Month: July 2015

The 1966 World Cup Final – 1985 style

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Thirty years ago, England and West Germany’s 1966 World Cup Final sides did battle again in a special fundraising match at Elland Road. History would repeat itself, sort of… 

The match took place two days before the 19th anniversary of the most famous day in English football history. But it was not arranged as some sort of joyous reunion. The horrific Bradford Fire two months earlier had claimed the lives of 56 fans and left many more injured, with this fixture arranged to support the disaster appeal fund. Given the relatively short notice of the fixture being arranged it was impressive that the famous 1966 England starting XI all took to the field, while West Germany brought seven members of their team with them. Sir Alf Ramsey was unfortunately absent due to other commitments, while England’s substitutes bench contained a mix of veteran players who mostly were not members of the 1966 squad (Jimmy Armfield was one exception). As with 19 years earlier, England wore red shirts and the West Germans were in white.

The Charlton brothers embrace at the end of the match.

The match took place after the equivalent passage of time as if a Euro ’96 semi-final rematch was held now, so to older fans the 1966 glory still probably felt relatively recent. But for a whole generation of England followers they had grown up having missed out on experiencing the glory as it happened, so this was their chance to see these players in the flesh. All had unsurprisingly now called time on their playing days, although Alan Ball had been appearing in the Football League with Bristol Rovers just two years earlier. Ray Wilson faced a struggle even to make it into the field having undergone a series of knee operations, bravely playing for four minutes before leaving the action. Despite having lost sight in one eye since the 1966 glory, Gordon Banks again took his place between the sticks.

1985 was a wet summer for the most part and that was the case on this Sunday afternoon at Elland Road, but a crowd of just under 20,000 turned up in the rain and raised more than £46,000 for the appeal. The general argument is that great players never lose their skill, just their pace. There was much evidence of this in the rematch. It was basically a slower version of past meetings between the sides, although several West German players seemed to be particularly up for it early on and had an extra yard of pace as they went in search of some revenge for 1966. 

Wolfgang Overath – who commentator John Helm said still played football every day – looked particularly impressive and lively, while Lothar Emmerich kept creating from the left flank and 49-year-old Uwe Seeler showed he still had the old magic touch by scoring two excellent first half goals. The West Germans were two goals ahead on three separate occasions in a hectic opening quarter of the game, eventually going in 4-3 up at the break. But England would come back to emerge 6-4 winners, as the crowd went home having enjoyed their afternoon of nostalgia.

As with the more famous meeting of the two sets of players, Geoff Hurst bagged a hat-trick as England came from behind to triumph. But as The Guardian reported, this “appeared to owe less to stage management than to his lingering predatory instincts”. Martin Peters again found the net as history seemed to be repeating itself a fair bit, but Ball made up for not scoring in 1966 by doing so twice this time around – the first being a superb chip. Bobby Charlton – who tried the occasional trademark long-range effort – was surprisingly nominated by his team-mates as the worst player, taking the ‘accolade’ in the spirit it was intended.

As a nice footnote to this story, in December 1986 Bradford City finally returned home to Valley Parade. They marked their homecoming with a match against an England XI in front of a bumper crowd, with City winning 2-1. After such a traumatic couple of years, this was a day for the people of Bradford to enjoy.

For more photos and press cuttings from the 1966 rematch, this Flickr page is well worth a look.

The Great Uncapped – Steve Bruce

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In the first of an occasional series, we look back at players who surprisingly never earned a full England cap. We begin by focusing on probably the most obvious example in recent decades – Steve Bruce.

It would seem inconceivable in the present day that the English captain of Manchester United could go through his entire career without picking up a single full cap for his country. But that was the fate to befall Steve Bruce. He may have lifted several major trophies in the 1990s with United, but not even once was he to pull on an England shirt at the top level. It is open to debate if Bruce was worthy of a high number of England caps – critics will point out his relative lack of pace compared to some contemporaries and he faced competition from players such as Tony Adams, Des Walker and Mark Wright – but few would dispute his career warranted at least one appearance for the national team.

One suspects training with United must have been quite a lonely experience in international weeks for Bruce, as most of his team-mates went off to play for their various nations. Bruce saw his Norwich City central defensive partner Dave Watson called up several times and then the same happened with Gary Pallister while at Old Trafford. Two years after Bruce moved from Norwich to Manchester, Mike Phelan followed him and won an England cap a few months later. It all just seemed to be a cruel world for Bruce where he must have felt a bit like an invisible man at times. Bruce had the misfortune to come from the last era when an English player realistically could play regularly for a leading club for a sustained period of time without ever being called up to the senior England squad.

A rare sight – Steve Bruce in an England shirt. A B cap in 1987 was the summit of his international CV.

Bruce wasn’t Taylor-made

In an interview with The Journal in 2011, Bruce gives an indication of why Graham Taylor may not have chosen to pick him when the Manchester United player really started to come to the fore in the early 1990s. In October 1987, Bruce had been named captain for England B when they played Malta, with Taylor placed in charge of the team by Bobby Robson.

Bruce recalled: “Graham said, ‘you’re captain by the way, but it’s not my choice, it’s Bobby’s. For me you’d never be captain.’ In other words I had been given the biggest accolade I ever had and the manager in charge was telling me I wasn’t good enough, in his eyes, to have that role… it was obvious he didn’t like me and, when he became England manager, I didn’t play again. He didn’t rate me. Some managers don’t like you, but I did find it strange.”

If Bruce’s account is accurate, then things may add up more as to why Taylor didn’t pick him. In a period when Gary Mabbutt was recalled to the fold and other defenders such as Keith Curle were given a chance, Bruce would probably have felt it was a time when he deserved a cap. He had become a key source of goals for Manchester United and was forming a noted central defensive partnership with Pallister, who was part of the England set-up. But perhaps his age didn’t count in his favour, being the wrong side of 30 and without a cap to his name. Given Bruce had played for England Youth while at Gillingham it would be wrong to label him a late developer, but his best years arguably came at an age where players may be ending their international careers rather than starting them.

Taylor might take the blame for not picking Bruce during the period when his form most merited it, but the managers both immediately before and after him are also key to the story. Bruce would reveal Bobby Robson  subsequently apologised to him for not giving him a full cap, with that B team appearance in Malta being as close as he came. The door was certainly open to new centre backs in the period after Euro ’88 as Robson looked to rebuild in that area, but the call never came for Bruce. After making a big-money move to Old Trafford in December 1987 he might also have been in with a shout of a cap in place of the injured Terry Butcher prior to the Euro finals – particularly given his recent appearance for the B team – but the door remained closed.

Turning down a “sympathy cap”

When Terry Venables became England manager in 1994, Bruce was 33 and seemingly any lingering hope had gone of making that England debut. But late in the year – Bruce recalls it being the match against Nigeria in November, which would add up given Steve Howey and Neil Ruddock both made their debuts – the approach finally came. At last Bruce could lay the uncapped curse to rest. But he turned down the offer, refusing to accept what he regarded as a token gesture rather than a genuine offer to make his mark in international football. Evidently, he felt he would not really figure in Venables’ plans beyond this. It was as close as Bruce ever came.

In an interview with the Daily Express in 2014, Bruce said: “He [Venables] rang me and said, ‘I want to give you a cap’. I declined. My best mate, Bryan Robson, was Terry Venables’ assistant and he was desperate for me to get a cap. I turned it down. I was close to 35 and I said, ‘I’m sorry I would rather not have had an international career than just a sympathy cap.”

No luck of the Irish

At a similar stage in his career, Bruce was offered an alternative route into international football when Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton approached him about becoming the latest English-born player to represent them. His parentage meant he would normally have been eligible to do so, but there were two complications. Firstly, although that B cap for England was not an issue as it came in a friendly, by having played for England Youth in a competitive tournament he was effectively ineligible to represent anyone else. Secondly, if he had played for Ireland then he would have been deemed a ‘foreigner’ when Manchester United played in Europe at a time when there were limits on how many non-English players could be picked. In this interview with The Guardian in 2006 he recalls the latter reason as being why he didn’t go ahead with it. And so Bruce remained uncapped at senior level by any nation.


As if to compensate for the fact Steve failed to make it to full international level, there has been a Brucie bonus as his son Alex (above) has won international caps for two countries! He initially opted to play for the Republic of Ireland, before later accepting the chance to appear for Northern Ireland. His father, currently in charge of Hull City, has been touted every so often as a future England manager. Although it looks unlikely for now, if that ever happened it might make up somewhat for missing out on that elusive England cap.

Great England Goals – Bobby Charlton v Mexico (1966)

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On this day in 1966 Bobby Charlton scored arguably the best remembered of his 49 England goals – his long-range screamer against Mexico in the 1966 World Cup.

After all the build-up and preparation, England had endured a frustrating start to the 1966 World Cup when they drew 0-0 with Uruguay in the opening match. Alf Ramsey’s proclamation that England would win the World Cup on home soil was under scrutiny, after they failed to turn in either an impressive performance or result. Five days later there appeared to be more of the same in store at Wembley as Mexico stoutly defended and were stifling England’s attacking ambitions. 

But after 38 minutes came the moment when England made the breakthrough and it came in style. Collecting the ball just inside his own half, Charlton was given space to keep running while controlling the ball with his left foot. He then cut inside slightly onto his right foot and unleashed an unstoppable drive that flew beautifully into the net, as goalkeeper Ignacio Calderon lay dejected on the floor having been well beaten by the shot. It was a goal of beauty and of high value, as England’s World Cup campaign at last took off. It was a moment similar to David Platt’s winner against Belgium in 1990 or Paul Gascoigne’s effort against Scotland in Euro ’96, in that a goal of quality was needed to spark England’s campaign into life.  


Watching Charlton’s goal from the other end, England goalkeeper Gordon Banks said “the ball seemed to climb like a jet plane taking off”. Banks believed “no goalkeeper could have stopped it” and it’s hard to argue against that view, such was the power of the strike. A goal from Roger Hunt sealed a 2-0 win, with England then getting into their stride and emerging as competition victors. Charlton would again be the hero with his double strike against Portugal in the semi-final. As this compilation shows, Charlton could be relied upon to pull something out of the bag for England with plenty of other strikes coming from distance. But no other goal for his country would be as remembered as the one he struck on July 16, 1966.

In his biography of the Charlton brothers (2002), author Leo McKinstry puts into context Bobby’s goal against Mexico pretty well:

Bobby Charlton’s awesome shot was the spark that lit England’s campaign. Up until that moment, Ramsey’s side had looked stodgy, timid, lacking in ideas. A miserable early exit appeared a real possibility. But suddenly, thanks to a stroke of genius, England were on course – and they were never to look back. It was probably the most memorable goal of Bobby’s career, not only for the sheer breathtaking quality of his shot, but also for its context.

What Happened Next? The Boys of Italia ’90

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In the week of the 25th anniversary of THAT match against West Germany during Italia ’90, we look at the subsequent international careers of the players to feature that night (plus a brief rundown on the other members of the squad).


Terry Butcher

Of the 12 players used by England against West Germany, stalwart defender Terry Butcher was the only one who did not win another cap for his country. First capped a decade earlier, Butcher had gone on to make 77 appearances and feature prominently in three World Cup tournaments. The end of Italia ’90 marked a natural conclusion to his international career at the age of 31. Four months later he became player-manager of Coventry City.

Peter Shilton

It came as little surprise when goalkeeper Peter Shilton retired from international football at the end of the tournament after 20 years and a record 125 caps. His final match would be the third place play-off defeat to Italy in Bari three days after the West Germany clash, as he bowed out at the age of 40. That Italy match would also bring the curtain down on Bobby Robson’s memorable eight-year reign in charge of England. 

Reserve goalkeeper Dave Beasant was never capped again, while Steve Bull (two more caps) and Steve McMahon (one more cap) never played for their country after 1990 was out.

Chris Waddle

A regular under Bobby Robson, winger Chris Waddle would not enjoy the same prominence under Graham Taylor. The Marseilles player played in the first two matches of Taylor’s reign but he had to wait a year for his next cap – a Euro ’92 qualifier against Turkey in October 1991 which proved to be the end of his England years with a total of 62 caps.

That Turkey match also marked the end of the long England career of Bryan Robson after 90 caps – just three coming under Taylor. Earlier in 1991 Steve Hodge won his final two England caps as he bowed out with a total of 24 appearances to his name.

Trevor Steven

The only English player to come off the bench in the semi-final against West Germany, for several years Rangers midfielder Trevor Steven seemed to be a permanent fixture in the England squad without cementing a regular starting place. He would have to wait until February 1991 to earn a cap under Graham Taylor and won just seven more in total before his international career ended against France during Euro ’92, with 36 appearances to his name.

Gary Lineker


Gary Lineker’s England career ends in anti-climatic fashion in 1992.

The 1990 World Cup saw Gary Lineker score four times and he had further good news a few weeks later when he was named captain for Graham Taylor’s first match in charge against Hungary (Bryan Robson was injured and previous deputies Terry Butcher and Peter Shilton had retired from international football). Lineker scored the only goal and he would enjoy a good season in 1990-91 as he closed in on Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 England goals. His priceless equaliser away to Poland in November 1991 took England through to the Euro ’92 finals. That tournament would mark an anti-climatic end to Lineker’s international career (he had announced beforehand he would be quitting international football as he prepared to move to Japan), being unable to get the goal he needed to equal Charlton’s record and infamously being substituted in the decisive group defeat by Sweden. Lineker had played 22 times under Taylor, as he finished with a total of 80 caps.

The defeat to Sweden also marked the end of Neil Webb’s England career with 26 caps – just six of them being won under Graham Taylor. Previous regular Gary Stevens won a mere five England caps under Taylor, the last being against Finland shortly before Euro ’92.

Des Walker

One of England’s main success stories at Italia ’90 was Nottingham Forest defender Des Walker, who had broken into the side in the wake of the Euro ’88 debacle and become established in the centre of defence. He moved to Italy with Sampdoria in 1992 and remained a first-choice player under Graham Taylor. But in 1993 he was struck by a chronic loss of form that included him conceding a crucial late penalty equaliser against the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier. His last England match would also be Taylor’s last – away to San Marino in November 1993. He won 34 of his 59 England caps under Taylor.

Tony Dorigo won his 15th and last England cap in October 1993 against the Netherlands – he had played 11 times under Graham Taylor as he struggled to dislodge Stuart Pearce from the left-back spot. Goalkeeper Chris Woods won his last cap against the USA in June 1993 – he had won 27 of his 43 caps while Taylor was in charge as he initially became first-choice following Peter Shilton’s retirement.

Paul Parker

Another player to emerge with credit from Italia ’90 was QPR defender Paul Parker, who replaced previous regular Gary Stevens for the second match against the Dutch and remained in the side thereafter. Despite moving to Manchester United in 1991, Parker featured only sporadically under Graham Taylor – winning just seven caps under him. He started the first England match under Terry Venables against Denmark in March 1994 but was never picked again, finishing with 19 caps to his name.

John Barnes ended his long England career in September 1995 against Colombia – of his 79 caps, 21 were earned following the 1990 World Cup. 

Mark Wright

Derby County defender Mark Wright had forced his way back into the England squad in time for Italia ’90 and he enjoyed an excellent tournament. He stayed in the side as Graham Taylor took over and would deputise as captain against the USSR in 1991, but injury ruled him out of Euro ’92. After playing against Spain in September 1992, Wright – now of Liverpool – was left waiting until the spring of 1996 to get his next international cap under Terry Venables. He played in friendlies against Croatia and Hungary but missed out on being involved in Euro ’96 as he finished his England career with 45 caps and one goal.

Peter Beardsley

Popular Liverpool attacker Peter Beardsley would struggle to fit in under Graham Taylor, despite scoring a speculative effort in the 2-0 win over Poland in a Euro ’92 qualifier in October 1990. After featuring four times in 1990-91, Beardsley was stuck on 49 caps for almost three years until Terry Venables took over in 1994. Beardsley – now back at Newcastle – was recalled at the age of 33 and enjoyed an Indian Summer to his England career, winning 10 more caps. The last came away to China shortly before Euro ’96.

David Platt

Another player to come to the fore for England at Italia ’90, David Platt was to spend the next six years as a regular in the England midfield and often served their main source of goals. He won a further 51 caps and scored 24 more goals (leading to respective totals of 62 and 27). His ability was recognised with a move to Italy in 1991, enjoying spells with Bari, Juventus and Sampsoria.  He was the only England player to score at Euro ’92 and four years later he was part of the side that again suffered heartache against Germany in Euro ’96. But Platt would never win another cap after Glenn Hoddle replaced Terry Venables following the tournament. 

Paul Gascoigne

The tears shed by Paul Gascoigne during the semi-final against West Germany led to ‘Gazzamania’ taking hold across the nation in the months that followed. He would win Sports Personality of the Year for 1990, while in 1992 he completed a big-money move to Lazio after recovering from serious injury. He stayed part of the England set-up for eight years but injuries limited him to just 40 more caps. The only major tournament he would feature in after this was Euro ’96, scoring a never-to-be-forgotten goal against Scotland. With the 1998 World Cup beckoning he was sensationally dropped from the tournament squad from Glenn Hoddle and never picked again – meaning his last cap was against Belgium in Morocco in May 1998. He finished with 57 caps and 10 goals for his country.

Stuart Pearce


Stuart Pearce banishes the memory of his penalty miss during Italia ’90 by scoring against Spain in Euro ’96.

If England took to the field during the 1990s, there was a fair chance Stuart Pearce would be playing at left-back. Despite the blow of missing a penalty in the shoot-out loss to West Germany, Pearce had otherwise enjoyed a decent World Cup and the Nottingham Forest defender would later feature during Euro ’92 and Euro ’96 – the latter seeing him exorcise memories of the 1990 penalty miss by scoring in shoot-outs against Spain and Germany. Pearce appeared to have ended his England career in 1997 with 76 caps, but in September 1999 the 37-year-old played against Luxembourg and Poland shortly after joining West Ham United. That proved to be the end of an England career that had brought appearances under five different managers – Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan. Pearce himself would later enter management, including a spell as boss of England Under-21s and being in interim charge of the seniors for a friendly against the Dutch in 2012.

The first man to go home from the 1990 World Cup squad would ultimately be the last man standing for England in terms of their international career. David Seaman later became first-choice goalkeeper and won a total of 75 caps – all bar three coming after Italia ’90. His last cap was won as late as October 2002 against Macedonia.

The Dave Beasant Myth at Italia ’90

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On the 25th anniversary of the unforgettable World Cup semi-final between England and West Germany, we put to bed one story that has grown over the years – that Bobby Robson was considering bringing on reserve goalkeeper and penalty specialist Dave Beasant for the shoot-out.

As penalties loomed between Costa Rica and the Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-finals last year, Louis van Gaal brought on Tim Krul for Jasper Cillessen. BBC co-commentator Danny Murphy made reference to how Bobby Robson had toyed with doing that during the Italia ’90 semi-final by considering bringing Dave Beasant on for Peter Shilton. Suddenly, Twitter was awash with people claiming they had urged Robson to make that change 24 years earlier and effectively blaming the now deceased former manager for not going ahead with it.

But those believing Beasant should have been brought on were overlooking one crucial thing – he was not even on the bench. And here’s the proof:

Italia ’90 was the last World Cup at which just five substitutes could be named and Beasant was not one of them, with regular substitute goalkeeper Chris Woods claiming the place on the bench. Beasant was not even named in the original squad, being drafted in for the injured David Seaman after the tournament began. He was never realistically going to feature for England during the finals. England’s previous two matches came close to needing penalties and Beasant wasn’t in the fray for those either.

Besides the fact it was impossible for Beasant to come on that night, there are other reasons why such a change was never really on. With hindsight it may seem that the change should have been made, but one can understand why Robson wouldn’t have done so at the time. The first reason is 40-year-old Shilton was the undisputed number one, whose place in the England side was pretty much unchallenged under Robson. Despite his advancing years, Shilton had been praised by pundits for his display against Cameroon in the quarter-finals. Hauling him off in such a big match was – in that era at least – inconceivable. Although much is made of the fact Shilton had a poor record when it came to saving penalties, it should be considered that only three of the last five spot-kicks he faced when playing for England had been scored (one was saved, another missed). That sort of record in the shoot-out would give England a strong chance of a win.

The second reason is there was a clear hierarchy in place when it came to England goalkeepers. While Shilton was the unchallenged number one, Chris Woods was unquestionably second choice with anyone else a fairly distant third. Shoving Woods aside and then substituting Shilton so Beasant could come on in such a big match could have left Robson with two unhappy goalkeepers in the build-up to the final if they won. While it’s easy to say there is no room for sentiment in football, Robson was generally loyal to his core group of players. It is rarely suggested Woods should have been brought on for Shilton, probably because he was smaller than Beasant and less renowned for saving penalties.

The third reason why such a change was unlikely is that England had never been involved in a shoot-out before and there was little to suggest things would probably go wrong. As mentioned above, Shilton was not renowned for saving penalties but nobody could be sure how things would pan out against tired players who had run around for two gruelling hours. Penalty-shoot-outs were still a relative novelty and the psychology of them was not analysed to the same extent as today. Had it been more common for goalkeepers to be substituted ahead of shoot-outs, then one suspects it would have been far more an option for Robson.

Peter Shilton was continually unable to reach the penalties taken by West Germany.

Robson fuelled the myth in this interview with FourFourTwo magazine in 2003, in which he said “bringing on Beasant crossed my mind”. Regardless of the fact it couldn’t have happened anyway, Robson makes a key point that helps explain why it wasn’t really an option. “The thing is if you do it and succeed you’re a genius, if you do it and you lose the first thing people will say is ‘why did you take off your number one keeper and bring on your third choice?’. We stuck with Shilton and as it turned out every penalty the Germans took was a cracker that no one would have saved.”

While there’s no argument about the quality of the German penalties, the claim nobody would have saved them has been questioned. Shilton was probably guilty of waiting too long to see which way the Germans would go before diving for them, in a World Cup where there was a growing trend for spot-kicks to be aimed straight down the middle after goalkeepers had moved. He continually went the right way, but too late. Beasant’s penalty saving reputation has really emerged by denying John Aldridge in Wimbledon’s famous FA Cup Final win over Liverpool in 1988. Would he have denied the Germans in a World Cup semi-final-final? We will never know.

In today’s football climate, one suspects the change would have been made. It happens more frequently than 25 years ago, it probably wouldn’t have been seen as such an insult to Shilton and both reserve goalkeepers would be on the bench. There have been a few instances in both domestic and international football of teams bringing on another goalkeeper in time for the penalties – often followed by triumphing. It can give a psychological boost as much as anything.

Dave Beasant.

Beasant made just two England appearances – both as a substitute – and would not feature again after Graham Taylor replaced Robson after the World Cup. Incredibly at the age of 56 he was on the bench for Stevenage last season during the League Two play-offs. A record breaker who could have made history for England that night in Turin. Except it was impossible for it to happen…

TV Memories of Italia ’90 (Part Two)

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In the second part of our look back at British TV coverage of the 1990 World Cup, we recall England’s match against Cameroon as seen on television 25 years ago tonight. It was a night when one experienced presenter found himself lost for words, while an opinionated pundit talked himself into trouble…

Des dries up

As we recalled in the first part of our look back at how Italia ’90 was televised, Des Lynam was on top form during Italia ’90 in the London studio. But for the quarter-final weekend he was off to Italy to host coverage from the stadiums of the hosts playing the Republic of Ireland on the Saturday and then England taking on Cameroon the following night. In his subsequent autobiography, Lynam questioned the merits of this – particularly as ITV were not enjoying great success with this format. There would be no on-site studio, Lynam being exposed to all he noise around him.

He presented the Irish match smoothly enough in Rome and now made his way to Naples. Des started in characteristically charming mood. “I know you’re getting the hang of the tune,” he said in reference to Nessun Dorma. But then it went horribly wrong, as a sentence about England’s ambitions began to make no sense and neither did his attempt to correct it. “I’m so sorry I’m totally forgetting what I’m saying,” he told viewers, before managing to pull the word “endeavouring” out of he bag, folding his arms and reverting back to his old self.

To most viewers, it wasn’t a big deal. it was two or three seconds out of a broadcast that would last about four hours and he had recovered extremely quickly. But for consummate professional Lynam it was a nightmare. Anyone who has made a bad mistake at work and then had to struggle on for the rest of the day can probably emphasise with how he felt that night, as he found the match going on around him without caring about wat happened. He feared for his broadcasting future after this clanger and was trying to work out just why he had been lost for words.

As Lynam recounts in his autobiography, he had decided at the last minute to change his opening words and the decision backfired: “My brain got stuck between what I had been going to say and what I now intended to say. As I stumbled, the producer in London tried to help me, giving me my original words in my ear. It did not help. I froze. I stared at the camera for what seemed like a lifetime. My career was going up in smoke in front of me. I was horrified. My brain would simply not engage.”

But if Lynam rather melodramatically believed everyone was talking about his clanger, they weren’t. Today social media would probably immediately be awash with people sharing how they had picked up on him cocking it up, but in 1990 there was nothing to compare with that. The match proved dramatic and that would be easily the main talking point for millions, while the main headlines about the coverage of the match focused on ITV pundit Ron Atkinson. Not for the last time, Big Ron found himself at the centre of allegedly making racist comments while the microphone was still on.

Ron puts his mouth in it

As with the previous round against Belgium, ITV went up against the BBC as England met Cameroon. They went on air half an hour earlier and had 1966 World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore in the stadium with Elton Welsby as they sought to lure viewers. But sadly their broadcast would be mostly remembered purely for the contribution of Atkinson, who unwisely declared on air that hard-tackling Cameroon defender Massing did not have a brain. Although Brian Moore – who made reference to the incident in his autobiography – attempted to defuse the comment by making clear he meant a “football brain”, Atkinson brought the issue back up at half-time and made a comment which could certainly be interpreted as racist. They thought they were off-air as they chatted, but other nations taking ITV’s live feed heard the words as complaints started to mount from overseas. It would be an unfortunate pre-cursor to the circumstances in which Atkinson would leave ITV in 2004.

ITV editor Rick Waumsley said after the Cameroon match: “We absolutely deplore any kind of racist remarks and our commentators are given very strong reprimands when they say these things.” But Atkinson kept his co-commentary seat for the remainder of the competition and for the next 14 years was a mainstay of ITV’s coverage.

Caption competition


One of the most distinctive elements of Italia ’90 TV coverage wherever you went was the graphics and on-screen captions used, These look a bit dated now yet seemed quite advanced at the time, but were not without some quirks. Cameroon’s Roger Milla repeatedly appeared as ‘Miller’, while England’s ‘trainer’ was known by his birth name as ‘Robert Robson’. And calculating player ages seemed also to be too much for the system used, Gary Lineker constantly shown to be 30 despite not reaching that age until November. But minor quibbles really, I still feel quite nostalgic when I see such captions appear.

Felling the tension with Barry Davies

This was a good World Cup for the BBC commentator Barry Davies. He may have once more missed out on the final to perennial rival John Motson, but he got to cover three live England matches and the semi-final between Italy and Argentina. While commentating on Argentina beating Brazil, he had made his mark on the tournament by prolonging the word “Caniggia” for as long as possible as the striker rounded Taffarel to score the late winner. Now he was in the commentary box for England’s World Cup quarter-final, but – after being commentator on the loss to Argentina four years earlier – he looked to be describing a second successive exit at this stage as Cameroon deservedly came from behind to lead 2-1 in the second half (this time holding out on “Ekeke” as the player elegantly dinked the ball over Shilton to put Cameroon ahead).

But with time ticking away came the bit of luck England had been praying for, as they were awarded their first penalty since February 1986. “Never a more vital penalty for England,” whispered Davies, conveying the true tension of the moment. Lineker scored and now the commentator was almost screaming “it’s all square”. A further Lineker penalty in extra-time proved decisive, on an unforgettable night.

“Determination and the riding of luck has taken England through,” proclaimed Davies at the end of the match, which was a fair summary. There was no question England had enjoyed some good fortune, but they had also shown character to claw their way back into the contest when all looked lost. A gleeful and relieved Bobby Robson said in one TV interview: “I’ve had 17 heart attacks, I feel 92…” I think we all did.

Bob Wilson in the London studio for the BBC signed off by saying “we’ve all aged 10 years” before handing over to Lynam in the stadium. “You think you’ve aged 10 years?” asked Lynam, possibly deep down conveying how painful the night was for him. “What a traumatic night it’s been,” he said, which didn’t quite seem the right words to use to describe England reaching their first World Cup semi-final since 1966.

For Des the night had indeed been traumatic. But less than 48 hours later he was back in the London studio as the semi-finals began between Argentina and Italy. The night after that he would again be in the hotseat for the biggest England match in 24 years – THAT game against West Germany.