Month: November 2015

Six of the Worst – England in November

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Earlier this month we recalled six of England’s best matches in November. Now we look at things from a less positive perspective and reflect on six games from the past 50 years when things didn’t go quite so well…

November 2, 1966 Czechoslovakia (h) 0-0 Friendly

England’s first home match after the glory of winning the World Cup proved to be an anti-climax, as Czechoslovakia came to Wembley and ground out a 0-0 draw. A crowd of 75,000 turned up hoping to continue the summer’s party, with England fielding the same side as had won the World Cup final just over three months earlier. But it was a frustrating night for Alf Ramsey’s men.

The Times painted a negative picture of the match the following morning, under the headline ‘England fall from grace at Wembley’. The report began: “After the World Cup triumph, the dust cart. That is how England must have felt last night at the end of their goalless draw with Czechoslovakia at Wembley. That too was how a 75,000 crowd must have felt long before the finish.” It was certainly after the Lord Mayor’s Show, but England got back in their stride a fortnight later when they beat Wales 5-1.

November 20, 1974 Portugal (h) 0-0 European Championship qualifier

Three weeks earlier, there was genuine optimism about what the Don Revie era would bring for England when they beat Czechoslovakia 3-0 in their opening European Championship qualifier. But it was to be a short-lived honeymoon, as his second match in charge provided a reality check. Portugal were not of the same quality of the Eusebio-inspired World Cup semi-finalists in 1966 but they stifled England and claimed a 0-0 draw. On the occasions England did threaten, visiting goalkeeper Vítor Damas was in form to thwart them.

‘What a load of rubbish!’ screamed the back page headline in the following day’s Daily Mirror, in reference to what had been chanted by frustrated fans at Wembley. Revie accepted the crowd had every right to vent their frustration, saying: “We didn’t play at all. It was a bad performance. We didn’t deserve anything more than a draw.” A year later, England’s hopes of staying in the competition effectively ended with a 1-1 draw in the return fixture.

November 17, 1976 Italy (a) 0-2 World Cup qualifier

“This is no place to try new ideas,” said BBC commentator David Coleman as England took to the field in Rome for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy. But manager Don Revie had decided to make six changes from the previous game against Finland – when admittedly they had not played well – and it was a big gamble to take in such a tough-looking qualifying match. England started reasonably well but never realistically looked like they could get a result. They trailed at half-time as Giancarlo Antognoni’s free-kick deflected in off Kevin Keegan past Ray Clemence. The killer second seemed symbolic of the difference in quality between the sides, a neat move ending with Roberto Bettega scoring a diving header. Italy deservedly won 2-0 and were in the driving seat to qualify for the 1978 World Cup.


England endured a frustrating afternoon in Rome.

“I think we went out on the pitch thinking ‘let’s see if we can get a draw out of this’,” reflected Trevor Brooking years later, summing up the lack of belief in the England side on the day. Few were arguing about the outcome. Bobby Charlton, summarising for the BBC, said: “There’s no question at all the better side won.” There was still a year of qualifying remaining, but already England were in deep trouble and facing up to yet another absence from a major tournament. Although they beat Italy 2-0 in the return game the following November, it was the Italians who qualified on goal difference.

November 16, 1988 Saudi Arabia (a) 1-1 Friendly

England avoided defeat in November following the aforementioned Italy game until 1999, but this didn’t mean there were no disappointments along the way. There were a few low points during the Bobby Robson years with England, but arguably the lowest of them all came with this 1-1 draw away to Saudi Arabia in which they needed an equaliser from Tony Adams to avoid defeat. It was an experimental England side including five debutants – most notably future regular goalkeeper David Seaman – but that counted for little in the eyes of the critics. England had flopped at Euro ’88, failed to win their opening Italia ’90 qualifier at home to Sweden and now the vultures were circling after being held by Saudi Arabia. Robson correctly pointed out that the Saudis had recently achieved some decent results against other established football nations but this fell on deaf ears, as the tabloid press had a field day at his expense.


The chief protagonist was the Daily Mirror, which followed up its previous ‘Go! In the name of God, go!’ headline with the memorable ‘Go! In the name of Allah, go!’ screaming out from the back page. Not content with this and another damning headline of ‘Robbo should be a train driver’, the paper followed it up with more digs 24 hours later. It devoted a double page spread to ’20 facts that say Robbo must go’ complete with the spiteful subheading of ‘there’s 101… but we’ve run out of space’. Given the hero status Robson would enjoy after Italia ’90 it’s easy to forget just how much flack he took at times prior to that – and this was one of the worst examples.

November 17, 1993 San Marino (a) 7-1 World Cup qualifier

For the only time between 1987 and 2013, England scored more than six times in a full international. And yet there wasn’t a shred of happiness among English football fans or for Ian Wright, who netted four times in Bologna. The night represented the culmination of England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals and would forever be remembered for the calmitious opening moments. Up against arguably the weakest international side in Europe, England found themselves 1-0 down inside nine seconds as Davide Gualtieri seized upon Stuart Pearce’s underhit backpass to score for San Marino.


One of England’s most infamous moments.

England went into the night needing Poland to win at home to the Netherlands and for them to beat San Marino by seven goals to scrape into the finals. It was unlikely, but not impossible (San Marino were whipping boys and the Poles had almost beaten England on home soil). But going 1-0 down seemed to act as confirmation England would not be heading to the USA the following summer and Graham Taylor would soon be out of work. To their credit England did a professional job to recover and run out 7-1 winners, with Wright running back with the ball after scoring as they clung to the hope they could get more goals and somehow make it. But what they did counted for nothing, as the Dutch achieved a 3-1 win to administer the last rites on Taylor’s reign. The BBC switched off long before the end to instead show Wales against Romania, which unlike England’s match still had everything riding on it. And as far as England were concerned, the only goal most people would recall was the infamous one they conceded. 

November 21, 2007 Croatia (h) 2-3, European Championship qualifier

No question at all about this one appearing on the list, England’s darkest night in modern times. Four days earlier they had been thrown a lifeline when Russia lost to Israel, meaning they needed just a point at home to Croatia to make the finals. But on a wet and miserable night at Wembley, England quickly fell 2-0 behind as their makeshift defence and young goalkeeper Scott Carson struggled to handle the occasion. Although a Frank Lampard penalty and a Peter Crouch goal pulled England level and seemingly on their way to the finals, Mladen Petric scored from 25 yards to restore Croatia’s lead – this time for good as they triumphed 3-2.


Croatia denied England a place at Euro 2008.

England were left clinging to the faint hope that Andorra could equalise against Russia to salvage them, but it was never on and the criticism poured in on manager Steve McClaren – soon dubbed the ‘wally with the brolly’. Barely had the tabloids gone on sale the following morning when he was out of a job, as the nation faced up to the team’s absence from a major tournament. Less than 18 months earlier the ‘Golden Generation’ had gone into the World Cup as seemingly a genuine contender – now they weren’t even good enough to make the last 16 of the European Championship. 

Since then England have endured a mixed bag of November matches, with friendly losses to France (2010) and Chile (2013) probably standing out as their worst games. As this blog limits selections to the past 50 years, we’ve omitted possibly England’s most memorable November loss – the 6-3 home defeat to the brilliant Hungary in 1953, which is still talked about today.

Great England Goals – Glenn Hoddle v Bulgaria (1979)

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Today we look back to this date in 1979 when Glenn Hoddle crowned his England debut with a memorable goal against Bulgaria at Wembley. The sidefooted effort and all-round performance made him the talk of the nation, but it would also lead to his subsequent England career constantly being compared to it.

In November 1979 England became certain of qualifying for the following year’s European Championship without playing, as the Republic of Ireland lost to Northern Ireland and the visit of Bulgaria to Wembley was fogged off. The match was postponed 24 hours, as England geared up for a rare Thursday night game. This created problems, for not only was it less than 48 hours before a full programme of First Division matches but England would have to make do without captain Kevin Keegan who returned to club side Hamburg. 


For their final match of the 1970s England boss Ron Greenwood handed debuts to two players – Norwich City forward Kevin Reeves (who would only win one further cap) and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Glenn Hoddle. The latter’s call-up came after featuring for England Under-21s and making an impressive start to the season at club level, scoring spectacular televised volleyed goals against Manchester United and European champions Nottingham Forest that underlined the player’s talent. It was time for the step up into the international big time.

‘Naturally gifted’ was a frequently used term to describe Hoddle, who was certainly not the stereotypical English midfielder. He won many admirers for his elegance, creativity and technical ability, but also had to contend with detractors who would rather cruelly label him ‘Glenda’ and see him as a luxury who was not willing to get stuck in. He would forever divide opinion, not least during his reign in charge of England from 1996 to 1999. ‘Enigma’ was a word that would often appear in the same sentence as his name.

But even his critics would concede that Hoddle was a talented player and capable of the spectacular. As England took to the field against Bulgaria, Hoddle was entering the world of senior international football and playing at Wembley for the first time. In the commentary box for the BBC was Barry Davies, a man who hid his Spurs loyalties during his long football broadcasting career but never shied away from voicing his admiration for Hoddle. “The most naturally gifted of a crop of youngsters of quality,” Davies said of the debutant as the camera zoomed in on him.

Perfect start

Where many players have found the transition to international football difficult over the years, Hoddle showed within minutes he could handle it and he would be an asset to his country. He floated a ball in for Dave Watson to head England – wearing an unusual combination of white shirts, blue shorts and red socks – into an early lead. That wasn’t a bad way to start Hoddle’s international career and he continued to shine as the night progressed, before pulling off his party piece to seal victory on 70 minutes.


Glenn Hoddle made an impressive start to his England career.

Bulgaria half-cleared a cross and Trevor Francis pulled the ball back to Hoddle, who was just outside the box. He leaned back and nonchalantly sidefooted the ball high into the roof of the net, with the Bulgarian goalkeeper unable to stop it despite getting a touch to the ball. Wembley erupted, celebrating the emergence of a genuinely exciting talent. Davies seized his moment. “Well you won’t believe this but he said to me before the match ‘it could be I’ll get one’,” he told viewers. Such a comment illustrated Hoddle’s self-belief, although others would forever perceive him as arrogant. It was a fine line. 

Although the goal was not perhaps as ‘great’ as some others Hoddle scored in his career, if put in the correct context then it was a very special one. A player making his international debut and having the self-assurance to sidefoot the ball into the net from outside the box, while also putting in a very assured performance, was certainly noteworthy. Hoddle said afterwards: “I was going to blast it. I decided at the last moment to play it on the volley with the inside of my foot. Things went really well for me and I felt at home out there.”

Glenn Hoddle sidefoots in his debut goal.

High praise for Hoddle

After the 2-0 victory the English football nation was buzzing about Hoddle, believing he was a potential star for the coming years. “We’re seeing the start of a man who is going to be a very big name during the ’80s,” proclaimed Davies. In the Daily Mirror, reporter Frank McGhee voiced reservations about how England might fare in the finals but he was gushing with praise for Hoddle. “English football will always have a chance when it can produce a player of the class and quality of Tottenham’s Glenn Hoddle,” McGhee wrote. “His was perhaps the most impressive debut I’ve seen in international football since young Bobby Charlton’s.” 

This was high praise indeed and in the Daily Express, Joe Melling was also full of enthusiasm about what he had seen. “Hoddle, a 22-year-old self-confident cockney, stopped the show with an opening performance that can rarely have been bettered,” he wrote, under the headline ‘Hoddle’s a Dream’. In the same newspaper, David Miller said Hoddle gave “a mature first appearance as impressive as another London kid called Bobby Moore 17 years ago”, while Alan Thompson commented on it being “one of the most accomplished displays I have ever seen from an England player on debut”.

And on it went, Hoddle probably feeling tempted to buy every newspaper the morning after the game as he dominated the back pages so much. But perhaps – in hindsight at least – the extent of the praise wasn’t totally a good thing, as he would now face a weight of expectation to deliver such performances every time he pulled on an England shirt. 

Struggling to meet the expectation

Davies was right that Hoddle would be a star name of the 1980s, but at international level he perhaps never totally fulfilled the promise shown on his debut. In some way the Bulgaria game was a millstone around his neck, in the same way that John Barnes’ wondergoal against Brazil in 1984 became something of a burden for him. For both players, the famous goals they scored raised expectations higher than perhaps they realistically should have been. Both men had flair and creativity, but they would at times cut frustrated figures as people asked why they weren’t producing the same performances at international level as they did for their clubs. The way they were utilised would often be an answer, Hoddle insisting people would not see the best of him when shunted out wide as he paid for England having an abundance of other central midfielders in his era including Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Peter Reid.

And the Bulgaria goal just wouldn’t go away. After shining against West Germany in 1985,  ITV pundit Jimmy Greaves expressed his  view of Hoddle’s performance that it was “probably the best game he’s played for England since his debut”. That was almost six years earlier and it was as if everything he did in an England shirt had to be compared to it – either that he was finally fulfilling the promise shown on his debut, or that he had never replicated such a performance.

Hoddle’s England career would end in 1988 with 53 caps.

Hoddle emerged in the same period as Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Kenny Sansom, who like him would remain regular members of the England squad for the next decade or so. But while Hoddle was capped 53 times, Robson (90 caps), Sansom (86) and Butcher (77) would all appear significantly more. Although Hoddle’s appearance tally was no disgrace, there was a feeling it should have been so much more. Under both Greenwood and Bobby Robson, the player remained a prominent member of the squad but was not always in the side. He continued to shine at club level and would score particularly superb goals for Spurs against Watford and Oxford United. If ever an Englishman was likely to thrive on the continent it was him, given his style of play. He slotted in well at Monaco after joining in 1987, but following Euro ’88 he never won another England cap. Michel Platini claimed Hoddle “would have won 150 caps” had he been born French.

Hoddle would subsequently manage England, but his controversial beliefs led to his downfall. The beginning of the end was a dire 0-0 draw at home to Bulgaria early in the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign – how Hoddle must have wished he could have fielded his younger self to sidefoot in a delightful goal against the Bulgarians, just as he had done 19 years earlier.

One Cap Wonders – Mike Phelan

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In the latest in our occasional series looking back at England players to earn just a solitary cap at full level, we recall the only England appearance by Mike Phelan – exactly 26 years ago in a friendly against Italy.

Best known to younger fans as the former assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Mike Phelan enjoyed a decent enough playing career – usually operating in midfield. After starting out with Burnley, Phelan came to prominence while playing for Norwich City from 1985 to 1989. This spell saw the club promoted back to the First Division, briefly lead it in 1986-87 and then two seasons later look a serious contender for the most unlikely of doubles going into April. Although they would fall away in the title race and be beaten by Everton in the FA Cup semi-final, it had been a season to remember at Carrow Road.

Their success hadn’t gone unnoticed by England manager Bobby Robson, who in May 1989 selected Phelan as part of the squad to play in the Rous Cup against Chile and Scotland. With several key players unavailable, this looked the ideal time for 26-year-old Phelan to forge his way into the side. But cruelly he had to withdraw through injury shortly after the squad was announced. During the summer he returned to his native North-West and joined Manchester United as part of a big summer of spending at Old Trafford. 

Mike Phelan after joining Manchester United in 1989.

Robson had evidently not forgotten about Phelan and in November the moustachioed midfielder took his place in the England squad as World Cup hosts Italy visited for a glamour friendly (no doubt compounding the misery for Steve Bruce, who had made the same move from Carrow Road to Old Trafford two years earlier but remained uncapped). Some of the non-selections here look particularly interesting with hindsight, given that Paul Gascoigne and Toto Schillaci – two of the stars of Italia ’90 a few months later – were instead picked to play in a B international between the nations at Brighton the night before. With England having already qualified for Italia ’90, every player was now effectively auditioning to make Robson’s 22-man squad for the finals.

A game of two halves

The old cliché of a match being a game of two halves rang true here, as in the first half Robson named a familiar and strong side. But during the second half five substitutes – including four debutants – were brought on, including Phelan and Dave Beasant at half-time for Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton respectively. Nigel Winterburn and David Platt would soon join them in earning their first caps, while the more established Steve Hodge also entered the action. Of the four newcomers, only Platt would earn more than two caps but on the night it was Phelan who came closest to hogging the headlines. A man not known as a goalscorer, he came within inches for doing so for his country just minutes after coming on.


Mike Phelan during his only England cap.

In his match report in The Guardian, David Lacey wrote of how Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga came out a long way to punch a cross clear. “The ball flew straight to Phelan, who spotting the Italian goalkeeper near the edge of the penalty area, lobbed the ball high towards the empty net,” Lacey wrote. “For a moment [Peter] Beardsley thought it was going in and started celebrating – but the shot sailed just wide.”

Never getting another chance

It was a case of so near, so far. As we have previously seen with Danny Wallace, there is no guarantee a debut goal would have led to Bobby Robson giving Phelan another chance. But had he scored, Phelan would have been the first player to find the net for England in 1989-90 – they had drawn 0-0 with Sweden and Poland in their final Italia ’90 qualifiers and did so again here, as the lack of goals became an increasing concern. It would have been hard to overlook Phelan having scored a goal from outside the box, regardless of Zenga having strayed far off his line to make things easier.

Phelan was named in the England squad for the next friendly against Yugoslavia in December, but he didn’t feature. Sadly for Phelan he would find himself out of the picture by the time the World Cup squad was announced and there would be no recall under Robson’s successor Graham Taylor. At club level, Phelan contributed to United’s initial early 1990s revival under Ferguson but he was to find himself increasingly on the fringes as new talent emerged and the club became dominant in the Premier League. A total of 102 league appearances over five years at Old Trafford was lower than he would have hoped for, prior to ending his playing career with West Bromwich Albion. Although he may not have always been able to earn a place in Alex Ferguson’s team, he would later become his assistant and was quoted as claiming he was manager in all but name in the later years of the partnership.

Since leaving Old Trafford in 2013, he has returned to Norwich and then more recently assisted Steve Bruce at Hull City. While Phelan may sit back and reflect with disappointment that he only won one cap for his country, he need only look along the dugout for a reminder that being capped at all wasn’t a given for every decent English footballer of his generation. 

Six of the Best – England in November

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November has long been a busy month for England and one that they have traditionally done well in. We recall six of the best matches from an English perspective from the month during the past 50 years…

November 16, 1966 Wales (h) 5-1 European Championship qualifier


England’s first home match after the 1966 World Cup glory was an anti-climatic 0-0 friendly draw with Czechoslovakia, but two weeks later they regained their goalscoring form when it mattered more. Their new aim was to become 1968 European Championship winners, with successive Home International series doubling up as the qualifying group. Against Wales, England fielded their revered World Cup winning XI for the sixth successive – and final – time. Geoff Hurst rounded off his most memorable year by scoring twice, with the Charlton brothers each on the scoresheet along with an own goal by Terry Hennessey as England won 5-1. 

It wasn’t a bad way to end England’s most glorious year, in which they had remained unbeaten. In the Daily Mirror, Tom Lyons wrote: “The World Cup poise and brilliance wasn’t quite there, but England are still a very fine side. They were in command for practically the whole game and probably would have won by an even bigger margin but for some wild finishing, especially in the first half.”

November 18, 1981 Hungary (h) 1-0 World Cup qualifier


Paul Mariner puts England ahead against Hungary and the nation breathes a huge sigh of relief.

England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup had been turbulent and they had looked all but out after losing to Norway two months earlier. But then came the stroke of good fortune they had been praying for, as Romania twice slipped up against Switzerland – who in turn lost to Hungary to end their own qualification hopes. Suddenly, England now only needed a draw at home to Hungary to make it – a situation identical to against Croatia almost exactly 26 years later in Euro 2008 qualifying, both matches against teams who were already through. 

But where Croatia played with tenacity and broke English hearts, the Hungarians gave a leisurely performance that helped ease any anxiety at Wembley. In front of a capacity night-time crowd of 92,000 and with millions more watching the BBC’s live coverage, Paul Mariner’s early goal put England on their way. They were rarely threatened and should have increased their 1-0 lead but that mattered little. England were through to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970 and the feeling of relief around Wembley was tangible. Rarely has an England home win in a qualifier been so widely celebrated. In the Daily Express, Alan Thompson wrote: “Wembley was last night an amphitheatre of happiness, a packed arena waving flags and sore hoarse throats. And that was half-an-hour after the players had disappeared to the dressing room.”

November 14, 1984 Turkey (a) 8-0 World Cup qualifier


Bryan Robson bags a hat-trick as England beat Turkey 8-0 in 1984.

Three years on from the Hungary game, England were back on the World Cup qualifying trail as they met Turkey for the first time. Although the Turks were not regarded as a good side at the time, a potentially tough fixture seemed in store in front of a partisan home crowd in Istanbul. But England had renewed confidence after winning away to Brazil in a friendly in the summer and a 5-0 victory over Finland in their opening qualifier the previous month. That buoyancy was in evidence as they won 8-0, looking capable of scoring with each attack. Captain Bryan Robson netted a hat-trick, with Tony Woodcock and John Barnes each bagging a brace and Viv Anderson rounding off the scoring.

It could have been more, leading to manager Bobby Robson saying afterwards he felt England had “let them off the hook” by ‘only’ winning 8-0. But that was just nit-picking, for it had been an excellent afternoon’s work for England. 

November 11, 1987 Yugoslavia (a) 4-1 European Championship qualifier 


John Barnes in action for England against Yugoslavia in 1987.

A crunch qualifier for England, as they looked to seal their place at Euro ’88. A draw away to Yugoslavia would be enough, but if they lost to a decent-looking side then in all probability they wouldn’t make it. A tight contest was forecast, with England expected to keep things tight on a filthy afternoon in Belgrade. To everyone’s amazement England led 4-0 within half an hour, as they looked extremely potent in front of goal. “I had to pinch myself when the third and fourth goals went in,” said a delighted Bobby Robson afterwards.

Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams all found the net as even the most pessimistic of England fans began celebrating early. Although a late consolation goal would deny England from qualifying without conceding a goal, this was a day to treasure and the 4-1 victory looked a very impressive result. England had scored 12 goals in their last two qualifiers and would seemingly go into Euro ’88 as a genuine contender. Alas, it was not to be.

November 13, 1999 Scotland (a) 2-0 European Championship play-off


England celebrate as Paul Scholes scores against Scotland in 1999.

There was excitement both north and south of the border in the autumn of 1999 as old rivals Scotland and England were paired together in the play-offs to decide who would qualify for Euro 2000. England had struggled in qualifying to even reach this stage and they knew they would be up against a determined Scottish side, backed by a fervent home crowd in the first-leg at Hampden Park – where England had not played for 10 years. Kevin Keegan’s side rode their luck a bit at times but enjoyed a memorable 2-0 win as Paul Scholes scored twice in the first half and left the Scots facing an uphill struggle to qualify. “We played fantastic today. I couldn’t have asked for more,” raved Keegan afterwards.

The result meant England were unbeaten in 23 consecutive November matches since losing to Italy in 1976, a record which helped back up former manager Bobby Robson’s belief that this was a time of year when the team was at its best. But sadly it would be the end of the run, as the second-leg was lost 1-0 and England scraped into the finals. However, that first-leg win had been decisive in taking them through.

November 12, 2005 Argentina (n) 3-2 Friendly


Michael Owen gives England a memorable win over Argentina in 2005.

So far this century friendlies have – with a couple of exceptions – monopolised England’s November schedule. Although they have enjoyed wins over Germany, Spain (World Cup and Euros holders at the time) and Scotland in such matches that could all have well have made our selected six, the friendly that stands out most took place in neutral Geneva against Argentina 10 years ago. 

“No such thing as a friendly when these two meet,” may be a bit of an overused cliché when England take on any of their main rivals, but in this instance it was true for positive reasons – as unlike many friendlies it felt like a genuine international contest where the result really meant something. Three momentous World Cup clashes between the sides in the previous 20 years added to the fixture’s intensity. Argentina were predicted to be a force in the following year’s World Cup so this fixture looked a good benchmark as to how good England were, coming after poor defeats in recent months to Denmark and Northern Ireland.

Despite a goal from Wayne Rooney, England trailed 2-1 with four minutes remaining before Michael Owen popped up twice to give them a dramatic 3-2 win. Although England’s cause had been helped by Argentine substitutions in the closing stages, this was still a widely heralded win that raised expectations to a particularly high level for the following summer. As England friendlies go, this was as enthralling as it gets. Owen reflected afterwards: “There was so much more to it than a friendly. Even when they scored their fans and players were going mad. It really could have gone either way – they had chances too – and it shows there is not much to choose between the top few teams in the world.”

As we’ve seen, November has often been a good month for England over the years – there were several other games that could have easily been included here. But there have been some exceptions and later this month we will reflect on six instances where things didn’t go quite so well…

England on TV – the Brian Clough Years

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Brian Clough may be forever dubbed “the greatest manager England never had”, but he retained a close association with the national team. For the best part of two decades he could be heard offering – often controversial – thoughts on England and other international matches in his capacity as an ITV pundit.

Clough and television was a rather contradictory relationship. He would bang on in interviews about how there was too much football on the box and bemoaned an excessive amount of talking about the game. “I suggest you shut up and show more football,” he told John Motson at the height of Clough’s Nottingham Forest success. Yet Clough regularly supplemented his income by appearing as a pundit, proving pretty knowledgeable, unpredictable and outspoken. And his services were certainly in demand.

Clough was a man who plenty believed should be managing England, as he enjoyed widespread success at club level. For most of the 1970s and 1980s he had sections of the sporting press repeatedly calling for him to replace the serving England boss, although the role would elude him despite being interviewed for it (more on that in a future blog post). Analysing England matches would have to do as the next best thing and he wasn’t afraid to hold back. His distinct and often-imitated voice was heard a lot by TV viewers in the 1970s and 1980s, meaning he became well-known by people with limited interest in football. Even Muhammad Ali had a message for him!

Clough’s confidence in telling it as he saw it was his big selling point. There was no dodging the question or trying to be polite to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And that made him an asset to ITV’s coverage. They liked employing straight-talking motormouths such as Malcolm Allison, but Clough was unique and things he said both on television and in newspaper columns would be quoted for years to come – his soundbite that Trevor Brooking “floats like a butterfly and he stings like one too” being one such example. 


Clough during the 1982 World Cup with ITV.

Of course, there were also comments made that could be interpreted as xenophobic and would probably have left the FA convinced they did the right thing not appointing him as manager, fearing he would have lacked the necessary diplomacy. As West Germany reached the latter stages of the 1982 World Cup, Clough found it necessary to tell millions of viewers that “they’re murder the Germans” if you spend time on holiday with them – pointing out Peter Taylor had a German son-in-law as if it made his Basil Fawlty-esque view more justifiable. “Can you imagine spending three weeks with them in Palma if they win the World Cup? They’re bad enough as it is.” One wonders if he would have lasted as long in punditry in today’s more cosmopolitan and politically correct world.

But Old Big ‘Ead was a one-off and one particular punditry contribution from more than 40 years ago would never be forgotten and is still talked about today…

Clowning Around

Clough, who won two England caps in his injury-curtailed career, was a BBC analyst during the 1970 World Cup – a tournament when their coverage was unusually overshadowed by ITV and their straight-talking panel. But in 1973 Clough switched channels, in an indirect station swap with the similarly opinionated Jimmy Hill, who moved to the BBC as Match of the Day presenter. Soon Clough was popping up regularly on The Big Match as a summariser. Two months into the season came arguably his most memorable contribution in many years of punditry.

England were in a do-or-die World Cup qualifier at home to Poland. If they won they would make the finals in West Germany, if they didn’t then the 1966 winners wouldn’t qualify. It was a major occasion, with ITV showing the match live. Clough – who had just left Derby County – was a studio panelist, beginning the show in rather odd fashion by saying he had a nail that would be going in either Poland’s coffin or England manager Sir Alf Ramsey’s. He seemed keen to allay the nation’s fears by branding Poland’s goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown” and giving strong assurances England would easily get the win they needed.

Brian Moore runs out of patience with Brian Clough after Poland prevented England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

As everybody knows, Tomaszewski continually kept England at bay as chance after chance went begging and the Poles drew 1-1. Would Clough now be gracious enough to accept labelling the goalkeeper as a clown was unfair? In a word, no. During the post-match analysis, Clough still used the term to describe Tomaszewski (who would later carve out a Clough-style reputation in his homeland for making outspoken statements). Eventually, host Brian Moore snapped like a dad running out of patience with his kids making trumping noises in the back of the car. “You keep calling him a clown but that fellow has made some fantastic saves,” Moore told Clough, pointing his finger towards him. But this was a view Clough refused to go along with. Fellow pundit Derek Dougan also weighed in and defended the Polish goalkeeper, but Clough would have none of it. If anything, he seemed even more keen to show he had been right all along. 

The man Cloughie labelled a “clown” stopped England qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

Clough wouldn’t let the matter drop, declaring on TV a few days later that Tomaszewski would be found out in the World Cup the following summer and saying he was the weak link in the Polish side. He was wrong on that, as the goalkeeper twice saved penalties in the tournament and helped them to an impressive third place. Clough spent the competition offering his thoughts in the ITV studio – a panel that basically followed the lead of 1970 in containing colourful football personalities with strong views. 


Clough took his place on ITV’s 1974 World Cup panel – sadly without England matches to analyse.

He fitted in perfectly on the panel, which couldn’t be said of his infamous brief spell at Leeds United in the weeks that followed. It ended after just 44 days with an often-recalled TV head-to-head with his great rival Don Revie, who was now in charge of England. The mutual dislike couldn’t have been more obvious.

The two Brians

While Clough and Peter Taylor may be the partnership most frequently recalled, there was another enduring double act Cloughie enjoyed. Brian Moore would regularly be alongside him as presenter of The Big Match or as lead commentator on occasions when Clough was deployed as co-commentator. It was an unlikely friendship between two men who appeared to have contrasting personalities, but they complemented each other well and appeared genuinely fond of each other. 


Brian Moore and Brian Clough preparing for an episode of The Big Match.

But the aforementioned Poland game was probably not the only time Moore grew irritated with Clough and his rather unpredictable nature. In September 1983 England hosted Denmark in a vital qualifier for Euro ’84 that was live on ITV. With the game less than a minute old, teenager Michael Laudrup missed a chance to put the Danes ahead. “The wonderboy is human after all,” exclaimed Moore. Co-commentator Clough pedantically shot back: “I’ve never seen a 19-year-old wonderboy in my life.” 

Moore did see the funny side during the 1986 World Cup, when Clough again joined him in the London studio. During a discussion with Clough’s new punditry sparring partner Mike  Channon, the former Southampton star said: “The Irish have done it, the French do it, the West Germans do it…” Clough seized his moment. “Even educated bees do it,” he quipped, to raucous laughter from Moore. 

McCarthy has the last laugh

Clough was one of ITV’s leading pundits during Euro ’88 in West Germany. This tournament really represented his last hurrah in terms of international punditry, as he was absent from their Italia ’90 coverage (his choice according to newspaper reports of the time) and the BBC had exclusive terrestrial rights to most England matches for several years after this. In a warm-up for Euro ’88 Clough was in the studio with Nick Owen for England’s trip to Hungary – oddly calling Gary Pallister “McAllister” – and he cast doubt upon captain Bryan Robson’s position in the side after “an indifferent season”. Again, Clough certainly wasn’t going to sit on the fence or just go along with what the nation at large may have thought about their footballing heroes.

Fifteen years on from the Poland game, it seemed Clough still wasn’t afraid to make controversial statements that had the potential to backfire – and duly did. Prior to England’s tournament opener against the Republic of Ireland, Clough decided to dismiss the credentials of Irish defender Mick McCarthy who had passed a fitness test to play. “I’m glad from an English point of view that the Irish centre half’s fit… because I don’t think he’s international class for a start and I would have thought [Peter] Beardsley and [Gary] Lineker will be rubbing their hands. In fact if they could have got him a few Deutschmarks to get him even fitter still so there’d be no doubt I think they would have slipped him a few.”

Brian Clough during ITV’s coverage of Euro ’88 – his last major tournament as a pundit.

Clough knew he was being witty with the last bit but he was also pretty damning about a player who was about to appear against England. But McCarthy would have the last laugh as the Irish won 1-0 and England crashed out with three successive defeats. If Clough hoped this might at last give him he chance to manage his country, then it wouldn’t happen for him as Bobby Robson kept his job and – despite still having his fans in the media – Clough was realistically never in the running when Robson did leave in 1990.

Not being a pundit on England matches in this period was perhaps for the best, given Clough’s son Nigel was first capped in 1989 and deserved his chance without having his father being constantly asked about him in the studio (it was difficult enough a few years later when Ian Wright was on the BBC panel when Shaun Wright-Phillips was playing for England). Some later appearances as a pundit such as when Derby County met Tottenham Hotspur in 1991 sadly did not go particularly well, Clough almost seeming like a parody of his past self and lacking the insight he once had. But after retiring from football management in 1993 he still remained in demand for his views, continuing to write opinion columns in the media until shortly before he died in 2004. And his death opened the floodgates to a never-ending steam of documentaries, films and books about the man, ensuring the many views he shared at his peak are still heard today.

When he reached that peak, Clough was revered like no other TV football pundit. He was witty, very opinionated, knowledgeable (if not always on the money with his predictions) and entertaining, certainly not a nodding dog who didn’t really want to be sat in front of the cameras. In such respects he was quite like the Formula One world champion turned co-commentator James Hunt – minus the playboy lifestyle – as you could never be sure just what he would say next. Clough was made for both football management and television and he relished both roles, it’s fair to say.