Skip to content

Six of the Best – Landmark England games

Ahead of England playing their 1,000th match against Montenegro, we recall six previous games which were of statistical significance…

The first match – 1872

It all began for England in November 1872 when they played the first official international away to Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Partick. Although there had been games between players representing Scotland and England in the previous couple of years, this match would be the first official international ever played. Cuthbert Ottaway had the honour of being England’s opening captain. Despite the majority of players on the field being forwards, they could not produce a goal. It would mark the start of annual meetings that continued for more than a century, but it would be the last time the sides drew 0-0 until 1970.

Meetings with Scotland were the only games England played until Wales were added to the fixture list in 1879, followed by Ireland from 1882. The Home International Championship was created in 1884.

First game outside Britain – 1908

International football for England remained very much a British affair for the first quarter of a century, continually playing the same three opponents – in terms of official international matches anyway. But in June 1908 England would finally get the chance to confirm the status they believed they held as the best in the world, as they ventured into mainland Europe. It was not the first time that teams representing England had met foreign opposition, but such games against the likes of Austria and Germany – usually producing huge wins – had not been classed as full internationals.

The 1908 tour would see the games recognised and counted as part of the 999 matches England have so far played. They began with a double-header away to Austria in Vienna, with England recording a 6-1 win on June 6 as Jimmy Windridge (2), Vivian Woodward, George Hilsdon (2) and Arthur Bridgett all found the net.

They followed it up two days later with an 11-1 landslide victory over the Austrians. “The Viennese critics declared that they had never seen such wonderful play,” reported The Times. Woodward netted four times, with Frank Bradshaw scoring a hat-trick. England weren’t finished yet, as they thrashed Hungary 7-0 in Budapest and then beat Bohemia 4-0 in Prague. On this basis, it seemed foreign teams could never pose a threat to England in the ensuing years…

First game at Wembley – 1924

Although Wembley was first used in April 1923 for the ‘White Horse’ FA Cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, it would be a further 12 months before England played there for the first time when they met old rivals Scotland. The first international goal scored in front of the Twin Towers would be recorded as an own goal by England goalkeeper Ted Taylor, before Billy Walker equalised in the second half as the game ended 1-1.

Wembley would not initially become England’s regular home and they did not play there again until 1928, when they were humiliated 5-1 by Scotland. Prior to the Second World War, England’s only games at Wembley were against the Scots and even in the 1950s they would still often play home matches at other grounds.

The FA’s centenary match – 1963

Key anniversaries for the Football Association have been regularly marked over the years. In October 1938 the FA’s 75th birthday brought a 3-0 victory for England over the Rest of Europe at Highbury; the 90th anniversary in 1953 was marked by the sides drawing 4-4 at Wembley, with Alf Ramsey scoring a late equaliser from the penalty spot; in 1988 the FA invited all former England players to attend the World Cup qualifier at home to Sweden in recognition of the 125th anniversary; and in 2013 attractive friendlies were arranged to mark 150 years of the FA, including a long-awaited clash with Scotland.

Captains Jimmy Armfield and Alfredo Di Stefano lead the teams out as England face the Rest of the World in 1963.

But the standout celebration for the FA came on its centenary in October 1963, when England played host to a Rest of the World side featuring such names as Lev Yashin, Denis Law, Eusebio and Alfredo Di Stefano. The 100,000 crowd would see all the goals come in the final 20 minutes, with Terry Paine giving England the lead before Law levelled. But the last word would go to the master finisher, as Jimmy Greaves struck to give England a 2-1 victory.

Such a match if played today may be viewed as merely a celebratory kickabout, but the 1963 game was considered every bit a major international and caps were awarded to England’s players. Albert Barham wrote in The Guardian: “England beat the Rest of the World 2-1 at Wembley yesterday, and there could be no more fitting celebration of the Football Association’s centenary than that. Victory was born of determination and nursed by teamwork of the highest order, and it altogether was the finest display from England for many years.” Alf Ramsey was beginning to build a side that could achieve success and England’s greatest day would be enjoyed at Wembley three years later.

100th Wembley international – 1975

Wembley had made up for lost time by becoming a regular home for England games, meaning that by March 1975 it was time for the stadium to stage its 100th international. It would be an occasion marked with a prestige friendly, as Don Revie’s side hosted West Germany in front of a capacity crowd. The events of a more famous Wembley meeting between the sides nine years earlier remained vivid, but much had happened since and England had not even qualified for the 1974 World Cup that the West Germans had won on home soil.

For the first time since the 1966 World Cup final a meeting of the sides produced an England victory, Colin Bell and Malcolm Macdonald finding the net in a 2-0 success as Alan Hudson earned rave reviews for his display. Although it should be noted that key men had been missing for the West Germans, the result meant that Revie remained unbeaten since he had taken the England manager’s job the previous summer and there was a rare feeling of positivity surrounding England during this era (it wouldn’t last).

“Wembley last night celebrated England’s hundredth game there,” wrote Geoffrey Green in The Times. “The home side lit the candle happily with a victory over the world champions and, in spite of the wet conditions, 100,000 people were there to witness it.”

England‘s 2,000th goal – 2011

The early part of the 2010s was not the most memorable period in England’s history. Widespread disillusionment had set in after the ‘Golden Generation’ had failed to even make the last four of a major tournament, with the side now in transition and looking some way off the world’s elite. But there would occasionally be brighter moments and in November 2011 World Cup and European Championship holders Spain were beaten at Wembley courtesy of Frank Lampard’s close-range header. It was the 1,999th goal scored by England.


Gareth Barry was awarded England’s 2,000th goal against Sweden in 2011.

The fact that a goal would take England to the 2,000 mark added a little bit of interest to another Wembley friendly at home to Sweden three days later, as the Three Lions looked to beat the Swedes for the first time since 1968. It was a fairly low-key event in front of what was at the time the lowest attendance for an England game at the new Wembley, but the hosts duly got both the win and the goal as they again triumphed 1-0. But confusion would reign over who had scored it, with that prolific England scorer ‘Own Goal’ initially credited with it before Gareth Barry was officially awarded the goal. It was one of just three England goals he scored in 53 caps.

It would also be the last goal of Fabio Capello’s reign. By the time England next took to the field in February, the Italian had moved on.

englandmemories View All

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

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: