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Six of the Best – England managerial debuts

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…

englandmemories View All

Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.

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