Month: February 2016

Great England Goals – Bryan Robson v Israel (1986)

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Thirty years ago today England met Israel for the first time in a friendly in Tel Aviv. England’s performance won few plaudits, but their 2-1 victory included the winner of the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition for 1985-86 – a volley by captain Bryan Robson. It provided a rare moment of joy for the player during a difficult few months…

England were having a busy few months preparing for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, playing at least one match in every calendar month from January to May. But the selection of the first two friendlies drew criticism and raised questions about their merit. In January England beat Egypt 4-0 in Cairo and the following month they travelled to Tel Aviv to take on Israel.

One of manager Bobby Robson’s arch-critics, Emlyn Hughes, slammed the decision to play Egypt and was also scathing about the Israel match. “There’s another joke trip lined up next month when England go to Israel. We won’t learn anything from that match either and by the time Mexico comes round everyone will be burned out,” he argued.

  

Israel welcome England in February 1986.

But for the England manager the match carried value. Writing in his 1986 World Cup Diary, Robson explained why Israel were chosen as opponents: “The reasons why we had picked Israel were that we were sure the weather in Tel Aviv would not hinder our preparations, that our fans would not be so stupid as to cause trouble over there and that we were reasonably confident that we would win. It was the sort of game a club manager likes to undertake pre-season against teams whom he knows will provide a test but are the sort of opposition where the club can play and enjoy their football.”

The first reason Robson gave for the choice of match would prove good thinking, given Britain endured bad weather in February 1986. The second was a sad indictment of how serious the hooligan problem had become for England. And the third reason given would quickly be put to the test, as England found their hosts looking to pull off a surprise victory.

The two Robsons

  

Bryan Robson (left) and Bobby Robson.

Much of the 1980s was all about the Robsons so far as England were concerned, with Bobby managing the team and namesake Bryan being his captain and inspiration in the heart of the midfield. The 1985-86 season was proving bitter-sweet for the player. He had helped Manchester United win their opening 10 league games and secured early qualification for the World Cup with England. But he had gone off injured during England’s win against Turkey in October, been sent-off playing for United in the FA Cup at Sunderland, seen his team’s title dream start to fade and then he sustained another injury against West Ham United in a league game in early February. Thankfully he was fit in time to play for England against Israel, but he went into the match with limited recent gametime under his belt.

Manager Robson fielded a strong side but England did not produce a good display in the first half, going in 1-0 down at half-time after an early breakaway goal by Eli Ohana that raised concerns about English defending. A dog running on the field was to be the most memorable sight for English viewers during the first half!

Six minutes after the break came the game’s turning point. Glenn Hoddle floated a lovely ball across to captain Robson, who scored with a delightful volley from the edge of the box. “It was a goal that would have graced the World Cup Final itself,” proclaimed England’s manager.

Bryan Robson volleys England level.

Barry Davies, commentating for live BBC coverage, was for once not in wordsmith mode. “Robson…yes….” was the rather low-key commentary of the goal, perhaps reflecting the fact it was only a friendly and Davies was unimpressed with England’s display. The celebrations were also muted, Robson settling for 1950s style handshakes with team-mates before making his way back to the centre circle.

But it proved sufficient to win the BBC Goal of the Season award, the only time an England goal has clinched the accolade (goals scored in major tournaments automatically miss out due to taking place after the voting finishes). Robson’s cause in winning the award was helped by the Football League TV blackout in the first half of the 1985-86 season, limiting the number of goals to choose from. It was perhaps not as well remembered as some other goals he scored for his country, but it was an excellent finish to win him an honour he missed out on the previous season for his volleyed goal against East Germany.

Coping without the captain

Robson later scored the winner from the penalty spot to give England an unconvicing 2-1 victory. There was criticism of the the team but not the captain. ‘What would we do without him?’ asked the back page headline in the following day’s Daily Express. Sadly, the question would soon be raised for real after Robson dislocated his shoulder playing in an FA Cup tie at West Ham the following week. He would have to watch on as United fell out of the title race and there were serious concerns about whether he would be fit to play in the World Cup.

Bryan Robson’s World Cup ends prematurely.

As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the back pages became dominated by a key England player’s bid to be fit for the World Cup. Robson won his battle to be fit enough to be in the squad for the finals, but concerns still lingered about the shoulder. Sure enough, in the second game against Morocco he went off with his arm in a sling.

It was a sad sight, as England were left to try and stay in the tournament without their captain and star man. But ultimately they would prove they could survive without Robson, going on to reach the quarter-finals. At the age of 28, the World Cup in Mexico should have been the ideal time for Robson to shine on the world stage and repeat moments such as the goal against Israel. But his injury curse had struck again at the worst possible time for him.

Faces of ’66 – Kenneth Wolstenholme

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In the second of our posts focusing on individuals who had life-changing years in 1966 thanks to the World Cup, we look at the man who became known as the ‘voice’ of the tournament – Kenneth Wolstenholme. The BBC commentator’s immortal words as Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick in the final will be forever recalled and earned Wolstenholme lasting fame, but they failed to stop the clock soon ticking on his days at the BBC…

We have previously wondered how differently things might have been if West Germany hadn’t equalised in the dying seconds of the 1966 World Cup final. There would have been no hat-trick for Geoff Hurst, no ‘Russian’ linesman (more on him in the near-future) and these magical words would almost certainly never have been uttered by Kenneth Wolstenholme: “Some people are on the pitch… they think it’s all over… it is now.”

The phrase has become known by millions, footage of Hurst’s third goal to make it 4-2 in the 1966 final not seeming right if it isn’t accompanied by Wolstenholme’s commentary. Wolsteholme had been saying: “And here comes Hurst, he’s got…”. Suddenly his attention was drawn from the forward bearing down on goal to fans running onto the playing surface. Although there was nothing particularly exceptional about pointing out that some people were on the pitch thinking the final whistle had sounded, the timing of the words as Hurst then scored and Wolstenholme uttered “it is now” meant they fitted perfectly. 

For Wolstenholme it was a line that would earn him lasting fame and he became almost as synonymous with England’s triumph as their 11 players in the final (poor old Hugh Johns was left to simply be the answer to the quiz question of ‘who commentated for ITV on the 1966 World Cup final?’). “He was one of us,” said England’s Martin Peters when talking about Wolstenholme.

Wolstenholme followed it up with another famous set of words as Bobby Moore went to collect the Jules Rimet Trophy. “It is only 12 inches high… solid gold… and it means England are the world champions.” It was simple but telling and Wolstenholme later said he felt greater pride over this phrase than “they think it’s all over”. But the latter line would be the one he would forever be known for. If the BBC quiz show Pointless asked 100 people to name a Kenneth Wolstenholme commentary moment, it’s fair to assume the vast majority would give that as their answer.

At the time he said it, nobody could have envisaged just how celebrated the phrase would become in decades to come – least of all the commentator. “I never realised my 1966 words would have such an impact,” he recalled years later. “They didn’t at the time, all the talk was about winning the World Cup and nobody gave a tuppeny stuff what anyone had said on television or what the coverage had been like. But BBC2 repeated the match later in the year and it was after that, when people were watching it already knowing the result, that the words came out and hit them.”

War hero turned commentary star

Wolstenholme could quite feasibly have not lived to enjoy his commentary fame, having put his life on the line serving as a bomber pilot in the Second World War. He thankfully emerged unscathed and with the Distinguished Flying Cross to his name. After being demobbed he established himself as the BBC’s top football commentator and covered the World Cups of 1954, 1958 and 1962. In August 1964 he both hosted and commentated on the first edition of Match of the Day but the following January he was hospitalised after a health scare.

Mercifully he pulled through and, after a period of absence, returned to the commentary box. He was back to full form long before the 1966 World Cup began. He covered all England’s matches, including the controversial quarter-final win over Argentina when Jimmy Hill was alongside him as ‘summariser’. Paying tribute after Wolstenholme died, Hill went so far as to say: “It was like, for me, sitting there with God.” That perhaps gives some indication of just how highly regarded Wolstenhome was at his peak.

Despite this new-found acclamation from beyond his regular MOTD viewers after 1966, Wolstenholme’s days as the BBC’s top football man were soon under-threat. So much so that he never commentated on another England World Cup match. As black and white coverage gave way to colour television in the late 1960s, Wolstenholme’s face – or more appropriately his voice – no longer seemed to fit at the Beeb.

David Coleman, already well-established as a sports broadcaster, was in growing demand as a football commentator and at the 1970 World Cup he was to describe England’s matches. Given that England were the defending champions and the big ratings winner back home, that says much about how the balance of power was tipping away from Wolstenholme just four years on from his greatest day.

Wolstenholme was due to commentate on the final, but there was a potential collision course if England were involved in it as Coleman would then be the wanted man. For Wolstenholme it was time to act. “I paid for counsel’s opinion,” he later recalled. “They read my contract and said if the BBC wanted to give the commentary to anybody else I could have had an injunction, which would have been very nasty.”

England’s collapse in the quarter-final against West Germany meant the anticipated row never erupted, but the die had been cast. Wolstenholme waxed lyrical about the “sheer delightful football” Brazil played in beating Italy in the final, but when it came to renegotiating his contract a year later he found the BBC wanted to remove the clause that he covered World Cup and FA Cup finals. It proved the last straw and Wolstenholme left the corporation just five years on from 1966 and shortly before his 51st birthday. His BBC days really were all over.

Life after the Beeb

In the present day, a commentator of Wolstenholme’s stature would almost certainly have been snapped up by a satellite broadcaster. But there was no such option in an era when viewers had just the choice of BBC or ITV. He was later to commentate on weekly highlights for the ITV’s regional North-East channel Tyne-Tees. There were worse gigs to have than covering matches in a football-mad region, but he was hardly being heard across the nation every week. In the rest of the country the match would be afforded brief highlights or nothing at all. Wolstenholme left Tyne-Tees in 1979, but when Channel 4 began covering Italian football in 1992 his voice returned to our screens on a regular basis as he rounded-up the latest Serie A action.

In the 1990s Wolstenholme’s most famous line became the title for BBC comedy quiz show They Think It’s All OverWolstenholme complained about its use and it wasn’t the only time he would get protective over the phrase being applied. Its presence in a dog food advert particularly rankled. “I just can’t see what the phrase has to do with dog food,” he argued. “I am pretty proud of that phrase and it annoys me to see others pinching it and living off it.” It was surprisingly immodest stuff from Wolstenholme, although criticism could often be found coming from his lips in later years regarding the way he believed football commentary was going.

Tributes galore

Wolstenholme died in March 2002, aged 81. The tributes flooded in, particularly from the England stars of ’66. Sir Bobby Charlton said: “He loved the game and he was good at what he did. He had a marvellous voice which everybody remembers, and of course, those very famous words. He created the picture. 1966 was not just about the players, it was about Kenneth Wolstenholme as well.”

Criticisms of present-day commentary did not stop many of Wolstenholme’s successors paying tribute, including Barry Davies. Speaking of the commentary great, Davies said: “He had a great voice and knew when to use it and when to remain silent. He produced the definitive line of commentary at the most important moment in the history of English football – ‘They think it’s all over, it is now’.”

Wolstenholme’s commentary career was about far more than just one line, covering numerous memorable matches at both international and club level. But it was ultimately what he would be defined by. Wherever you looked after his death, a single piece of commentary on a July afternoon 36 years earlier was being talked about. And being synonymous with his own nation’s most glorious football moment wasn’t a bad way to be remembered.

England’s St Valentine’s Day massacre of Scotland (1973)

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Today we look back to February 14, 1973, when Scotland welcomed England to a snowy Hampden Park for a friendly to help celebrate the centenary of the Scottish FA. But it proved a Valentine’s Night to forget for the Scots, as England crushed their old rivals 5-0…

A decade after the Football Association had celebrated its centenary in 1963, the Scottish FA reached the same milestone. To begin the celebrations they wanted an extra helping of the oldest international fixture, with England making the trip to Hampden Park in February 1973 for a friendly. The match was to take place on Valentine’s Night, and what could stir the passions of the average Scot more than the visit of the loathed Sassenachs from south of the border? But ultimately it was to be a night to forget for the Scots and one to savour for the English.

To add to the celebratory spirit of the occasion, England captain Bobby Moore was to win his 100th cap in the days when that was a rare achievement. However, this was never going to be some testimonial-esque kickabout to celebrate that and the Scottish FA centenary. Most Scotsmen relished any chance to beat England – something they hadn’t done since 1967 – while England boss Sir Alf Ramsey was not exactly renowned as a lover of the Scots. It was to be a friendly in name only, with Scottish players keen to impress new manager Willie Ormond. He had replaced Tommy Docherty, who had been lured by First Division strugglers Manchester United.

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Bobby Moore goes back to school to celebrate reaching 100 England caps against Scotland.

The match would carry numerous quirks, including breaking the traditional alternating pattern of who hosted the fixture (Scotland had been the home side for the previous clash as well), providing a rare midweek meeting and meaning the sides would face each other twice in the same calendar year for the first time in official internationals. Snow had fallen and a crowd of 48,470 braved the wintry weather – a fair few no doubt risking being put in the doghouse for going there on Valentine’s Night rather than spending it with their other half – but this was well down on the usual attendances when the sides met annually in the Home International Championship.

Sir Alf calls it right

England were going into the match having scored just 13 goals in 11 matches, with the previous month bringing a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Wales in World Cup qualifying. Ramsey said: “It should be an easier game than the Welsh match at Wembley. The emphasis is on Scotland to attack at home.” The way the match panned out showed that, despite having an ever-increasing army of critics, Sir Alf could still call things spot on. It was one of their best attacking displays for a long time.

Within 16 minutes the game was effectively over. Peter Lorimer turned the ball into his own net before his Leeds United team-mate Allan Clarke scored past near-namesake Bobby Clark. Moments later a long-throw from Martin Chivers ended with Mike Channon putting England 3-0 up.

The scoring was put on hold until the second half, with England netting twice after long punts forward by goalkeeper Peter Shilton created goalscoring chances. Chivers seized on awful defending to make it 4-0, while Clarke ran through to score a neat fifth. Although England were hopeful of winning beforehand, few would have anticipated such a convincing triumph. In the Daily Mirror, Harry Miller wrote: “England won back their self-respect last night  as Scotland were humiliated by a display that should silence Sir Alf Ramsey’s critics.”

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Scots humiliated

It had been a birthday party to forget for Scotland, their biggest home defeat by the Auld Enemy since 1888. In Glasgow’s The Herald newspaper, a mournful Ian Archer wrote: “This was a defeat that will haunt and hurt us all for it it difficult to avoid those distressing cliches and describe the scoreline as ‘humilitating’, even ‘shameful’. Many a tartan tammy will have been thrown into the gutter of Cathcart Road late last evening.” Among the beaten Scottish players were such respected figures as captain Billy Bremner and a young Kenny Dalglish.

England beat Scotland again three months later, this time 1-0 at Wembley. And yet who would have the last laugh? It was Scotland, as they qualified for the World Cup and England didn’t. If only England could have saved one of their goals against the Scots for that infamous night against the Poles in October 1973.

 

Six of the Best – England under Ron Greenwood

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This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of former England manager Ron Greenwood. Today we recall six of the best games of his reign, choosing one match per year from 1977 to 1982.

November 16, 1977 Italy (h) 2-0, World Cup qualifier

  

Trevor Brooking in action for England against Italy in 1977.

Ron Greenwood was still in caretaker charge of England when they faced Italy in their last World Cup qualifying match in November 1977. Whatever England did, the night was always likely to be tinged with disappointment as Italy still had the luxury of a home game against whipping boys Luxembourg to come to claim the qualification spot. To make things genuinely tough for the Italians, England would need to beat them by several goals to potentially go through on goal difference. 

Most had accepted it wouldn’t happen and simply wanted to see the team restore pride with a good performance and win. They duly did so, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scoring as England triumphed 2-0 and the crowd went home satisfied with what they had seen. The FA evidently felt the same way as Greenwood was handed the job on a permanent basis the following month ahead of Brian Clough.

May 24, 1978 Hungary (h) 4-1, Friendly

Greenwood made a positive start in the England job and the Home International Championship was won before they concluded the 1977-78 season with a friendly against Hungary, who had qualified for the World Cup. England’s display gave cause for optimism as they beat the Hungarians 4-1 with Peter Barnes, Phil Neal (penalty), Trevor Francis and Tony Currie all finding the net. “England are back” chanted the buoyant Wembley crowd. It may only have been a friendly but there was a new-found belief about England and it boded well for the qualifying programme for the 1980 European Championship.

In The Times, Norman Fox wrote: “England offered their apologies for not qualifying for the World Cup when, at Wembley last night, they gave their best display since being taken over by Ron Greenwood. Against the Hungarians, who 25 years before had been the first foreign team to beat them at this stadium, they showed that in a few months they had learned a lot.”

June 6, 1979 Bulgaria (a) 3-0, European Championship qualifier

In a grim 1970s England had paid for away defeats to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Italy as they crashed out in three successive qualifying groups. Now they headed to Sofia standing every chance of making the 1980 European Championship, knowing that getting a good result in a potentially tough away match against Bulgaria would boost their prospects. They duly did that, winning 3-0 in energy-sapping heat to get the nation believing they were at last going to see England in a major tournament again. Kevin Keegan put England in front, before two goals in a minute from Dave Watson and Peter Barnes sealed the win. 

Greenwood purred: “We are trying to produce what I think is essential in world football – complete technique in every department with the physical effort to go with it.” There was no looking back and qualification was all but wrapped up in October with a 5-1 away win against Northern Ireland. With a qualifying record of seven wins and a draw from eight matches, it proved to be a very successful campaign for England and Greenwood.

May 13, 1980 Argentina (h) 3-1, Friendly

  

Diego Maradona was on the losing side against England in 1980.

In May 1980 England were preparing for the European Championship finals and they welcomed world champions Argentina to Wembley, which was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity. The match afforded the English public a first chance to see 19-year-old Diego Maradona in action and, although only a friendly, it would also act as a useful yardstick as to how good England now actually were. Sporting a new-look kit, England delivered and went 2-0 up thanks to goals from the impressive David Johnson either side of half-time. Daniel Passarella pulled a goal back from the penalty spot before Kevin Keegan sealed a 3-1 win for England, leaving fans genuinely optimistic for the summer in Italy. Hailing Johnson, Daily Express reporter Peter Edwards wrote: “A 92,000 crowd that had come to pay homage to £3m-rated Diego Maradona left saluting the exuberant Liverpool striker.”

Typically the euphoria proved short-lived, England being beaten 4-1 by Wales just four days later and then failing to progress beyond the group stage at the Euros. Now their attention turned to trying to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.

June 6, 1981 Hungary (a) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup was fraught and a poor 2-1 defeat in Switzerland in May saw Greenwood, 59, make up his mind to retire. He would delay his announcement until after the following weekend’s tough-looking trip to Hungary, where few were expecting an England win after a dreadful run of form. The recalled Trevor Brooking gave them the lead in Budapest, only for Hungary to level before the break through Imre Garaba after a mistake by Ray Clemence. But in the second half Brooking restored England’s advantage with a beautiful shot that saw the ball memorably became lodged in the stanchion of the goal, describing it as the “finest goal I scored in my entire career” in his autobiography. Kevin Keegan wrapped up a fine 3-1 win from the penalty spot and qualifying for Spain was now a realistic possibility again.

  

Trevor Brooking scores for England against Hungary.

On the flight home, Greenwood informed the players he was quitting but they talked him out of it and he focused again on leading England to the World Cup. Another bad defeat in Norway left alarm bells ringing, but other results went in their favour and a joyful 1-0 win over Hungary in the return game at Wembley saw them through to their first World Cup finals since 1970.

June 16, 1982 France (n) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

Greenwood was to leave the England job after the 1982 World Cup – this time not being persuaded to continue – and he looked to go out with the nation basking in success. England’s first match of the tournament brought them up against a decent France side featuring Michel Platini in Bilbao. Those English fans in the stadium or who had rushed home from work or school to watch it on TV were rewarded as Bryan Robson famously opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. Gerard Soler pulled France level but Robson headed England back into the lead during the second half. Paul Mariner wrapped up the 3-1 victory and England could savour beating their main threat in the group. 

It had been a long wait to see England play at a World Cup and the team had responded with a performance that they would struggle to match in the remainder of the tournament. Greenwood, who gave credit to assistant Don Howe for the set-piece which they scored their opener from, said: “Everyone in the England camp is delighted with the result and I think everyone agrees that we deserved it.”

  

Bryan Robson opens the scoring after 27 seconds against France.

Although England did not concede in any of their other four games at the tournament, their goals dried up and successive 0-0 draws against West Germany and Spain in the second group phase saw them make a rather low-key exit. They came in for criticism for their negative approach in the second phase and it marked a slightly anti-climatic ending to the manager’s reign. Greenwood’s England had been beaten just once across eight matches at two major tournaments, but at neither did they make the final four. 

Greenwood called time on his football career, other than offering his opinions as a radio summariser. He died on February 9, 2006, aged 84. Although he may not have received the widespread tributes when he died that were afforded to his successor, Sir Bobby Robson, there were plenty who spoke affectionately of Greenwood and his footballing contributions. As we have seen, his England reign included some memorable victories and he returned the nation to major tournaments after a dreadful era under his predecessors.