England play their first match this weekend since finishing fourth in this summer’s World Cup in Russia. Today we recall six previous occasions when England returned to action after playing in the World Cup, selecting one match per decade from the 1950s to the 2000s…
1958 v Northern Ireland (a), 3-3
In even-numbered years England would traditionally play their first game of the season away to Northern Ireland in Belfast. In 1958 the English found themselves in the unusual position of having been outperformed by the Northern Irish at that summer’s World Cup. This match in the Home International Championship on October 4 would reinforce that Northern Ireland were a dangerous proposition, as they came close to recording a first home win over England since 1927.
Two Manchester United team-mates who had escaped with their lives intact in the Munich Air Disaster eight months earlier would feature prominently, as Bobby Charlton scored twice past Harry Gregg. Both goals were equalisers, as Northern Ireland took the lead three times to the delight of the majority of the 58,000 crowd but couldn’t see the job through. Billy Cush, Bertie Peacock and Tommy Casey would all give the hosts the lead, with veteran Tom Finney having marked his 75th cap by scoring England’s second.
The match would help kickstart Charlton’s England career, after he had watched the World Cup from the sidelines in Sweden. But he would not look back too fondly at the occasion as England struggled to get to grips with the elements. “I cannot remember another pitch that held to your feet so discouragingly,” he wrote in his autobiography.
1966 v Northern Ireland (a), 2-0
England had a gap of almost three months between winning the 1966 World Cup and returning to action, with their biennial trip to Belfast on October 22 doubling up as a European Championship qualifier. The spirit of the summer was still in evidence as England fielded the same side that had won the World Cup and paraded the Jules Rimet Trophy around Windsor Park before kick-off.
It was never going to match the drama or prestige of the World Cup final but England carried on where they left off by winning again, despite George Best’s endeavours for the hosts. Roger Hunt broke the deadlock shortly before the break, with Martin Peters sealing the 2-0 win after an hour.
England had lost just once since June 1964 and were continually achieving results, with Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ system working well – albeit not being regarded as the most flamboyant of approaches. “This England combination has come to resemble a company of business efficiency experts. It is largely faceless and anonymous – but highly efficient,” summarised ‘Football Correspondent’ (Geoffrey Green) in The Times in his match report.
1970 v East Germany (h), 3-1
After being dethroned as world champions in 1970 in Mexico, England went into hibernation for five months. Their last game had brought defeat by West Germany and now attention turned to a rare meeting with East Germany in a Wembley friendly on November 25. It would be most significant for providing the first of goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s record 125 England caps.
He was on the winning side, with goals from Franny Lee, Martin Peters and Allan Clarke giving England a 3-1 victory. The performance drew plaudits, as England were at last perceived as playing with some flair. “In place of the familiar stodgy stuff was a new sense of adventure and a most welcome willingness to exploit the East German frailties in defence. And the loyal crowd of 93,000 loved every minute of it,” wrote an enthused Albert Barham in The Guardian.
1982 v Denmark (a), 2-2
Bobby Robson must have cursed whoever sorted out England’s fixture schedule for 1982-83. The new manager was looking to rebuild but he would start with an away trip to Denmark for a European Championship qualifier on September 22. It was a match which he knew would be very tough – but others back home would see it as a game England should win, unaware of what a good side Denmark had become. The Danes were coming to the fore and they shook England in Copenhagen.
Amid a media storm over Robson’s decision to axe Kevin Keegan from the squad and with the match overshadowed by disorder on the terraces, the new manager was getting an insight into some of the more unwelcome elements of the job. On the field, Trevor Francis twice put England in front but many observers felt they were fortunate to emerge with a 2-2 draw, even though Denmark’s second equaliser through Jesper Olsen was not scored until the dying seconds.
Robson wrote in his 1986 World Cup Diary: “We were lucky. The Danes were the better side on the night and had it not been for Peter Shilton we would surely have lost.” Denmark would go on to deny England a place at the Euro ’84 finals.
1990 v Hungary (h), 1-0
There was a feelgood factor around as England returned to action following their run to the Italia ’90 semi-finals. Hungary would visit Wembley for a friendly on September 12, with the match significant for marking Graham Taylor’s opening game as manager and Gary Lineker’s first as captain. While the attendance of 51,459 may not sound noticeably big for an England match, it was higher than the combined attendance for Wembley friendlies against Czechoslovakia and Denmark shortly before the finals – and double that which had attended England’s last September home match in 1988 against the Danes.
Only Lee Dixon was in the side who hadn’t gone to the World Cup, as Taylor initially mainly operated with what he had inherited. England were in buoyant mood and a goal from Lineker shortly before half-time proved decisive and gave Taylor a winning start. David Lacey in The Guardian would describe the display as “more reassuring than inspiring, solid rather than spectacular”.
But people were going home smiling and wanting to watch England again, amid Gazzamania. It was a situation comparable to now, where there was a new-found affection for the England team following a run to the World Cup semi-finals and there seemed more reasons to be optimistic than not…
2006 v Greece (h), 4-0
With European Championship qualifiers beginning at the start of September, England opted to play a friendly on August 16 against Greece – less than seven weeks after losing on penalties to Portugal at the World Cup. But that already felt like some time ago as England had a new manager in Steve McClaren, who had left former captain David Beckham out of his first squad.
Old Trafford had been booked to stage it in case England were celebrating World Cup success. Ultimately they had fallen short of what was hoped for but more than 45,000 fans saw them demolish the European champions. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch (2) were all on target during the first half. McClaren’s reign had started perfectly and there seemed no trace of a World Cup hangover. But things would ultimately get far worse in the months that followed.
And the rest…
In both 1950 and 1954 England’s first games after the World Cup brought victories in Belfast. Eddie Baily scored twice in a 4-1 win in October 1950, while four years later goals in the closing stages from Johnny Haynes and Don Revie produced a 2-0 success over the Northern Irish. As we recalled in our most recent blog post, England’s first match after the 1962 World Cup was a 1-1 draw against France in a European Nations’ Cup qualifying tie at Hillsborough.
In 1986 and 1998 England’s first matches after being knocked out of the World Cup by Argentina brought away defeats to Sweden. In 1986 it was a 1-0 loss in a friendly, but 12 years later things mattered more in a Euro 2000 qualifier. Alan Shearer scored in the second minute but England were beaten 2-1 and had Paul Ince sent-off.
England returned to action after the 2002 World Cup with a 1-1 friendly draw with Portugal that was littered with substitutions at Villa Park. In both 2010 and 2014 England restored a degree of pride after disappointing World Cup campaigns by winning Wembley friendlies. Steven Gerrard scored twice as England came from behind to beat Hungary in 2010 and a Wayne Rooney penalty settled the contest against Norway four years ago – starting an unbeaten season for Roy Hodgson’s side.
Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.