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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
On Saturday England play their first match of Euro 2016 when they face Russia. Whatever the outcome, there is unlikely to be quite the same feeling of despondency as when England met the Soviet Union in their last match at Euro ’88. Already eliminated from the tournament and with the match not even being shown live on British television (the Republic of Ireland’s decisive game against the Netherlands was screened by the BBC instead), Bobby Robson’s side gave a tame performance to lose 3-1 and exit the finals without a point to their name. For a number of individuals, it wasn’t a time to fondly recall…
The one thing to take the headlines away from England’s failings on the field at Euro ’88 was the conduct of their hooligans off it, with violence on the streets of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf having marred their matches against the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands respectively. There had been plenty of unfortunate instances of hooliganism involving a section of England’s followers before, but now the problem was threatening the future of the national side.
On the eve of the match against USSR, Football Association chairman Bert Millichip was asked during an interview by ITV if this was the worst crisis he had known for English football. He responded that it was and speculation was now growing that England would be excluded from the 1990 World Cup qualifying programme, amid reports of the Government no longer wanting them to travel abroad. English club sides remained banned from Europe, the trouble in West Germany putting paid to any hopes of a return for 1988-89. As The Times commented at the time: “Britain is being viewed worldwide as little more than a zoo of dangerous animals which are released upon innocent foreign cities with a government unwilling to tackle the crisis head on.”
England’s exclusion from the World Cup didn’t happen in the end. Had it been imposed there would have been no momentous run to the semi-finals at Italia ’90, no World in Motion, no Gazza’s tears and no redemption for manager Bobby Robson either after he was hounded during the summer of 1988…
A 2-0 home defeat against the USSR in a friendly in June 1984 had represented the previous low point for Bobby Robson during his England reign. England had a few months earlier failed to qualify for Euro ’84 and this latest loss ended with him being barracked by a vocal section of the Wembley crowd. Over the next four years he enjoyed a turnaround in fortune, qualifying unbeaten for both Mexico ’86 and Euro ’88. But now England were back in crisis. Robson could point to a combination of bad luck and key chances being missed during their opening two matches in West Germany, but against the USSR he had no such excuses to offer. He would lament it as “without doubt the worst performance” during his time in charge and the vultures were circling, as he remained caught in the tabloid war between The Sun and the Daily Mirror. Robson did offer to step down, but Millichip gave him his backing to carry on.
Bobby Robson and Don Howe.
It was clear the manager was feeling the strain. The late Joe Melling, of The Mail on Sunday, would later recall writing an article calling for Robson to move on as “it’s a heart attack waiting to happen”. Thankfully no such thing happened to Robson, but just days after the Euros his assistant manager Don Howe was in intensive care after suffering a suspected heart attack. The connection between his ill health and the stress of the England role wasn’t confirmed, but plenty were putting two and two together. And Howe wasn’t the only member of England’s party spending time in hospital shortly after coming home from West Germany…
Two years after finishing top scorer in the 1986 World Cup, Gary Lineker endured a barren time in West Germany and felt strangely lethargic. He was puzzled as to what was making him feel this way, but he felt totally bereft of energy going into the USSR match. “In training the day before I could barely lift my legs,” he recalled last year in the magazine FourFourTwo. “We were already out of the tournament and I know Don Howe and Bobby Robson thought I was trying to get out of the game – they all but said as much. I played against the Soviet Union and came off after about an hour. I’d never played in a game where I was so certain I shouldn’t be on the pitch. I was in a dreadful state.”
Lineker took exception to comments from Bobby Robson in which he criticised players for “not wanting to play”. England flew home and soon Lineker was in hospital, with it coming to light he was suffering from hepatitis which helped explain his lack of energy. Lineker recalled Robson coming to visit him in hospital and apologising, with the forward to retain a regular place in the England side the following season despite struggling for goals as he worked his way back to full fitness. But it became evident that Robson had not just been referring to Lineker with the “not wanting to play” comment, as another member of the side was to pay for complaining of an injury ahead of the Soviet Union match…
England desperately missed the injured Terry Butcher during Euro ’88, with the pairing of Tony Adams and Mark Wright – both playing in their first major tournament – unable to prevent four goals being conceded in the opening two matches. In the match against the USSR, Adams – the more criticised of the two – scored but Wright wasn’t involved after complaining of an injury. It proved a costly move, Bobby Robson not selecting him again until April 1990. Wright went on to shine during Italia ’90, but his absence from the USSR match was soon brought back into the spotlight later that year when Robson published his autobiography Against the Odds.
Writing about Wright, Robson said: “He is a complicated character and had he been more straightforward I, and England, would have had two extra years out of him. I feel that sometimes he uses small injuries as an excuse for missing a match or a pre-arranged excuse if things do not go so well. Against Holland two years ago in the European Championship he vied with Bryan Robson as our best player but when it came to the ‘dead’ match against the Soviet Union he suddenly turned up with an injury saying he didn’t think he was fit enough to play but would do so if I wanted him. He did the same thing in Italy when a calf injury appeared from nowhere before the play-off game in Bari. This time I told him to play and maybe if I had done that against the Soviets he would have a lot more caps now.”
Wright was reported to be unhappy about Robson’s comments. But Wright had at least come back into the England side. For others there would be no return…
Glenn Hoddle and Kenny Sansom both played their last England match against the Soviet Union in 1988.
Nine years earlier, Glenn Hoddle has burst onto the England scene amid great excitement when he scored on his debut against Bulgaria. Now against USSR he was playing what would be his final England match, being culpable for the opening goal conceded after three minutes as he carelessly lost possession and Sergei Aleinikov scored past Chris Woods. As Rob Smyth wrote in his excellent re-assessment of England’s Euro ’88 campaign, it showed “while their bodies were on the pitch at Frankfurt, their minds were already at home”.
The mistake may not have been what made Bobby Robson’s mind up over Hoddle, but it was certainly symbolic. When England returned to action after the European Championship failings there was no place for Hoddle. Despite some calls for him to be included in the Italia ’90 squad, there would not be a recall for him. Nor would Kenny Sansom ever be capped again, paying both for the emergence of Stuart Pearce and for losing his place in the Arsenal side. Dave Watson, deputising for Mark Wright against the USSR, would never be picked again either. For others too the match would not help their future chances. Woods had enjoyed a rare run-out in place of Peter Shilton, with Robson admitting later he was toying with finding a new number one goalkeeper to replace the veteran regular. But for Woods it was an opportunity spurned, having conceded three times. Shilton would remain first choice, despite having been on the end of a punch from the captain out in West Germany…
Dave Watson was among the players never capped again after appearing against the Soviet Union.
For once England captain Bryan Robson was injury-free as they played in a major tournament, but despite his goal against the Netherlands he was unable to prevent the side bowing out without a point. In the hotel bar one night he started taking criticism from Peter Shilton, who he normally got on well with. Robson wrote in his autobiography: “It shocked me because he’d never turned on me before. He went on and on, taunting me about the ‘Captain Marvel’ stuff and saying he was the number one… He went on and on. I kept my temper for about half, three-quarters of an hour. Then he said I was a ‘bottler’ and that was when I snapped. He was sitting at the bar so I told him, ‘Get up and I’ll show you who’s a bottler’. He wouldn’t get up, but I was so angry I punched him. He just sat there and went quiet. I was fuming, but as soon as I went for him I knew I shouldn’t have.”
Th pair quickly made their peace and stayed international team-mates for another two years, but it had been an unsavoury incident involving two of the team’s most senior players that summed up England’s miserable summer. The squad headed home after three defeats, with the match against the USSR particularly deflating. When they next took to the field in September against Denmark, Bobby Robson made changes including giving debuts to Paul Gascoigne and Des Walker who both went on to shine during Italia ’90. That tournament was Bobby Robson’s swansong and it proved a much better way to go out than if it had been after the shambolic performance against the USSR in 1988.
Twenty years ago Euro ’96 was approaching and the single Three Lions had already gone straight in at number one in the UK charts. Today we take a look back at the song’s success and how it came to be synonymous with the tournament.
On Sunday, May 26, 1996, England were grinding out an unconvincing 1-0 win over a Hong Kong Golden Select XI on their infamous pre-Euro ’96 trip to the Far East – a tour overshadowed by incidents off the field. Back home that day there was better news for England and the Football Association, as their newly-released official song of Three Lions went to number one in the UK charts. For comedy duo David Baddiel and Frank Skinner – who had recorded the song with Ian Broudie of The Lighning Seeds – being part of a number one single was an unlikely dream realised. But the song’s true success was still to come.
In 1996 Baddiel and Skinner were at the height of their Fantasy Football League double act fame, with the show having run for three series since 1994 on the BBC and with more episodes to be aired during Euro ’96. It was also a golden point for Britpop, including The Lightning Seeds. Liverpool fan Broudie, whose Life of Riley tune was regularly heard on Match of the Day for goal of the month/season competitions, was approached by the FA about writing its official England song for Euro ’96. He in turn sought the help of Baddiel and Skinner, adding lyrics seeking to capture the emotions that go with following England. The tournament slogan of ‘Football Comes Home’ would effectively provide the chorus – being changed to ‘Football’s Coming Home’ so it would scan better. It proved a good move.
The song genuinely set out to convey what supporting England can feel like. Although the glory of 1966 was referenced a few times, the invariable pain and frustration that goes with following them also figures strongly. It is more about hoping glory could happen than the usual guff about how it’s our time to triumph. ‘I know that was then but it could be again’ smacks of hope more than expectation.
With it being the official England song, the FA did insist on certain lyrics being changed. ‘They don’t know how to play’ became the more upbeat ‘but I know they can play’; ‘Terry Butcher at war’ in reference to his famous bloody image against Sweden was taken out, being replaced by ‘Bobby belting the ball’ about Bobby Charlton. But the song was still mainly the one Baddiel, Broudie and Skinner had originally penned.
Skinner recalled in his autobiography taking a recording of the song, with Baddiel and Broudie, so the England squad could hear it after training. It seems the single failed to make an instant impact, Skinner remembering the players just carrying on eating as it was played without seeming bothered. Boss Terry Venables then tapped his keys as he listened to it and described the song as “a real key-tapper”. Considering Venables had made forays into the musical world, it was hardly a ringing endorsement. But Skinner wrote: “Compared to the players’ response, it was virtually hysterical.”
One player who did fall in love with Three Lions was Paul Gascoigne, who insisted on it being played on the coach to matches and was reported to have requested to DJ mate Chris Evans that it featured prominently on the playlist at his wedding reception shortly after the finals. Putting this into context, one doubts any England player tying the knot in the wake of Euro ’88 was dancing away to the much-mocked team song of All the Way afterwards!
Frank Skinner and David Baddiel enjoyed big success as a partnership in the mid-1990s.
The song’s initial success was not due to how the team were performing as it became number one prior to the tournament, occupying a top spot previously reached with Back Home (1970) and World in Motion (1990). But its growing popularity and return to number one on June 30 – against general trends – almost certainly was, being boosted by sales in the week England appeared in the semi-final.
As England made progress, Three Lions was sung with increasing gusto at Wembley after memorable wins over Scotland, Netherlands and Spain. It culminated in the scenes shortly before the semi-final against Germany, as the crowd sang it word for word in a fervent atmosphere. The BBC had gone unusually early to commentator Barry Davies and he let the pictures and noise of the crowd do the talking. “Everyone knew the words of Three Lions and they were able to hear it in its entirety,” he said in an interview in 2011. “It was just a very special atmosphere.”
The cameras zoomed in on Baddiel and Skinner joining in with everyone else, no doubt feeling immense pride. Baddiel’s singing ability was the subject of ridicule, but he could forever point out that he’d performed on a number one single and heard thousands of others singing it in unison. As Skinner would joke: “Dave is one of the worst singers I’ve ever heard. Just think of all the great singers and bands who never had a number one record. It’s very unfair, isn’t it?”
The match against Germany of course ended in penalty heartache for England, one line in the song of ‘all those oh so nears get you down, through the years’ ringing true perhaps more than ever. Baddiel and Skinner stood there numb at the end, in keeping with how millions of others felt.
The dream dies for England.
“I was so sure we were going to win it,” reflected Skinner in his book. “Imagine how they would have sung the song at the final. I have many a time. Football did come home, but someone had parked a big Audi across the driveway.” It had been an almost perfect summer for Skinner, but there would forever remain that nagging pain that it hadn’t quite been complete. At the end of the final episode of Fantasy Football on the BBC broadcast two nights later, there was another rendition of the Three Lions – sung in a more downbeat manner to reflect the disappointment over England’s loss.
But England’s exit wasn’t the end of the song’s popularity. Further requests to sing it would follow, including at the BBC’s Sports Review of the Year. It would also gain a surprising fanbase in Germany, with Three Lions almost becoming an anthem for the competition (poor Mick Hucknall would find his official tournament song swiftly forgotten). Two years later came Three Lions ’98, providing updated lyrics for the World Cup in France – “no more years of hurt” among them. By focusing more on the current crop than two years earlier the song would unfortunately already seem out of date by the time of the finals, as Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce – both referenced in the song – were not part of the squad.
Yet Three Lions – which this time around was not the official England song – would enjoy further success as it again roared to the top of the charts amid a growing number of competing England singles including Vindaloo by Fat Les. Yet for Skinner and plenty of others, the magic of two years earlier wasn’t there. “To be honest, I wish we hadn’t bothered,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Respect to everyone who bought the ’98 version, but Three Lions was all about a specific moment in time: one hot summer in ’96 when England suddenly started playing like winners again, and the crowd had their own, specially written party piece so they could provide the perfect soundtrack.” The tournament’s slogan is certainly far better remembered because of the song’s chorus. Would we be having books and retrospective TV programmes entitled ‘When Football Came Home’ but for Three Lions? It’s debatable.
In the same way that Christmas hits are played every December, Three Lions still gets airtime come major tournaments. But as Baddiel himself reflected in 2014, it isn’t sung as much these days by England followers. The continued failures of the team have hardly fostered a belief that they will finally deliver, with 30 years of hurt having made way for the current 50 years and potentially more. The ’30 years’ line is the one thing that really dates the original song and reminds us that it was written for Euro ’96. And that is what this blogger will always remember it for, helping make the tournament particularly special.