European Championship

England’s qualifying campaigns – Euro ’72: winning points but not plaudits

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On Friday England visit Malta for a World Cup qualifier. The previous occasion when the sides were in the same qualifying group was for the 1972 European Championship. Today we look back at that campaign…

For England and Sir Alf Ramsey, the 1970 World Cup represented disappointment as they surrendered their crown at the quarter-final hurdle against West Germany after leading 2-0. Ramsey now looked ahead to the challenge of the 1974 World Cup, as the Boys of ’66 continually dwindled in number. George Cohen, Roger Hunt and Ray Wilson had all left the scene before 1970, while the World Cup in Mexico marked the end of the international road for the Charlton brothers and Nobby Stiles – the latter never getting any game time in the finals. Other players including Jeff Astle, Brian Labone and Keith Newton would no longer feature after 1970 as Ramsey rebuilt and set his sights on four years down the road.

If West Germany in 1974 was the long-term focus for Ramsey, his first aim was steering England through the qualifying group to reach the quarter-final stage of the 1972 European Championship. They had been handed a favourable group containing Switzerland, Greece and Malta. England had never met the Greeks or Maltese before, while they had faced the Swiss several times including thrashing them 8-1 in Basel in 1963. But Switzerland had a greater track record than the other two opponents, having qualified for the 1966 World Cup.

Shilton’s debut

After Mexico there would be a five-month gap before England next took to the field, as East Germany visited Wembley for a friendly. The match was most significant for Peter Shilton winning the first of his record 125 caps, as Ramsey looked to find a new number two to Gordon Banks after Peter Bonetti had taken some of the blame for the World Cup exit. England won 3-1 to end 1970 in improved spirits.

In early February 1971 they faced their first European Championship qualifier, visiting the minnows of Malta. A key absentee would be captain Bobby Moore, unavailable owing to his suspension by West Ham United over the infamous Blackpool incident the previous month when he was among the players caught drinking in a nightclub on the eve of a game.

Again Ramsey seemed to be looking to the future, handing four players their debuts in Martin Chivers, Roy McFarland and Everton team-mates Colin Harvey and Joe Royle. It would be Harvey’s only cap and not the most glamorous international experience as England contended with a sandy, hard pitch. The game had the feel of an FA Cup tie with a non-league side hosting a top-flight club, the stadium packed to capacity with many more finding any vantage point to view proceedings in a less safety-conscious era. Malta competed well, limiting England to a goal by Martin Peters after 35 minutes. The Maltese public had not taking kindly to reports that sections of the English media had labelled their players “Spanish waiters”, as fans chanted: “We are the waiters, you are the bastards.”

The Maltese public turn out in force to watch England’s visit in February 1971.

Those fans would not see England sparkle in winning 1-0. Ramsey admitted afterwards: “Conditions were bad. But I was disappointed we did not overcome them better than we did. The harder we tried, the worse we seemed to become.” There would unsurprisingly be a fair amount of criticism aimed at England for only edging past Malta (in an era before the likes of Andorra and San Marino joined the party, the Maltese were rated as one of the weakest football nations in Europe).

‘Embarrassed’ in victory

Two months later England hosted Greece, staying on course to top the group by winning 3-0. Chivers scored his first England goal to break the deadlock, with Geoff Hurst and Franny Lee wrapping up the win in the closing quarter on a night when Peter Storey won his first cap. But the scoreline failed to prevent England coming in for criticism, summing up a qualifying campaign in which they won matches but not plaudits.

Not for the last time, the Greeks did anything but come bearing gifts as they set up with the intention of frustrating the hosts and in some respects succeeded. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “England were visibly embarrassed last night by a Greek team determined to avoid the humiliation of an overwhelming defeat at Wembley. It was not the first time that foreign opponents had been seen to arrange themselves in an effort to survive on England’s home ground. But few teams have managed to present such a consuming problem to the best of England’s players.”

Martin Chivers fires home for England against Greece.

It would be followed up by the visit of Malta to Wembley the following months, in which England faced a side even more determined to keep the score down rather than have a go. Banks would never collect an easier clean sheet in his career as he only touched the ball via a couple of backpasses in the 5-0 win. “I cannot remember an England match under my management in which the opposition has been so committed to defence,” said Ramsey afterwards. “Come to that, I cannot recall any soccer match I’ve seen in which one of the goalkeepers has never had a shot to save. I think the nearest Malta came to our goal was 35 yards out. That speaks for itself.”

Given the total domination of the game, there was a sense of disappointment that England only netted five goals. Desmond Hackett wrote in the Daily Express: “England were continually and deservedly slow handclapped. This morning they should be ashamed of themselves for their failure to win by at least double figures.”

Bobby Moore leads England out against Malta.

But at least they had won comfortably. Chivers again opened the scoring, with Franny Lee doubling the lead and Allan Clarke both scoring and missing a penalty as England totally controlled proceedings. Chivers netted his second goal of the night before Chris Lawler marked his England debut at right-back with a goal. Alas, he would only appear three more times.

The season ended with England winning the Home International Championship by beating Northern Ireland and Scotland and drawing with Wales, before having a warranted summer off after the demands of the previous year in Mexico. In October England were back in action for their next and most important qualifier away to Switzerland, a side who had won all four games so far and held top spot by virtue of having played a game more than Ramsey’s men. Amid speculation that England would be picked as hosts for the final stages if they reached the semi-finals, there was every reason for Ramsey to be particularly keen to progress.

The night would mark the end of Alan Mullery’s England career after 35 caps, while substitute John Radford made his second and last international appearance almost theee years after his first. Veteran Swiss manager Louis Maurer was quoted as predicting his side would win 2-1 after going on the attack. Although he wouldn’t get his wish result-wise, England were certainly given a scare and their performance did little to suggest they could ultimately become champions of Europe.

Struggling past the Swiss

England got the result they wanted in Basel, but lacked the conviction they would have liked. Twice in the first-half they went ahead – through Hurst after just 55 seconds and Chivers 11 minutes later – but they were pegged back, before an own goal by Anton Welbel on 77 minutes handed England a 3-2 win. Banks had unusually taken some blame for the first Swiss goal, while Geoffrey Green wrote in The Times that the second Swiss equaliser shortly before the break “was no more than they deserved” as he added: “For the previous half hour they had fairly roasted England.” The football played by the Swiss impressed more, but England stood firm to claim a vital win.

England were made to work hard for a 3-2 win away to Switzerland.

The following month brought the return game with the Swiss, the game’s importance such that more than 90,000 fans packed into Wembley for it. Shilton deputised for Banks in goal, while Rodney Marsh was handed his debut as a late substitute. Mike Summerbee netted his only England goal when he headed the side into an early lead, but the Swiss drew level when Shilton failed to hold Kurt Odermatt’s drive. The 1-1 draw effectively clinched qualification for England, given only a four goal defeat in Greece could stop them winning a group. But there was little celebration. Criticism was coming England’s way for how they had made such heavy weather of drawing with Switzerland. Peter Wilson wrote in the Daily Mirror: “In the record books it will go down as a 1-1 draw, but in my book it ranks as a victory for the Swiss part-timers who, after losing only 3-2 in Switzerland, went one better by holding England to a draw at Wembley last night.”

Gordon Banks contends with the sun and Greek attack in December 1971.

And so England headed for the final qualifier in Athens on December 1. Even the most optimistic Switzerland fan and negative England fan would have conceded it was all over, so the challenge now facing the Three Lions was to impress in victory. The Greek players reportedly stood to collect more than £1,000 each if they could claim a famous win, But second half goals from Hurst and Chivers secured a 2-0 win for the visitors over Billy Bingham’s men, as England finished two points clear at the top of the group. There was a feeling England had played better than against Switzerland, but they had not taken many of the decent chances to come their way. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “England had every reason to curse their poor marksmanship here as they came close to achieving an overwhelming victory.”

But they had certainly not struggled to pick up points, as England finished two clear at the top of the qualifying group. It had not been the most memorable of qualifying campaigns and criticism had been more noticeable than praise. But as England flew home from Greece, they could not have realised just what lay ahead in the ensuing years. A comprehensive defeat by West Germany in the two-legged quarter-finals – technically at least still part of qualifying but we’ve recalled it separately previously – acted as an ominous warning sign concerning where England now stood. They would fail to even get out of the qualifying group for the next three major tournaments as the 1970s became a barren decade. England’s qualifying group campaign for Euro ’72 had not been a classic and it was aided by a favourable draw, but at least they had achieved results – something they would struggle to do in the years that followed.

England’s Euro ’92 – 25 years on

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This summer marks 25 years since the 1992 European Championship. England went into the finals having lost just once in two years, but as with four years earlier it would end in bitter disappointment and leave the manager a target for the tabloids…

To the many youngsters who fell in love with England and football during Italia ’90 or older fans whose passion was rekindled that tournament, Euro ’92 was to represent the difficult second album. There would be none of the Gazzamania or nerve-jangling excitement that left millions across the nation on the edge of their seats two years earlier, nor was there an England side to feel proud of. Instead, they simply limped out of the tournament after two forgettable 0-0 draws and a defeat to hosts Sweden. For manager Graham Taylor it was a tournament that marked a turning point in his reign for the wrong reasons and his reputation would unfortunately never recover during his time in charge.

England achieved two points more than when they were whitewashed during Euro ’88, yet it is held up as a comparable failure. It would be simplifying things somewhat to say England’s failures in West Germany in 1988 were down to bad luck, but in their first two defeats to the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands they’d at least had a proper go with several chances somehow not going in. That story would have a happy ending, Bobby Robson recovering from being lampooned to bowing out a hero two years later.

But for Taylor and Euro ’92, there would be no such recovery and the tournament represented the start of things going horribly wrong. England’s cause was not helped by injuries to key personnel but they were criticised for their negativity in Sweden – they weren’t the only culprits – and Taylor was becoming a target for sections of the media. He had lost just twice in two years when Euro ’92 ended but he was under pressure and now needed to enjoy a turnaround similar to Robson’s at Italia ’90 to win over the doubters. Sadly, he would never get the chance as England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

But it could have worked out differently. Taylor had led England to the finals as unbeaten group winners in a tight section including the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Turkey. Their only defeat under him so far was in a friendly to Germany and England certainly couldn’t be discounted in Sweden, for the eight-team European Championship. With only the group winners from each qualifying section having made it, this was a tournament promising high standards and little margin for error.

At the draw in January, Taylor hoped to avoid Germany, the Netherlands and neighbours Scotland who had qualified for the Euros for the first time. He got his wish, England being placed in the preferable-looking group with Sweden, France and Yugoslavia. His mood was lifted further by the draw allowing them to stay in Malmo and Stockholm as he had wished. “We couldn’t ask for much more than we got,” beamed Taylor.

Certainly, many seemed to share the view that England had got what they wanted and a place in the last four was the minimum target. “Graham Taylor rode his luck as England were given a European Championship draw that should give them at least a semi-final place,” proclaimed Steve Curry in the Daily Express. But being placed in the ‘easier’ group at the European Championship and avoiding the Germans was not a good omen. In both 1980 and 1988 England had received favourable draws only to crash out.

No game looked a given either. France had rebuilt after being absent from the last two major tournaments and were enjoying a lengthy unbeaten run, seeing them touted as a favourite to win it. Sweden had home advantage and had finished above England in qualifying for Italia ’90. And Yugoslavia could boast an impressive collection of players who had won admirers during the 1990 World Cup. But even as the draw was being made doubts were being cast upon Yugoslavia’s participation in the finals amid civil conflict back home. Just 10 days before the start of Euro ’92 it was confirmed qualifying group runners-up Denmark would take Yugoslavia’s place.

Any planning by Taylor for England’s first game against Yugoslavia could now go out of the window, but they were tipped to beat Denmark who were not held in quite the same esteem as their swaggering side of the mid-1980s. The Danes had not, contrary to the myth, needed rounding up off the beach to head to nearby Sweden but they would only have less than a fortnight to psychologically adjust to definitely being in the finals. But goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel sounded a warning to Taylor and his men. “England could make the mistake of underestimating Denmark,” he said.

Injuries plague England

Underestimating opponents was becoming the least of England’s concerns. Injuries were mounting, with several players ruled out of the finals. Paul Gascoigne had not played for more than a year since the 1991 FA Cup final, while at right back England seemed cursed. In quick succession Taylor lost Rob Jones, Lee Dixon and Gary Stevens, the latter’s hopes ending after England’s final warm-up match in Finland. But he wasn’t the only casualty that day, with John Barnes going down injured and immediately ruled out. “I’ve known him for a long time and I desperately wanted John to play for me in a major championship,” rued Taylor. “The seriousness of the injury to Barnes has hit everybody hard. He’d worked like hell to get himself fit.”

Graham Taylor was left to contend with a mounting injury list.

With players such as Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle having controversially been axed, England were now left short of both flair and tournament experience. The seasoned trio of Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton had all retired from international football and England were much-changed from two years earlier, but sadly not for the better. As the injuries mounted Keith Curle and Andy Sinton were drafted into the squad, but things then got worse as it came to light Mark Wright was a doubt.

A club versus country row broke out over whether the injury had been held back from Taylor, but ultimately Wright was the latest to be ruled out and England failed in their bid to call Tony Adams up as a late replacement. England’s 20-man squad was already a player light and particularly short of defensive options. Although England have often been hit by injury concerns ahead of major tournaments, it is hard to think of another occasion when they had it as bad as this.

England went into the finals having avoided losing games, but without convincingly winning them either. A 2-0 victory over France in February had been impressive and provided a big lift ahead of meeting the same opponents in Sweden, but since then England had drawn with Czechoslovakia, CIS and Brazil and narrowly edged past Hungary and Finland. The goalscoring form of captain Gary Lineker was proving a concern ahead of the finals and his impending international retirement. In three successive friendlies he had failed to get the goal he needed to equal Bobby Charlton’s England record and he seemed to lack some of his old predatory instincts. But it was hoped he would recapture his past form on the big stage.

Struggling against the Danes

The tournament began with Sweden and France drawing 1-1, which suited England who would go top if they beat Denmark 24 hours later. Taylor was adamant things were going to go well. “Let me do the worrying. That’s what I’m paid for. Just sit back and enjoy it,” he declared prior to the Denmark game. But there were things to worry about, not least the lack of a recognised right back. Curle, a central defender, would play there against the Danes in Malmo for only his third cap. At the other end Lineker would partner Alan Smith, rekindling memories of their Leicester City days.

Keith Curle performed as a makeshift right back for England against Denmark.

Once again, England struggled in their opening game when fancied by many to get a victory. They almost came totally unstuck, as John Jensen hit the post for the Danes during the second half. “That was our moment of good fortune,” reflected Taylor after a night in which Curle had struggled playing out of position (he would never be capped again) as England laboured to a 0-0 draw. Asked afterwards to sum up his feelings, Taylor told the BBC he was “satisfied” – drawing criticism from pundit Jimmy Hill who believed the performance had been a demonstration of players earning a lot of money to demonstrate they were not masters of their craft. Taylor would later hit back at Hill, one of several instances of the England camp and media being at odds out in Sweden.

“All is not lost by any means,” wrote Curry. “But Taylor has to be asked again just what he is playing at with his team selections and tactical switches.” England stayed in Malmo for their next match against France three days later, with violence in the city once more blighting an England European Championship campaign. On the field Taylor again made changes, midfielder David Batty came in for Curle, while Alan Shearer became the latest forward to be paired with Lineker. Sinton, who had so nearly missed out on the finals, replaced Paul Merson. Carlton Palmer was to play as sweeper.

Sterile and goalless

“The most sterile defensive international I’ve ever covered,” was commentator Barry Davies’ description of the France match in his autobiography and the cagey contest certainly lacked in attacking enterprise. Eight years earlier Michel Platini had inspired France to European Championship glory in style as captain. Now, as manager, he seemed to have fallen into the same trap as others in fearing losing during the last major tournament to apply the two points for a win system. It was also the last act before the backpass rule was introduced, with a fear of losing stinking the place out during the first few days of the tournament. England didn’t escape criticism but emerged with marginally more credit following yet another 0-0 draw, in which Stuart Pearce’s free-kick rattled the woodwork.

Stuart Pearce managed to keep his cool after an incident with Basile Boli.

But that wasn’t what Pearce’s afternoon was mainly remembered for. Blood poured from his face after he appeared to be headbutted by Basile Boli, in an incident which went unpunished. Asked afterwards, Pearce told the media it had been an innocent incident but years later he explained why he said this when he knew full well what had happened. “Common sense told me that if I’d said it was deliberate, then the first thing they would have done is dig out all the footage of me over the years and I’d be crucified,” he said, adding he received a thank you fax from Boli for his sportsmanship.

But that gesture was little consolation for England as they stared potential elimination in the face. For the fourth major tournament running they had no wins on the board after two games. “In my mind there are two games gone and three still to go,” Taylor optimistically told the media, as he remained defiant England could go all the way. To do that they would definitely have to score against the Swedes, who led the group after beating Denmark 1-0. David Lacey wrote in The Guardian that a third goalless draw would see England “flying home amid a barrage of criticism approaching the intensity of that which greeted Bobby Robson and his side after all three matches had been lost in the 1988 tournament”.

Swedes eliminate Turnips

The foreign invasion of English football had yet to properly take hold by the summer of 1992, but a growing number of overseas players were plying their trade on these shores ahead of the Premier League launching a few weeks later. In their opening game of the tournament England had been unable to score past Manchester United’s goalkeeper Schmeichel, while Eric Cantona of Leeds United was in attack for France in the second match. Now Arsenal’s Anders Limpar was gearing up to face England and seemed to want to play mind games beforehand, as he launched a stinging attack on goalkeeper Chris Woods who had been the regular number one since Shilton’s retirement in 1990. “It’s incredible Woods gets in the side,” declared Limpar. “He let in seven goals playing for Sheffield Wednesday at Arsenal. Woods is weak on crosses and for me he is the weak link in the team.”

But Woods was not the only player whose performances were of concern to England. Lineker had seldom looked like ending his drought during the previous two games as rumours grew that all was not well in his relationship with the manager. “He contributed in exactly the way I thought he would,” said Taylor rather cryptically after the France game. The goalscoring record was ebbing away along with England’s chances in the tournament. The match against Sweden could be his last chance. In yet another shift of system and personnel, Lineker now had no other natural forward alongside him for the Sweden match. Shearer and Trevor Steven made way for Tony Daley and Neil Webb.

England had to attack and they made a marvellous start through their main goal outlet besides Lineker – attacking midfielder David Platt, who scored after four minutes. Now they had to negotiate the next 86 minutes and they would be through to the semi-finals. As Denmark were surprisingly beating France, England held top spot in the group. They successfully got through to the break with the lead intact.

But half-time would offer a worrying warning sign to Taylor. In an interview 20 years later, he recalled asking the players at the break if any of them had anything to say. “They looked shattered,” he said. “The only player who said anything was Nigel Clough, who was a substitute. It really hit me at the time that we do take tired players.” Taylor’s case was not helped by the First Division having reverted to 22 teams the previous season, meaning players faced four extra games on top of multiple cup demands. Apart from the Premier League having reduced in size to 20 clubs, many of the same concerns apply 25 years later.

England go behind against Sweden.

Where England had excelled in the first half, they wilted after the break. The Swedes have made a habit of scoring headers against the Three Lions over the years and Jan Eriksson duly netted that way after 51 minutes from a corner. A 1-1 draw would be enough for Sweden to advance, but it would eliminate England and Taylor could see the game slipping away. Ten minutes later he made a decision that would pass into infamy. Captain Lineker was substituted, making way for Smith. England had needed to change things and Lineker was not looking his old self, but it would be a decision that led to Taylor coming under fire. If England didn’t get a goal without Lineker, then the player would never get another chance to equal the goalscoring record.

To make things worse for Taylor, England seldom threatened and on 82 minutes they fell behind. A delightful link-up between Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin ended with the former gracefully placing the ball beyond Woods’ reach. “Brilliant. Brilliant goal,” exclaimed commentator Davies. It was a move that perhaps underlined how far this England side lagged behind, being beaten by an effort of quality.

As Denmark were 2-1 up against France, an English equaliser would lead to lots being drawn to decide who went through with Sweden. But it was never likely to come and the side meekly exited the competition. In 45 minutes England had gone from top to bottom of the group. Of the 11 players England had on the field at full time, only Pearce, Platt and Des Walker had featured in the World Cup semi-final two years earlier. Injuries, international retirements and players being dubiously axed had left England looking a weak side. To compound England’s misery, they returned home outshone by Scotland who beat the CIS 3-0 and had played with honour in losing to the Dutch and Germans. As England crashed out, a previously tepid tournament seemed to spring into life with the goals now flying in and Denmark defying all expectations to win the tournament.

Taylor deservedly received many tributes when he sadly died earlier this year, but the morning after the Sweden defeat saw him and England heavily criticised. Curry wrote: “England learned last night that when it comes to illuminating the world of football they carry not so much a burning torch as a flickering candle.” Lacey afforded Taylor some sympathy over the injury situation, but added: “Despite the unavailability of Paul Gascoigne, the loss of John Barnes and a complete absence of suitable right backs, the England manager was always going to face severe criticism if his team failed to reach the semi-finals. But his decision to take Lineker off half-an-hour from the end with the score at 1-1 will surely stoke up the critical furnaces further still.”

Even those at the heart of the England camp could see the problems Taylor was creating for himself by hauling off Lineker, regardless of whether he thought it was the right decision. Assistant Lawrie McMenemy later wrote in his autobiography: “It was quite simply the wrong decision. I could not believe what Graham had done, how a manager of his experience would not see the danger to himself, if nothing else, from the decision.”

But ultimately, it was a witty play on words that created the most lasting damage for Taylor. The manager saw the funny side of the ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ headline in The Sun, but what followed went beyond a joke and did nothing to help his reputation in the eyes of the average man in the street. He was now being portrayed as ‘Turniphead’, the coverage increasingly vitriolic.  Euro ’92 had not been a success for him and mistakes were made, but the personal attacks were unwarranted and they would unfortunately get worse in the months that followed.

All told it had really just been a typical England European Championship campaign, as they have so often ended early and in bitter disappointment. Euro ’92 felt worse because of what had been achieved two years before in Italy and given the group England were placed in, but ultimately various factors made it one to forget for all involved. There was plenty of nostalgia in England for the 25th anniversary of Italia ’90 two years ago. We suspect we won’t be seeing much this June to mark a quarter of a century since Euro ’92.  Try Denmark instead.

  • For a more detailed look back at how Gary Lineker missed out on becoming England’s record goalscorer during the tournament, see here
  • To read the tribute we wrote to Graham Taylor when he sadly died earlier this year, see here

England’s Qualifying Campaigns: Euro ’68 – Scotland become ‘world champions’

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This month 50 years ago England returned to action for the first time since winning the World Cup three months earlier. They now moved onto their next challenge, looking to win the 1968 European Championship. To be in with a shout they would have to come through a qualifying group containing UK rivals Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales…

Think 1966 and any England fan will instinctively think of the World Cup. But as the dust settled on England’s triumph, the side were quickly back in competitive action. On October 22 England were heading to Northern Ireland for their opening qualifying match for the 1968 European Championship. While retaining the World Cup in 1970 would be the primary goal, in the short-term there looked the serious possibility England could simultaneously hold the three available titles of World Cup, European Championship and Home International Championship.

The latter two competitions would be linked, as the 1966-67 and 1967-68 Home International series would double up as a qualifying group for Euro ’68. England had been the only UK side present at the 1966 World Cup, although the other three had all finished just one place off qualifying from their respective groups. The chance to claim the scalp of the world champions would appeal to the other British sides, particularly Scotland. The Scots had never entered the European Nations Cup before, while England’s only previous foray had lasted just two matches against France in qualifying for the 1964 tournament.

The second-leg defeat against the French in February 1963 had marked the start of Alf Ramsey’s reign. Since then he had built a side to win the World Cup and the soon-to-be knighted manager would stick with his trusted and familiar XI when England travelled to Belfast in October 1966, the day after the tragic events in Aberfan. England paraded the Jules Rimet Trophy prior to kick-off, as they faced a side including promising youngsters George Best and Pat Jennings. Roger Hunt gave England a half-time lead, with Martin Peters wrapping up the 2-0 win on the hour mark.

Memories of the summer were in clear evidence as England visited Northern Ireland in October 1966.

A scrappy game concluded with the Irish having Billy Ferguson sent-off. England had triumphed, but their performance had won few admirers and it did nothing to silence those who believed they were somewhat fortunate to be world champions. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “The way in which they won the World Cup has already been forgotten in three months of tumultuous acclaim that has given their talent a sheen it never had. Their efficient, if at times inelegant, football left an Irish crowd cold on Saturday.” 

Back at Wembley

England’s Wembley homecoming on November 2 produced an anti-climatic 0-0 friendly draw with Czechoslovakia. But two weeks later they faced a more important clash when they hosted Wales in their second qualifying match. The Welsh had drawn with Scotland in their opening game but they were to be well-beaten at Wembley. Fielding the World Cup XI for the last time after six successive matches, goals from Geoff Hurst (2), brothers Bobby and Jack Charlton and Terry Hennessey (own goal) brought England a 5-1 victory. The result meant Ramsey’s side had been unbeaten throughout 1966 and they now had five months off until they played again.

In April 1967 the World Cup winners faced their biggest match since the final, as Scotland visited Wembley. Since being thrashed 9-3 at Wembley in 1961 the Scots had enjoyed the upper hand in the derby clashes, winning three of the last five meetings. They now had the added incentive of trying to stop England qualifying for the quarter-finals of the European Championship, as well as seeking to end their 18-month unbeaten record. Plus the match would decide who won the 1966-67 Home International Championship, with the Scots having three points and England boasting four as they headed into the contest.

Scotland celebrate a famous win over England.

Jimmy Greaves returned to the England side for the first time since injury curtailed his participation in the 1966 World Cup. It was a day that would go down in infamy, the Scots revelling in their 3-2 success. England were hampered by Jack Charlton suffering an early injury and having to be stuck upfront in the absence of substitutes, but that did not detract from the Scottish victory which was thoroughly merited as Jim Baxter indulged in a spot of ‘keepy-uppy’ to rub England’s noses in it.

Denis Law gave Scotland the lead on 27 minutes, with the scoreline not changing until Bobby Lennox doubled the advantage 12 minutes from time. A late flurry saw Jack Charlton defy the pain barrier to score and give England hope, Jim McCalliog put the Scots 3-1 up and Geoff Hurst again put England back in it. But Scotland saw the game out to claim the victory, their fans invading the pitch at the end in delight. The Scots were already growing tired of hearing about England being the world champions and would now delight in the fact that they had done what sides such as Argentina, Portugal and West Germany couldn’t the previous summer and beaten them at Wembley. England had won the World Cup, but Scotland were the first team to beat them afterwards so that meant they were the new world champions in the eyes of some north of the border! 

For Ramsey defeat to the Scots would hurt, but perhaps more painful would be some scathing match reports and suggestions the good times were over. In the Daily Mirror, Ken Jones said that “England ought to have been massacred” and expressed his belief they had been let off the hook in only losing 3-2. “I am left only with the thought that Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup team might have been destroyed beyond all repair,” he concluded. It was less than nine months since the World Cup triumph and just one defeat had been sustained, but already doubts were being cast.

The summer of 1967 was much quieter for England than a year before, the season concluding with two friendlies in May (although Ramsey would then lead a strong FA XI through a tournament in Canada). Greaves scored in an impressive 2-0 home win over Spain, but his last cap for his country came three days later as Austria were beaten 1-0 in Vienna. He would remain involved in the squad, but effectively retired from the international scene once his request for him to only be called up if he would be playing was inevitably rejected by Ramsey. The Spain game had seen John Hollins win his only England cap, while Alan Mullery was picked for the first time since 1964 and Keith Newton earned only his third cap. The latter two would become regulars, as Ramsey looked towards the future and some of the 1966 heroes found their places in jeopardy.

Regaining the advantage

In October the European Championship qualifiers resumed when England travelled to Cardiff to face Wales.  A goal from Martin Peters gave England a first-half lead, but victory was only assured when Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball (penalty) scored in the last five minutes to wrap up a 3-0 win. But of greater significance was Northern Ireland’s 1-0 win over Scotland on the same day, handing the initiative back to Ramsey’s men. A win and a draw from the next two games would be sufficient.

England meet Wales in October 1967.

Northern Ireland visited Wembley in November without key players George Best and Derek Dougan, with England getting a 2-0 win to preserve top spot. Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton scored, but Scotland’s win over Wales meant the qualification battle would go to the final round of matches. George Cohen made his final appearance for England in the win over Northern Ireland, while David Sadler won his first cap and Peter Thompson featured for the first time since the corresponding match two years earlier. It had not been a vintage England display and they could have gone behind early on, Ramsey conceding that “too many players were too casual”. But the win that was needed had been achieved.

The decider against Scotland

A rare December friendly saw England make hard work of a 2-2 draw with USSR at a snowy Wembley, in which Cyril Knowles became England’s latest debutant. But the key date was February 24, 1968, as Scotland met England at Hampden Park. It was going to be winner takes all, although for Ramsey’s team a draw would be sufficient. England were the World Cup holders, but Scotland held the Home International Championship crown and could also boast the European Cup title at club level after Celtic’s triumph the previous season. It was certainly a huge game and a staggering 134,000 crowd would be in Glasgow to watch it. There have been plenty of big games between the sides down the years, but this was one of the biggest. And yet the English domestic programme would continue on the day, matches such as Arsenal against Manchester United being played at the same time as clubs coped without their internationals.

“I doubt if the Scots have the flair or the teamwork to match England,” wrote Mirror man Jones as he revealed Mike Summerbee was to win his first cap in place of Roger Hunt. Although cynics may have believed England’s 1966 triumph owed much to home advantage, it is worth nothing they went into this game having not lost away from home since 1964.

England started brightly and went ahead after 20 minutes through a well-taken goal by Peters. But with Charlie Cooke impressing for the hosts the next goal went to the Scots, John Hughes heading them level on 39 minutes. England still headed the group if things stayed as they were, but a goal for the Scots would swing the advantage their way. Ultimately they had few opportunities to do so after the break, England looking the more threatening with Peters hitting the post. Whereas Scotland had deserved to win at Wembley, it was widely felt England were the better side here. They couldn’t regain the lead, but didn’t need to as they safely saw out the match to its conclusion and gained the point required to advance – while also meaning they were outright British champions for 1967-68.

Geoffrey Green wrote in The Times: “If there was anything to be learned from the occasion it was that the reigning world champions cannot in the future afford to dabble in a similar show of brinkmanship. They should have taken outright victory by two or three goals long before the end, a comfortable position which would not have brought their supporters’ hearts to their mouths as the Scots fought to steal a snap victory in injury time against all the run of the second half.”

England had achieved their basic target of topping the group and could now look ahead to playing Spain in a two-legged quarter-final, which they won to advance to the finals in Italy before losing to Yugoslavia in the semi-final.

Great England Goals – Gary Lineker v Northern Ireland (1986)

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Thirty years ago Gary Lineker continued his rich goalscoring streak for England and proved he could score more than just tap-ins when he produced a marvellous second goal in a 3-0 win against Northern Ireland at Wembley…

Last weekend, almost 82,000 were at Wembley to see England host Malta in a World Cup qualifier – their first home match after flopping at Euro 2016. In the same week 30 years ago, England were playing their first home game after reaching the quarter-finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It carried the added ingredient of being a European Championship qualifier against fellow UK opposition in Northern Ireland, who had also been present at the World Cup finals. And yet the turnout was a mere 35,304, even though it was not being screened live on television. Such was the way of life in the mid-1980s, as football lacked the pulling power of both before and since. But those who did pass through the Wembley turnstiles were rewarded as they saw a moment of magic from Gary Lineker.

A year to remember

1986 had certainly been a year to remember for Lineker. Despite Everton narrowly missing out on major honours in the 1985-86 season, Lineker won a series of personal accolades including being the PFA and Football Writers’ Association player of the year and First Division top scorer. He followed it up by winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, memorably scoring six times for England in the tournament. And then he made a big-money move to Barcelona, his status as a star name in European football continually growing. On October 15 he was back in England, turning out at Wembley for the first time since he had scored for Everton in their FA Cup final defeat by Liverpool in May.

The trophies were piling up for Gary Lineker in 1986.

When Northern Ireland had last visited Wembley 11 months earlier, they ground out the 0-0 draw they needed to join England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. But their hero from that night was no longer on the scene, veteran goalkeeper Pat Jennings having retired after the finals. He was proving pretty irreplaceable, manager Billy Bingham – who in a curious move got married on the day of this qualifier – having to select uncapped Phil Hughes of Third Division Bury between the sticks. Bingham was facing a rebuilding exercise, with some of the old favourites no longer involved and veteran Sammy McIlroy dropped to the bench.

Every member of the England starting XI had been to the World Cup except Dave Watson, although Viv Anderson had not played any matches and captain Bryan Robson’s tournament was blighted by injury. Headlines were being made by Ray Wilkins being axed from the side, not even making it onto the substitute’s bench. Just one more cap would follow for the midfielder, his international career never really recovering from his dismissal against Morocco at the 1986 World Cup.

Gary Lineker chips home England’s third against Northern Ireland.

With 33 minutes gone, England made the vital breakthrough. Lineker showed his trademark potency from close range as he was on hand to score from the edge of the six-yard box following a corner. But England were unable to build on their lead until 15 minutes from the end, Chris Waddle converting after Peter Beardsley’s effort was deflected into his path. England could now relax and five minutes later came the match’s defining moment.

Lineker’s moment of magic

It began with Glenn Hoddle putting his foot in to win the ball at the expense of two opponents and feeding Beardsley, who played a neat ball through to striking partner Lineker. He held off John McClelland’s challenge and, on the turn, produced a delightful chip with his left foot to beat Hughes. The ball went in off the inside of the post, Lineker wheeling away in delight. “That’s a lovely effort and a fine goal,” purred John Motson, commentating for BBC highlights. “Beautifully taken and the Beardsley-Lineker combination works again.”

As was often the case during his England career, Lineker found Beardsley to be the ideal partner up front. It had been a goal that went against the stereotypes, with Hoddle doing the dirty work to break up the play and Lineker scoring in style from distance rather than close range. It also wrapped up a decent victory for England.

The 3-0 win represented a good start to Euro ’88 qualifying for Bobby Robson’s men. But Lineker was dominating the headlines, particularly as Robson was absolutely brimming with delight about what the player was producing. “He’s possibly just about the greatest striker in the world today. [Diego] Maradona is a wonderfully gifted player with dribbling ability, but would he score more goals?” he asked rhetorically. Robson was also full of praise about Lineker’s superb goal. “I said to Gary ‘what a great goal to score at Wembley, son. I envy you’,” he excitedly told the media.

Lineker, who now had 14 goals from just 19 internationals, was somewhat surprised by his wondergoal. “I really don’t know how I scored my second goal,” he said. “It was as big a shock to me as everyone else.” The previous year Lineker had scored a tremendous volley away to the USA, but he was adamant this one was the best. “It is certainly the most spectacular goal I have ever scored for England,” he proclaimed. “It’s the sort of goal that happens very occasionally as far as I’m concerned.”

Bingham, whose wedding night had not exactly gone to plan, was graciously full of praise for the England striker when quizzed afterwards. “I think Lineker is superb. He has ability and if he gets the service he is lethal. He has that killer instinct,” said Bingham, who no doubt wished the player was Northern Irish.

Lineker failed to score when England beat Yugoslavia the following month, but in February 1987 he famously netted four times as England beat Spain 4-2 in Madrid. The player’s reputation was growing all the time and a hat-trick against Turkey in October 1987 moved England to the brink of Euro ’88 qualification. The 3-0 home victory over Northern Ireland would rarely be recalled except for one moment – Lineker’s delightful finish, one that was so different to his stereotypical close range finishing. As Lineker himself reflected afterwards: “Most of mine come from inside the six-yard box so naturally I’m delighted.” Most of the small crowd at Wembley that night 30 years ago shared the delight too.

What Happened Next? England’s Boys of ’96

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of England playing Germany in the Euro ’96 semi-final. Today we look back at the subsequent international careers of the side that played that night.

David Platt

Euro ’96 saw David Platt start just two matches, having previously been such a major source of goals for England during the 1990s and often worn the captain’s armband. When he scored in the shoot-out against Germany it would turn out to be his last touch in an England shirt, as he would not win any caps under Glenn Hoddle. Platt had scored 27 goals in 62 caps, twice playing in major semi-finals.

Paul Gascoigne

Like Platt, Paul Gascoigne played in both momentous semi-finals for England in the 1990s. His European Championship was mainly remembered for his great goal against Scotland and near-miss against Germany. Gascoigne had enjoyed regular action under Terry Venables but he would have a more complex relationship with successor Glenn Hoddle, who took over after Euro ’96. Gascoigne played regularly during qualifying for the 1998 World Cup but his international career would infamously end with his omission from the final squad amid fitness concerns – his final cap coming against Belgium in Morocco just days beforehand. He had won 57 caps in a 10-year England career.

Stuart Pearce

Euro ’96 saw Stuart Pearce make amends for missing against West Germany in 1990 by scoring against both Spain and Germany in penalty shoot-outs, his joyful reaction to scoring in the former particularly memorable. It seemed to mark the end of his England years, but there would be more caps earned. He played six times under Glenn Hoddle, but his England career again appeared to have ended with his 76th cap against Italy during Le Tournoi in 1997. But two years later he was recalled at the age of 37 to play in European Championship qualifiers against Luxembourg and Poland under Kevin Keegan. This really would mark the end of a lengthy service to England that began in 1987.

Paul Ince

Midfielder Paul Ince played in four of England’s matches during Euro ’96, only missing the Spain game due to suspension. He continued to play regularly for his country, deputising as captain on several occasions including for the momentous World Cup qualifier away to Italy in 1997 when he played on with his head bandaged up. He started all four games for England at the 1998 World Cup. Having surprisingly not taken one against Germany in 1996 he was second up in the shoot-out against Argentina but failed to score as England lost out. In the next match, a European Championship qualifier against Sweden, Ince became only the sixth England player to be sent off. He went on to win nine more caps over the next two years, finishing his England career by starting all three matches at Euro 2000. In total he won 53 caps.

Alan Shearer

After a barren spell for England, Alan Shearer regained his scoring touch at the right time and was top scorer during Euro ’96. Following the tournament Shearer was installed as captain by Glenn Hoddle, a role he retained for the next four years. He scored five times during England’s qualification campaign for the 1998 World Cup and in the finals netted against Tunisia and Argentina (penalty). Six goals were scored during qualifying for Euro 2000, but prior to the finals he announced he would retire from international football once they were over. He netted the winner against Germany but like Ince his final cap would come in the 3-2 defeat by Romania, a match when Shearer scored a penalty. He had scored 30 goals in 63 caps for his country.

Tony Adams

England’s captain during Euro ’96 was Tony Adams, who just weeks later would reveal his struggle with alcoholism. He remained in the England side for four more years, but would only occasionally wear the captain’s armband after losing the role to Alan Shearer. He played in all four England matches at France ’98 but only against Portugal at Euro 2000. He wore the captain’s armband for the two matches after Euro 2000 against France and Germany but was never capped again, as his international career that began in 1987 ended with 66 caps.

Steve McManaman

Winger Steve McManaman started all five England matches during Euro ’96, but his appearances would be more sporadic after Glenn Hoddle replaced Terry Venables. McManaman’s only involvement at the 1998 World Cup was a substitute appearance against Colombia, but he would find more favour with Hoddle’s successor Kevin Keegan. McManaman scored in England’s opening match of Euro 2000 against Portugal but he was injured and did not feature again in the tournament. He featured in eight more England matches without completing a full 90 minutes, the last cap coming against Greece in October 2001. In total he played 37 times for his country.

Darren Anderton

Euro ’96 saw Darren Anderton play in all five of England’s matches but he had to wait almost two years to win another cap, playing in a friendly before the 1998 World Cup against Saudi Arabia. During the finals he played in all four of England’s games, memorably scoring against Colombia. Continued struggles with injury unfortunately led to the ‘Sicknote’ tag spreading and his last five caps would come under five different managers (including caretakers) between 1998 and 2001. He played no part in Euro 2000 and his 30th and final cap was earned against Sweden in November 2001.

Teddy Sheringham

Striking up a successful partnership with Alan Shearer during the tournament was 30-year-old Teddy Sheringham, who had been a relative latecomer to the international scene but would serve his country for a further six years. He started England’s first two games at the 1998 World Cup under Glenn Hoddle but earned just one cap during Kevin Keegan’s time in charge as he missed Euro 2000. But his international career wasn’t over yet and he would go on to score as England drew 2-2 against Greece to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. During the finals he started four matches, his 51st and final cap coming as England lost to Brazil and went out of the tournament.

David Seaman

Goalkeeper David Seaman enjoyed a successful tournament, saving a penalty during England’s win over Scotland and then  helping win a shoot-out with Spain. Seaman remained first choice goalkeeper for six years, appearing in every match they played at the World Cups of 1998 and 2002 and two games at Euro 2000 – missing the decisive defeat by Romania due to injury. Seaman was left tearful after being deceived by Ronaldinho’s winner for Brazil at the 2002 World Cup but did not retire from international duty, taking goal for European Championship qualifiers in October 2002 against Slovakia and Macedonia when aged 39. He took the blame for another goal conceded in the latter and it marked a sad end to his England career, which had produced 75 caps over 14 years.

Gareth Southgate

Euro ’96 saw defender Gareth Southgate begin to establish himself at international level, although many would sadly remember his involvement in the tournament for missing in the shoot-out against Germany. He remained prominently involved under Glenn Hoddle, although his only matches at the 1998 World Cup were against Tunisia and Argentina – the latter as a substitute. During Euro 2000 he was restricted to just a substitute appearance against Romania, broke surprisingly being deployed as a holding midfielder during Kevin Keegan’s final match against Germany in October 2000. Southgate remained involved under Sven-Goran Eriksson without starting regularly, not getting any gametime at the 2002 World Cup. His 57th and last cap was won against Sweden in March 2004. 

And the rest…

Of the rest of England’s squad, Steve Howey and Steve Stone were never capped again. Tim Flowers earned three more caps during the next two years, the same year as Les Ferdinand last represented his country. Jamie Redknapp’s England career continued to be affected by injury and he last appeared in November 1999 at home to Scotland. Nick Barmby was part of the England side that beat Germany 5-1 in September 2001, but his last cap was won the following month against Greece.

Robbie Fowler’s England career perhaps never took off as he hoped, his only other involvement in a major tournament being a substitute appearance against Denmark at the 2002 World Cup which marked his final cap. Perhaps the strangest case in the England squad was Ian Walker, who won just two more caps in 1997 and 2004 – the latter coming just before he went to Euro 2004 as a reserve goalkeeper. However, far more prominently involved were the young defensive trio of Sol Campbell and brothers Gary and Phil Neville – each continued to represent England until 2007, Campbell being the last member of the 1996 squad to be capped when he turned out during the defeat by Croatia.


Great England Goals – Paul Gascoigne v Scotland (1996)

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Tomorrow sees England face Wales in their Euro 2016 group stage match. The derby clash will take place the day after the 20th anniversary of when England last took on a fellow British side in a major tournament. Scotland visited Wembley during Euro ’96 to face the hosts, with a moment of brilliance from Paul Gascoigne ensuring it would never be forgotten.

From the moment the draw was made for the 1996 European Championship, there was hype about England playing Scotland. The sides had not met for seven years since their annual jousts ended and the fact they would now be meeting in a major tournament hosted by England gave the fixture added spice. England’s frustrating draw with Switzerland in the opening match meant they could ill-afford to slip up again, experiencing a week-long wait to take on the Scots due to UEFA’s scheduling of the group stage (which had the group seeds playing their first two matches at weekends and the other games played in midweek).

The previous decade had seen a reversal of the traditional one-way traffic between Scotland and England of leading players, with Rangers having managed to sign a number of England internationals. Although the return of English clubs to Europe and the creation of the Premier League in the early 1990s helped the traditional order to be restored, in the summer of 1995 Rangers signed English star Paul Gascoigne from Lazio. It brought Gazza back home to British football.

Paul Gascoigne returned to Britain in 1995, joining Rangers.

When the Euro ’96 draw was made, it meant Gascoigne could enjoy months of pre-match banter with the Scotland contingent in the Rangers squad such as goalkeeper Andy Goram and striker Ally McCoist. “For the previous few months I’d taken so much stick in the Rangers dressing room. They told me all the time how they were going to stuff England,” Gascoigne recalled in his autobiography. This was one fixture Gascoigne was not going to want to miss.

But not everyone shared Gascoigne’s desire to see him involved in the match. He had been a star at the 1990 World Cup, but since then he had experienced two lengthy injury lay-offs and he had been a constant source of media attention – not all of it positive. Gascoigne was taking much of the blame for alleged incidents on England’s infamous pre-tournament trip to China and Hong Kong. Then, during the draw with Switzerland he made little impact and was substituted. Doubts were being cast upon how successful he could be during the tournament, with plenty of negative press coverage coming his way.

Gascoigne would go knocking on boss Terry Venables’ door the night before to seek assurances he would play. According to Gascoigne, Venables told him he wouldn’t be picking him and kept the pretence up for some time before finally admitting he was in. There was a mutual affection between Gascoigne and Venables, having previously worked together at Tottenham Hotspur. Not every manager would have been so willing to stand by Gascoigne amid the recent headlines.

Gascoigne scores his unforgettable goal against Scotland.

At half-time against Scotland, there was anxiety in the air. England were drawing 0-0 and showing little sign they could win. If they didn’t do so, they’d be in serious danger of going out in the group stage on home soil. The BBC panel were again offering criticism of Gascoigne, while in the Wembley changing room Venables was making a substitution. Some would have been happy to see Gascoigne hauled off, but instead it would be defender Stuart Pearce in a tactical switch. Jamie Redknapp was brought on, providing an extra midfielder.

The change seemed to galvanise England, who soon forged ahead with a goal that was excellent but overshadowed by what happened later – Alan Shearer’s header completing an impressive team move. But England’s improved second half display looked like it would count for little when Tony Adams fouled Gordon Durie in the area. For the second Saturday running, England seemed set to concede a late equaliser from the spot. But David Seaman saved from Gary McAllister (with Uri Geller claiming the credit!). It would prove a Sliding Doors moment in terms of England’s tournament. Who knows how we would look back at the competition had it gone in…

With the Scots still reeling from the miss, England broke away. Anderton found Gascoigne, who would memorably flicked the ball over Colin Hendry before volleying home. It wrapped up England’s win and ignited their campaign. It would forever stand out among the most famous England goals.

The ‘dentist’s chair’ celebration.

Writing in his autobiography, Gascoigne recalled the goal. “I was about on the corner of the Scotland box in between two defenders,” he wrote. “When the ball came through to me Colin Hendry was moving over to close me down. I just knew where he’d be, when he’d commit himself, so I knew what to do. It felt brilliant when it all worked. I went to look like I’d knock it past him and try and go round the outside, but I changed direction and flicked it over his head with my left foot. Hendry tried to get back to me, but ended up on the deck, and I volleyed the ball with my right into the corner of the goal, past Andy Goram, my Rangers team-mate.” Almost as memorable as the goal was the celebration, Gascoigne and colleagues performing the ‘dentist’s chair’ routine to make light of incidents on the pre-tournament trip to Asia.

For England the campaign was up and running, while Gascoigne was back as a national hero. ‘Mr Paul Gascoigne: An Apology’ screamed the front page of the Daily Mirror, with a somewhat at tongue in cheek story after his goal. For Gascoigne the comparisons would exist between the tournaments of 1990 and 1996, even though his injuries in the meantime meant he was not likely to be quite the star this time around at he had been at Italia ’90. In both competitions there would be heartache against the Germans in the semi-final and an incident that lived long in the memory.

In 1990 it had been his tears after receiving a booking that ruled him out of the final if England got there; six years on it was the sight of him literally being inches away from getting the touch needed to turn in Alan Shearer’s cross. Had it been the other way round, Shearer would almost certainly have scored. It was an incident that would barely have been recalled had England gone on to win, but their shoot-out loss means it has continually been brought up – the moment England could have won through to the final and probably have won the whole tournament.

Gascoigne would never play in another major tournament. He had thrived under Terry Venables but with successor Glenn Hoddle – like Graham Taylor before him – the relationship was more complex. His controversial omission from the 1998 World Cup squad marked a sad end to an incident-packed international career. He had only played in two major tournaments, but in both he left lasting memories as England so nearly reached the final.

Six of the Best – England quickfire tournament-opening goals

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England will this weekend begin their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia. Although the Three Lions have not always enjoyed a win to start a major tournament, they have often been quick out of the blocks and struck first. Today we recall six instances when they grabbed an early lead in their opening match, heightening expectations back home…

Bryan Robson v France, 1982 World Cup – 27 seconds

England fans had endured a 12-year wait to see England appear at the World Cup finals. Those who had loyally followed them during the lean years deserved something to get excited about and they got it 27 seconds into the first match against a highly-rated French team in Bilbao. A long throw was headed on by Terry Butcher and an unmarked Bryan Robson was on hand to score. It was a training ground move worked to perfection, England catching the French cold with one of the fastest goals in World Cup history.

Robson was rewarded with a solid gold watch for his timely strike and he added another goal later in a 3-1 win, as England gave a performance they struggled to replicate before being eliminated in the second phase. But for Robson it was a special moment, coming just a day before his wife gave birth to their second daughter, Charlotte. He really had scored the daddy of all early England tournament goals.

Paul Scholes v Portugal, Euro 2000 – 3 minutes

In a situation not too dissimilar to today, England went into Euro 2000 with their attack looking stronger than their defence. This would duly prove the case. England’s opening match against Portugal in Eindhoven was only in the third minute when David Beckham swung over an excellent cross and his Manchester United colleague Paul Scholes was on hand to head in. Steve McManaman soon put Kevin Keegan’s side 2-0 up and the nation began dreaming of the team finally winning major silverware. But not for long. The Portuguese fought back to win 3-2 and England failed to get out of the group stage.

Own goal v Paraguay, 2006 World Cup – 3 minutes

There was an extraordinary level of hype surrounding England going into the World Cup 10 years ago, with thousands of fans travelling to Germany and a widespread belief they could finally deliver. In the third minute of England’s opening match in the heat of Frankfurt that expectation grew even more. David Beckham’s free-kick went in via Paraguayan defender Carlos Gamarra.

It seemed the springboard to a comfortable win to let the rest of the world realise what a threat England posed. But it never came, the side looking increasingly less assured as the game progressed and stuttering to a 1-0 win. And that set the trend for a World Cup in which England seldom sparkled, before losing on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Steven Gerrard v USA, 2010 World Cup – 4 minutes

Four years on and a similar story. There wasn’t quite the same hype or expectation as in 2006, but there remained a belief Fabio Capello’s side could do well in South Africa. ‘EASY’ The Sun had proclaimed when the draw placed England in a group with Algeria, Slovenia and the USA. Four minutes into the opening match against the Americans and it seemed they might be right, Emile Heskey feeding Steven Gerrard to score. 1-0 to England and also to anyone who hadn’t bothered forking out for a HD television, as ITV HD viewers missed the goal due to an advert inexplicably being broadcast at the time it was scored.

That might not have seemed quite so bad had England go on to win comfortably, but it was the only highlight of the night as they drew 1-1 and never got going in the tournament – eventually being crushed by Germany in the second round. Gerrard’s goal was one of just three they managed in four matches.

Gary Lineker v Republic of Ireland, 1990 World Cup – 8 minutes

During Euro ’88, England had been beaten in their opening match by the Republic of Ireland courtesy of an early goal by Ray Houghton. Now they were meeting again in the corresponding game of Italia ’90 and it was England who made the breakthrough. Despite feeling unwell, Gary Lineker managed to bundle the ball home and England were ahead after eight minutes. It was a scrappy goal in keeping with a poor game, but neither Lineker nor the English nation were complaining.

But unfortunately the match would follow a familiar pattern after England strike early, with Kevin Sheedy drawing the Irish level. For Lineker, his night would be remembered more for an incident in the second half which has provided Twitter trolls with endless fun. There was plenty of criticism of Bobby Robson’s side afterwards, having shown little evidence they could go on to look a potential winner – but they would of course get to the semi-finals, only losing on penalties to West Germany.

Alan Shearer v Switzerland, Euro ’96 – 23 minutes

It had been a long wait for the 1996 European Championship to start on home soil, while for Alan Shearer there had been a seemingly endless struggle to end his England goal drought. But midway through the first half of the tournament opener he duly netted when it mattered, making the most of an excellent ball from Paul Ince to score. England were on their way, although the usual story would follow – failing to build on their lead and being pegged back as they drew 1-1. It was a frustrating day, but for Shearer it was a goal that would set him on the way to finishing as the tournament’s top scorer. Against Germany in the semi-final he would strike an early goal, netting in the third minute.

Some honourable mentions here for Sol Campbell v Sweden (2002 World Cup, 24 mins); Ray Wilkins v Belgium (Euro ’80, 26 mins); Stan Mortensen v Chile (1950 World Cup, 27 mins) and Joleon Lescott v France (Euro 2012, 30 mins). All put England ahead within half an hour of their first match at a major tournament. As can be seen England have a habit of striking early when they play their opening match at a championship. Will it happen again against Russia?