Month: September 2016

The Great Uncapped – Billy Bonds

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The recent appointment of Sam Allardyce as England manager has led to speculation that Mark Noble will win his first international cap, having played under Allardyce at West Ham United. But should the call never come then Noble can probably take some comfort in not being the first Hammer to be thwarted in his international ambitions. Club legend Billy Bonds would come closer than most, but ultimately take his place in many people’s England uncapped XI…

There are a lot of names put forward whenever the subjects of England’s most notable uncapped players comes up, but one you can guarantee will be mentioned is Billy Bonds. The man who turned 70 last week played 758 Football League matches in a 24-year professional career with Charlton Athletic and, mostly, West Ham United. While giving extraordinarily long service to the latter he captained them to two FA Cup triumphs and he was called up to the England squad. But Bonds would just fall short, never pulling on an England shirt after under-23s level.

Bonds had a fairly fearless reputation on the field but off it he was seen as a quiet man. His friend Trevor Brooking, who played alongside him at West Ham for many years, believes this probably helped cost Bonds his England chance. “Had he pushed himself to the forefront more I believe he would have played for England. He’s one of the best players of my generation never to have won an England cap,” wrote Brooking in his autobiography.

Harry Redknapp, who played and worked with Bonds at West Ham before the pair fell out when he replaced him as manager in 1994, also hailed Bonds’ playing ability. “Billy Bonds was the most fantastic player,” he wrote in his autobiography. “What would West Ham United, or any other club for that matter, give to have him now? He could play central midfield, centre-back, full-back; he was fearless in the tackle, he could run all day.” As we will see though, not everyone thought quite so highly of Bonds.

Greenwood calls up Bonds

Bonds would twice look set to be capped, only for the dream to cruelly be dashed. He had played for England twice at under-23 level, but he was 31 when his first real chink of light emerged. His old West Ham boss Ron Greenwood was appointed caretaker manager in 1977 and in November Bonds was called into the full squad for the final World Cup qualifier at home to Italy. All looked to be going well for Bonds, who had missed much of the season through injury but was now back in action.

The call-up for Bonds was not met with universal approval, Norman Fox in The Times rather dismissively describing him as “a player who probably has many equals who would not be considered”. But Greenwood was keen to play down any suggestions he was handing out favours to a player who had served him well previously, insisting Bonds had been picked after recommendations from others. The fact he was versatile and could operate in midfield or defence helped Bonds’ cause.

The player found support from Daily Mirror sports writer Frank McGhee, a man who tended to shoot from the hip. “Ron Greenwood has done something daft, delightful and possibly inspired in what could be his final act as England manager,” he wrote. “He has put into his squad to play against, and probably lose to, Italy at Wembley next week, a 31-year-old unranked but very effective person whom he will remember from his West Ham days – a guy called Billy Bonds. You wouldn’t rate Bonds a particularly good player, but then neither are many of the other 22 players Greenwood named yesterday. England just don’t happen to have many good players. What Bonds happens to have is something special. It is called character and I have always been convinced that this quality is the surest way of bridging the considerable gap between club and international football.”

Bonds was left watching on as England beat Italy.

And then came a club match against West Bromwich Albion just four days before the Italy clash. Greenwood would unfortunately see Bonds find the going tough in a 3-3 draw. David Miller wrote in the Daily Express: “The message to Ron Greenwood as he sat watching a 3-3 draw at Upton Park was crystal clear: his call to Billy Bonds comes several years too late for the rugged warhorse.” On the eve of the game the team was announced, with Bonds only on the bench. Greenwood insisted Bonds had only been selected for the squad as defensive cover, with his first-choice selections given the green light to play.

Bonds watched on as England beat Italy 2-0, a result that proved uplifting but insufficient for the team to reach the World Cup finals. Greenwood was given the job permanently but Bonds would stay uncapped as he moved towards his mid-30s. West Ham’s relegation in 1978 did not help his cause either. But then came the 1980-81 season, an Indian summer for Bonds. A year on from lifting the FA Cup for the second time, Bonds captained West Ham to the League Cup final against Liverpool, played in Europe and helped his side to a dominant Second Division title. And in May 1981 another call came from Greenwood.

The cap that almost was

England had a decimated squad for the friendly against Brazil and the Home Internationals that would follow, with their defensive options particularly limited. Greenwood looked towards his former club, believing Bonds and promising youngster Alvin Martin could fill the void. Just a few months short of his 35th birthday, Bonds was in line to become one of England’s oldest debutants. “I thought my chance had passed by years ago,” admitted Bonds, who added that he would be particularly pleased for his father if he was capped at last. It was reported Charlton stood to scoop a belated £2,500 bonus if Bonds played, owing to a clause in the deal when he left them in 1967.

All that was left was one end-of-season match for West Ham on a Friday night at Sheffield Wednesday, with the title already long wrapped up. Just 90 more minutes of club football to get through and then he could at last represent his country at full level. West Ham won, but Bonds injured his ribs after a clash with goalkeeper Phil Parkes. He played on and was adamant that he, along with Martin who had also picked up a knock, would be fit for the Brazil match. “I’m 99% sure we will be ok for the internationals. But we will know for sure in the morning,” Bonds said, having helped his side finish 13 points clear at the top (a huge amount under two points for a win).

Was he trying to put a brave face on it or did his injury seem less severe than the reality? Because Bonds would duly be ruled out of representing his country, as Martin (the only recognised central defender in the side) duly made his debut during a 1-0 defeat to Brazil. For Bonds there was a feeling his last realistic chance had passed. And so it proved. No caps would come his way.

But Bonds continued to serve West Ham well, playing for them beyond his 40th birthday in the top-flight until he finally called it a day in 1988 (later becoming manager). That year also saw him appointed an MBE and collect the PFA Merit Award in recognition of his contribution to the sport. Bonds may not have won any full England caps, but he had enjoyed a career to be proud of.

England’s qualifying campaigns: 1978 World Cup – Failure becomes a habit

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England’s qualifying campaign is under way for the 2018 World Cup. Forty years ago they were seeking to reach the 1978 finals in Argentina, but they would once more miss out on making it to a major tournament…

England had begun the 1970s with serious aspirations to retain the World Cup in Mexico. But a quarter-final loss to West Germany started a decade to forget, including failing to progress from the qualifying group for the 1974 World Cup and 1976 European Championship. Now they would try to make it to the 1978 World Cup, but few Englishmen were making plans to spend that summer in Argentina. England’s recent decline meant they were not a seeded nation in qualifying and they would have the misfortune to be paired with Italy. With only one nation going through, a previous World Cup winner would definitely be missing out.

The Italians would be favourites, but they too had endured a lean recent period. They had gone out at the group stage of the 1974 World Cup and then failed to make it to the 1976 Euros – albeit after being placed in the mother of all hard qualifying groups including the Netherlands and Poland (second and third respectively at the 1974 World Cup). Italy had been surprisingly held to a draw by Finland, who would be in England and Italy’s qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup along with European football’s whipping boy of Luxembourg. It looked a clear two-horse race between England and Italy.

Flying start

At the end of the 1975-76 season England gave themselves a psychological boost for the qualifying campaign when they beat Italy 3-2 in the US Bicentennial Cup. It put them in good heart for the opening qualifier in June 1976 away to Finland. It was an unusually early start to an England qualifying series and they laid down a marker by winning 4-1, with Kevin Keegan scoring twice. It was just the sort of convincing result manager Don Revie needed to get the nation believing that England would get to Argentina.

England enjoy a winning start in Finland.

As the scorching summer of 1976 finally started to draw to a close, England drew 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland in a September friendly before Finland visited Wembley for the next qualifier in October. If the away win had generated belief, then this match would see pessimism resurface as fans voiced their displeasure over England’s display.

England had started brightly and quickly forged ahead through Dennis Tueart, but they failed to make the most of their early dominance. Kalle Nieminen drew the Finns level early in the second half, and though Joe Royle quickly regained England the lead there would be no further scoring. The 2-1 victory was seen as a missed opportunity in terms of the goal difference and confidence, with Revie unimpressed and sympathising with supporters. “I want to apologise to them on behalf of myself and the team… We lost our rhythm, our passing, our thinking, our positional sense – in fact, everything.”

Roberto Bettega ensures England are beaten by Italy.

The key date in the group was November 17, 1976, as England made the daunting trip to Rome for a huge qualifier. Revie contentiously made a series of changes from the previous game, including recalling Emlyn Hughes after 18 months in the wilderness. England seemed to lack the belief they could go and win. The Italians were a good side with a heavy Juventus influence, seeming far more settled than England. It appeared a draw at best would be England’s reward. Trevor Brooking recalled in his autobiography that he was the only attacking midfielder selected. “It was a team designed to contain the Italians,” he wrote, adding that Revie had watched the Italians seven times in preparation. 

They held out for 36 minutes before Giancarlo Antognoni’s free-kick was deflected in off Keegan. Revie’s side stayed in with a glimmer of hope until 13 minutes from time, Roberto Bettega’s diving header sealing a deserved 2-0 win for the hosts. “They murdered us 2-0,” recalled Hughes 20 years later. It left the Italians as clear favourites to qualify, England knowing they would have to win the return 12 months later to stand any chance. But Bettega’s goal would symbolise England’s failure. “We knew then that we had almost certainly blown our chances of qualifying for Argentina,” admitted Brooking.

England’s 5-0 win over Luxembourg failed to silence the critics.

England had looked second best in Rome and they would again be well-beaten when an excellent Dutch side visited Wembley for a friendly in February 1977 and won 2-0. The inquests were continuing into what had gone wrong with English football, but they stayed in with a shout of making the finals with a 5-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley. Mick Channon scored twice on a night when John Gidman won his only England cap and Paul Mariner came off the bench for his international debut. Even after a big win, the criticism poured in with the result put into context by the opposition’s limitations. Norman Fox wrote in The Times: “It was another unsatisfactory performance, too stunted by unimaginative, mundane football that persistently threatens to stop them qualifying for the final tournament in Argentina next year.”

The end for Revie

Liverpool’s European Cup victory at the end of the season began a period of domination for English clubs in the competition, but the national team remained away from international football’s top table. The gloom for Revie continued during the Home International Championship, England losing at home to both Wales and Scotland. The side now headed off to South America for their end-of-season tour. If it was intended as preparation for the following year’s World Cup finals in Argentina, then it was increasingly looking a futile exercise. While there, Italy won 3-0 away to Finland – leaving them as firm favourites to qualify. England returned home unbeaten after draws with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay – the middle match having been particularly brutal with Trevor Cherry sent-off and losing two of his front teeth after being punched.

The results on tour seemingly represented an improvement for Revie (pictured below), but the manager was already looking towards his next challenge. The following month The Daily Mail ran an exclusive story that he was quitting the England job, with it coming to light he was taking up a role in the United Arab Emirates that offered high earnings if not necessarily top class football.

The Football Association hierarchy were infuriated to learn of Revie’s defection via the media before they received his resignation latter. It was a messy divorce that sadly left the former Leeds United boss ostracised from the English game. He would maintain though that he jumped before he was pushed, fearing the sack was inevitable if England did not reach the World Cup. “Nearly everyone wanted me out. So I’m giving them what they want,” was Revie’s parting shot. 

With Revie gone, the FA was now left to find a successor. Amid the public clamour for Brian Clough, a less outspoken figure was selected as 55-year-old Ron Greenwood became caretaker manager. Greenwood had moved upstairs at West Ham United but he had admirers at the FA who saw ‘Reverend Ron’ as the right man to manage England in the circumstances – appreciating his coaching methods and diplomacy. He had his fans among the players too, Brooking – who knew him well from West Ham – describing him as “the most imaginative and thoughtful coach I worked with in my career”.

Greenwood made a bold statement in his first friendly against Switzerland when he named six Liverpool players in the side (plus Kevin Keegan who had just left the European champions for a new challenge with SV Hamburg). The decision to select Ian Callaghan was most intriguing, 11 years having elapsed since his last cap against France during the 1966 World Cup. Unfortunately the match saw England continue their poor Wembley run, being held to a 0-0 draw.

Hopes fade away

If England’s chances of qualifying looked bleak going into October, then they would soon slip towards non-existent. Away to Luxembourg, England needed a big victory to stay in with a realistic chance and they could only win 2-0 (with a section of their followers making headlines for the wrong reasons). “Our finishing and composure was not good,” admitted Greenwood. Italy then thrashed Finland 6-1 and England now needed a miracle to qualify. The Italians had the same points as England but a goal difference four better and a game in hand. England would have to beat Italy convincingly and then somehow hope Luxembourg could keep the score down away to the Italians. It was a forlorn hope.

To make things genuinely difficult for the Italians, England would probably have to beat them by at least five goals – an unlikely scenario that would leave the Azzurri needing to beat Luxembourg by seven. But even then Italy would still be capable of getting the required score, so limited were Luxembourg. Whatever England did, there would be a feeling it wasn’t going to be enough. Most had accepted it was already over and just wanted to see a win on the night to restore pride. Greenwood sought to get maximum use out of wingers, with debutants Peter Barnes and Steve Coppell both coming into the side and giving cause for optimism. Forward Bob Latchford was also handed his first cap.

England’s 2-0 win over Italy proved too little, too late.

They duly got it. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scored as England atoned for their 2-0 defeat a year earlier by beating Italy by the same scoreline. Although the result meant Italy needed only a win of any scoreline against Luxembourg to qualify, there was a sense of satisfaction around England about the performance. Fox wrote that England supporters saw “something for the future beyond present disappointments”, while conceding the side had “less than a slim chance” of making it to Argentina. 

But the evening had helped Greenwood’s chances of becoming manager full-time. On December 3 only the most optimistic of Englishmen clung to the tiniest hope that whipping boys Luxembourg could somehow hold out against the Italians to take the Three Lions through to Argentina. Within 11 minutes they were 2-0 down, Italy eventually easing home to a 3-0 win as they took their regular spot in the finals.

For England it was disappointing, but less devastating than their other failures to make the World Cups of 1974 and 1994. There had been no game as painfully dramatic as the infamous draw with Poland in October 1973, nor one as controversial as the costly defeat against the Netherlands in October 1993. They had matched the Italians head-to-head, won five games out of six and fallen just three goals short of making it. But the failure to win the group surprised few, many younger fans having yet to see them qualify for a major finals. 

England had paid for losing away to Italy and a lack of goals in the victories at home to Finland and away to Luxembourg. In some respects they were unlucky, and they were certainly no less deserving of qualifying than when they scraped through four years later (after the competition had expanded to 24 teams). But they had ultimately fallen short and looked second best when it really mattered in Rome, always unsuccessfully playing catch-up after that.

The one consolation for England was they once more only missed out to a side who made an impact at the finals. Italy would finish fourth in Argentina, beating the hosts and eventual winners along the way. By then Greenwood was firmly installed as permanent England manager, as he sought to finally lead the country to a major tournament.

Six of the Best – England managerial debuts

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This weekend England will be managed by Sam Allardyce for the first time when they visit Slovakia for a World Cup qualifier. History is on his side, with the majority of his predecessors having started with a win. Today we recall six winning England managerial debuts…

Walter Winterbottom

The post-war period saw England appoint their first manager, Walter Winterbottom initially being known as national director of coaching in 1946 before the title was altered to manager a year later. Unfortunately the archaic selection committee continued to pick the side, but Winterbottom had coaching and managerial responsibilities.

Walter Winterbottom.

He was just 33 when he led the side for a Home International Championship match against (Northern) Ireland in Belfast in September 1946 and he got off to a dream start. Wilf Mannion scored a hat-trick in a 7-2 win, the sort of result today that would have every match report focusing upon the instant impact made by the new boss. And yet The Times never even mentioned Winterbottom in its summary of the match. He would win his first four games in charge and stay at the helm until 1962.

Don Revie

A year on from the pain of England failing to qualify for the World Cup, there was a new sense of optimism in the Wembley air in October 1974. Don Revie’s first game in charge would bring a European Championship qualifier at home to Czechoslovakia. In the final 20 minutes Mick Channon and Colin Bell (2) scored to produce an impressive 3-0 win, spreading hope that Revie – fresh from winning the First Division with Leeds United – would bring success to England.

Don Revie begins his England reign with a 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia.

But the new manager wasn’t so convinced. Interviewed for Henry Winter’s excellent new book Fifty Years of Hurt, Revie’s son Duncan recalls his father looking miserable after the match. “We just haven’t got the players,” he told him, perhaps sensing that expectations were now going to be higher than they realistically should be. England remained unbeaten during Revie’s first season in charge but failed to qualify after losing the return match against the Czechs in October 1975. Czechoslovakia went on to win the tournament, making Revie’s opening result look particularly good in hindsight. 

Terry Venables

Like Revie, Terry Venables faced the challenge of restoring national pride when he took over in early 1994 in the wake of England’s failure to reach the World Cup under Graham Taylor. A home friendly against European champions Denmark in March was a good way to start, Venables handing debuts to Darren Anderton, Graeme Le Saux and Matt Le Tissier and recalling Peter Beardsley. The team showed that Venables’ new ‘Christmas tree’ formation could bear fruit, offering a greater attacking zest than on many occasions during the previous regime. A crowd of almost 72,000 saw an encouraging display, David Platt scoring the only goal.

Terry Venables arrives and is soon off to a winning start.

Joe Lovejoy wrote in The Independent: “Wembley loved it. A full house had greeted Venables like a conquering hero and left with battered pride fully restored by an England team good enough to take play to the European champions and attack them with imagination and conviction.” Venables would not suffer his first England defeat until the following year, going on to lead them to the Euro ’96 semi-finals.

Kevin Keegan

In March 1999 Kevin Keegan took charge of England for the first time for a vital Euro 2000 qualifier at home to Poland, initially accepting the job only on a temporary basis. But he would soon feel the clamour to leave Fulham and manage his country full-time as he led England to a 3-1 win over the Poles, with Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick.

A hat-trick from Paul Scholes gives Kevin Keegan a winning managerial debut for England.

“Played one, won one. I should resign now,” quipped Keegan, who would find the temptation to permanently lead his country too strong as he left Fulham. But he would struggle to replicate the magic of the Poland game, the only time England would win during their qualifying group apart from against whipping boys Luxembourg. They scraped into the play-offs, going on to beat Scotland before exiting during the group stage at Euro 2000. Keegan could feel the public support slipping away, resigning almost immediately after losing 1-0 to Germany in a World Cup qualifier in October 2000.

Sven-Göran Eriksson

Keegan’s permanent successor was England’s first foreign manager, with increased levels of attention given to the team’s friendly against Spain at Villa Park in February 2001. Sven-Göran Eriksson’s team selection raised a few eyebrows, with uncapped 31-year-old Charlton Athletic defender Chris Powell named at left back. It proved a good night, as goals from Nick Barmby, Emile Heskey and Ugo Ehiogu brought England a 3-0 victory – ending a five-match winless run.

England beat Spain 3-0 in February 2001.

This was not the Spain that would become so dominant in the ensuing years, but it was still an impressive result. “Abba be praised. England appear to have rediscovered the art of winning,” wrote David Lacey in his match report in The Guardian. And during 2001 they kept on winning, topping their World Cup qualifying group as Eriksson enjoyed a longer honeymoon period than most. Only when England limply lost to 10-man Brazil at the 2002 World Cup were the first real doubts cast.

Steve McClaren

There would be one direct comparison between the opening and ending nights of Steve McClaren’s England reign – on both occasions it rained. But there was little indication of the turbulence that lay ahead when McClaren took charge of England for the first time in August 2006 against Greece in a friendly at Old Trafford. England tore the European champions apart in the first half, with John Terry, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch (2) giving them a 4-0 lead after just 42 minutes. There was no more scoring, but all seemed to bode well.

England enjoy a 4-0 win over Greece in Augusr 2006. All looks promising for Steve McClaren.

Although McClaren’s first three matches all brought victories without conceding, things would soon start to unravel but it was still in England’s hands going into the decisive final Euro 2008 qualifying match against Croatia in November 2007. On an infamous night, McClaren became dubbed the ‘wally with the brolly’ as England sank to a 3-2 defeat in the Wembley rain. He was on his way out and probably wished he could just turn the clock back to that opening night 15 months earlier when all seemed so positive.

And the rest

Honourable mentions here for several other England managers to start with a win, most notably Glenn Hoddle who led them to a 3-0 win in a World Cup qualifier in Moldova 20 years ago (until Allardyce this weekend, he’s the only England boss to begin with a World Cup match). Graham Taylor enjoyed a 1-0 friendly win over Hungary in September 1990, like Revie being unbeaten for a year before woes would set in.

Fabio Capello began well, a 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland in February 2008 paving the way for a dominant 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Roy Hodgson began his reign with a 1-0 win away to Norway in May 2012, shortly before he led England to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. Caretaker boss Joe Mercer’s first England match brought a 2-0 win over Wales in 1974, unlike fellow interim managers Stuart Pearce (2-3 vs Netherlands, 2012), Peter Taylor (0-1 vs Italy, 2000) and Howard Wilkinson (0-2 vs France, 1999) who all suffered defeats.

Ron Greenwood’s first match was a 0-0 friendly draw with Switzerland in September 1977 , while Bobby Robson saw his side draw 2-2 away to an impressive Denmark in a Euro ’84 qualifier – the build-up overshadowed by the fallout from Kevin Keegan controversially being axed from the England squad.

And that leaves just one of England’s past 13 full-time managers who started with a defeat. Step forward Alf Ramsey, who began with a 5-2 mauling by France in a European Nations Cup qualifier in February 1963. Given what was achieved under Sir Alf three years later, perhaps it won’t be a bad omen for Big Sam if England do slip up in Slovakia…