in the newsroom for anyone humming it. You couldn’t go far without hearing Nessun Dorma that summer and Pavarotti would soon be presented with a platinum disc by the BBC’s Bobby Charlton as sales rocketed.

Pavarotti could forever be grateful for what the BBC had done to further enhance his career and popularity. Reaching number two in the British singles chart in 1990 probably wasn’t something he anticipated when he recorded Nessun Dorma 18 years earlier anyway! In a tournament that was defined more by memorable images than classic matches, the song fitted perfectly over any montage of Italia 90’s standout moments.

But the song’s association with the competition could easily have never happened had BBC’s senior sports editor Brian Barwick not stuck to his guns. In his book Are You Watching the Match Tonight? Barwick recalled being called by a bigwig from the record label a couple of days before the tournament began, informing him they were having second thoughts about the song’s use. Barwick made clear they would not be backing down and stressed they would soon see the success of the song being heard day after day. How right he was.

A summer with Des

By 1990, Lynam was peaking as a broadcaster and he was in his element hosting the BBC’s coverage from the London studio. He had fronted the BBC’s coverage of Mexico ’86 and Euro ’88 and his reputation in football circles had grown further by presenting Match of the Day from 1988-89 onwards. His mixture of charm and confidence and a laid-back manner proved a winning formula with both male and female viewers and he was helping bring the best out of his pundits. They included Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables, who were starting to develop their routine as the proverbial old married couple who would constantly argue. One thing they did reach agreement on was they believed John Barnes had correctly been flagged offside when he scored for England against Belgium, with Lynam taking great delight in presenting television evidence which he believed showed they were wrong.

  
Des Lynam at home in the BBC studio, joined by sparring partners Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables and the injured England skipper Bryan Robson.

Others to grace the BBC studio included Kenny Dalglish and Ray Wilkins (plus Bryan Robson after flying home injured after the group stage), while Bob Wilson was the patient understudy to Lynam and mainly hosted highlights shows. He would even end up appearing as a pundit on occasions. This would become a decade in which Wilson would have further cause to curse Lynam, who seemed right at the heart of Italia ’90 despite being based in London. But even for Des there was no guarantee that every broadcast would run smoothly, as we will see in the next blog post on this subject…

Two heads aren’t better than one

Apart from Lynam venturing to the stadium for the BBC’s live coverage of England against the Dutch, the BBC presented its coverage of the group stage and second round from London. But ITV seemed caught between wanting to be there and the comfort of presenting from back home and they came up with an awkward mix. Nick Owen was in the London studio and Elton Welsby was in the stadium, without an on-site studio to protect him from the noise around him. Often Welsby seemed to be quite frantically pressing his finger against his earpiece to catch whatever was being said from London.

   

 

The two-man ITV presenting team of Nick Owen (top) and Elton Welsby.

Both men would suffer by comparison with Lynam and struggle to match his on-screen authority, although the pair got off lightly compared to Matt Lorenzo four years later. In keeping with the rather ‘Marmite’ nature of the 1990 World Cup, ITV’s theme tune and opening titles divided opinion. Some loved it, others felt what they saw and heard had no right to compete with the BBC’s Nessun Dorma. Again, what the Beeb did was ITV’s main undoing. Although not without faults, this wasn’t so much a tournament when ITV’s coverage was hideously bad but more one when it was never going to come close to matching a rampant BBC.

Brian Moore was finally commentating on a full World Cup tournament, bravely carrying on describing West Germany’s 5-1 win over the United Arab Emirates amid fears he and co-commentator Trevor Francis could be electrocuted as a thunderstorm took hold in the San Siro. But Moore’s presence was missed a bit in the studio. Indeed, ITV’s coverage was perhaps most defined by who wasn’t there rather than who was. The ever-opinionated Brian Clough was the most notable absentee from the punditry team, while Martin Tyler – who had commentated on every England match at the last two World Cups – had been lured away to satellite television where he remains today. 

  
Jimmy Greaves spells it out.

ITV had brought in Emlyn Hughes and Rodney Marsh as opinionated pundits and England manager-in-waiting Graham Taylor played a fairly prominent role. But right in the middle of the coverage sat Jimmy Greaves, who in each broadcast would wear T-shirts containing ‘witty’ slogans such as ‘Better Leighton Never’. In this episode of Saint & Greavsie he even changed shirts at half-time as if to press home the value of the plays on words. Whoever’s decision it was, the fashion statement for Greaves that summer did little for the credibility of ITV’s reputation as a serious football broadcaster (but this blogger remains a big fan of Greavsie’s – get well soon). Not that it was all jokes and laughs for Greaves that summer, becoming quite outspoken on the punishment dished out to Swindon Town over irregularities.

  
Other distinctive elements of ITV’s coverage included phone polls and the coverage being “in association with National Power”, with this advert seen over and over again. Although the tournament felt less commercialised than today, there were certainly hints it was going that way with a major tournament sponsor even given some publicity in this interview with Bobby Robson as he enjoyed a can of Coca-Cola.

Missing the match

Television was becoming increasingly powerful in football by 1990, but it wasn’t quite the great god it now is. During the World Cup group stage, there were 11 instances of two matches being played at the same time. In the pre-red button era, this meant the other match could not be seen live (unless you were in a minority with access to Eurosport for some of those matches). The problem in Britain came to a head on June 16, when England and Scotland played matches at the same time; then due to being in the same group England and Ireland played matches simultaneously five days later (that would still be the case today, but in such circumstances now the other match can be accessed far more easily). I never understood why on certain occasions like that agreement could not be reached for the BBC to show one match and ITV the other, particularly as seven of the last nine matches in the knock-out rounds ended up being screened live by both of them so the channels were not afraid to go up against each other.

There were also some instances of football not totally dominating the schedules, with hosts Italy’s primetime group stage match with the USA not shown live by either the BBC or ITV despite it not clashing with any other match. The same would happen a few days later when there were two matches in Group E played at the same time but not screened live, while the BBC only joined live coverage of West Germany against Colombia at half-time. That was the only time any of Colombia’s group games were live on terrestrial television in the UK, while the talented Yugoslavia were not afforded any live coverage on the BBC and ITV during their opening three matches. Hard to imagine today.

More to follow on this subject soon, as well as other memories of Italia ’90…

One Cap Wonders – Steve Perryman

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Although regarded as a household name in English football at the time, Steve Perryman was 30 when he earned his one and only England cap during this month in 1982. Sadly for him, few would remember his solitary England outing for 20 minutes in Iceland.

Perryman was a true stalwart at Tottenham Hotspur, making a club record 866 first-team appearances between 1969 and 1986. His years at White Hart Lane included lifting the FA Cup for Spurs in 1981 and again 12 months later, part of a climax to the 1981-82 season that brought a hat-trick of personal successes. Perryman was also named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and he finally earned his chance to represent England at senior level.

To B or not to B…

The Spurs stalwart had previously been a regular at under-23s level but was uncapped by the seniors when he was named on Ron Greenwood’s 40-man shortlist for the 1982 World Cup squad, with slim hopes of realistically making it. But he was named in the England party for a friendly in Iceland on June 2, two days before the final 22-man squad for the finals in Spain was confirmed. The trip to Reykjavik was a bit of a strange one, as it was effectively an England ‘B’ team picked. Greenwood was making noises to the contrary and pushing for full caps to be awarded, but it was hard to ignore that the team he would be fielding in Finland the following day looked extremely like the one he would want to start the World Cup finals with (it effectively was, although injuries to Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan meant the manager had to reshuffle his pack a bit).

With Greenwood in Helsinki, Bobby Robson and Dave Sexton looked after a makeshift side in which Glenn Hoddle was the standout figure. His Spurs colleague Perryman was on the bench and with 20 minutes left he entered the fray when he replaced Alan Devonshire. Fellow debutant Paul Goddard scored for England in a 1-1 draw in cold conditions, in a match that went untelvised in the UK and received minimal publicity.

  
It perhaps came as little surprise that Perryman was not named in the World Cup squad and neither were some other players to feature including Dave Watson, whose long-service to his country ended rather anti-climatically in Reykjavik. But some consolation for Perryman came with the confirmation full caps were being awarded for the Iceland fixture. 

Iceland Revisited

Perryman never featured again after Robson replaced Greenwood after the World Cup, but three years later the Iceland match would rather controversially be revisited when the player published his autobiography. In his own World Cup Diary published the following year, Robson recalled what he saw serialised in the Sunday People. “I’ve played only once for an England team under Bobby Robson and I was horrified by what I saw and heard,” said Perryman. “Everything about it was so amateurish I could not believe that was how England did things.”

Robson retorted: “Ron Greenwood picked the squad and the team and I just met them at the airport on the way out to Iceland. One of my instructions from Ron was to bring Perryman on for a cap in the second half because he had been such a good honest professional for many years without being quite talented enough to make the international grade. Perryman’s response was to say that playing for England was a laugh and, on the strength of those few minutes in Iceland for a ‘B’ team, he had learned enough to state ‘it seems to me that since Sir Alf Ramsey was in charge there has been a lack of organisation and direction’.”

It was an unfortunate difference of opinion, coming at a time when Robson was feeling pretty sensitive to media criticism amid a tabloid circulation war. But perhaps the one nice touch from it all is that – if Robson’s account is accurate – Greenwood appears to have genuinely wanted Perryman to have an England cap to his name, so he would not remain one of the ‘great uncapped’ like players such as Billy Bonds, Howard Kendall and, later, Steve Bruce. 

But Perryman clearly believed he warranted more caps on merit and saw Robson as a barrier to his remaining international ambitions. On his official website, Perryman states: “The time when I felt I should really have got my foot in the door was after the 1982 World Cup. But for a couple of little reasons, rather than anything major, I ended up being the only person who didn’t see eye-to-eye with Bobby Robson and it just didn’t happen.”

Perryman later went into management himself, making an impression with a good run to the FA Cup quarter-finals with Brentford before a spell at Watford and success in Japan. He has gone on to enjoy a long stint as director of football with Exeter City, where mercifully he survived after requiring heart surgery 30 years on from his solitary England cap. An appearance for his country was certainly merited by a man who has served football in different capacities for almost five decades and is fondly remembered by Spurs fans – most of whom will believe he deserved more than 20 minutes in the world of senior international football.

England Under-21s – The Glory Years

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With England Under-21s about to play in the 2015 European Championship, we recall the period when they enjoyed dominance in the competition. In 1982 England became European champions and two years later they did it again, helping propel players such as Mark Hateley towards the full international ranks.

In the mid-1970s, under-21s football replaced the traditional under-23s as the main feeder into the senior international set-up. The newly-created UEFA Under-21 Championship saw England immediately emerge as a front-runner and in the first tournament in 1978 they lost at the semi-final stage to Yugoslavia. Two years later Bryan Robson scored in the quarter-final win over Scotland before they again fell at the semi-final hurdle, this time to East Germany. Six months on from that disappointment, the latest crop of under-21 players began their quest for glory in October 1980.


Clive Allen gives chase during England’s horrendous start to the 1980-82 Under-21 championship away to Romania.

Rumbled in Romania

There was certainly little indication of what lay ahead when England began their qualifying tournament for the 1980-82 competition. The process would mirror the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign for England’s first-team in terms of opponents and scheduling, although Norway were not in the under-21 competition. When England kicked-off the qualifiers in October 1980, they were given a rude awakening with a 4-0 thrashing in Romania. It could have been even worse, with the home side missing a penalty and hitting the woodwork. it was the start of a bad 24 hours for England, as their seniors lost to Romania the following day in a World Cup qualifier. Both present and future prospects looked bleak for Ron Greenwood.

Under-21s boss Dave Sexton rang the changes for the next match against Switzerland and England triumphed 5-0 at Portman Road as further good results followed. Like the seniors England went into their final qualifying match needing a draw at home to Hungary to progress. Goals from Garry Thompson and Justin Fashanu gave them a 2-0 win at the City Ground in Nottingham. The two goalscorers embodied the emerging presence of black players in the England ranks, with a good number featuring prominently in the under-21s teams of the early 1980s.

There was no tournament as we know it today for the finalists and the last three rounds would be played over two legs. Goals from Paul Goddard and David Hodgson helped England win 2-1 in Poland, with Mark Hateley’s double in the return match at West Ham’s Upton Park sending England through 4-3 on aggregate. Goalkeeper Iain Hesford proved a hero with a penalty save in the closing minutes. This set up an intriguing semi-final against Scotland, with the first leg at Hampden Park attracting more than 16,000 fans. Thompson’s goal gave England the advantage, although the tie was marred by the red cards shown to Hateley and Ray Stewart of Scotland following a scuffle near the end. Despite being without Hateley’s aerial prowess, England advanced to the final after Adrian Heath scored in a 1-1 draw in the return at Maine Road.


The managerial duo of Dave Sexton and Terry Venables with the Under-21s trophy won in 1982, flanked by FA bigwigs Ted Croker and Bert Millichip.

The final was held over until the opening weeks of the 1982-83 season, pairing England against West Germany. At Bramall Lane England turned in an impressive display to win 3-1, with Gary Owen (2) and Fashanu finding the net. In the second leg the following month, West Germany showed how seriously they were taking the competition as established first-team member Pierre Littbarski played for their under-21s and then featured for the seniors in a friendly at Wembley the following night. He scored a hat-trick in Bremen past Hesford, but Mike Duxbury and Goddard were on target for England as they sealed a 5-4 aggregate success and could savour trophy glory.


Joy for Sammy Lee as England win the 1982 title – he would soon have further cause to smile as he joined the senior squad.

It meant new England manager Bobby Robson had seen an English team win silverware just weeks into the job, but the credit lay with the managerial duo of Sexton and Terry Venables who had led the team to a success few would have anticipated during that hammering in Romania two years earlier. A high number of players had featured along the way, including the likes of Clive Allen, Gordon Cowans, Terry Fenwick, Sammy Lee, Danny Thomas and Chris Woods who would all go on to play for the seniors. “This is the proudest I have ever been,” purred Sexton after the triumph.

Lee came in for particular praise in the media and he would play and score for the senior side the next month in Greece in a European Championship qualifier. But for Hesford of Blackpool in Division Four, he feared there would be no more international stardom. “I know my international career is as good as dead if I don’t get out of the Fourth,” he said in the wake of the final. Sadly, his only involvement in a match featuring the England seniors would be playing against them for a Hong Kong Golden Select XI in the build-up to Euro ’96.

Repeating the Glory

A quirk of the under-21 competition was on the day the first-leg of the 1982 final was taking place, the qualifying series for 1984 was getting under way. With Sexton leading the 1982 finalists, Howard Wilkinson looked after the team in Denmark and Gary Mabbutt scored twice in a 4-1 win. Although a surprise defeat followed in Greece, England went on to qualify with five wins out of six and a new crop of talent having emerged. The Luton Town forward pair of Brian Stein and Paul Walsh were linking up well and the final seven goals England scored in the qualifying campaign all came from the duo. Robson would select them together for England’s seniors when they met France in a friendly in February 1984.

Their presence in that match meant they could not play for the under-21s in the first-leg of the quarter-finals against the French at Hillsborough. But England coped perfectly well without them, as Hateley scored four in a 6-1 win. His penalty brought victory in the second-leg, as England went into an appealing semi-final with Italy. In his World Cup Diary book covering 1982 to 1986, Bobby Robson – who calculated England used 42 players en route to triumphing in 1982 and 39 for their 1984 campaign – recalled that Newcastle United manager Arthur Cox refused to allow the exciting attacking pair of Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle to play against the Italians as their club chased promotion from Division Two. Instead Ipswich Town’s Mich d’Avray took his place in the side and he scored in the first-leg at Maine Road in a 3-1 win. The return in Florence was always going to be tough, with future Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini reducing the deficit. But England held firm to progress with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The final brought England up against Spain, who were making up for a disappointing 1982 World Cup on home soil with an exciting crop of new blood coming through. The first-leg in Seville was attended by 35,000, with Mel Sterland being England’s hero as he scored the only goal. There was a frenzied atmosphere and newspapers reported England goalkeeper Peter Hucker was struck by a bottle thrown from the crowd, but he kept his composure along with his team-mates to seal a memorable win in front of the watching Robson. Sexton said: “Tonight was a superb effort all round. We fully deserved it.”

In his autobiography written in 2010, midfielder Steve Hodge looked back at the experience:

“The European Championship final was not as big a thing then as it is now, but it was still a huge event for us and we were up against a quality side in Spain – they had some big names like Michel, Zubizaretta and Butragueno.”

Delight for five members of England’s class of ’84 (from left): Steve Hodge, Paul Bracewell, Dave Watson, Mark Hateley and Nigel Callaghan.

For Sexton, who lost his job at Manchester United and then at Coventry City in the early 1980s, his success with the under-21 side proved a welcome tonic. He may have been merely a ‘nearly man’ when league title pushes ended in disappointment at QPR and United, but with England he was proving himself as a winner. He would remain in the role throughout the Robson era.

A week later Bramall Lane hosted the return game, with Hateley and Howard Gayle finding the net within a minute of each other early in the second half to seal a 3-0 aggregate victory. For Hateley it was the start of an incredible summer that began with him playing for Second Division Portsmouth and ended with him signing for Italian giants AC Milan. In between he broke into the England senior squad and scored in a famous 2-0 win over Brazil. Along with other under-21s players such as Gary Bailey, Steve Hodge and Gary Stevens, he would take his place in the 1986 World Cup squad in Mexico.


Mark Hateley helps seal the 1984 title for England, celebrating his goal in the second-leg of the final with Steve Hodge.

So Nearly a Hat-Trick

By the time of the 1986 World Cup, England had come perilously close to a hat-trick of under-21 titles. In 1986 they reached the semi-finals, coming up against Italy. Emerging stars Roberto Donadoni and Gianluca Vialli (pen) scored for a strong Italian side during the first-leg in Pisa to leave English hopes hanging by a thread. The return game was held at a muddy Swindon, with England given cause to believe as Stewart Robson scored. But Vialli equalised to kill the tie and end England’s hopes of three successive titles. And with another semi-final loss to an Eric Cantona-inspired France in 1988, the rot was setting in with England’s youngsters having now experienced their own 30 years of hurt (and counting) in their bid to regain the European crown. They came close to being champions in 2007 when they lost a mammoth penalty shoot-out in the semi-final to the hosts Netherlands and two years later they reached the final, when they were crushed by an impressive German side. In the Czech Republic can Gareth Southgate at last lead the under-21s to European glory and revive the glory days of the early 1980s?

England on Tour – Australia 1983

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This month in 1983, England made the long trip to Australia to play a series of friendly matches. Coming a year after the World Cup finals and at the end of a long domestic season, entertainment was at a premium. It proved a struggle for Bobby Robson’s men in a tour perhaps most notable for how unrecognisable the England team was.

A few months after England’s cricketers had returned home from Down Under minus the Ashes, it was now the turn of the nation’s footballers to head for Australia at a time when the Cricket World Cup was dominating the back pages. England were in good spirits after starting the month with a 2-0 win over Scotland at Wembley. But as on the Three Lions’ last visit for a single match in 1980, Australian soccer fans were to miss out on seeing many of the top English players in the flesh. The touring commitments of some club sides took precedence and notable absentees included captain Bryan Robson and his Manchester United colleague Ray Wilkins, Tottenham Hotspur’s Glenn Hoddle and Arsenal’s Kenny Sansom, while Liverpool’s Phil Neal and Sammy Lee joined the tour late. Watford duo John Barnes and Luther Blissett loyally flew in straight from their club’s trip to China to help boost the squad. 

With the side in transition and seasoned players such as Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan and Mick Mills having seen time called on their international careers in the past year, Bobby Robson was left with one of the least experienced England squads in history for the three match tour. The matches would bring first caps for Mark Barham, John Gregory, Nick Pickering, Nigel Spink, Danny Thomas, Paul Walsh and Steve Williams, while Barnes and Derek Statham went on the tour with just one previous appearance to their names.

  
An inexperienced line-up from England’s trip to Australia.

It would be nice to think that the Magnificent Seven earning their first caps would go on to enjoy long international careers, but none did. Barham, Pickering, Spink and Thomas never appeared again, while Gregory, Walsh and Williams collected just nine more caps between them. Statham would also never feature again as he failed to dislodge Sansom from the left back slot, leaving just Barnes as the one success from the new crop. British television coverage of the tour was limited, consisting of reports rather than detailed highlights or live coverage.

In his World Cup Diary book covering 1982 to 1986, Robson reflected rather ruefully on the tour. Maintaining he inherited the situation, he said the original plan had been for the first team to go to South America with the ‘B’ side heading to Australia. But the dearth of players to pick from meant England were left to just send their best available side to Australia and to leave the South American venture for a year. “I had to make all the right noises about looking at fringe players and all the rest of it,” Robson wrote. “But in truth neither I, nor England, gained anything from this long, tiring trip where we were always on a hiding to nothing against a team desperate to prove themselves worthy of full status.”

Robson appears to have not approved of the approach of Australia’s manager Frank Arok, who he felt was “looking for a place in history by beating us and Australia went into the three games as though they were life-and-death World Cup finals” while adopting a defensive strategy that he believed removed the potential entertainment for spectators. Arok’s strategy was though understandable. Although Australia had appeared at the 1974 World Cup, they had been overshadowed by New Zealand’s presence at the previous year’s finals in Spain. Claiming the scalp of the Poms – or at the very least running them close – would enhance the Socceroos’ reputation, irrespective of how under-strength England were.

it probably wasn’t too beneficial to meet the same side three times in eight days. What might have worked better would have been for England to play a match against New Zealand as part of the trip, or for another side to have toured at the same time and met both Arok and Robson’s men while there.

   

Bobby Robson on a tour that would not stand out as a highlight of his eight-year reign with England.

The England line-up for the opening match of the tour at Sydney Cricket Ground looks like a Fantasy Football team where most of the money was blown on a couple of players. Goalkeeper Peter Shilton was winning his 51st cap, while forward Trevor Francis was making his 38th appearance for his country. Apart from them, only defender Terry Butcher had reached double figures and four of the starting line-up were newcomers. It proved a frustrating match for England as they drew 0-0 and struggled to break down the Australian five-man defence. Robson’s side had a penalty appeal turned down when Terry Butcher appeared to be manhandled in the box, but it had been a sobering experience and boos were heard from the crowd at the end. 

Before the match Robson had described the middle of the pitch as being “like a dried up river bed” but afterwards he was reflecting on the limited entertainment provided. “I’m sorry the match turned out to be no advertisement for soccer,” he told the media. “It was a disappointing spectacle with both teams to blame, and probably us a little more as we were favourites.” Arok seemed to have little concern about thrilling the crowd, declaring his side were “fantastic” and then claiming: “Entertainment was the duty of England, not us.” 

Did it cross the line?

  

Seventeen years on from the 1966 World Cup Final, the English football public were given the chance to again ask that question of “did it cross the line?” over a goal they scored. Admittedly a friendly match in Brisbane against Australia was not something most people were getting worked up about, but Martin Tyler in his report for ITV was certainly keen to build-up the incident. Walsh scored the winner in the second half, but the debate concerned whether the ball had gone out of play before Gregory pulled it back for the Luton Town forward to net his only international goal. At least England had chalked up a win on the tour and played better, In a match that saw Neal appear at right-back after joining the party.

The final match of the tour saw Pickering and substitute Spink win their only England caps, on another day to forget for Robson’s side in Melbourne. Although Trevor Francis put them ahead during the first-half, an unchallenged Neal put through his own net shortly afterwards. There was to be some drama in the second half, as England were awarded a penalty which Francis converted. But a retake was ordered after the referee said he had not signalled for Francis to take the kick and this time the forward fired over the ball, as Australia held out for a second draw against England in three matches to Arok’s delight.

England returned home with three months to prepare before their next match – what looked like being a winner-takes-all Euro ’84 qualifier against Denmark. Gregory kept his place but it proved a black night for manager Robson, as the Danes claimed a deserved 1-0 win and went on to make the finals as England missed out. As Robson later wrote: “The trip to Australia was of limited value, and on reflection, scant preparation for the European Championships.” Australia would probably directly gain more from the series as two years later they met Scotland in the play-offs to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, but the Scots would end their dream with a 2-0 aggregate success. The Aussies had to wait until 2006 to reach the finals again.

Euro ’80 – Tear Gas and Tedium

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This month 35 years ago the 1980 European Championship finals took place in Italy. But you could be forgiven for having little recollection of it or for growing up since then knowing barely anything about it. In one of our more general blogs (but from an English perspective), we look back at the various factors that served to make this finals one of the least successful of all-time…

Bad Formatting 

Euro ’80 (or Europa ’80 as it was generally known at the time) was the first time the European Championship finals resembled a proper tournament, with the eight remaining sides split into two groups of four. On paper this should have been good news, allowing fans to enjoy a feast of football and Panini issued a sticker collection for the tournament. But the decision to have the group winners progressing to the final rather than the top two teams playing in the semi-finals backfired, as sides found themselves out of the running early. And it seemed to greatly impede the quality of football, with negative tactics frequently seen.

Because of the format England and Spain played their final group game knowing the best they could hope for was to make the third place play-off, a fairly limited incentive. For the only time the last round of group matches in the European Championship were not played simultaneously, which meant the match between West Germany and Greece was a dead rubber (it would not have been if held at the same time as Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands). With just 11 days separating the opening game and final, this was a case of a major tournament looking too rushed through rather than the more usual complaint of feeling too long and bloated.

The European Championship was not alone in trying out the format for the group winner to go through to the final in this period, with the second group stages of the 1974 and 1978 World Cup also seeing this process in place. But that was for sides who had already played three matches in the tournament, whereas this one saw teams facing potential elimination effectively from the word go. It is probably no coincidence that the 1976 final stages in Yugoslavia (consisting of just the semi-finals, third place play-off and final) were far more captivating, as would the Euro ’84 finals be after the semi-finals were reintroduced.

Lack of Classic Matches

 

Plenty of space in the stadium for one of the competition’s few good games – West Germany against the Netherlands.

Not helped by the competition format, entertainment was limited and goals were at a premium for much of the defensive-minded finals. England’s group was particularly low scoring and tight, with no side winning more than one game and hosts Italy’s record consisting of one goal for and none against! Things proved slightly better in the other group where West Germany beat the Netherlands 3-2 in the standout tie. But despite the high-scoring nature of the match it would not – in the UK at least – in later years feature much when revisiting classic meetings of the rival sides. It was a tournament largely bereft of flair sides and for the Dutch – who could quite feasibly have won all three previous major tournaments from 1974 to 1978 but ended up trophy-less – this competition proved a bridge too far and an anti-climatic end of an era. They wouldn’t grace a major tournament again until Euro ’88.

Horst Hrubesch gives Euro ’80 a more dramatic climax than it probably warranted.

Generally speaking, the matches at Euro ’80 blended into one another with nothing to truly savour like France beating Portugal 3-2 in 1984 or Spain’s incredible 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia in 2000 that left the continent’s football followers on the edge of their seats. It says a lot that probably the most exciting match British TV viewers saw in June 1980 was Scotland’s 5-4 win over England in a schoolboy international at Wembley.

But the Euro ’80 final did help redeem the tournament slightly, as West Germany grabbed a dramatic late winner through Horst Hrubesch to defeat a spirited Belgium 2-1 and win their third major title in less than a decade. West Germany’s success had been merited with a new crop of players having emerged. In a tournament low on romance, Belgium’s success in reaching the final proved the biggest surprise and they could feel proud of their achievements,

Trouble on the Terraces

  

Sadly the lasting image of the 1980 finals is not of amazing football or great goals, but of the violence that broke out on the terraces during England’s opening match against Belgium in Turin. The situation turned ugly enough for the police to use tear gas and the match had to be halted for several minutes before normality was restored, as goalkeeper Ray Clemence found his vision affected by what had been sprayed. BBC co-commentator Bobby Charlton said they were “some of the ugliest scenes” he had ever seen.

The English nation’s reputation was tarnished by such a public show of disorder inside the stadium and set the trend for the ‘English disease’ to grow in the ensuing years. The matter made front page headlines and was far more discussed than the match itself, with the normally mild-mannered England manager Ron Greenwood saying “I wish they could all be put in a boat and dropped in the ocean”.

Count the Crowd

 

A rare sight of busy terraces at the 1980 European Championship as England face hosts Italy.

Italy was selected ahead of nations including England to host the finals, just 12 years after it had previously done so. Such a football-loving nation would have surely been expected to flock to the matches and savour this feast of football. But a distinctive element of this tournament was the strikingly low crowds for most matches, the neutrals not willing to pay up to attend them. The tone was set when the opening match – a repeat of the 1976 final between Czechoslovakia and West Germany – was attended by a mere 11,059 in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The Czechs would then be watched by less than 5,000 when they met first-time qualifiers Greece in the same stadium. Although the attendance for the final of 47,864 was respectable, it still fell some way short of the Stadio Olimpico’s capacity.

England played in front of the biggest crowd of the finals when 59,646 saw them take on Italy in Turin, but their first match in the same stadium against Belgium pulled in only 15,186 and their last game against Spain was attended by just 14,440. Sadly, the stay-always probably had the right idea and TV viewing figures were also reportedly low. The tournament was one big turn-off.

Underwhelming England

Greenwood’s England were in their first tournament finals for a decade, but they had qualified with conviction and could boast a high number of players who had won the European Cup in recent years with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. They were tipped as a potential winner of the competition, but would come up short. A superb chipped goal by Ray Wilkins in their opening match against Belgium proved the one real highlight, as they were held to a draw and then lost 1-0 to the hosts. That meant it was impossible for them to win the competition. Although they beat Spain 2-1 in their final group game, a draw between Italy and Belgium meant England failed to make it into the third place play-off and returned home. Greenwood had seemed keen for as many players as possible to get match time and his often-criticised rotation policy for goalkeepers Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton had again been in operation. We will look back more closely at how they fared in this tournament at some point before next year’s Euro finals.

The competition had not been good for England and not notoriously bad like Euro ’88. It was just underwhelming and forgettable, save for the conduct of the hooligans. It had probably been a bit of a reality check for England and they would soon face a struggle to qualify for the 1982 World Cup. Euro ’80 had clearly served very few positives for the nation and the continent in general.

Some of the criticisms of Euro ’80 could also be levelled at Italia ’90, particularly concerning negative tactics and a lack of goals. And yet a combination of Nessun Dorma, England’s run to the semi-finals and some iconic images mean it is held up by many in England as a tournament to cherish. By the time it took place, few were looking back at what had happened in the same country a decade earlier.