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Six of the Best – Memorable odd-numbered summers for England

2019 could potentially be a year to fondly recall for England football fans if the side can triumph in the first UEFA Nations League tournament (not to mention how other England sides perform in competitions including the Women’s World Cup). Today we look back at six other summers in odd-numbered years which were significant for England…

Traditionally June would be the feast or famine month when it came to football. If a year ended in an even number then there was the delight of a major tournament to enjoy and watch day after day. But if it didn’t then football lovers would be left feeling withdrawal symptoms, as they had to find other ways of passing the time and counting down the days until the new season began. It’s still true to some extent now, although the rise of various other tournaments – including the Women’s World Cup and the Under-21s European Championship – means any football devotee is still likely to find plenty of action to watch during the domestic close season.

But the summers of such years have long carried importance for England, even though they did not contain the drama or hype that major tournaments inevitably generate. As we will recall today, they have often represented an important period in the two-year cycle when preparing for a major tournament – and in many cases contained vital matches when looking to qualify. Here are six summers that stick in the mind for good or bad reasons, limiting it to a maximum of one summer per manager (in this instance we’ve classed ‘summer’ as being the period shortly after the domestic season ends, regardless of whether it’s officially still the spring)…

1963 – Ramsey’s revolution begins

Although Alf Ramsey took charge of defeats for England during the 1962-63 season against France and Scotland and a draw against Brazil, his reign in many respects properly began on the side’s end-of-season tour. It gave him the chance to spend time with his players and start building a side which he believed could win the 1966 World Cup, with the archaic selection committee having thankfully been kicked into touch.

And there would be a bold step taken during the first game of the tour against Czechoslovakia as young defender Bobby Moore was handed the England captaincy in Jimmy Armfield’s absence. England’s 4-2 success was their first victory under Ramsey and included two goals for Jimmy Greaves. “England played probably their best football for two years,” noted the match report in The Guardian.

Bobby Moore captained England for the first time against Czechoslovakia.

It was followed up by a 2-1 win in East Germany thanks to goals from Roger Hunt and Bobby Charlton. The tour would be completed with an emphatic 8-1 win over a Switzerland side who went on to qualify for the 1966 World Cup, with Charlton netting three times. Confidence was high and Ramsey was starting to gain an insight into which players could deliver for him three years down the line, with Gordon Banks beginning to establish himself as the first choice goalkeeper.

1977 – Revie’s last act

This week sadly marks 30 years since the death of Don Revie, who built such a formidable side at Leeds United. But his three-year England reign would bring him both less success and enjoyment. As England headed out on a tour of South America in June 1977, things were looking bleak. They were in great danger of failing to qualify for the 1978 World Cup and had just suffered successive Wembley defeats to Wales and Scotland in the Home Internationals. Questions were being raised surrounding Revie’s future.

Don Revie was under pressure as England headed to South America in June 1977.

England would restore some pride by emerging undefeated on the tour as they drew with Brazil (0-0), Argentina (1-1) and Uruguay (0-0). The Argentina game would be the most memorable, with Trevor Cherry becoming only the third England player to be sent off in a controversial incident in which he lost two teeth after being punched. England had shown they could compete with strong opposition, but they hadn’t totally won over their doubters as their winless run stretched to five games. David Lacey wrote in The Guardian that the side would return home “none the worse but only marginally the better for their South American experience”.

Revie was ready to move on and he was already privately discussing a financially lucrative move to the United Arab Emirates. The following month Revie announced he was quitting via a newspaper exclusive, leading to an acrimonious parting of the ways from the FA. Revie was adamant that the FA had been preparing to dismiss him anyway and claimed they were already lining up his successor, but they took great exception to his actions and a legal battle would follow. The wounds would sadly never be healed.

1981 – Ron’s rollercoaster ride

Four years later and another England manager would find himself in the firing line. 1981 was proving a depressing year for England and Ron Greenwood, with a 1-0 defeat by Scotland on May 23 meaning they had played five games so far during the year at Wembley and failed to win any of them – scoring just one goal in the process. They now faced a double-header of away qualifiers as they sought to make it to the following year’s World Cup in Spain.

And things were about to get even worse. Away to Switzerland on May 30, England struggled to click and were beaten 2-1. In a situation containing parallels to what will happen ahead of this year’s Nation’s League tournament, their preparations had not been helped by having players – the Liverpool contingent including Ray Clemence and Terry McDermott – involved in the European Cup final just three days before. But there was little sympathy for England after a defeat that left them at risk of another qualifying failure, with the nation’s reputation hit further by deplorable scenes of violence on the terraces.

Trevor Brooking revives England’s qualifying hopes in Hungary.

Greenwood had seen enough and made up his mind that the following week’s daunting qualifier in Hungary would be his last game, although he did not go public with his intentions. Norman Fox in The Times described the Saturday night clash in Budapest as “England’s most important game in the era of Ron Greenwood”. The manager said: “This is a game for character, attitude and experience and we’re going to need a lot of it.”

And those qualities were all in evidence on a night when England delivered, with Trevor Brooking scoring twice – including his memorable ‘ball stuck in the stanchion’ goal – as Greenwood’s men won 3-1. Their hopes of reaching the World Cup had been revived and they could spend the summer break in a more buoyant mood than most people had anticipated. Greenwood informed the players on the flight home he was retiring, only to be talked out of it. England rode their luck somewhat during the qualifying programme, but they would make it to Spain after beating Hungary in the return game in November.

1993 – Taylor’s torture

Ian Wright’s late equaliser for England away to Poland in May 1993 not only salvaged a vital point in a World Cup qualifier, but meant Graham Taylor had suffered just three defeats in almost three years as manager. But by the end of the following month his tally of losses had doubled – with two of the three defeats suffered in June 1993 being particularly painful and leaving Taylor on the receiving end of some unwelcome headlines. The tide had started to turn against him during Euro ’92 and now he was being swamped.

As in 1981, England faced two away World Cup qualifiers in a matter of days at the end of the season. They left it late to collect a point against the Poles, but on June 2 they faced their biggest test yet against surprise package Norway. Taylor’s side struggled to get going and were beaten 2-0, leaving them at risk of not making it to the 1994 World Cup in the United States. That was where they were now heading though to take part in the mini US Cup tournament. If England’s main aim of the trip was to help with preparations for the World Cup, then it was already looking like it might be a futile exercise.

England’s woes grew with defeat to the USA.

And the trip would stick in the mind for the wrong reasons. There was still a tendency for the footballing credentials of the USA to be dismissed at this point by many on these shores, not helped by the fact they had been on a barren run of form (they would gain more credibility a year later by reaching the last 16 of the World Cup). So England’s 2-0 defeat would pile the pressure on Taylor, as ‘Yanks 2, Planks 0’ became the latest memorable headline at his expense. “On any other day that game would have been won by England,” said Taylor afterwards. But he knew that, even in what was effectively a glorified friendly, results were what his critics would judge his side on.

It tends to be forgotten that England responded to the USA defeat by giving far better displays in drawing 1-1 with Brazil and narrowly losing 2-1 to Germany. But unfortunately for Taylor the losses to Norway and the USA were what many people would remember. And he would feel it, telling members of the press he had experienced “a miserable, lousy summer” ahead of England’s next game in September against Poland.

1997 – Hoddle‘s stylish success

A summer hopefully similar to this one, as England built upon a memorable run to the semi-finals of a major tournament the year before by winning a four-team competition. While Le Tournoi was essentially a friendly tournament, it remains fondly remembered among England fans as a rare success and for the style the side displayed during the week in France.

But arguably the most important game England played at the end of that season took place prior to Le Tournoi. Glenn Hoddle’s men headed to Poland for a vital World Cup qualifier on May 31 after beating South Africa 2-1 in a friendly the week before. The old pairing of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham came up trumps as both forwards scored in a 2-0 win, as the side now travelled to France to take on three of the world’s leading sides in a tournament setting.

England collected silverware at Le Tournoi.

And England showed they were not out of place in the opening game against Italy, even when fielding a side containing several changes from that which beat Poland. A majestic ball from Paul Scholes teed up Ian Wright to score, before Wright turned provider for Scholes to double the lead. England had produced a display to remember in winning 2-0 and they followed it up by beating the hosts thanks to a late goal from Shearer. The trophy was secured prior to the final game, when they were beaten 1-0 by Brazil.

As odd-numbered years go, this was one of the best summers from an English footballing perspective.

2001 – Sven-sational start continues

When one thinks of David Beckham free-kicks for England in 2001, the one that instantly comes to mind is his last-gasp equaliser for Greece in October to send the side to the World Cup. But at the end of the previous season he had twice delivered from dead balls to help England preserve their perfect start under Sven-Goran Eriksson.

England were playing home games on tour and it was Derby County’s Pride Park that had the honour of staging the friendly against Mexico on May 25. A moment of class from Paul Scholes gave England an early lead, with Robbie Fowler doubling the advantage before Beckham’s party piece made it 3-0 at the break. Teddy Sheringham completed a 4-0 win with a free-kick to rival Beckham’s, meaning Eriksson had won his first four games at the helm.

England gained victory away to Greece in a World Cup qualifier.

But the next match was going to be critical, away to Greece on June 6. As against Poland in 1973, 1989 and 1997, Hungary in 1981 and Norway in 1993, the extent to which England could enjoy their summer break would hinge upon a critical World Cup qualifier. They were made to wait for the breakthrough, but Scholes put England ahead on 64 minutes. Beckham offered a taste of what was to come later in the year as his free-kick late in the game sailed into the Greek net. The 2-0 win left England in buoyant mood, as their showdown away to Germany on September 1 drew nearer…

englandmemories View All

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

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