Ahead of the World Cup we set ourselves the task of picking our favourite England goal from each of the six tournaments they appeared at from 1966 to 1998. Some were easier to choose than others and, as always, beauty was in the eye of the beholder…
1966 – Bobby Charlton v Mexico
The contenders: England netted 11 goals en route to winning the World Cup, with Geoff Hurst’s “they think it’s all over” clincher in the final against West Germany making the shortlist. Also on it are Hurst’s deft header from a Martin Peters cross against Argentina and Bobby Charlton opening the scoring from distance when England beat Portugal in the semi-final. But in the end we’ve gone for another Charlton goal – his tremendous run and shot against Mexico.
The context: England had been held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against Uruguay in the opening game and they were struggling to break down Mexico as Charlton collected the ball around the halfway line and started to run goalwards….
The conversion: Charlton was afforded plenty of space as he made his way towards the Mexican penalty area, feigning to go to the left before taking the ball onto his right foot and unleashing a ferocious shot that flew into the net.
The commentary: “Now it’s Charlton, Bobby Charlton. Hunt on the right… maybe a shot from Charlton? It’s worth a try… and it’s a goal, a beauty.” (Kenneth Wolstenholme, BBC)
The considered opinion: “It was probably the most memorable goal of Bobby’s career, not only for the sheer breathtaking quality of his shot, but also for its context.” (Leo McKinstry, Jack and Bobby: A Story of Brothers in Conflict)
The consequences: The goal would be seen as igniting England’s World Cup campaign, as they went on to win this game 2-0 and triumphed in every subsequent match on their way to winning the World Cup. Charlton would score twice more in the semi-final against Portugal and his total of 49 England goals remained a record until 2015.
1970 – Alan Mullery v West Germany
The contenders: The hardest choice of the lot, with England only scoring four goals from as many matches and one of those being a penalty. It was a tournament remembered far more for an English save (Gordon Banks) and tackle (Bobby Moore) against Brazil than for any chances they put away. But that’s not to say England didn’t take their goals well. There isn’t much in it between the three contenders, namely Hurst’s neat turn and finish against Romania and Alan Mullery and Martin Peters both turning home excellent Keith Newton crosses in the quarter-final defeat by West Germany. In the end we’ve gone for Mullery’s goal, as he started and finished the move with a well-timed run.
The context: Going into the quarter-final showdown against West Germany in the heat of Leon, midfielder Mullery had the unwanted record of having never scored in 30 caps and being the only England player to be sent-off two years earlier against Yugoslavia. After 32 minutes he broke his scoring deadlock to put England in front.
The conversion: Newton received a crossfield pass from Mullery and took the ball towards the area on the right flank. He played a dangerous ball into the area along the ground, with Mullery timing his run perfectly to reach the ball first and score with his right foot past Sepp Maier.
The commentary: “Good ball for Mullery,.. Alan Mullery… Alan Mullery. How about that one? Alan Mullery scores his very first international goal and it couldn’t have been a better one.” (Hugh Johns, ITV – the master of making sure everyone knew who had scored by repeating their name!)
The considered opinion: “In view of his impact, and his show of self-belief, it was fitting that the goal was scored by Mullery. He started and finished the movement, which confirmed our clear edge, finding Newton on the right and then bearing down on Sepp Maier’s goal with a perfectly judged run to meet the return pass and send the ball high into the net.” (Bobby Charlton, The Autobiography: My England Years)
The consequences: When Newton again provided the assist for Martin Peters to put England 2-0 up after the break that looked to be that. But England would sensationally collapse, losing 3-2 as stand-in goalkeeper Peter Bonetti took his share of the blame along with Sir Alf Ramsey over his substitutions. Mullery only played four more times for England and never scored again.
A short time after returning from Mexico he went head-to-head on LWT’s The Big Match with arch-critic Malcolm Allison, who continued to argue the player wasn’t good enough for England (and even seemed to use the goal he scored as justification for laying into him for not doing it previously).
1982 – Trevor Francis v Kuwait
The contenders: England scored six goals in Spain and we’ve settled for a shortlist of three. There were the two goals Bryan Robson famously netted in the 3-1 win over France – the first in the opening moments stemming from a well-worked long throw, the second an impressive header. But the goal we’ve picked comes from a match that tends to seldom get recalled – the 1-0 victory against Kuwait thanks to Trevor Francis.
The context: This was effectively a dead rubber, with England already assured of top spot in the group and Kuwait needing an unlikely big victory to go through. The match was something of a non-event as England struggled to break down their opponents in the Bilbao sunshine, but it would be lit up when Francis burst through to score the only goal after 27 minutes. It was the second successive match in which he had scored.
The conversion: Goalkeeper Peter Shilton punted the ball long to just inside the Kuwait half, with Francis playing a neat header towards Paul Mariner. He in turn produced a clever backheel to set Francis clear. The £1 million man sprinted away and evaded an attempted challenge before powerfully firing home from just inside the box. Although the quality of the opposition was not the greatest, this was still an impressive goal that combined skill, pace and finishing power.
The commentary: “And Francis and Mariner can construct something here. And Francis… England in front, with a move that swept the length of the field.” (Martin Tyler, ITV)
The considered opinion: “There was the consolation that the only goal was a fine cameo in the art of finishing.” (Steve Curry, Daily Express)
The consequences: Few could have imagined as Francis wheeled away in celebration that it would be the last goal involving England during the tournament. They achieved a rather underwhelming 1-0 win here and then bowed out after goalless draws in the second group phase against West Germany and Spain. Although Francis scored twice in England’s first match under Bobby Robson in September 1982 away to Denmark, he managed just two more goals for his country before winning his 52nd and final cap in April 1986.
1986 – Gary Lineker v Poland (2nd goal)
The contenders: This was the Gary Lineker show, as he netted six of England’s seven goals out in Mexico. Lineker being Lineker, these weren’t tremendous solo goals but a case of him ensuring he was in the right place at the right time to finish. But there was some impressive teamwork in the build-ups, such as against Argentina with a John Barnes cross, Glenn Hoddle spraying a lovely ball forward against Paraguay and Lineker’s Everton colleagues combining for his opener against Poland. However, the goal we like best was his second in the same game.
The context: England went into the game against Poland staring elimination in the face, knowing a defeat would definitely send them home and a draw might not be enough to go through. They therefore really had to go for it and Lineker – whose place up front had been in jeopardy after the opening two games brought no goals – broke the deadlock on eight minutes after a good team move. Six minutes later another opening came his way…
The conversion: This was a delightful sweeping move down the left flank. Kenny Sansom’s ball to Peter Beardsley was brilliantly played forward for Steve Hodge, who crossed into the area. Lineker ran in from behind to connect and score with his right foot.
The commentary: “Beardsley looking very lively. What a lovely first time ball. Lineker far side… coming in on it now. Magnificent goal.” (Barry Davies, BBC)
The considered opinion: “The second was a classic, with Beardsley and Hodge delivering perfect first-time passes.” (Bobby Robson, So Near and Yet So Far: Bobby Robson’s World Cup Diary)
The consequences: Lineker and England were now thriving and he completed his hat-trick before half-time to wrap up a 3-0 win. He went on to finish as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals, with a successful partnership with Beardsley having been forged. Lineker ended the summer by making a big money move to Barcelona.
1990 – David Platt v Belgium
The contenders: A fondly remembered tournament among England fans as the side came closer than ever before or since to winning the World Cup on foreign soil. Lineker scored a well-taken equaliser in the semi-final against West Germany, but otherwise it was all about David Platt in terms of the best England goals. The midfielder headed in excellent crosses against Cameroon and Italy, but our winner is his dramatic last-gasp goal to beat Belgium.
The context: England’s second round match against Belgium was locked at 0-0 with the seconds ticking away in extra-time and a penalty-shoot-out looming. Then it fell to Platt, a man on as substitute for only his eighth cap, to score his first international goal in the most joyful of circumstances.
The conversion: A lengthy run by Paul Gascoigne ended with him earning England a free-kick inside the Belgian half. Bobby Robson hollered at Gascoigne to play the ball into the box and he duly did so, successfully finding David Platt who got free of his opponents to swivel and volley in the winner. He became mobbed by his colleagues as Robson danced a jig of delight on the touchline.
The commentary: “And chipped in… and volleyed in, and it’s there by David Platt. England have done it in the last minute of extra-time.” (John Motson, BBC)
The considered opinion: “Gascoigne, wonderfully commanding, unlocked a tiring defence two minutes from the end. When his run through midfield was curtailed by a foul, he swung a free-kick into the area where Platt, on as substitute, found space and lashed a scintillating volley into the net.” (Andrew Mourant and Jack Rollin, The Essential History of England)
The consequences: The goal sparked England’s campaign into life and also marked a major breakthrough for Platt. He took his place in the starting line-up and responded by scoring against Cameroon in the quarter-final and against hosts Italy in the third-place match, as well as in the semi-final penalty-shoot-out against West Germany. Platt became a key player for England in the ensuing years, netting 27 times in 62 caps and wearing the captain’s armband on many occasions.
1998 – Michael Owen v Argentina
The contenders: England’s tournament in France only lasted four games, but there was a plethora of quality goals to enjoy. Paul Scholes curled in a delightful clincher against Tunisia: Darren Anderton netted a ferocious half-volley against Colombia; and David Beckham scored a trademark free-kick in the same game. In another tournament they could all feasibly have been picked, but this was 1998 – when teenager Michael Owen made the world sit up and take notice with his solo goal against Argentina.
The context: This enthralling second round match was level at 1-1 after 16 minutes. Owen, whose first cap had arrived in February, had started the tournament on the bench but earned a starting berth after scoring against Romania in the second group game. He had already confirmed the danger he posed to Argentina by earning the penalty from which Alan Shearer equalised, charging into the area before being brought down.
The conversion: Paul Ince won possession just in front of the England penalty area. He found Beckham, who played a clever ball through to Owen who was just inside the opposition penalty area. He used his electrifying pace to run at the Argentina defence, cutting over towards the right side of the penalty area. He shook off the Argentine defenders before firing into the roof of the net.
The commentary: “Beckham now to Owen and here’s another Owen run. He’s going to worry them again. It’s a great run by Michael Owen and he might finish it off… oh, it’s a wonderful goal. What an amazing moment in Michael Owen’s young career.” (Brian Moore, ITV – not a bad final England goal to describe ahead of retirement).
The considered opinion: “Owen had put down his marker [by winning the penalty]. Five minutes later he made his name. The run past Jose Chamot, keeping his feet this time, and the jinking dismissal of Ayala were followed by a shot of such exquisite technique that it made the blood run cold. What gives an 18-year-old the self-possession, playing for a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, to get his foot around the ball and guide it across the goalkeeper while running at full speed?” (David Lacey, The Guardian)
The consequences: The match would live long in the memory, with England pegged back to 2-2 before having Beckham dismissed and seeing Sol Campbell’s late ‘winner’ disallowed. Owen again showed maturity and composure by scoring in the shoot-out. England lost out but Owen was now regarded as a major player and he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.