Month: September 2015
This month in 1982 brought the first match of Bobby Robson’s rollercoaster eight year reign in charge of England. Even before the team took to the field in Denmark there was controversy, as Robson dropped captain Kevin Keegan from the side. Keegan did not take kindly to the snub and would never play for his country again. We look back at the episode today…
Bobby Robson was confirmed as England manager almost immediately after they exited the 1982 World Cup. It had been an extremely frustrating tournament for Kevin Keegan, who – along with room-mate Trevor Brooking – was injured for most of the competition and restricted to a 27-minute substitute appearance against hosts Spain in their final match. That game saw Keegan infamously head a glorious chance wide as England bowed out and it was the only time he ever played in a World Cup finals. What nobody knew, including Keegan, was it would be the last match he ever played for his country.
Kevin Keegan’s final act in an England shirt.
Former Ipswich Town boss Robson inherited an England squad that had a ‘Dad’s Army’ tag attached to it. Although some younger players such as Terry Butcher, Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson and Kenny Sansom had established themselves, others were the wrong side of 30 and were not voluntarily retiring. Robson was going to have to rebuild and wield the axe along the way. Keegan fell into the older bracket at 31 but he was still seen as a key player who had been captain under Ron Greenwood.
Often in a grim previous decade Keegan had been the one player the English public could turn to for inspiration. As he came to terms with his World Cup disappointment, the summer of 1982 saw him make the rather surprising choice to drop into the Second Division – albeit with one its biggest clubs – as a two-way love affair with Newcastle United was born. Playing outside the top-flight did not automatically put Keegan’s international career in jeopardy, given Brooking had played regularly for England while West Ham United were in the Second Division from 1978-81.
Keegan becomes a Messiah to the Geordies as he scores the winner on his Newcastle United debut, watched by Bobby Robson.
On the opening day of the 1982-83 season, Bobby Robson was in the crowd at a jubilant St James’ Park as Keegan made his Newcastle debut. He scored the winner against a QPR side destined to romp to the Second Division title, with boyhood Newcastle fan Robson pleased to share in the occasion. “See you soon,” Keegan recalled Robson telling him afterwards, which he took as a sign he was still in the England plans. But privately Robson was making a very important decision as he watched the Geordies worship their new signing. He would not be picking Keegan for his first England squad.
According to Robson’s 1986 World Cup Diary, the reasons for dropping the player were twofold. Firstly, he was concerned with the stories he had heard about Keegan’s conduct while fighting to be fit during the World Cup, meaning “he became a disruptive influence”. A conversation with Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy seems to have helped him make up his mind on Keegan. “I gathered he liked to take over and yet I knew that it was vital that I should be in control from the first match against the Danes,” Robson wrote.
The second concerned Keegan’s age. Robson took over with the 1986 World Cup at the forefront of his mind – more so than qualifying for the 1984 European Championship – and he felt Keegan would not be playing a part in that at the age of 35. But he also believed Keegan was no longer quite the player he once was. Robson wrote: “Had I been sure that Kevin Keegan was still at his peak I would have had no hesitation in selecting him but I felt that he was beginning to play a little deeper and was no longer getting in where it hurt to win big matches, preferring the role of playmaker and provider.” Robson did stress though it was not his intention to totally remove Keegan from the picture, but ultimately that would prove to be the case.
A decision that must have been harder for Robson to make on a personal level was dropping Mick Mills, who had served him so well at Ipswich and captained England in the World Cup in Keegan’s absence. The 33-year-old would never be capped again and neither would Brooking, who was injured anyway for the Denmark match. The end had also come for other players including Terry McDermott, third choice goalkeeper Joe Corrigan and defender Dave Watson (who had cruelly missed out on a World Cup spot after years of dedicated service to his country). And for other players such as Ray Clemence and Phil Thompson the clock was ticking, as Robson faced a lengthy rebuilding exercise. But dropping Keegan dominated the headlines.
On September 14, 1982, Robson named his first England squad. According to Keegan, he was approached by a member of the press after training who told him he wasn’t in the squad. There had been no phone call from Robson or anyone else on behalf of the Football Association. This seemed to form the basis of Keegan’s anger more so than actually being dropped, declaring his disgust he wasn’t contacted and saying that he did not wish to be picked for his country again. In a TV interview, Keegan said: “What upset me is the way I heard about it. I mean a 10p phone call from the FA is not a lot to ask.” It wasn’t the first time the FA’s communications had left a lot to be desired, Greenwood discovering his appointment as permanent England manager in 1977 when he heard about it on his car radio.
The news filled plenty of column inches. In The Guardian, David Lacey wrote: “Such is the power and persistence of Keegan’s publicity that some may think it inconceivable that his international career could be at an end. Bathroom shelves will never smell quite the same again.” The Geordie public certainly seemed to take Keegan’s side, Robson later claiming he was abused, threatened and spat at when he returned to the north-east a few months after the issue arose. Brooking, an ally of Keegan, wrote in his autobiography: “Considering Bobby’s experience as a manager, I was a bit taken aback that he had not informed a player of Kevin’s stature that he was being left out. I believe he could have used a player of Kevin’s knowledge and standing in the game. Kevin was 31. He was furious when he learned he’d been axed.”
But there were others who found the player’s reaction petulant or took Robson’s side. Lacey wrote a couple of days later: “So far the only cloud to spoil the honeymoon [of Robson’s reign] has been Kevin Keegan’s whimpering response to being dropped, a back-page bellyache in one of the tabloids, which demeaned nobody but himself. Perhaps Keegan really does believe he is a national institution.” In the Daily Express, Steve Curry wrote: “It is a bold, brave and, say may well say, progressive move, which suggests Robson will not bow to any public sentiment as he begins the long haul to re-establish England as world champions.”
The matter rumbled on and it meant Keegan was now permanently out of the England picture. Keegan believed he was owed the courtesy of a phone call to tell him he was dropped; Robson felt as he was starting afresh that he didn’t have to make one as he was picking his own team. Both arguments have logic in them but the pair probably both wished with hindsight they’d acted differently and reached a compromise – either Robson calling Keegan into the England squad, taking him to one side and saying he may no longer feature as prominently, or Keegan biting his tongue and seeking a private explanation from Robson. The negative publicity did neither party any favours.
Bryan Robson in action against Jesper Olsen as England draw 2-2 in Denmark.
Dazzled by the Danes
Robson must have cursed the schedule he had inherited, as his first match would be a Euro ’84 qualifier away to Denmark. The manager knew how good the emerging Danes were and he would not have any time to experiment before his first match – which if England lost would already leave their qualification hopes in trouble. Ray Wilkins was handed the captaincy, although Bryan Robson would soon become the permanent captain. Substitute Ricky Hill made his debut, while Russell Osman and Tony Morley played despite missing out on the World Cup squad.
England did not produce a particularly impressive display but came close to a rather undeserved victory, Trevor Francis scoring twice as they led 2-1 with time ticking away. However, Jesper Olsen then jinked his way through to equalise for the Danes and send out the message that they were here to give England a serious run for their money in the qualification stakes. To compound matters, there was yet another outbreak of serious crowd disorder when England played abroad.
Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson reflect in 2000 on the dispute.
Shortly afterwards, Keegan sent out a defiant message that he could still turn it on when he scored four times in front of the Match of the Day cameras for Newcastle at Rotherham. But for all the public pleas for a recall, there was no going back so far as his England career was concerned. Robson later noted in his World Cup Diary that Keegan never responded to a letter he sent to him at Newcastle in a bid to resolve the situation. Ultimately it is doubtful how long Keegan would have remained part of the England set-up anyway, given he retired from playing in 1984 after leading Newcastle to promotion. By then England had failed to qualify for Euro ’84, Denmark’s win at Wembley in the return fixture proving decisive.
England did make it to the 1986 World Cup, which Keegan spent working as a pundit for ITV. After England’s Maradona-inspired exit, Robson also became part of their coverage. Robson wrote that they bumped into each other after seeing Argentina beat Belgium in the semi-finals, the first time their paths had directly crossed since Keegan was axed. “I had no argument with him and bore no grudges for the things he had said. It was water under the bridge and I went up, shook hands and talked about the player we both considered the best in the competition, Maradona,” wrote Robson.
Pleasingly, after that feelings seemed a lot more warm between the pair – whose managerial careers had striking parallels with each having spells in charge of England, Fulham and Newcastle. The hatchet was buried and they later were on opposing sides as managers. If only Robson had duly made that “10p phone call” in 1982…
In September 1984, an otherwise forgettable friendly between England and East Germany at Wembley was brought to life in the closing stages. Captain Bryan Robson memorably crashed in a tremendous volley to settle the match and we’ll mark the anniversary this weekend by looking back at that moment.
Whenever there are grumblings these days about occasional ‘low’ turnouts for England matches at Wembley (of say 50.000), it’s worth recalling how history has shown they could be a hell of a lot worse. During the nadir of the mid-1980s crowds below 25,000 were recorded on several occasions, with East Germany’s visit early in the 1984-85 campaign seeing just 23,951 show up. But even that figure was disputed, with several newspaper reports the following day saying the attendance seemed lower. BBC commentator John Motson told viewers England were unable to move such games to club grounds due to being contracted to play at Wembley – an issue that persists today.
The low crowd made for a subdued atmosphere, as England played their final friendly before embarking on attempting to qualify for the 1986 World Cup. Goalscoring had been a problem in recent matches for England, with the failure to qualify for the 1984 European Championship in France still fresh in the mind. Promising defender Mark Wright was handed his debut, joining Southampton team-mates Peter Shilton and Steve Williams in the starting line-up. Shilton had made his England debut against the East Germans – or the German Democratic Republic as the match programme called them – on their previous visit in 1970 and this would be the final meeting of the sides before Germany was reunified in 1990. Watford’s John Barnes took his place in the side buoyed by his wondergoal against Brazil in the summer, although he would struggle to make a similar impact here.
Williams came close to opening the scoring early on as he was denied at the end of an impressive England move, while at the opposite end Joachim Streich marked his 100th cap – in the days when that was still a rare achievement – by striking the woodwork. And bar the odd half chance and East German free-kick that was pretty much all of note in the opening 80 minutes, as the game seemingly meandered towards an inevitable goalless draw.
With 10 minutes left, Bobby Robson finally made use of his substitutes as he brought off Arsenal forwards Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock and replaced them with Trevor Francis and Mark Hateley. The change seemed to galvanise England and within two minutes came the one moment the match would be remembered for. Kenny Sansom floated the ball into the penalty box, with Ray Wilkins moving backwards to head the ball towards Bryan Robson. The Manchester United captain instinctively swivelled his body and beat his marker to catch the ball perfectly in mid-air, scoring with a beautiful right-footed volley that was totally out of the reach of René Müller. “What a goal,” exclaimed Motson, before inevitably pulling out a statistic. “Bryan Robson’s 10th goal for his country and what a way to go into double figures.”
The goal would soon be featuring in the opening titles for Match of the Day and later be included in the BBC’s 101 Great Goals video. The FA website says it was probably Robson’s best goal for England. Although it may not be recalled as frequently as his first minute goal against France in the 1982 World Cup or win him the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition (he did so the following season with his equaliser for England against Israel), it was certainly spectacular. On many occasions during the 1980s both England and Manchester United turned to their captain to pull them through and this was one such occasion. Robson had come up with the goods at the right moment.
It was the only goal and meant the captain’s namesake and manager received a better reception at the end than after the previous home match against USSR in June, when he had faced calls for his departure. Not that everyone in the media was entirely happy. Stuart Jones in The Times appeared to have written most of his report before the goal, barely making anything of Robson’s strike and instead singling out Wilkins for praise. Jones reflected grimly on a match which he felt was “devoid of atmosphere, of excitement and even of significance”.
More positive was the response of David Lacey in The Guardian, who described Robson’s effort as a “marvellous shot”. In the Daily Express, Steve Curry wrote: “Skipper Robson deserved his reward for his involvement alone – the lion on his shirt snarling and sniping throughout the night against a disciplined German defence that was not in a mood for easy surrender.”
It was only a friendly, but Bryan Robson’s winner had provided a chink of light on a night that was otherwise better best forgotten. As Bobby Robson reflected in his World Cup Diary covering his first four years in charge on the East Germany victory: “I was delighted for, apart from starting the new season with a victory, it was important that we should win at Wembley after two defeats in our previous three fixtures there. I had been worried that he squad might develop a phobia about playing on their own ground and that would have been a disastrous disadvantage to take into the World Cup [qualifiers].” England duly qualified comfortably and they did not suffer another home defeat until 1990.
Exactly 20 years ago Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita produced possibly the most famous save ever seen during an England match. His spectacular ‘scorpion kick’ clearance meant an early season goalless friendly in front of a sparse crowd at Wembley would forever be remembered.
They say all goalkeepers are crazy but South Americans tend to take the old adage a step further. The likes of Ramón Quiroga (Peru) and José Luis Chilavert (Paraguay) attracted plenty of global attention with their antics, but ‘sweeper keeper’ René Higuita of Colombia was on another level altogether. During Italia ’90 he infamously lost possession when attempting to dribble the ball out and was punished by Cameroon’s Roger Milla. He chipped in with a few goals at the other end during his career and led a rather colourful personal life, spending time in prison for his part in a kidnapping case. And the save he made against England capped it all, illustrating both his unpredictability and the extent of talent.
Stayaways miss a special moment
By September 1995, England fans were starting to get a little tired of the never-ending stream of Wembley friendlies as they endured a long wait for Euro ’96. This was reflected in the meagre attendance of 20,000 for Colombia’s visit, with even that figure viewed as generous by some. In The Guardian, reporter Richard Williams wrote: “If there were in reality even half the officially reported number of 20,000 spectators in the stadium it would be a surprise.”
There had also been a lot of stayaways too when Colombia previously visited Wembley in 1988 in the Rous Cup. But those that turned up had witnessed a treat, getting a first glimpse of players such as Higuita and the similarly distinctive Carlos Valderrama and witnessing some delightful stuff from the visitors. Their scorer in the 1-1 draw that night had been Andrés Escobar, but he was tragically no longer alive when Colombia returned to Wembley – being shot dead shortly after returning home from scoring an own goal during the 1994 World Cup against hosts USA, a tournament which saw the Colombians fall a long way short of meeting their pre-tournament billing. Higuita had missed the tournament after his stint in prison. By September 1995 he was back playing for his country, although his arrival in England was delayed by issues over his passport. There was rarely a dull moment with him.
England played out several goalless friendlies under Terry Venables and this one would easily stand out as the best and most memorable. Although Colombia’s style of play would bear little relation to what England would face in the Euro finals or World Cup qualifiers after that, this match still proved a fully worthwhile exercise and a good learning curve. Jamie Redknapp made his debut, while Steve McManaman and Nick Barmby were handed their first starts on a night that saw John Barnes end his long England career on 79 caps. Despite the lack of goals on the night, it was a fairly encouraging attacking display and entertaining stuff as England hit the woodwork three times. At the other end, Faustino Asprilla went close just a few months before he joined Newcastle United. But really the only true talking point afterwards was Higuita and THAT save.
As Higuita was shown in a close up shot during the first half, BBC commentator Barry Davies described the goalkeeper as “a character in every sense”, adding that “it’s amazing they managed to keep him in jail for four months where he was”. It proved good timing, as just moments later Redknapp floated the ball goalwards. Higuita seized his moment. To the astonishment of the crowd and television audience, the goalkeeper rejected the chance to make a simple catch. Instead he allowed the ball to go over his head as he dived head first, spectacularly clearing it from behind him using both his feet.
It seemed the instinctive reaction of everyone was to laugh. Higuita did; commentator Davies did; England assistant manager Bryan Robson was filmed chortling on the bench; many in the crowd and those watching on television did; and one assumes the other clown prince on the field, Paul Gascoigne (who gave one of his best England performances post-Italia ’90), also saw the funny side. The move had taken everyone by surprise and quickly became a ‘did you see that?’ moment. We’ve seen it replayed so often since that perhaps it doesn’t seem that incredible now, but at the time it definitely was.
“Usually to refer to a donkey on a football field is not being very pleasant but how else do you describe that?” asked a giggling Davies, no doubt recalling a famous free-kick he saw Coventry City score in 1970. But there was to be another term altogether that would quickly enter the English football vocabulary. This was the ‘scorpion kick’ and it would be synonymous with Higuita. It was to be his version of the Cruyff turn. He wasn’t particularly modest when he told the press that night: “It’s the sort of thing only one person can do. I have a massive repertoire but I don’t plan them ahead.”
But to a certain extent the move had been pre-planned, although Higuita had no idea when he would execute it. In an interview in 2012 he reflected: “Children have always been my inspiration. I always saw them in the street or park trying out bicycle kicks and I told them it would be good to do it in reverse. And that day in England, I was given the ball that I had been waiting for for five years.”
Offside or not?
It has often correctly been pointed out that the linesman’s flag went up as the ball made its way towards Higuita and he may therefore have seen it as a good time to show off his party piece. But the crucial thing here is that the whistle did not sound and play continued after his unprecedented clearance was made. As Scott Murray and Rowan Walker point out in the book Day of the Match: A History of Football in 365 days: “Some naysayers point out that the linesman had put his flag up for offside – but the referee never blew his whistle and the game continued without stoppage. Had the ball gone in, the goal would have stood.”
And this is perhaps what makes Higuita’s actions all the more audacious. He took a risk knowing there was a good chance he would concede a goal if it went wrong. Had he completely mistimed it then it would have looked almost as though he let the goal in on purpose, so simple was the effort he had to deal with. It’s impossible to imagine his opposite number that night, David Seaman, contemplating trying such a trick – nor really anyone else who has ever played in goal for England, including the more eccentric types such as David James. English goalkeepers tend to hate the remotest prospect of conceding a goal and wouldn’t dare try out anything like that – friendly match or not.
“A character in every sense,” said commentator Barry Davies on the night.
Taking the risk is perhaps what marked Higuita out as being on a different level to other goalkeepers. He had a trick he wanted to share and was willing to potentially concede a goal to try and show it off. He got it right and the reaction that greeted it – coupled with many trying to recreate it in schools and parks in the coming weeks and months – meant it had been most certainly worthwhile. As if to prove it was no fluke, he repeated the move in an exhibition match in 2012.
Being a free spirit, one assumes Higuita was not the easiest player in the world to manage. He was the polar opposite of, say, Pat Jennings – a great international goalkeeper with Northern Ireland who just quietly went about his business in keeping out the opposition. As pundit Alan Hansen joked when assessing Higuita’s scorpion kick that night, “he makes [Bruce] Grobbelaar look like a bore”. Higuita’s mistake during Italia ’90 had clearly not deterred him from taking avoidable risks. But football is always more fun when it has born entertainers on the field who can pull off the spectacular every so often – Higuita certainly did that and on a September night 20 years ago he produced an audacious move that would never be forgotten.
In the coming days, Wayne Rooney could become England’s record goalscorer. He needs just one goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s tally of 49 and two to claim the outright record. We today recall the previous time a player knew just a solitary goal would bring him level with Charlton – but it just wouldn’t happen for the previously prolific Gary Lineker.
1992 seemed to be a year where so many saw their dreams suddenly slip away with the end in sight: Labour in the General Election; England in the Cricket World Cup; Manchester United in the First Division title race; Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final; Jimmy White at the Crucible; Colin Jackson in the Olympics. And so on. But perhaps topping the bill was Gary Lineker, England’s captain and eternal goalscorer. From looking a certainty to become the first man to make it to 50 England goals, he cut a frustrated figure as the record slipped away from him. He would no doubt join Her Majesty in viewing 1992 as an annus horribilis.
On November 13, 1991, Lineker scored a priceless late equaliser away to Poland to take England through to the Euro ’92 finals. It was his 46th England goal, leaving him just three strikes behind Charlton. Over the winter, Lineker made the surprising announcement that from the 1992-93 season he would be playing for Japanese club Grampus Eight and his international career would end after the European Championship. The hope was he would end with a flourish, inspiring England to Euro glory having become the nation’s record goalscorer. The former hope was possible rather than probable but the latter looked odds on.
The first hint that Lineker’s final England year may not go entirely to plan came when they played their opening friendly of 1992 in February against France. Manager Graham Taylor made the rather surprising decision to drop captain Lineker to the bench, as Alan Shearer made his debut in attack. But Lineker came off the bench to seal a 2-0 win against a side who they were due to face in the Euro finals.
Gary Lineker scores his 47th England goal against France in February 1992.
Lineker was again on the bench the following month as England struggled to sparkle in a 2-2 draw with Czechoslovakia, this time not getting on the scoresheet after coming on. But in April he was back in the starting line-up away to the CIS (previously USSR) and headed in an excellent cross from Tony Daley to give England an early lead in another 2-2 draw. Towards end of the contest, Lineker saw a shot saved by Dmitri Kharine as he bore down on goal and then was unable to hook the rebound in. That meant he would have to wait to equal the record, but it was seemingly just a matter of time.
Before England’s next game in Hungary on May 12, Lineker had signed off from English club football by scoring for Tottenham Hotspur in a defeat to Manchester United. The predatory instincts still seemed to remain, but then deserted him in Budapest. Set free by Paul Merson in the first half, he was presented with an opportunity just inside the box but fired wide. As with the miss against the CIS, it wasn’t like squandering an open goal but a forward of Lineker’s calibre was expected to make more of such chances. It was his one real opportunity all night in a forgettable game, but he did cross for Neil Webb to score the only goal in England’s 1-0 win.
Paying the penalty
Five days after the match in Hungary there was a golden opportunity squandered in Lineker’s bid to break the record. Brazil’s visit was attractive enough, but for Lineker the match was particularly special as it would be his final appearance at Wembley. He had scored in his first game there against the Republic of Ireland in 1985 and it would seem fitting if he equalled – or even broke – the record in his farewell to the stadium. The omens seemed good, given Lineker had scored in each of his two previous games against Brazil.
With the game just 10 minutes old, he was handed the perfect chance when he was fouled in the area. What followed next has passed into infamy. He went to chip goalkeeper Carlos but with embarrassing consequences, the ball getting no weight behind it and landing apologetically in front of a grateful Brazilian keeper (who was so surprised that he almost inadvertently turned it into the net). The best opportunity to equal the record had passed and Lineker never got another sniff during the afternoon, as England drew 1-1. It was their only other regular source of goals, David Platt, who salvaged a draw. Lineker dismissed Taylor’s suggestion the record played on his mind as he stepped up for the penalty, saying: “I saw the goalkeeper commit himself early and tried to lift the ball over him… but I scuffed up some grass as I shot and couldn’t get any height.”
“You could argue that we played Brazil with 10 men,” said Graham Taylor rather controversially after Gary Lineker’s performance against Brazil.
It was here the relationship between Taylor and Lineker began to unravel. A few days after the game, Taylor was quite damning when he told The Observer: “It’s almost as if Gary is a national institution who cannot be touched. You could argue that we played Brazil with 10 men – but you’re not allowed to.” Although there was some speculation that Lineker could lose his place for the finals, realistically he would keep it. He had not been in prolific form for England going into either the 1986 or 1990 World Cup, but he managed a total of 10 goals in those two tournaments (finishing tournament top scorer in 1986).
Despite the Brazil setback, the record still seemed to remain a case of when and not if. “I want it out of the way as soon as possible,” said Taylor, as a good opportunity appeared on the horizon. England’s last match before the finals was away to Finland, against the side with the weakest track record they would face while Lineker was chasing the record. But again his luck was out, striking the bar from close range in a 2-1 win with Platt again the saviour.
Fate seemed to be against Lineker and he would now go into the finals with potentially just three matches to get the record. Suddenly, it didn’t look so certain he would achieve it. Lineker’s cause was not being helped by a continual changing of strike partner or at times having no other recognised strikers up front with him, with Taylor continually experimenting and struggling to settle on his preferred line-up.
Yugoslavia’s late expulsion meant England were starting in the finals against Denmark, a side not expected to achieve much after being called up to participate just days beforehand. Again it was a frustrating night for Lineker and co, playing out a rather forgettable 0-0 draw in which England could easily have lost after their opponents struck the woodwork. As we recalled last week, Taylor now turned his attentions to Jimmy Hill over criticisms the BBC pundit aired afterwards. The mood in the camp was clearly not good with Taylor appearing increasingly tetchy towards the media.
Three days later there was more of the same, a goalless and sterile stalemate against France. In a taste of things to come for their future Match of the Day years, Lineker and Shearer were partnered together. But they found chances at a premium in a dull draw, which left English hopes in the balance. Euro ’92 was the last major tournament which operated a two points for a win system, with the entertainment value low in England’s matches. “He contributed in exactly the way I thought he would,” said Taylor rather cryptically about Lineker after the France game, with the forward now potentially 90 minutes away from the end of his England career. Few would have anticipated it would be even less than that…
An anti-climatic ending
Lineker is hauled off against Sweden and it proves a sad end to his England career.
To be sure of going through to the semi-finals, England had to beat hosts Sweden and at the very least they had to score and avoid defeat to stand a chance. Lineker was back to being the only recognised striker in the side but his former club manager Terry Venables, in his capacity as BBC pundit, said he was backing him to find the net. England started superbly, Lineker crossing for Platt to give them an early lead. They played well until half-time and led at the break, leaving them top of the group with 45 minutes left.
But where they were excellent in the first half, they were wretched and outplayed in the second. From the moment Jan Eriksson headed in an equaliser they were up against it and as the hour mark passed Taylor knew he had to change things. You could hear the surprise in the voice of BBC commentator Barry Davies as he said Lineker was the player coming off, as Alan Smith took his place. “If England don’t make it to the semi-finals, what an unhappy end we are witnessing to Gary Lineker’s England career,” said Davies, sensing there may be no way back for Taylor’s men. Even co-commentator Trevor Brooking got vaguely opinionated, describing it as a “brave decision” and expressing his view that it would have been better to play two in attack (Lineker and Smith had forged a good pairing at Leicester City a few years earlier).
The body blow duly came eight minutes from time, Tomas Brolin’s scoring an excellent goal to delight the hosts. With Denmark beating France 2-1, England knew an equaliser would see lots drawn to decide if they or the Danes progressed. But there was no realistic hope of them scoring again and ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ would be the most memorable headline the following morning. Lineker’s dream was gone and Charlton, working in Sweden as a BBC pundit, unexpectedly retained his record. Perversely, Lineker scored 10 goals in two World Cup tournaments but none in either European Championship he played in (it later transpired he had hepatitis in 1988).
England limped out of Euro ’92 after a very unsatisfactory tournament that saw the tide turn against Taylor. A combination of international retirements, injuries and certain players not fitting into Taylor’s plans meant of the side that faced Sweden, only Lineker, Platt, Stuart Pearce and Des Walker had played in the World Cup semi-final against West Germany just two years earlier. In several cases the old guard had been replaced by inferior players who would never feature again after Taylor’s reign. There was very little in the way of creativity in the side without players such as John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne. Where Italia ’90 had been an emotional rollercoaster that was never to be forgotten by the English public, Euro ’92 was a damp squib so far as England were concerned. Only at the point they exited the competition did it suddenly spring into life following several cagey matches, the Danes surprisingly going on to win the tournament.
The half-century curse
It is surprising that, for a few more days at least, no England player has so far reached 50 goals with several before Rooney having looked set to make it but then just failing to do so. Charlton may have the record but he would probably have loved to make it to the nice round figure of 50, failing to score during his international swansong of the 1970 World Cup. Like Lineker, he was infamously substituted in his final game and watched on as the side slipped out of the tournament. After scoring four against Norway in May 1966 to leave him on 43 goals, Jimmy Greaves would have seemed certain to go on and reach the half-century. But fortune would not be on his side and he finished with just one more. Michael Owen’s potency as a young striker left him on course for the record, but he was frozen out after Fabio Capello took over in 2008 and left with 40 goals.
And as we’ve seen, Lineker saw the target slip rough his fingers with that penalty miss against Brazil and substitution in Sweden forever recalled. It would be disappointment for Lineker, but there was plenty to put it into perspective for him. A few months earlier his baby son George had been diagnosed with leukaemia and undergone chemotherapy as the family feared for his life. Mercifully he pulled through. George’s illness had been a genuine worry for his father, not scoring goals for England by comparison was only football.