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Six of the Best – Endings to England goalscoring droughts

Following Raheem Sterling at last finding the net for England against Spain and with Harry Kane currently looking to get back on the international goalscoring trail, we look back at six previous occasions when players lost their England scoring touch – but then netted again…

Jimmy Greaves (1966-67)

When Jimmy Greaves struck four times for England against Norway in June 1966 it would have seemed inconceivable what happened next. He was absent from the scoresheet in two more World Cup warm-up matches and then all three of England’s group stage games, with an injury against France ultimately curtailing his tournament as he failed to regain his place for the final. Although he returned to the side against Scotland the following April, he again didn’t score.

Six games without a goal for England was an awful run by the prolific standards Greaves set, but a week in May would provide some welcome cheer for him after a difficult 12 months. He helped Tottenham Hotspur win the FA Cup against Chelsea and then returned to Wembley four days later to score for England in a 2-0 friendly win over Spain. There now seemed reason for Greaves to be optimistic about his future, but this would ultimately be his last England goal and he won just one more cap – his request to Sir Alf Ramsey that he only be called up to to the squad if he was likely to play counting against him.

Bobby Charlton (1969-70)

Bobby Charlton held the England goalscoring record until Wayne Rooney broke it decades later. Charlton averaged close to a goal every two games for England and continually seemed to net when it mattered, usually in graceful style.

Bobby Charlton celebrates his 100th England cap with a goal against Northern Ireland in 1970.

But as his England career drew towards its conclusion the goals dried up. After scoring against Wales in May 1969 he would endure a run of seven goalless games for England. But when he did net again it would be a particularly special moment. The home game against Northern Ireland in April 1970 was effectively a tribute night to Charlton, as he earned his 100th cap and wore the captain’s armband.

In the closing minutes Charlton was on hand to tuck the ball home and seal a 3-1 win, as the Wembley crowd paid homage to a footballing legend. He would follow it up with an excellent finish away to Colombia a month later, for his 49th and last England goal.

John Barnes (1984-87)

As with Sterling in the present day, John Barnes continually had to withstand criticism of his displays when wearing an England shirt. The famous goal he scored against Brazil in 1984 became something of a millstone around his neck as he found expectations became higher than they realistically should have been. Although, as a winger, there was far more to his game than simply scoring (as his crosses for Gary Lineker against Argentina in 1986 showed), his lack of goals for his country didn’t go unnoticed.

John Barnes pictured with Gary Lineker after ending his England goal drought against Turkey in 1987.

Barnes scored twice against Turkey in November 1984 but he would have to wait until October 1987 – having appeared 17 times for England in the interim – before he next scored. He netted in the second minute as Turkey visited Wembley and went on to add another before half-time. The following Saturday he underlined his abilities with two goals for Liverpool against QPR, before converting in England’s win over Yugoslavia the following month.

But Barnes would continue to have his performances in an England shirt questioned and history would repeat itself when he again failed to score in 17 internationals from 1990 to 1993. He ended that run in style with a superb free-kick against the Netherlands.

Gary Lineker (1988-89)

Like Greaves before him, Gary Lineker’s performances were judged upon his goalscoring endeavours. And his goal drought for England in the late 1980s bore parallels with that of Greaves mentioned above as a tournament passed without a goal when expectations were high.

Lineker did not score for England between a friendly against Switzerland in May 1988 and a World Cup qualifier at home to Albania 11 months later. He’d endured seven goalless games in the interim, including a fruitless Euro ’88 when he was hospitalised shortly afterwards with hepatitis. The impact of the illness was still being felt during 1988-89 and Lineker’s wish to regain his predatory instincts wasn’t helped by being picked out wide at Barcelona.

Gary Lineker heads in for England against Albania in 1989.

A poor showing away to Albania in March 1989 led to BBC pundit Jimmy Hill calling for Lineker to be dropped in the hope that a rest may do the trick. But Bobby Robson picked Lineker up front for the return match against Albania the following month and an early headed goal was met with visible relief from the forward. Further goals against Poland and Denmark sent him into the summer on a high and having recaptured his finishing touch.

Alan Shearer (1994-96)

In the early to mid 1990s England were blessed with a series of star strikers, not least Alan Shearer who was a major presence at Blackburn Rovers and a regular starter for his country. But even Shearer and his England boss Terry Venables must have harboured some concerns over the forward when he went into Euro ’96 having not scored for his country since September 1994 – having played in 12 matches in the interim.

Alan Shearer celebrates scoring for England against Switzerland during Euro ’96.

Venables stuck with Shearer, convinced of the forward’s qualities. And he was rewarded when the tournament began as Shearer put England ahead against Switzerland. “When it mattered he knew where the goal was,” proclaimed BBC commentator Barry Davies. And as so often seems to be the case, the floodgates now opened. He scored five times in as many games – plus twice converting in penalty-shoot-outs – to finish as the tournament’s top scorer. Shearer was doing what he did best and a record £15 million transfer to Newcastle United would soon follow.

Paul Scholes (2001-04)

To his fans, Paul Scholes’ England career was one of great frustration. What had started so promisingly with a goal and brilliant assist in his second cap against Italy in June 1997 became increasingly disenchanting for the midfielder. He would find himself shunted from the middle so Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could be accommodated. After scoring his 13th England goal against Greece in June 2001, Scholes next netted for his country a staggering 30 caps and three years later.

Paul Scholes scores at last for England – but it would be virtually his last act when playing for his country.

He picked a vital moment to end the drought, heading in the equaliser against Croatia during Euro 2004 as England went on to win 4-2. But it would be his penultimate cap. At the age of just 29 he’d had enough. “I have been considering retiring from international football for a while now,” he said in August 2004 as he announced he had played his last international match. At least holding off until after the Euros had allowed him to end that England goalscoring drought.

Scholes would later see some members of the Golden Generation endure England scoring droughts, most notably Gerrard who did not net for three years from August 2010 to September 2013 (although he experienced a lengthy injury lay-off during this spell). David Beckham’s free-kick against Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup proved his only England goal in his last 35 caps from 2005 to 2009, while even future record goalscorer Wayne Rooney would play 11 successive games without scoring for England from September 2009 to September 2010.

englandmemories View All

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

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