Sir Bobby Robson

England on tour – South America 1984

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This month in 1984 England headed to South America for a three-match tour against Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. It would mark a welcome turning point for under-pressure manager Bobby Robson and be forever remembered for a wondergoal by John Barnes…

Bobby Robson’s rollercoaster England reign contained some low points amid the highs, but arguably the lowest moment for him arrived on June 2, 1984. England were playing the Soviet Union in a friendly at Wembley, with Robson desperately needing a good result to silence the critics. In recent months the side had failed to qualify for Euro ’84, looked second best in losing a friendly against France and endured a mediocre final Home International Championship campaign which included a defeat to Wales. Not helped by a high number of players being unavailable, England slumped to a disappointing 2-0 loss to the USSR and it was the final straw for some fans.

As the side left the field, loud chants of “Robson out” could be heard. It was far from every fan at Wembley shouting it, but it certainly wasn’t a tiny minority either. It would be hurtful for Robson, under pressure just two years into the job. But the patriotic Englishman wasn’t going to call it a day, revealing he had rejected an approach from Barcelona as he sought to rectify matters. Terry Venables would move to the Nou Camp instead.

But there was a fear that the pressure on him and England was about to get much worse. They were now heading to South America for an end-of-season tour, made possible by their absence from the European Championship in France. During an interview after the USSR game, the BBC’s Jimmy Hill would suggest to Robson that the tour should be cancelled amid the potential embarrassment of heavy defeats. Robson went on the defensive as his former Fulham team-mate put him on the spot, but there was little doubt the knives were out. Few were expecting England’s youthful side to avoid defeat against Brazil eight days later.

Bobby Robson was under pressure as England headed out to South America.

A combination of circumstances, England being in a period of transition and the approach Robson wanted to take meant they would be taking a largely inexperienced side to South America. “I was gambling with my future – and knew it,” wrote Robson in 1986. “I looked around the aircraft at my young wingers, John Barnes of Watford and Mark Chamberlain of Stoke, and thought how much rested on their youthful shoulders.” 

Robson was seeking for England to be more adventurous, but they were desperately short of forwards. Several were unavailable for various reasons and there were fitness doubts over Tony Woodcock, with uncapped QPR pair Clive Allen and Simon Stainrod being called up at literally the last minute as they prepared to fly out to Asia on club duty. Also off to South America was tall Portsmouth forward Mark Hateley, who had made his England debut as a substitute against the USSR. This was to be a life-changing trip for him, as he went from being known mainly as the son of Tony Hateley into a forward recognised on the continent – swapping the Second Division for Serie A.

Robson spent the flight out to Brazil weighing up whether to go for it or play it cautious for the opening game of the tour in the Maracana. He was to opt for the former and use genuine wingers. “I was going to persist with the gamble and to hell with everyone who said it was suicidal,” he recalled two years later. “I made the decision in the full knowledge that we could get a fearful roasting if it went wrong.” It was certainly a gamble, but one that helped to salvage his England reign.

Barnes scores THAT goal

It has to be conceded this was not one of the great Brazil sides. Many of the key players from the much-loved 1982 World Cup team such as Eder, Falcao, Socrates and Zico were absent for this game. But it was still Brazil, the nation millions looked up to and they were considered almost unbeatable in the Maracana. Most recent meetings between the sides had been close, but England had not beaten the Brazilians since the first meeting at Wembley in 1956.

The England side was not totally devoid of experience, with five of the starting line-up – Woodcock, Bryan Robson, Kenny Sansom, Peter Shilton and Ray Wilkins – having played in the 1982 World Cup. But nobody else had more than 10 caps to their name and neither Hateley nor defender Dave Watson had ever started a full international before. Watson would partner Terry Fenwick who made his England debut the previous month and the only substitute used, Allen, was uncapped. Mick Duxbury, who had been at fault for one of the goals conceded against the USSR, was earning his sixth cap at right-back. England’s cause had not been helped by defender Graham Roberts sustaining an injury that curtailed his involvement on the tour.

What happened that night is well-known. England’s young side coped admirably and the match would forever be remembered for one moment in the dying seconds of the first half. Barnes collected the ball on the left flank and cut inside, memorably weaving his way between opponents before joyously placing the ball into the net for an astonishing goal. Stuart Jones, reporting for The Times, correctly forecast that it was a goal that would “be remembered forever”. It was a most un-English goal and the fact it had come against Brazil in the Maracana added to the magic of it.

John Barnes celebrates a goal still fondly recalled today.

Barnes would see it almost as out-of-body experience, admitting later he could recall little of it apart from collecting the ball and the finish. But it was a wonderful moment for the nation to enjoy, or it should have been anyway. ITV would only start broadcasting live at half-time, moments after the goal went in. Viewers instead had to endure Surprise, Surprise before the broadcast began, with technical problems then meaning they had to be told about the goal before they saw it. Coupled with just two matches out of 15 at the European Championship being shown live that summer in Britain, it’s a reminder of where football stood at the time compared to today.

But over in the Maracana the only concern was England stayed in front. Hateley had helped set-up Barnes and the favour would be returned on 65 minutes. Barnes put over an excellent cross and Hateley headed in to double England’s lead, one which they protected throughout the remainder of the game. A trophy was presented at the end, with young players such as Duxbury, Fenwick, Hateley and Watson forever able to say they had done something such greats as Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Kevin Keegan never did – play for England in a win over Brazil.

The England side that beat Brazil.

Little more than a week after England and Robson were taking a real slagging off, they were now being heavily applauded. “England came here as boys to play in the biggest stadium in the world,” wrote Jones. “They left as men, bulging with pride and holding a prize that was beyond anyone’s imagination. Since the arena was built 34 years ago, Brazil have only lost three times and all of those defeats, by Uruguay, Czechoslovakia and Argentina, were achieved in the 1950s. The last was 27 years ago.”

In the Daily Express, Steve Curry wrote: “John Barnes gave Bobby Robson glorious vindication last night for his belief that England’s future lies in bold, attacking football.” He added: “I hope that those fans who booed England boss Robson off at Wembley nine days ago will now applaud him for holding his nerve in a situation that would have had other managers crumbling.”

Captain Bryan Robson also spoke passionately about the manager, saying: “That result was for him. He has taken so much criticism and, though there are times when he could have blamed us, he has always protected us. It’s a pity that we can’t all pack up and go home after that performance.” If Robson feared the rest of the tour could be a bit of an anti-climax, then he would to some extent be right. And one deplorable incident would follow to take some of the shine off beating Brazil…

A sour taste in the mouth

England’s most two recent foreign visits to Luxembourg and France had been blighted by yobs running riot, further tarnishing the reputation of English fans. But it was to be hoped that travelling as far away as South America would deter the hooligans. While that was largely true, there would be another reminder of the problems England faced off the field as racist behaviour was on show from people supposedly supporting the side.

As England prepared to board a flight during the remainder of the tour – Bobby Robson recalled it being from Brazil to Uruguay, this article says it was from Uruguay to Chile – individuals believed to be National Front members were heard shouting abuse at Barnes and proclaiming England had only won 1-0 against Brazil as a goal scored by a man of his skin colour shouldn’t count. Robson would certainly never forget the incident. “How sick can you be?” he said of those responsible during the excellent BBC documentary Three Lions 16 years later.

The racism in itself was disgraceful and the fact that any individual would chose to effectively discount such a marvellous goal because of a player’s colour was sickening. There was also hypocrisy on show as those responsible seemed to be overlooking that Barnes made the other goal for Hateley. But sadly it was indicative of the racism rife on the terraces in that era, with monkey noises still unfortunately heard. If the great goal by Barnes and presence of Chamberlain on the opposite flank had helped strengthen the reputation of black England players, then incidents such as this immediately acted as an unfortunate reminder of the work still do to be done to silence the racists. It would certainly leave a sour taste in the mouth. 

John Barnes in action against Uruguay.

The second game of the tour against Uruguay promised to be tough. Although the Uruguayans had been absent from the 1982 World Cup, they were South American champions and in 1980-81 had won the Mundalito competition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first World Cup. Manager Robson knew this was going to be a difficult game, warning that “we cannot get carried away” after the Brazil success. This time viewers back home could watch the whole match live on the BBC, although they would have to stay up until nearly 1am to witness its conclusion.

Allen came into the starting line-up and squandered a glorious opportunity to score early on, which was soon punished as a penalty was controversially awarded against Hateley and scored by Luis Acosta. England continued to create chances without taking them – with Allen out of luck – and the contest was settled when Wilmar Cabrera scored the second on 69 minutes. It was a result that would have increased the pressure on Robson had England lost to Brazil, but instead there was recognition that the side was making progress. Curry wrote: “This was defeat with a degree of honour, for England did not play so badly against the South American champions.”

Jones perceptively summed it up by writing: “Like the gambler who hits the jackpot on the first visit to the roulette table and then spends the rest of the evening waiting for the next win, England’s youths are learning about the wheel of fortune. It spun for them in Rio de Janiero and against them in Montevideo.”

And that luck would elude them in the last match of the tour…

The ball just won’t go in

Usually England would have faced Argentina when visiting South America. But the Falklands War just two years earlier made that possibility a non-starter, so the Three Lions were left to look beyond the continent’s traditional ‘big three’ to complete the tour. A match against a Chile side preparing for the Olympics was selected. Although the weakest-looking opposition on the tour, England’s manager knew Chile – who had played in the 1982 World Cup – could pose a threat and his side needed to guard against complacency. “In many ways this could be our hardest game,” said Robson. “Attitudes can soften and there can be a tiredness factor at the end of a tour. So we have got to avoid being turned over on those two issues.”

The final game of the tour looked like the ideal chance to give a game to some of the players who had travelled to South America but yet to appear, such as Stainrod, David Armstrong, Steve Hunt, Alan Kennedy, Gary Stevens (the Tottenham version) and Chris Woods. But apart from Sammy Lee who came on as substitute for his last cap, every player who featured had already played during the tour. It was clear Robson wanted to end with a victory and he was keen to build a familiarity to his side ahead of World Cup qualifiers in 1984-85. One player who was absent was Woodcock, who had flown home injured.

Mark Hateley battles for possession in Chile.

In front of a small crowd in Santiago it was another case of England failing to take their chances, with Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas in inspired form. England should have won on the balance of play but they had to be content with a goalless draw. “If we had won 6-0 no one could have complained,” said Robson, while Curry wrote: “It is a long time since an England side has had quite so much possession on foreign soil. But it is not too often that they have come across a goalkeeper quite so acrobatic and apparently impassable as Roberto Rojas, the man they nickname Peter Shilton in this South American outpost.” The real Shilton was called upon to make one impressive save in the second half, as Chile made a rare foray forward. At the other end England could not take their chances, with Allen having the misfortune to see a series of chances go towards his head rather than feet.

One man to emerge with great praise from the Chile match was captain Bryan Robson, whose namesake and manager wrote in his World Cup Diary in 1986: “The one player who deserved a goal was our skipper Bryan Robson. I do not think I have ever seen him cover so much ground, he must have tackled each and every one of the Chile team, including their three substitutes. There was not a blade of grass in that stadium that did not receive the imprint of his boot. He went round the park like a man possessed and had eight or nine attempts at goal on his own without the slightest luck… Bryan Robson really came of age on that trip.”

Captain Robson’s leadership was giving cause for optimism, as was England’s use of wingers and the young talent that was emerging. Manager Robson could arrive back in England feeling far less pressure than when he had departed for South America. With England’s cricketers spending the summer being thrashed by the West Indies, the nation’s football fortunes seemed positive by comparison. The side would go into the 1984-85 season with a new-found optimism and a succession of wins would follow in qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. There is no doubt that the trip to South America, and in particularly Brazil, had been justified. It certainly proved more worthwhile than the trip to Australia a year earlier.

But in some ways the trip to South America was a false dawn for the personnel involved. When England met Argentina in the 1986 World Cup semi-final, only Fenwick, Sansom and Shilton would start having been in the side that beat Brazil. Chamberlain and Duxbury were never capped after 1984, while Allen would have to wait until 1987 to appear again. Watson and Woodcock would stay involved over the next two years but miss out on the 1986 finals squad. Wilkins and captain Robson would of course go there as the midfield duo but see their tournaments end prematurely for different reasons, while Hateley was left watching the Argentina match from the bench. His goal against Brazil in 1984 had thrust him into the spotlight and earned him a move to AC Milan, while he became a prominent player for his country. But England’s poor start to the 1986 World Cup led to him being sacrificed for Peter Beardsley and he would never regularly start internationals again.

But for the other goalscorer against Brazil, the moment became a little bittersweet. It would remain a moment to treasure but it was hard to shake off the feeling that it would be something of a burden during the rest of his England career. Expectations went through the roof and he would struggle to replicate both the moment and his club performances when playing for England – his supporters believing he was not used correctly when appearing for his country. Despite being regularly called up to the squad, he didn’t start an international during 1985-86 and his involvement in 1986 World Cup was restricted to just 16 minutes. That would come against Argentina, as during that cameo Barnes gave one of his few England performances that the public viewed in the same light as when he shone against Brazil.

But more than 30 years later, that goal against Brazil remains fondly remembered across England. What a shame it couldn’t be enjoyed live on TV.

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.

England’s European Championship low point – vs USSR (1988)

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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…

Bert Millichip

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.”

Bert Millichip.

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…

Bobby Robson

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…

Gary Lineker

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…

Mark Wright

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

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.

Bryan Robson

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.

Bryan Robson’s pain of Mexico ’86

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In the latest of our articles on the 1986 World Cup we recall England’s captain 30 years ago, Bryan Robson, and how his tournament was ruined by a dislocated shoulder. What should have been a competition where he shone ended with him watching on from the sidelines after he went off injured against Morocco…

For much of the 1980s, the England team was about the Robsons. The manager was Bobby Robson, the captain was Bryan Robson. Bobby, like Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson, adored Bryan. His fierce will-to-win, bravery, box-to-box approach and leadership qualities all made him integral to the teams he played for. In an era between the departure of Kevin Keegan and emergence of Paul Gascoigne, Robson was a strong contender for the most famous current English footballer. Atkinson had forked out a then British record £1.5 million to get Robson to follow him from West Bromwich Albion in 1981. “Solid gold” was Big Ron’s description of the player, as he justified the transfer fee.

Although he wasn’t without his critics (as a Google search of ‘Bryan Robson over-rated’ will confirm), there were plenty who idolised Robson and shared the view of his managers about how important he was. Naysayers would have found it hilarious that Bobby Robson considered his namesake to belong in the same category as such greats as Diego Maradona and Michel Platini; others would have seen nothing wrong with that view.

Bobby Robson was a big fan of his namesake and England captain Bryan.

But one persistent problem throughout Bryan Robson’s career was injuries, something the player’s critics were happy to point out. His courage and desire to scrap for every ball probably did not help, as he would all too frequently have to spend time on the sidelines after sustaining an injury in the heat of battle. He had to sit out a number of crucial games for both club and country during his career, with perhaps his most high-profile injury woes prematurely ending his participation in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Robson was arguably at his peak at 29, well-established as England captain and considered central to the team’s prospects. But shoulder injuries sadly do not magically heal just because it’s the World Cup. As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the nation became obsessed with a key player’s injury concerns going into the World Cup. For Robson it all happened in Monterrey, a long time ago.

Bryan Robson is helped by physio Fred Street after his injury against Morocco.

Catalogue of injuries

The first warning sign of what lay ahead came in January 1985, when Robson sustained a dislocated shoulder during a defeat for United by Coventry City. Typifying the way Robson’s luck would seem to be out over the next 18 months, he landed on the transformer box of Old Trafford’s undersoil heating. He wrote in his autobigraphy: “The shoulder was put back in place and the medical advice was that, because it was the first dislocation, we should allow it to heal naturally… If I had known that there was such a good chance of the shoulder coming out again, I would have told the surgeons to sew it up then and there. It would have been far better to get the problem sorted for good.”

Despite not undergoing surgery, Robson still spent several weeks on the sidelines but the campaign ended with him lifting the FA Cup. The 1985-86 season began well for Robson and United, with the team famously winning their opening 10 league matches. Robson could dream of captaining his club to the First Division title and then his country to World Cup glory. On October 16 England booked their place in the World Cup finals and recorded a 5-0 win over Turkey, but Robson went off with a hamstring injury.

It was the start of a catalogue of problems that blighted his campaign. United were looking increasingly less assured at the top of the table and they would end up trundling home in fourth spot. In the FA Cup fourth round Robson was sent off at Sunderland and then he sustained an ankle injury in a league match at West Ham United a week later. But it was in a delayed fifth round FA Cup tie at the same ground on March 5 that his World Cup dream took its first serious dent.

A week earlier headlines appeared of ‘were would we be without him?” after Robson scored twice, including the BBC goal of the season, as England won in Israel. Now it looked like we might have to find out in the World Cup, as Robson began clutching his shoulder on the Upton Park turf. He had once more dislocated it, less than three months before the World Cup began. In the Daily Express two days later, John Bean wrote: “The Manchester United and England captain’s second shoulder dislocation in 14 months will leave him with just enough time to get fit to board the plane to Mexico and the World Cup in May. But the big fear is that after two dislocations of the same joint Robson could easily suffer the problem a third time.” His words would sadly prove prophetic.

Club vs country

United boss Atkinson was ruling out an operation, with a club versus country row brewing. There was no easy answer, as the operation would have left Robson desperately short of match practice going into the World Cup. But for his England manager it would be the better option. According to his World Cup Diary, Bobby Robson rang Atkinson and approached him about letting their mutual captain have the op. Bobby wrote: “I asked for the ultimate sacrifice a club manager can make because an operation would have ruled Robson out for the rest of the championship, but have guaranteed his fitness for Mexico.”

Atkinson’s reply made clear there would be no change of mind. It was an understandable situation, given that United were still in with a shout of the title and Big Ron was starting to come under pressure over their recent form. He knew Robson could be the difference between success and failure, being willing to gamble on him even when not fully fit.

Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson was not willing to sacrifice his captain to help England’s cause.

Captain Robson soon returned for United, but he would suffer more injury problems and sat out the season’s climax. But at least he joined the England squad as they headed out to the United States en route to the finals. During a practice match against South Korea, Robson volleyed in a goal and showed what he could be capable of. But Bobby Robson wrote: “Bryan’s shoulder was still causing me concern. I kept thinking back to the medical advice and wondering if it was going to go again. I closed my eyes every time he went rushing in for one of those crosses and willed to see him on his feet when I reopened them.”

Three days later those fears were realised when England played Mexico in Los Angeles. The captain was in a typically competitive mode and he made a sliding tackle that ended with him clutching his shoulder, which had popped out. Although it was placed back in quickly by the England team medics, it was now clear to the management just how serious the problem was and how loose the shoulder had become – even though they tried to hide the injury from the media when questioned.

Manager Robson was now beginning to contemplate life without his captain. The player was typically back in training just two days later, only to then sustain yet another hamstring injury. It seemed a never-ending tale of injury woe. But he was adamant he was okay. He wrote: “If I’d had any doubts about my fitness for our first match,  against Portugal, in Monterrey, or the rest of the World Cup, I would have pulled out. I believed I could play my part in helping England go all the way.” Robson missed England’s friendly win over Canada, in which Gary Lineker sustained a wrist injury that briefly threatened his World Cup prospects. With Mark Wright having already been ruled out of the finals with a broken leg, injury problems seemed to be mounting for the team.

The nation hopes and prays

When England took on Portugal in their opening World Cup match against Portugal on June 3, Robson was in the starting line-up. The waiting was over, now the nation had to hope and pray the captain came through unscathed. When Robson challenged to win a header in the box, there was brief panic as he feel to the floor. “That was a worrying moment for me and I’m sure everyone,” said BBC co-commentator Jimmy Hill, relieved to see the captain get up as if nothing had happened. The game ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat and Robson came off a few minutes before the end, but he had not seemed inhibited by his injury concern.

Three days later, England played Morocco. It was in the closing minutes of the half that Robson’s World Cup came to a shuddering halt as he played the ball past Mustapha El-Biyaz in the penalty area. He wrote in his autobigtaphy: “As I went past him he grabbed me by the right shoulder and pulled me back. I fell in agony. The shoulder had come out again. Everybody thought it was the fall that did the damage but it wasn’t, it was their player pulling my shoulder… I was led away, clutching my shoulder, and the tears were of frustration and annoyance as much as pain.”

It was a lasting image of the competition. Robson would maintain England should have had a penalty over the incident, but nothing was given and he had barely left the pitch when vice-captain Ray Wilkins was red carded after throwing the ball back towards the referee.

The moment Bryan Robson’s World Cup dream was shattered.

Four years earlier, Robson had gone off with a knock in the second match of the World Cup against Czechoslovakia but he recovered to play in the second phase matches. This time his World Cup dream appeared to lie in tatters and there was a serious chance England wouldn’t remain in the competition beyond their final group game. Both the manager and captain were quoted afterwards as accepting he was definitely out of the competition,  but as England prepared for their do-or-die match against Poland on June 11 there was growing speculation Robson could pick Robson again. It wasn’t well received.

Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “England’s World Cup crisis can be measured not by the fact that they have just 90 minutes to salvage some pride and a place in the second round… but that Bobby Robson is still thinking of picking Bryan Robson. The manager’s fixation with his skipper is not just ill-advised. It is Mexican madness.”

But the manager did not let his heart rule his head, leaving the captain out of the Poland game as England got their act together with a 3-0 win. A change of personnel seemed to help England flourish as a team. They followed it up by beating Paraguay by the same score. England had proved they could thrive without Captain Marvel, with critics happy to point this out when the extent of Robson’s abilities are discussed. Now they faced a quarter-final showdown with Argentina, starring Diego Maradona.

Robson had stayed in Mexico rather than fly home for treatment – to the annoyance of Atkinson – and now he was suddenly handed a glimmer of hope. Peter Reid was carrying a knock and Bobby Robson saw his captain as the man to sit in the hole if Reid did not recover. “It would not put his shoulder so much at risk as charging into the box and it is a job he could do to great effect,” wrote the manager in his World Cup Diary. “I was also aware of the psychological effect his appearance would have on the Argentinians.”

Ultimately Reid recovered and Captain Marvel was left to get his camera out (see above pic) as the sides lined up. We can only wonder what might have been had Robson been fully fit. One can just imagine him sliding in to stop Maradona going through to score his superb solo goal. Robson reflected in his autobiography: “I thought I just might have been able to make a difference against Maradona. I knew his game and felt I could have done a job on him.”

But the reality was Robson had been left a spectator for most of the competition, with Gary Lineker perhaps now replacing him as the national football hero. Robson would miss the start of the 1986-87 season, with his absence felt as Manchester United experienced a poor run of form that eventually cost Atkinson his job. He too may have wondered if things would have panned out differently if Robson had been allowed to have the operation prior to Mexico.

Robson went on to play for England for a further five years and in 1990 he remained captain under his namesake. At 33 there wasn’t quite as much hype and expectation surrounding him going into the World Cup finals as four years earlier, but he was still seen as a key player in the side. But Second Game Syndrome struck again as he limped out of England’s match against the Netherlands and a few days later he was flying home. For the second World Cup running England achieved success without Robson, who was left to provide analysis for the BBC during the semi-final against West Germany. Once more an injury had come at the worst possible time for him – and this time he knew any realistic hope of playing in a World Cup again had gone.

England’s Qualifying Campaigns – Euro ’84: Dazzled by the Danes

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This summer England will make the short trip to France to compete in Euro 2016. But when the French last hosted the European Championship in 1984, England failed to make it. Today we look back at what went wrong, as Bobby Robson’s reign began in difficult fashion.

Bobby Robson’s appointment as England manager was confirmed shortly after Ron Greenwood’s men were eliminated from the 1982 World Cup in Spain. His reign at Ipswich Town had earned many plaudits and yielded two major trophies, with the proud Englishman now tasked with leading his country. He would have little time to dwell on the task in front of him, as his first match in September 1982 was the opening European Championship qualifier away to Denmark.

Bobby Robson took over as England manager a year after leading Ipswich Town to UEFA Cup glory.

On paper, England had been handed a reasonable qualifying draw, with their opponents being Hungary, Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg. Hungary had finished above England in qualifying for the 1982 World Cup but England had done the double over them and progressed further at the finals; Greece had qualified for the 1980 European Championship but had little other pedigree; and Luxembourg were the whipping boys of Europe. The joker in the pack came from pot four. Denmark had enjoyed limited past success but something was stirring in Scandinavia. Manager Sepp Piontek was building a side that would soon be talked about across Europe, but – despite beating Italy in World Cup qualifying in 1981 – had yet to come into the spotlight. Robson though knew just how talented they were and he probably cursed whoever had agreed for England to start with a trip to Copenhagen – particularly as the average man in the street would assume England were going to win there.

Out with the old guard

Robson had difficult decisions to make prior to the Denmark game, having inherited an ageing side. Robson was primarily setting his sights on success at the 1986 World Cup and he knew time would have to be called on the international careers of several players. As we’ve previously recalled, Robson controversially dropped Kevin Keegan and came under fire before he’d even led his team into battle for the first time as the former captain took exception to not being told the news directly. A decision that probably was harder for Robson to make on a personal level was to leave out his former Ipswich captain Mick Mills, while other old heads including Trevor Brooking, Joe Corrigan, Terry McDermott and Dave Watson would never win another cap. Ray Clemence would be selected just twice more as Peter Shilton became fully established as number one goalkeeper.

Robson’s first year or so in charge would see a high number of debutants given their chance. Players such as Luther Blissett, Mark Chamberlain, Gordon Cowans and Sammy Lee would briefly shine before fading from the international scene. Only John Barnes would break into the set-up during the period and remain involved throughout Robson’s reign. Robson’s cause was not helped by injury woes for key men he inherited, with his favoured midfielders of Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins all spending time on the sidelines during the qualifying campaign. To compound matters, winger Steve Coppell would sadly soon have to retire due to his injury troubles.

England’s Bryan Robson in action against his future Manchester United team-mate in England’s opening Euro ’84 qualifier against Denmark.

If Bobby Robson was under any illusions about the size of the task facing him, then the first match in Denmark would have shattered them. Firstly, the fallout with Keegan meant he had attracted negative publicity in his opening weeks in the job. Secondly, England were shaken by the Danes who duly looked the real threat Robson had feared. And thirdly, there was widespread fighting on the terraces. It was the third year in a row that an England match overseas had been blighted by serious crowd trouble and Robson was left knowing that his time in charge would see him regularly being asked about a section of England’s followers and not matters on the field.

England came within moments of snatching a 2-1 win thanks to two Trevor Francis goals in Copenhagen before Jesper Olsen waltzed through to equalise, but it was felt afterwards that England were the team who had been let off the hook during the 2-2 draw. The Danes were certainly no longer the low-achieving amateurs of a few years before. ‘England are lucky to escape defeat’ screamed the headline in The Times, with the new manager admitting it would have been a “travesty of justice” had they won.

Blissett’s debut hat-trick

England players had nine goals to celebrate against Luxembourg in December 1982, including a hat-trick for Luther Blissett.

Robson’s first home match in charge produced a 2-1 friendly defeat to West Germany, but a month later came the second European Championship qualifier away to Greece. Bryan Robson captained England for the first time and he would never relinquish it whenever he played under his namesake. Tony Woodcock scored twice and debutant Lee got the other in an excellent 3-0 win. Just 10 days before Christmas England welcomed Luxembourg to Wembley and Watford forward Blissett marked his first cap with a hat-trick in an emphatic 9-0 victory – he never scored again for his country – that meant they boasted a goal difference of +12 after only three qualifying matches.

England began 1983 with a 2-1 win over Wales in the Home International Championship, before welcoming Greece to Wembley in March for their next qualifying match. It proved an extremely frustrating night for England as the Greeks did not come bearing gifts and defended deeply. England were unable to break the visitors down and were booed off after a 0-0 draw. “I counted seven of Greece’s players who never even crossed the halfway line,” said Robson as he reflected on a frustrating night. The night had marked the first real low point of Robson’s reign but all looked good again when England won 2-0 at home to Hungary the following month, Francis and Peter Withe scoring. After five matches in the group England had three wins and two draws and were still firmly in the qualifying picture. “Within a month the tune has changed dramatically for Bobby Robson,” wrote Stuart Jones in The Times.

The Home International Championship was won after drawing 0-0 away to Northern Ireland and winning 2-0 against Scotland. The latter match took place on the same day as a vital qualifying clash between Denmark and Hungary. The Danes won 3-1 and it was now clear they would provide the most serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. England ended the 1982-83 season with a three-match tour of Australia, which brought a plethora of new caps and an unbeaten record but precious little else to shout about. Robson and his under-strength side returned home with a three-month break in store before their next match – a huge qualifier at home to Denmark in September 1983.

Despair against the Danes

The Danes arrived at Wembley with the backing of a tremendous away support. With only one side going through to the finals, this match was likely to be decisive. England led the group by a point but Denmark had a game in hand. Whoever won would be clear favourites to progress. If the match was a draw then matters would be in Denmark’s hands but with little margin for error. England were without the injured Bryan Robson and, controversially, Hoddle, with Bobby Robson opting instead to field John Gregory. “I wanted someone a bit spikey,” said the manager as he tried to justify his selection. But it proved a bad call, England’s midfield operating deep and creating little for the forwards to feed off.

From the moment teenager Michael Laudrup almost gave Denmark an early lead, it was clear that this was going to be a long and torturous night for England. Bobby Robson seemed to have become too concerned about the threat of the Danes for his own side’s good, as England played with fear rather than belief. Phil Neal’s handball in the area on his 50th and final cap allowed Allan Simonsen to put the Danes in front in the first half and they continued to boss the game, albeit without creating many clear-cut chances. “We are red, we are white, we are Danish dynamite” was the song ringing out at Wembley.

Allan Simonsen scores the winner for Denmark against England from the penalty spot.

They deservedly protected their 1-0 advantage, with England posing little threat until injury time. Suddenly a chance was made by Blissett, but he was denied by Ole Kjær from point blank range just seconds before the final whistle sounded. Prior to the emergence of Peter Schmeichel it was generally felt that goalkeeper was the weak position for the Danes, but Kjær had proved his worth with such a priceless save. It was the first time the Danes had ever beaten England and the win left them firm favourites to reach France.

For Bobby Robson, the defeat was painful. He later revealed he offered to resign after the loss, but he was given the green light to carry on. He wrote in 1986: “Whatever I may or may not achieve in my football career, the blackest day will remain as September 21, 1983. It was the worst moment I had experienced at any level of football, no question about it… The 1-0 defeat was only part of it. The way the team played; the walk back to the dressing room afterwards; the abuse of the crowd; the feeling of total confusion all contributed to the desolate feelings.”

The defeat was bad enough, but for England to play so tepidly when the stakes were so high meant criticism poured in on the England manager. In the magazine Football Monthly, it was stated that “this was without doubt England’s worst-ever performance at Wembley”. Piontek certainly believed his opposite number’s approach had helped the Danes, with Robson having made several visits to see them in action. “England were afraid to attack us,” he said. “I think it was good for us that Mr Robson watched us so many times in Denmark. Sometimes it is not always good to see opponents too much.”

Three days later Robson was booed when he went to watch Aston Villa against Southampton, while Hoddle scored a superb goal for Tottenham Hotspur at Watford. The decision to leave him out of the Denmark game looked to have been the wrong one.

Hope restored and then removed

Matters were now well and truly out of England’s hands. They would have to win away to Hungary and Luxembourg and hope Denmark took no more than three points from as many games (under two points for a win) – with it being a given they would beat Luxembourg at home in one of them. They duly did so by a 6-0 scoreline on October 12, the same day England visited Hungary. Hoddle was recalled to the side and he responded with a superb free-kick in the 3-0 win, which gave England a glimmer of hope. But so comfortably had they beaten the Hungarians that it was hard to see the Eastern Europeans doing England a favour by getting a result against Denmark two weeks later.

But that was just what they did, Denmark suffering their first defeat of the qualifying series as they went down 1-0. England had been bailed out during qualifying for the 1982 World Cup when all seemed lost and now it looked like history might repeat itself. Denmark were a point ahead of England but had an inferior goal difference. If Denmark failed to win away to Greece in their final match then England would go through by beating Luxembourg on the same night. The pressure was on the Danes.

The matches did not kick-off simultaneously, Denmark decisive contest in Athens finishing before England’s contest in Luxembourg began. According to Bobby Robson, as England’s squad arrived at the stadium “some wally of a fan shouted out to us that Greece were ahead”. Within moments they learned the crushing news that the Danes were actually winning, going on to claim a 2-0 victory to deservedly win the match and the group. “It’s rather like asking soldiers to go on firing bullets after a peace treaty had been signed,” said Robson, as he was left trying to motivate his players for a dead rubber match. He duly did that as England produced a professional performance in beating Luxembourg 4-0, leaving them with the best goal difference of any side in Euro ’84 qualifying with +20.


Denmark were the side celebrating at the end of qualifying for Euro ’84.

But all anyone was talking about was the fact England hadn’t made it, along with yet more trouble involving the hooligan fringe. The hosts had been concerned about England’s visit after previous trouble in 1977 and unfortunately the antics of some individuals in both the stadium and on the streets had justified those fears. “They had disgusted us all by giving those lovely people a bad time for our second successive visit,” said a despairing Robson.

It was not a time when the English nation was covering itself in glory when it came to football, with the hooligans continually causing trouble off the field and the players struggling to hit the heights on it. Whereas Euro 2016 in France will contain four sides from the British Isles, the finals of Euro ’84 went ahead without any of them. TV viewers in Britain saw just two live matches from one of the most highly-regarded tournaments of all-time, with the Danes playing with a swagger as they reached the semi-finals before losing on penalties to Spain. France won it on home soil and it was a competition that we missed far more than the rest of Europe missed us.

And yet if the same qualifying criteria had existed for 1984 as it did for 2016, then – in theory at least – we would have had plenty of British Isles representation at the finals. England, Northern Ireland and Wales would have all qualified automatically; the Republic of Ireland would have been in the play-offs; and Scotland would have failed to make it at all after finishing fourth in their qualifying group. The more things change…

Great England Goals – Bryan Robson v Israel (1986)

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Thirty years ago today England met Israel for the first time in a friendly in Tel Aviv. England’s performance won few plaudits, but their 2-1 victory included the winner of the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition for 1985-86 – a volley by captain Bryan Robson. It provided a rare moment of joy for the player during a difficult few months…

England were having a busy few months preparing for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, playing at least one match in every calendar month from January to May. But the selection of the first two friendlies drew criticism and raised questions about their merit. In January England beat Egypt 4-0 in Cairo and the following month they travelled to Tel Aviv to take on Israel.

One of manager Bobby Robson’s arch-critics, Emlyn Hughes, slammed the decision to play Egypt and was also scathing about the Israel match. “There’s another joke trip lined up next month when England go to Israel. We won’t learn anything from that match either and by the time Mexico comes round everyone will be burned out,” he argued.


Israel welcome England in February 1986.

But for the England manager the match carried value. Writing in his 1986 World Cup Diary, Robson explained why Israel were chosen as opponents: “The reasons why we had picked Israel were that we were sure the weather in Tel Aviv would not hinder our preparations, that our fans would not be so stupid as to cause trouble over there and that we were reasonably confident that we would win. It was the sort of game a club manager likes to undertake pre-season against teams whom he knows will provide a test but are the sort of opposition where the club can play and enjoy their football.”

The first reason Robson gave for the choice of match would prove good thinking, given Britain endured bad weather in February 1986. The second was a sad indictment of how serious the hooligan problem had become for England. And the third reason given would quickly be put to the test, as England found their hosts looking to pull off a surprise victory.

The two Robsons


Bryan Robson (left) and Bobby Robson.

Much of the 1980s was all about the Robsons so far as England were concerned, with Bobby managing the team and namesake Bryan being his captain and inspiration in the heart of the midfield. The 1985-86 season was proving bitter-sweet for the player. He had helped Manchester United win their opening 10 league games and secured early qualification for the World Cup with England. But he had gone off injured during England’s win against Turkey in October, been sent-off playing for United in the FA Cup at Sunderland, seen his team’s title dream start to fade and then he sustained another injury against West Ham United in a league game in early February. Thankfully he was fit in time to play for England against Israel, but he went into the match with limited recent gametime under his belt.

Manager Robson fielded a strong side but England did not produce a good display in the first half, going in 1-0 down at half-time after an early breakaway goal by Eli Ohana that raised concerns about English defending. A dog running on the field was to be the most memorable sight for English viewers during the first half!

Six minutes after the break came the game’s turning point. Glenn Hoddle floated a lovely ball across to captain Robson, who scored with a delightful volley from the edge of the box. “It was a goal that would have graced the World Cup Final itself,” proclaimed England’s manager.

Bryan Robson volleys England level.

Barry Davies, commentating for live BBC coverage, was for once not in wordsmith mode. “Robson…yes….” was the rather low-key commentary of the goal, perhaps reflecting the fact it was only a friendly and Davies was unimpressed with England’s display. The celebrations were also muted, Robson settling for 1950s style handshakes with team-mates before making his way back to the centre circle.

But it proved sufficient to win the BBC Goal of the Season award, the only time an England goal has clinched the accolade (goals scored in major tournaments automatically miss out due to taking place after the voting finishes). Robson’s cause in winning the award was helped by the Football League TV blackout in the first half of the 1985-86 season, limiting the number of goals to choose from. It was perhaps not as well remembered as some other goals he scored for his country, but it was an excellent finish to win him an honour he missed out on the previous season for his volleyed goal against East Germany.

Coping without the captain

Robson later scored the winner from the penalty spot to give England an unconvicing 2-1 victory. There was criticism of the the team but not the captain. ‘What would we do without him?’ asked the back page headline in the following day’s Daily Express. Sadly, the question would soon be raised for real after Robson dislocated his shoulder playing in an FA Cup tie at West Ham the following week. He would have to watch on as United fell out of the title race and there were serious concerns about whether he would be fit to play in the World Cup.

Bryan Robson’s World Cup ends prematurely.

As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the back pages became dominated by a key England player’s bid to be fit for the World Cup. Robson won his battle to be fit enough to be in the squad for the finals, but concerns still lingered about the shoulder. Sure enough, in the second game against Morocco he went off with his arm in a sling.

It was a sad sight, as England were left to try and stay in the tournament without their captain and star man. But ultimately they would prove they could survive without Robson, going on to reach the quarter-finals. At the age of 28, the World Cup in Mexico should have been the ideal time for Robson to shine on the world stage and repeat moments such as the goal against Israel. But his injury curse had struck again at the worst possible time for him.

Six of the Best – England Sports Personality Moments

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Ahead of BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday, we recall six occasions when English football figures featured prominently in the event – from the four who won the overall award, to the occasion when a potential winner failed to even make the top three and the night an emotional presentation was made to Sir Bobby Robson….

1966 – Moore lifts another trophy

Although the BBC Sportview Personality award was created in 1954, football did not produce a winner of the coveted prize until 1966. If ever there was a year that was nailed on for football to triumph this was it, given England’s glory in the summer. It was captain Bobby Moore who took the award thanks to votes from the viewers, but hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst had to contend with third place as New Zealand-born speedway rider Barry Briggs finished above him in what looks a quirky result nearly 50 years on. But Hurst would say years later it never crossed his mind that he might win the award.

Bobby Moore and Eusebio compare trophies.

Hurst and Moore were also part of the England team which won the team of the year accolade, while the World Cup’s influence was reflected in Portugese star Eusebio jointly winning the overseas personality award with cricket star Garfield Sobers. In an era of just three awards, it was as close as football was realistically going to come to a monopoly.

1986 – Lineker loses out

1986 had been Gary Lineker’s year. He had finished as World Cup golden boot winner, First Division top scorer in 1985-86 with Everton as well as PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year and he earned a big-money move to Barcelona. In a year of limited sporting glory for Britain, the stage seemed set for him to be the first footballing winner of Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) since Moore 20 years earlier. 

At the awards ceremony, Lineker saw Liverpool’s double winning player-manager Kenny Dalglish take third place and athlete Fatima Whitbread scoop second spot. Was Lineker about to be announced as the winner? No. Instead, Formula One world championship runner-up Nigel Mansell took the gong after a year when the title was snatched away from him at the death thanks to his rear tyre exploding in Adelaide. “It has come a complete surprise,” said Mansell after Henry Cooper announced him as winner. Lineker may have thought likewise.

Gary Lineker had plenty of trophies to his name in 1986 – but Sports Personality of the Year wasn’t one of them.

“I hadn’t actually written my acceptance speech but I did think I had a decent chance,” Lineker told The Telegraph in an interview in 2007. He reflected on whether he paid for now earning his living abroad, in an era when British viewers saw far less of Barcelona in action than they do now. “I’d sort of disappeared, hadn’t I?” he said when reflecting on missing out, while also believing football’s reduced popularity at the time did not help his cause. He would eventually clinch third place in 1991 and Lineker has gone on to enjoy a long presenting stint on the show – some consolation we guess for not winning the main honour.

1990 – Gascoigne’s glory

There are a lot of misconceptions about the award being about someone’s ‘personality’, meaning cyber warriors will bemoan winners for apparently lacking one and believing being able to stand up and crack gags should be a prerequisite for winning it. But 1990 was an instance when someone’s charisma helped play a part in them taking the award, coupled with their on-field contributions during the year.

There was no question Paul Gascoigne had enjoyed a successful tournament at Italia ’90, but as we saw with Lineker four years earlier having a good World Cup was no guarantee of a player being in serious contention for the SPOTY award. But Gazza’s tears in Turin, England coming so close to winning the competition and the subsequent rise of ‘Gazzamania’ had made him a star name and he was duly presented with the award by Bobby Charlton. 1990 had been Gascoigne’s year, although even then there were concerns raised about how well he’d be able to handle his new-found fame. “They say it’ll ruin your football,” said presenter Des Lynam as he interviewed Gascoigne – wearing a bow tie – on the night.

Paul Gascoigne triumphs in 1990.

1990 represented a year of change for Sports Review of the Year and not totally for the better. It began with Lynam and co-host Steve Rider having to pretend to be running late for the show, something Lynam hinted in his autobiography he was unimpressed with. There was also an attempt to review the year month-by-month rather than the familiar format of by each sport – this would thankfully last just for one year. Football didn’t have things all its own way, with England’s efforts at Italia ’90 failing to win them the team award – Scotland’s rugby union team took it after a Five Nations grand slam – and the overseas personality accolade went to Australian rugby league player Mal Meninga rather than any World Cup star such as Roger Milla. But as the decade progressed, football’s resurgence would continue.

1998 – Owen’s instant impact

In 1996, Alan Shearer finished as Euro ’96 top scorer but he failed to finish in the top three of SPOTY, which perhaps provided comfort to his future Match of the Day buddy Lineker. But then two years later football claimed its third winner and one of the youngest in the history of the award, as Michael Owen collected the accolade on the eve of his 19th birthday. His wondergoal against Argentina in the World Cup proved decisive in winning the public vote, even though the match ended in heartbreak for England.

Owen gave a short speech after Lynam announced him as the winner, in which his nerves were clearly – but understandably – on show. “It’s been a great early birthday present,” he said, as he proudly held the trophy. Owen’s award was to be the last act in Lynam’s years as a host – the party games element that he became associated with went with him (a table football contest was staged one year, Frank Bruno inevitably being one of the participants). And soon the longstanding Sports Review of the Year title for the show was no more, with now both the programme and main award known as Sports Personality of the Year as the emphasis increasingly became on the awards.

2001 – Beckham’s redemption

Where Owen was hailed a hero after the 1998 World Cup, Beckham was hounded for his sending-off against Argentina. But he put the episode behind him to finish second in SPOTY in 1999 after helping Manchester United win the treble. Two years later his stoppage time free-kick against Greece took England to the World Cup finals and won him the award. The pain of three years earlier was now banished to the past.  

Considering it wasn’t a World Cup finals year, football featured incredibly prominently in the awards – reflecting the level of popularity the sport was now enjoying. Owen was third in the main award, while Liverpool won team of the year. Sir Alex Ferguson received the lifetime achievement award and Sven-Göran Eriksson capped his first year in charge of England by winning the coach of the year accolade. Since then though, the only footballing winner of the main SPOTY award was Manchester United’s Welsh star Ryan Giggs in 2009.

For Beckham, his SPOTY successes weren’t over yet. He took second place in 2002 and then in 2010 he received the lifetime achieving award, aged just 35. He was far younger than other recipients of the award, including Sir Bobby Robson who had collected his honour in the most memorable of presentations three years earlier.

2007 – Not a dry eye in the house

Due to the format it now adopts, SPOTY is not without its critics today. But one of the enjoyable elements of the show in recent times has been the presentation of a lifetime achievement award. One of the most memorable occasions came in 2007, when former England manager Sir Bobby Robson made his way to the stage to receive the accolade. As he stood there, the entire audience stood and clapped and clapped for one of the longest standing ovations you are likely to see. Robson must have cast his mind back to occasions such as when England were held to a draw by Saudi Arabia in 1988 and he was portrayed as public enemy number one in the press. Now he was seeing just how loved he was by so many people – and not just within the world of football.

It was a lump in the throat moment for Robson and so many others. Presenter Lineker later admitted it was only the prolonged applause that enabled him to regain composure as the emotion of the moment got to him. Sir Alex Ferguson even put aside his long-running feud with the BBC to present the award. Robson spoke of his pride and told of how his father would have somersaulted his way from Durham to see him collect the honour in Birmingham had he still been alive. The following year, another English footballing Sir Bobby – Charlton – would follow him in winning the accolade and he also received a prolonged standing ovation.