Month: May 2016

England’s Euro ’80 – Hopes go up in smoke

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Today we look back at England’s fortunes in the 1980 European Championship. The competition marked England’s return to major tournaments after a lengthy absence, but they would make a quick exit – and the behaviour of a section of their followers would make all the headlines… 

England qualified in style for Euro ’80, winning seven of their eight matches to secure their place in the finals. This was to be the first European Championship to resemble a proper tournament, with the quarter-finals no longer played over two legs. Instead there would now be two groups of four teams in Italy, with the winners of each section progressing to the final. England were in the easier-looking of the two groups, having avoided a section which included holders Czechoslovakia, World Cup runners-up Netherlands and 1974 world champions West Germany. Instead, England’s main concern looked to be the hosts Italy, who they would face along with Belgium and Spain.

The qualifying campaign had raised expectations for England, along with an impressive 2-0 away win in a friendly against Spain in March 1980 and beating world champions Argentina in May. But four days later they were brought down to earth with a 4-1 loss to Wales at Wrexham. It was hard to be sure just how England would fare in Italy, but if Ron Greenwood could replicate the success of English club sides in Europe then they had every chance. While the national team had been experiencing a lean period, English clubs had dominated the European Cup for the past four years with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest each winning it twice. Both clubs would be well represented in the squad, including the goalkeepers of Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. This tournament would see Greenwood let the goalkeepers share duties, as he would continue to do until he finally picked Shilton as clear number one for the 1982 World Cup. One unfortunate absentee was forward Trevor Francis, ruled out through injury.

England’s absence from recent major competitions meant for virtually all the squad this would be their first major tournament, with Emlyn Hughes the only player left who went to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico (he didn’t play in either competition). Kevin Keegan had become the star England player of his era, but this was finally his chance to appear in a major finals. There were injury concerns about him prior to the competition, but he insisted he was fit to play. “I’m ready for Italy. There are no excuses now if we don’t do well,” he said. The build-up seemed very low-key by today’s standards. The back pages were dominated by cricket until the tournament began and England flew out to Italy just two days before their opening match. England may have been back in the big time, but this clearly did not compare to the World Cup – although they visited 10 Downing Street shortly before the finals. Kevin Keegan seemed to see the funny side as he met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher!

Trouble in Turin

England would start their tournament against Belgium in Turin on June 12. The Belgians were quoted as saying they did not expect to beat England, but Greenwood wasn’t buying it. “We don’t in any way underestimate them,” he said ahead of the match. “They are a strong side, a side with experience even if they are unpredictable.” The tournament was blighted by poor attendances and just 15,186 were in the Stadio Comunale to see Ray Wilkins put England ahead after 25 minutes. Not a renowned goalscorer, Wilkins expertly played the ball over the Belgian defence and ran through to then chip goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff and score. Surely this goal would set England on their way to victory and potentially a place in the final? Sadly not. Just four minutes later Jan Ceulemans equalised for Belgium. 

It was then that England’s tournament was tarnished. Fighting broke out on the terraces, with tear gas fired by police in a bid to quell the violence. Goalkeeper Clemence briefly lost vision due to the spray, with the match stopped for five minutes. There had been disorder involving English hooligans before, but this incident marked a new low point – inside the stadium during a major tournament, with the match halted as a result. Greenwood fumed afterwards: “We have done everything to create the right impression, then these bastards let you down.” He added: “I wish they could all be put in a boat and dropped in the ocean.” If this was the normally diplomatic Greenwood speaking out like this, one can only imagine what Brian Clough would have come out with if he’d been in charge…

Tear gas was sprayed during England’s match against Belgium.

The match was always going to struggle to get going again after the trouble, but in the closing stages England thought they had regained the lead through Tony Woodcock. But his effort was controversially ruled out and the decision would prove significant in the final reckoning. The match ended 1-1, representing a point dropped for England but with them still in with a shout of reaching the final.

The aftermath of the match was overshadowed by the crowd trouble and the FA being fined £8,000, which was considered a token gesture amid fears of possible expulsion. Under the headline of ‘Softies’, Frank McGhee angrily wrote in the Daily Mirror: “That is roughly the equivalent of a slap on the wrist with a wet lettuce leaf, or trying to starve a rich man to death by stealing a single potato from his plate. No one among the England officials out here is actually saying so, but you would have to nail their feet to the floor to prevent a dance of delight at the decision. I could belabour the metaphor forever because I am so cross about it. Punishment should hurt – and this one doesn’t.”

Hopes end after two games

England fans were now being urged to hide their colours en route to their next match – a Sunday night showdown with Italy in Turin. It was a match of vital importance, both in terms of England’s hopes of winning the tournament and the need for their fans to behave themselves. Off the field there was mercifully no repeat of the scenes three days earlier, with most England fans having walked together from the railway station in a bid to avoid attacks. On the pitch, whoever lost was staring elimination in the face. Italy had drawn 0-0 with Spain in their opening game, with the Spaniards then losing to Belgium. The Belgians were emerging as a surprise package, but the match between Italy and England was the blue riband fixture of the group and a crowd of 59,649 was the highest of the tournament. Italy’s preparations for the tournament had been hit by a bribery scandal, with forward Paulo Rossi banned as a result.

England and Italy prepare for their group stage showdown.

Greenwood handed a start to young Nottingham Forest forward Garry Birtles. An even contest ensued, settled 11 minutes from time with Phil Neal taking the blame for failing to win a tackle against Francesco Graziani. He put over an excellent cross for Marco Tardelli to score from close range past Shilton. Earlier Ray Kennedy had struck the woodwork for England, as they suffered a 1-0 defeat which made it impossible for them to win the competition. Their only hope now was they could win through to the third place play-off if they beat Spain. Trying to remain upbeat, Greenwood said: “We have got to keep our sights on that target and I’m proud that the spirit in the team is still sky-high. Phil Neal is blaming himself but no one else is blaming him.”

Pride restored

Greenwood again made changes for the Spain game, meaning 19 members of the squad enjoyed gametime in Italy. Trevor Brooking gave England the lead, but three minutes into the second half Dani equalised from the spot. He strode up to beat Clemence with another penalty a few minutes later, only for the referee to spot an infringement and order a retake. This time around Clemence saved and England were off the hook. They took advantage of this with Woodcock restoring their lead to give them a 2-1 victory. England had created a series of chances in the match with Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada continually denying them. But Greenwood wasn’t overjoyed with the win. “We played much better against Italy,” he admitted.

Ray Clemence saves a penalty as England beat Spain.

England now basically needed a team to win between Italy and Belgium later on to reach the third place match, certainly if the Belgians lost by at least two goals. But it wasn’t to be. Italy could not make the breakthrough, with the 0-0 draw meaning Belgium were surprisingly through to the final against West Germany. Italy’s dreams of glory were over, the only goal in any of their three group games being their winner against England. 

For England, the tournament set the trend for their other overseas European Championship appearances over the next 20 years. They would make a swift return home and with the conduct of a section of their fans having brought shame upon the nation. We have previously recalled how Euro ’80 – or Europa ’80 as it was generally known at the time – was not considered a success amid low crowds, negative tactics, criticisms of the competition’s format and the hooliganism seen during England’s match against Belgium. That would unfortunately be the tournament’s lasting image in England. The ‘English Disease’ was taking hold and further violence would follow on several occasions when England travelled abroad in the ensuing years.

On the field it had been a mixed bag for England. In today’s world a record of a win, a draw and a defeat from matches against Belgium, Italy and Spain would probably be considered a good return. Even at the time it represented disappointment over an early exit rather than abject failure. In keeping with Greenwood’s reign as a whole, England were neither good nor bad really. Yet it might have all been different. Had Woodcock’s disallowed goal against Belgium been allowed to stand and subsequent results stayed the same, England would have topped the group and been in the final. How differently we might look back at this tournament if that goal had been allowed…

Bryan Robson’s pain of Mexico ’86

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In the latest of our articles on the 1986 World Cup we recall England’s captain 30 years ago, Bryan Robson, and how his tournament was ruined by a dislocated shoulder. What should have been a competition where he shone ended with him watching on from the sidelines after he went off injured against Morocco…

For much of the 1980s, the England team was about the Robsons. The manager was Bobby Robson, the captain was Bryan Robson. Bobby, like Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson, adored Bryan. His fierce will-to-win, bravery, box-to-box approach and leadership qualities all made him integral to the teams he played for. In an era between the departure of Kevin Keegan and emergence of Paul Gascoigne, Robson was a strong contender for the most famous current English footballer. Atkinson had forked out a then British record £1.5 million to get Robson to follow him from West Bromwich Albion in 1981. “Solid gold” was Big Ron’s description of the player, as he justified the transfer fee.

Although he wasn’t without his critics (as a Google search of ‘Bryan Robson over-rated’ will confirm), there were plenty who idolised Robson and shared the view of his managers about how important he was. Naysayers would have found it hilarious that Bobby Robson considered his namesake to belong in the same category as such greats as Diego Maradona and Michel Platini; others would have seen nothing wrong with that view.

Bobby Robson was a big fan of his namesake and England captain Bryan.

But one persistent problem throughout Bryan Robson’s career was injuries, something the player’s critics were happy to point out. His courage and desire to scrap for every ball probably did not help, as he would all too frequently have to spend time on the sidelines after sustaining an injury in the heat of battle. He had to sit out a number of crucial games for both club and country during his career, with perhaps his most high-profile injury woes prematurely ending his participation in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Robson was arguably at his peak at 29, well-established as England captain and considered central to the team’s prospects. But shoulder injuries sadly do not magically heal just because it’s the World Cup. As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the nation became obsessed with a key player’s injury concerns going into the World Cup. For Robson it all happened in Monterrey, a long time ago.

Bryan Robson is helped by physio Fred Street after his injury against Morocco.

Catalogue of injuries

The first warning sign of what lay ahead came in January 1985, when Robson sustained a dislocated shoulder during a defeat for United by Coventry City. Typifying the way Robson’s luck would seem to be out over the next 18 months, he landed on the transformer box of Old Trafford’s undersoil heating. He wrote in his autobigraphy: “The shoulder was put back in place and the medical advice was that, because it was the first dislocation, we should allow it to heal naturally… If I had known that there was such a good chance of the shoulder coming out again, I would have told the surgeons to sew it up then and there. It would have been far better to get the problem sorted for good.”

Despite not undergoing surgery, Robson still spent several weeks on the sidelines but the campaign ended with him lifting the FA Cup. The 1985-86 season began well for Robson and United, with the team famously winning their opening 10 league matches. Robson could dream of captaining his club to the First Division title and then his country to World Cup glory. On October 16 England booked their place in the World Cup finals and recorded a 5-0 win over Turkey, but Robson went off with a hamstring injury.

It was the start of a catalogue of problems that blighted his campaign. United were looking increasingly less assured at the top of the table and they would end up trundling home in fourth spot. In the FA Cup fourth round Robson was sent off at Sunderland and then he sustained an ankle injury in a league match at West Ham United a week later. But it was in a delayed fifth round FA Cup tie at the same ground on March 5 that his World Cup dream took its first serious dent.

A week earlier headlines appeared of ‘were would we be without him?” after Robson scored twice, including the BBC goal of the season, as England won in Israel. Now it looked like we might have to find out in the World Cup, as Robson began clutching his shoulder on the Upton Park turf. He had once more dislocated it, less than three months before the World Cup began. In the Daily Express two days later, John Bean wrote: “The Manchester United and England captain’s second shoulder dislocation in 14 months will leave him with just enough time to get fit to board the plane to Mexico and the World Cup in May. But the big fear is that after two dislocations of the same joint Robson could easily suffer the problem a third time.” His words would sadly prove prophetic.

Club vs country

United boss Atkinson was ruling out an operation, with a club versus country row brewing. There was no easy answer, as the operation would have left Robson desperately short of match practice going into the World Cup. But for his England manager it would be the better option. According to his World Cup Diary, Bobby Robson rang Atkinson and approached him about letting their mutual captain have the op. Bobby wrote: “I asked for the ultimate sacrifice a club manager can make because an operation would have ruled Robson out for the rest of the championship, but have guaranteed his fitness for Mexico.”

Atkinson’s reply made clear there would be no change of mind. It was an understandable situation, given that United were still in with a shout of the title and Big Ron was starting to come under pressure over their recent form. He knew Robson could be the difference between success and failure, being willing to gamble on him even when not fully fit.

Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson was not willing to sacrifice his captain to help England’s cause.

Captain Robson soon returned for United, but he would suffer more injury problems and sat out the season’s climax. But at least he joined the England squad as they headed out to the United States en route to the finals. During a practice match against South Korea, Robson volleyed in a goal and showed what he could be capable of. But Bobby Robson wrote: “Bryan’s shoulder was still causing me concern. I kept thinking back to the medical advice and wondering if it was going to go again. I closed my eyes every time he went rushing in for one of those crosses and willed to see him on his feet when I reopened them.”

Three days later those fears were realised when England played Mexico in Los Angeles. The captain was in a typically competitive mode and he made a sliding tackle that ended with him clutching his shoulder, which had popped out. Although it was placed back in quickly by the England team medics, it was now clear to the management just how serious the problem was and how loose the shoulder had become – even though they tried to hide the injury from the media when questioned.

Manager Robson was now beginning to contemplate life without his captain. The player was typically back in training just two days later, only to then sustain yet another hamstring injury. It seemed a never-ending tale of injury woe. But he was adamant he was okay. He wrote: “If I’d had any doubts about my fitness for our first match,  against Portugal, in Monterrey, or the rest of the World Cup, I would have pulled out. I believed I could play my part in helping England go all the way.” Robson missed England’s friendly win over Canada, in which Gary Lineker sustained a wrist injury that briefly threatened his World Cup prospects. With Mark Wright having already been ruled out of the finals with a broken leg, injury problems seemed to be mounting for the team.

The nation hopes and prays

When England took on Portugal in their opening World Cup match against Portugal on June 3, Robson was in the starting line-up. The waiting was over, now the nation had to hope and pray the captain came through unscathed. When Robson challenged to win a header in the box, there was brief panic as he feel to the floor. “That was a worrying moment for me and I’m sure everyone,” said BBC co-commentator Jimmy Hill, relieved to see the captain get up as if nothing had happened. The game ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat and Robson came off a few minutes before the end, but he had not seemed inhibited by his injury concern.

Three days later, England played Morocco. It was in the closing minutes of the half that Robson’s World Cup came to a shuddering halt as he played the ball past Mustapha El-Biyaz in the penalty area. He wrote in his autobigtaphy: “As I went past him he grabbed me by the right shoulder and pulled me back. I fell in agony. The shoulder had come out again. Everybody thought it was the fall that did the damage but it wasn’t, it was their player pulling my shoulder… I was led away, clutching my shoulder, and the tears were of frustration and annoyance as much as pain.”

It was a lasting image of the competition. Robson would maintain England should have had a penalty over the incident, but nothing was given and he had barely left the pitch when vice-captain Ray Wilkins was red carded after throwing the ball back towards the referee.

The moment Bryan Robson’s World Cup dream was shattered.

Four years earlier, Robson had gone off with a knock in the second match of the World Cup against Czechoslovakia but he recovered to play in the second phase matches. This time his World Cup dream appeared to lie in tatters and there was a serious chance England wouldn’t remain in the competition beyond their final group game. Both the manager and captain were quoted afterwards as accepting he was definitely out of the competition,  but as England prepared for their do-or-die match against Poland on June 11 there was growing speculation Robson could pick Robson again. It wasn’t well received.

Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “England’s World Cup crisis can be measured not by the fact that they have just 90 minutes to salvage some pride and a place in the second round… but that Bobby Robson is still thinking of picking Bryan Robson. The manager’s fixation with his skipper is not just ill-advised. It is Mexican madness.”

But the manager did not let his heart rule his head, leaving the captain out of the Poland game as England got their act together with a 3-0 win. A change of personnel seemed to help England flourish as a team. They followed it up by beating Paraguay by the same score. England had proved they could thrive without Captain Marvel, with critics happy to point this out when the extent of Robson’s abilities are discussed. Now they faced a quarter-final showdown with Argentina, starring Diego Maradona.

Robson had stayed in Mexico rather than fly home for treatment – to the annoyance of Atkinson – and now he was suddenly handed a glimmer of hope. Peter Reid was carrying a knock and Bobby Robson saw his captain as the man to sit in the hole if Reid did not recover. “It would not put his shoulder so much at risk as charging into the box and it is a job he could do to great effect,” wrote the manager in his World Cup Diary. “I was also aware of the psychological effect his appearance would have on the Argentinians.”

Ultimately Reid recovered and Captain Marvel was left to get his camera out (see above pic) as the sides lined up. We can only wonder what might have been had Robson been fully fit. One can just imagine him sliding in to stop Maradona going through to score his superb solo goal. Robson reflected in his autobiography: “I thought I just might have been able to make a difference against Maradona. I knew his game and felt I could have done a job on him.”

But the reality was Robson had been left a spectator for most of the competition, with Gary Lineker perhaps now replacing him as the national football hero. Robson would miss the start of the 1986-87 season, with his absence felt as Manchester United experienced a poor run of form that eventually cost Atkinson his job. He too may have wondered if things would have panned out differently if Robson had been allowed to have the operation prior to Mexico.

Robson went on to play for England for a further five years and in 1990 he remained captain under his namesake. At 33 there wasn’t quite as much hype and expectation surrounding him going into the World Cup finals as four years earlier, but he was still seen as a key player in the side. But Second Game Syndrome struck again as he limped out of England’s match against the Netherlands and a few days later he was flying home. For the second World Cup running England achieved success without Robson, who was left to provide analysis for the BBC during the semi-final against West Germany. Once more an injury had come at the worst possible time for him – and this time he knew any realistic hope of playing in a World Cup again had gone.

TV Memories of Mexico ’86 (part two)

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Last week we looked back at British TV coverage during the opening stages of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico 30 years ago. Today we focus on the knockout rounds, including a match involving England that will never be forgotten…


The 1986 World Cup was the first to introduce a last 16 knockout phase and every match from this point on – bar the third place play-off – was shown live on British television. Highlights in the second round included an epic 4-3 win for Belgium over the Soviet Union, the Euro ’84 winners France beating World Cup holders Italy 2-0 and the much-fancied Denmark being surprisingly crushed 5-1 by Spain.

But the standout moment arguably involved the hosts, as Mexico defeated Bulgaria 2-0 and Manuel Negrete scored with a spectacular scissors kick. BBC commentator Barry Davies was so in awe of the goal that he would cry “Negrete-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e”, prolonging the final syllable of the player’s name. “I gave a passable imitation of a Latin American commentator,” he wrote rather proudly in his autobiography.

The generic caption shown around the world after Manuel Negrete scored for Mexico against Bulgaria.

Despite failing to win their group, England were up against one of the weaker surviving nations in the last 16 in Paraguay and duly beat them 3-0 as excitement grew about their chances. The match was screened live by both the BBC and ITV, the latter enjoying unusually high ratings in a head-to-head fight after going on air straight after a high-profile episode of Coronation Street in which the Rovers Return burnt down.

But attention quickly turned to what next lay in store for England – a Sunday showdown with Argentina. Just four years on from the Falklands War, the political connotations of the fixture would be frequently raised at press conferences. England’s new goalscoring hero Gary Lineker simply said in a TV interview: “We’re footballers, not politicians.” But there was no doubting this match would attract a particularly high level of interest.

They’re appealing for offside”

On June 22, England met Argentina in the Azteca Stadium for a match that would never be forgotten. Once again the BBC and ITV were both showing it live, as millions back home tuned in for the 7pm kick-off (BST). There wasn’t much to get excited about in the first half, but in the infancy of the second period the game turned on Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal. Davies spotted England players protesting and jumped to the wrong conclusion over why they were complaining.

How the team line-ups were presented during Mexico ’86, with this being England’s side against Argentina.

“They’re appealing for offside,” he told viewers, still concluding that was the source of England’s annoyance until action replays showed it wasn’t. ITV’s commentary team were quicker on the uptake. “Everyone knows,” said co-commentator David Pleat. “HE certainly knows,” responded Martin Tyler, as Maradona celebrated the goal being given.

In his autobiography, Davies held his hands up for calling it wrong and reminded us of the lack of technology he had at his disposal in the stadium. He wrote: “It was a match of magnificence and malevolence, marred for me not only by the manner of the first goal but by the fact that, like the referee and linesman, I didn’t spot the handball. Some of the replays were cut in, unseen by me, for me to commentate, with the voice from London in my ear saying ‘They’re going up for the ball now, there’s the hand’, and so on’.” Viewers were certainly given plenty of chances to see it again, this being a World Cup where the goals would be replayed from three different angles (this was considered quite an advanced move at the time).

TV replays helped confirm Diego Maradona had handled the ball.

Within minutes, Maradona scored another unforgettable goal after a mesmerising dribble that began in his own half. Davies redeemed himself with his celebrated line of “you have to say that’s magnificent”. Few would argue with that, as Davies proclaimed the goal as “pure football genius” to emphasise the contrast from Maradona’s first. Over on ‘the other side’ (as people would still say at the time), Tyler was immediately proclaiming it as one of the World Cup’s great goals.

After this the game threatened to fizzle out until substitute John Barnes provided a perfect cross for Lineker to score. But it would be a near-replica move with time ticking away that stuck in the mind more. As Barnes won the ball, Davies said: “Every Englishman will surely be saying ‘go on, run at them’.” Barnes whipped the perfect cross into the box where Lineker lay in waiting. Davies and Tyler both instinctively proclaimed it was a goal before abruptly realising Argentina had somehow kept the ball out. And that was just about that, those painful words we hear every four years of “and England are out of the World Cup” duly uttered by Davies at full-time.

Graphics shown at the final whistle as England were eliminated.

For Bobby Robson the World Cup dream was over, as he digested Maradona’s first goal being given when he believed he had clearly seen a hand used. “Maradona handled the ball into the goal, didn’t he?” he asked rhetorically during a televised press conference, as his anger grew. “DIDN’T HE?” It was a debate that would continue for years. But England departed after a quarter-final weekend in which the match between France and Brazil had proved particularly enthralling.

An awkward ending

The quarter-finals were generally more memorable than the semi-finals, which were less dramatic than in some World Cups. West Germany’s 2-0 win over France lacked the sparkle of their classic meeting four years earlier and Argentina were fairly untroubled in beating Belgium 2-0. But Maradona’s two goals again got everyone talking, particularly about another superbly taken second. “Fantastic goal. Unbelievable. World class,” purred John Motson, commentating live for the BBC.

ITV bill the 1986 World Cup final.

The final was as usual screened live by both the BBC and ITV, with Brian Moore at last commentating for ITV on a World Cup match from the stadium as he went out to Mexico just for the final. It was a bit of an odd idea. Moore had stayed in London due to being the lead presenter but it seemed he could be spared this role for the showpiece occasion of the final, yet not for the Argentina-England match a week earlier. It also meant Tyler, who commentated on the final four years earlier and had covered England’s matches during the finals, was denied the opportunity to describe the 1986 final. For Moore it was a taste of things to come, as he was axed from his role as host of Midweek Sports Special this year and he was now left to focus on commentating.

There was also the delicate situation for ITV of having both Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan on their final coverage at the stadium after they infamously fell out shortly after Robson became England manager. Moore recalled in his autobiography that the pair were based in different parts of the ground, meaning they would not have any contact during the broadcast (Robson claimed in his World Cup Diary the pair had shaken hands a few days earlier when they bumped into each other, perhaps suggesting they could have worked together on the final).

No such problems over on the BBC, where John Motson was commentating with Jimmy Hill accompanying him in the commentary box. Des Lynam was joined by regular pundits Lawrie McMenemy and Terry Venables along with Lineker, who was hoping to end the night as top scorer in the World Cup. Prior to kick-off, viewers could enjoy the top 20 goals from the finals with Maradona’s second against England topping the bill.

The final saw Argentina lead 2-0, be pegged back to 2-2 before Jorge Burruchaga scored a late winner as they won the World Cup for the second time. “The world’s greatest player receives the world’s most important football prize,” said Motson as Maradona collected the trophy. It was a tournament Maradona had owned, although his failure to score in the final meant Lineker won the Golden Boot.

Lineker’s stock was rapidly growing and there was increasing speculation he would be off to Barcelona, managed by Venables. With both men in the studio, Lynam couldn’t resist asking if the deal would be going ahead. After Venables had expressed his hopes for the move proceeding, McMenemy grumpily told the others “I think you’re all out of order” for bringing the subject up – telling Lynam he should have been asking Everton manager Howard Kendall instead. 

McMenemy’s outburst meant the conversation now felt pretty awkward and any Evertonians watching would have not felt assured that Lineker planned to stick around when he simply told Lynam: “I shall be playing for the team I want to be playing for next season.” To the surprise of few, Lineker duly completed his move to Barcelona. It had been a life-changing tournament for him, setting him on the way to later hosting Match of the Day.

Do you have any favourite memories of the TV coverage from the 1986 World Cup? If so, please feel free to share them below.

TV Memories of Mexico ’86 (part one)

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The end of this month will mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In the first of a few blog posts recalling that tournament, we reflect on the TV coverage as seen in England during the early stages of the competition…

Striking (Aztec) Gold

There seems to be something about World Cups in Mexico that brings out the best in ITV. In 1970 they famously enjoyed great popularity with their celebrated expert panel and now, 16 years later, their theme tune would be a winner. A good measure of how successful ITV’s tournament theme tunes were in this period was how much they were heard thereafter. If that is the barometer then Aztec Gold by Silsoe was certainly a winner. The catchy tune went on to be used by ITV for their live domestic coverage in the next two years and again during Euro ’88, before serving the opening titles of Saint & Greavsie until 1992. But its main association would always be with where it all began – Mexico ’86.

ITV’s opening titles for the Mexico ’86 coverage.

The BBC went for a similar title for their theme tune, with Aztec Lightning by Heads. The song would fail to make the impact Nessun Dorma did four years later, although the opening titles seemed quite advanced at the time. This was the first major football tournament hosted by Des Lynam, whose laid-back style had already won admirers on Grandstand. He presented from London in a studio surrounded by pot plants, with Emlyn Hughes, Lawrie McMenemy and Terry Venables among the regular summarisers plus a pre-Sky Sports Andy Gray. George Best was billed as a pundit, bus alas was a no-show.

Des Lynam was the host of BBC’s live coverage of Mexico ’86.

Not getting off to a sound start

As England prepared to begin their World Cup campaign against Portugal on June 3, there was hysteria in the press that the match could go untelevised back home. This wasn’t due to a contractual dispute like the one that had led to a blackout of Football League action in the first half of the 1985-86 season, but because of serious transmission problems that blighted the opening couple of days of the competition.

“We can only keep our fingers crossed,” said BBC editor Bob Abrahams, no doubt fearing the barrage of calls to the switchboard if there was a loss of picture or sound when England played. The match between Brazil and Spain on the second day had brought the most noticeable technical problems, to the extent that Brian Moore and Brian Clough ended up commentating for ITV from the London studio in place of the on-site commentators. But the UK could be grateful for small mercies. We could at least see the pictures, for some other countries the consequences of the technical problems were such that viewers couldn’t even enjoy that luxury.

Terry Wogan’s chat show was considered a bigger ratings winner than live World Cup action.

The England match went on air as planned and soon enough the coverage of the tournament was resolved for everyone to enjoy. However, it would not quite be a case of wall-to-wall football. In the early stages of the competition there were usually two matches played simultaneously at 7pm (BST), yet British audiences were frequently afforded just live coverage of the second half of one and brief highlights of the other. Shows such as Wogan (BBC) and Coronation Street (ITV) took precedence over the first half of these matches, with exceptions such as when UK sides played at that time. The 11pm kick-offs proved less of a burden to programme controllers, World Cup action probably seen as a welcome audience puller at that time of night. But less than half the group stage matches were shown live in full in the UK, which perhaps reminds us where football stood in its dark days of the mid-1980s.

Chortling with delight

England’s participation in the group stage proved fraught, as the millions of viewers who stayed up for three matches at 11pm – only one of the games being at a weekend – went through a wide range of emotions. They lost 1-0 in the first match against Portugal, prompting BBC pundit Emlyn Hughes to be very critical in his post-match analysis and sparking a war of words with England manager Bobby Robson.

The second match against Morocco brought more disappointment with a 0-0 draw and the loss within minutes of injured captain Bryan Robson and red carded vice-captain Ray Wilkins. “It’s problems upon problems for England,” said ITV commentator Martin Tyler, cutting off co-commentator David Pleat in full flow as he saw Wilkins receive his marching orders. The BBC’s Barry Davies typically ramped up the melodrama at that moment in his highlights commentary, describing it as “disaster upon disaster for England”. Whatever the scale of one’s concern, England were in trouble.

Things certainly looked bleak, but England could still make the last 16 as long as they achieved a result against Poland in their final group game. It was the BBC’s turn to show it live and in the opening minutes Davies was castigating England’s defending as they almost fell behind. But soon that would be forgotten as Gary Lineker gave them the breakthrough, accompanied by millions of viewers hearing co-commentator Jimmy Hill chortling with delight. It was a pivotal moment as England’s campaign at last got into swing. Hill could be heard again celebrating as Lineker put England 2-0 up, with his hat-trick completed before half-time as they won 3-0. Davies had been on form, save for his corny line of “never mind the sunshine and the altitude, it’s raining goals” as Steve Hodge put the ball in the net – only for the goal to be disallowed. But England were finally up and running.

“Even educated bees do it”

ITV employed a decent range of pundits for the tournament in their London studio, including former England colleagues Mick Channon and Kevin Keegan. Channon would leave his mark on the competition with his amusing inability to say Lineker correctly. “Linacre” was one effort; “Lyneacre” was another. It seemed almost as if he had been hypnotised into not being able to say the player’s name correctly! “We’ve got a month to get you to say Lineker properly for a start,” joked host Brian Moore during ITV’s preview show. It became a running joke during the coverage.

Mick Channon (right), pictured with Kevin Keegan.

Channon would also feature during another memorable moment in ITV’s tournament coverage. Brian Clough was again on the panel during this World Cup and as unpredictable as ever. During one discussion, Channon was offering his view that: “The Irish have done it. The French do it. The West Germans do it. We don’t.” The opportunity was too good for Clough to miss. “Even educated bees do it,” he quipped, to great laughter from Moore.

St John gets the blues

Scotland had the misfortune to be placed in a group with 1982 runners-up West Germany, highly-rated Denmark and Uruguay, who were tipped by some beforehand as a potential winner. The Scots, under caretaker boss Alex Ferguson after Jock Stein sadly died suddenly the previous year, lost to both the Danes and Germans but the new format of the competition meant they still stood a chance of progression going into their match against the Uruguayans. A win would do it.

Hopes that Scotland could get the win intensified when Uruguay were reduced to 10 men within the opening minute, setting the trend for a physical 90 minutes. Scotland had the numerical advantage but couldn’t make the breakthrough, leaving ITV pundit Ian St John a frustrated man as he watched in in the studio. Secretly he was being recorded and clips showing his anguish were played for the amusement of viewers a few days later to Elton John’s I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues. At least the footage reminded us that many pundits are in essence just like us while the match is on, feeling the same emotions and frustrations if things don’t go the way they want.

The Scots once more went out after falling just short in their final group game, with Uruguay a new enemy for those north of the border. One particularly despondent fan told a TV interviewer: “I hate England. But if England get to play Uruguay I’ll support England, because that’s how much I hate Uruguay.” The Scot was no doubt cheered up in the next round when Uruguay lost to Argentina, saving him from having to cheer on the Sassenachs in the quarter-finals!

Also sadly making an early exit with Scotland were Northern Ireland, unable to repeat their heroics of four years earlier but still putting up a decent fight in the Mexican heat. Their World Cup was probably best remembered for Pat Jennings (on his 41st birthday) conceding a stunning goal to Brazil’s Josimar. “Oh what a goal,” screamed BBC commentator John Motson, as the world briefly got all excited about Josimar before he faded into obscurity.

When we return to this subject shortly, we will recall TV coverage of the knockout rounds including that unforgettable match between England and Argentina.

Book Review – When Football Came Home

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This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Euro ’96. Although there may not be as much focus on the tournament’s landmark anniversary as there is on it being 50 years since England’s World Cup triumph of 1966, it is certainly not being ignored. A new book, When Football Came Home, has been written by Michael Gibbons and helps capture the spirit of the competition staged in England – which the hosts so nearly won but suffered penalty heartache in the semi-finals.

The front cover of this book does not depict Paul Gascoigne scoring his wondergoal against Scotland, England celebrating beating the Dutch 4-1 or Stuart Pearce screaming with delight after scoring his penalty against Spain. Instead the image is of Gascoigne missing the ball by inches with the goal at his mercy during golden goal extra-time against Germany. It’s an incident at the heart of the book, Gibbons dwelling more on the significance of this moment than Gareth Southgate’s decisive miss in the shoot-out. It reminds us England were literally inches away from reaching the final and in all probability winning Euro ’96.

Gibbons picks up the story with England failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and Terry Venables taking charge of the team shortly afterwards. As the book’s sub-title of ‘England, the English and Euro 96’ suggests, England are the primary focus but the tournament as a whole is rightly afforded detailed coverage. Memories such as Romania’s ‘did it cross the line?’ no-goal against Bulgaria, the emergence of Croatia at their first major tournament, BBC pundit Ruud Gullit coining the phrase “sexy football” and the Germans winning the final with the competition’s first golden goal are all recalled along with many others.

The author has clearly done his research and one of the book’s strengths is digging up some of the long-forgotten details of the competition. Examples include England forward Teddy Sheringham helping lead the way in internet coverage of the tournament at the time with his website Teddy Hits the Net (anyone remember it?); UEFA rejecting a request by Denmark to play in their stadium host Sheffield Wednesday’s colours of blue and white as a mark of respect to those killed in the Hillsborough disaster; Germany being granted special dispensation to call up extra players to their squad for the final amid a plethora of injuries and suspensions; and the FA suddenly withdrawing its request at the 11th hour for David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to perform the competition’s hit song Three Lions on the Wembley turf prior to England’s match with Germany.

Teddy Sheringham scores and you could read all about it on his Teddy Hits the Net website!

The book recalls the contrasting impression visiting nations left at the clubs they trained at and towns they stayed in, from the eventual finalists Czech Republic winning plenty of friends at non-league Bamber Bridge to Bulgaria being so unimpressed with what was on offer at Scarborough that they upped sticks and moved to Stockton-on-Tees. Germany it seems generally created a decent impression during their visit, despite manager Berti Vogts being extremely critical of Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose pitch where they trained. Such details may not represent the most significant moments of Euro ’96, but their inclusion gives added depth and colour to the book.

Gibbons is clearly nostalgic about Euro ’96 but this is not a one-eyed love letter to the tournament. As well as hailing the successes, he reflects on the competition’s failings including the significant number of empty seats at some matches, a truly dreadful semi-final between France and the Czech Republic and the negative approach teams generally adopted under the new golden goal extra time ruling (England’s clash with Germany being a notable exception). He also goes into detail on England’s infamous pre-tournament trip to China and Hong Kong and is scathing about the xenophobic conduct of the English tabloid press during the tournament.

Nor does this book glorify England’s achievements. Gibbons details how fortunate they were to win against Spain in the quarter-finals and takes them to task over how only the five likely takers practised penalties, those in charge not appearing to consider the possibility of a shoot-out going to sudden death – which it duly did as they lost out against Germany. “It was an extraordinary oversight,” Gibbons writes, bemused at how this eventuality had not been considered during 27 months of preparation.

The Cross of St George was increasingly seen on flags waved by fans from this tournament onwards.

The author tells of some other key changes that took effect during Euro ’96, including how England fans were now starting to increasingly wave flags bearing the Cross of St George at matches rather than the Union Jack. Gibbons also notes that the public response to Southgate making a Pizza Hut advert with Pearce and Chris Waddle – as he was condemned in some quarters for making light of his penalty miss – gave strong hints of the increasingly melodramatic way the public would react to anything concerning the England team. “The subsequent outcry was an indicator of where football was about to go,” he writes. “Rage became all the rage. From Euro 96 it was possible to map a rising hysteria with all things relating to the England team.”

The shifting political and cultural landscape of the time is recalled, particularly musically with the rise of Britpop and the impact bands such as Oasis had in the mid-1990s. The feelgood factor from that summer is perhaps the lasting memory. If you aren’t old enough to remember Euro ’96 then this book may help give some explanation of why it is so fondly recalled by most of us who were around for it. And if you did watch it all, this is a good way of reliving the competition two decades later. It’s an excellent read, which does justice to both the tournament and the period in England.

When Football Came Home: England, the English and Euro 96 is written by Michael Gibbons and published by Pitch Publishing. The book is priced £12.99.