England scrape into the 1982 World Cup 

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Today marks the 35th anniversary of England facing a decisive World Cup qualifier at home to Hungary. It had been a fraught qualifying campaign, but all would end happily for Ron Greenwood’s men as they made it through to the 1982 tournament in Spain…

On September 9, 1981, all hopes seemed lost of England reaching the 1982 World Cup in Spain after suffering an infamous defeat in Norway. With favourites Hungary and Romania – plus outside bet Switzerland – having games in hand, it was out of England’s hands. Things got even worse two weeks later, when Romania and Hungary drew 0-0. This meant that if Hungary took maximum points from their games against Norway and Switzerland and Romania picked up a win and a draw from two meetings with the Swiss, then it would be game over for England before they played their last match at home to Hungary on November 18. All the nation could do was hope.

When Romania took the lead during the second half at home to Switzerland on October 10, it looked just about the end for England and manager Ron Greenwood. But then the Swiss unexpectedly fought back to win 2-1 and throw England a sizeable lifeline. Whatever happened in the other qualifiers, matters were in English hands again. Hungary duly won their next two qualifiers to book their place as one of the top two – and end Swiss hopes at the same time – while a draw in the return game between Switzerland and Romania meant the picture had now totally changed from a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, England needed only a point at home to Hungary to qualify. They had much to thank the Swiss for.

So too did the Football Association. England’s lifeline had seen ticket sales escalate from about 30,000 to a 92,000 midweek Wembley sell-out, meaning the match could be shown live on television (quite a rarity for home games at the time apart from when Scotland visited). The BBC would have the rights, Jimmy Hill hosting live from the stadium in the company of pundits Bobby Charlton, Lawrie McMenemy and Bob Wilson. England looked to finally make it through to a World Cup finals after their failures for the 1974 and 1978 tournaments. Having qualified automatically in 1966 (hosts) and 1970 (holders), it was some 20 years since the Three Lions had last successfully come through a World Cup qualifying group. Missing out again didn’t bear thinking about, particularly now the expanded finals contained 24 teams.

Memories of ’73 evoked

Comparisons were being drawn in the build-up to England’s often-recalled costly draw against Poland at Wembley eight years earlier, not least because Peter Shilton would again be in goal for England. But the situation was not quite the same or as worrying. This time around a draw would be sufficient for England and it was not a head-to-head fight, given Hungary were already through and guaranteed top spot. England had been the only side to beat the Hungarians so far, their excellent 3-1 win in Budapest in June 1981 being at odds with much of the rest of their stumbling qualifying campaign. Now it remained to be seen how determined Hungary were to help out their Eastern European rivals Romania – a side who could unbelievably qualify having scored just five goals in eight matches (two of them against England).

Certainly Hungary did not seem to be sending out the message that they were determined to win at Wembley. “It will be a very nice result for us if we get a draw and I’m sure that will suit England as well,” claimed manager Kalman Meszoly. But Greenwood wasn’t buying such thoughts. “It would be a very clever and far-reaching mind that sent a team out just to get a draw,” he said. “The object of football is to win and score goals. To imagine they would let us win is just not on.”

Do or die for England


And so the nation anxiously waited for this do or die match, willing to forget about the turbulent qualifying campaign if the team could get the result needed to go through. Needing a draw at home is not always to a side’s advantage, as they can seem caught between a natural instinct to attack the visitors and a fear of conceding a vital goal. The situation was effectively identical to when England played Croatia in the infamous Euro 2008 qualifier 26 years later – the visitors having already qualified and England needing just to draw – and like on that painful occasion England would be having to make defensive changes, with young West Ham United defender Alvin Martin stepping into the breach at centre back to replace Dave Watson.

The smart money was on a draw, given that’s what England needed, considering their poor recent form and in recognition of Hungary’s qualities. England had never lost a World Cup match at Wembley – they could ill-afford for it to be now when that record ended. Not that Wembley was quite the fortress it once was, with England having failed to win any of their five home games in 1981 so far. Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “I think England will go to Spain, though the nation may have to endure a night of torture and tension in a low scoring draw. What I am certain of is that every England player knows what the nation expects and is prepared to run himself to exhaustion to achieve it.”

It promised to be a tense night in the Wembley rain, but much of the anxiety eased as Paul Mariner scored after 14 minutes. Terry McDermott floated a free-kick into the area, with goalkeeper Ferenc Meszaros unable to claim in a crowded area. It fell to Trevor Brooking, who fired away from goal into the path of Paul Mariner. The Ipswich Town forward seemed to stumble as he shot, but he managed to divert the ball into the net. It was a slightly strange goal to sum up a surreal qualifying campaign, but also a vitally important one. Wembley erupted, several players mobbing Mariner while old campaigners Brooking and captain Kevin Keegan embraced each other a few yards away. They had waited their whole careers to play at a World Cup – now it was finally within sight.

Seeing the game out

England now effectively had a two-goal cushion in terms of what was needed to qualify, something that would only have been taken away if Hungary had scored with both shots they managed during the night as they offered little going forward. Shilton dealt competently with both efforts, as the shots poured in at the other end towards Meszaros – who had recently helped his Sporting Lisbon side knock Keegan and Southampton out of the UEFA Cup.

England could have won by a big score as they looked to wrap up the win in the second half, with players including Keegan, McDermott, Bryan Robson and substitute debutant Tony Morley all going close. Yet the real issue was England didn’t throw it all away and thankfully they were not troubled, the only disappointment being they didn’t add to their goal tally. Although the pessimists couldn’t relax until it was over, the match wasn’t quite the anxiety-fest that had been anticipated with the England defence holding firm. Keegan picked up a cut lip for his troubles, but he wasn’t complaining. Like several of his colleagues, he was set to finally grace a World Cup finals when it was probably going to be his last chance (butthings wouldn’t go to plan quite as much as he hoped – a story for another day).

The atmosphere at Wembley was frenzied, TV viewers able to hear the passionate singing as the referee prepared to blow the final whistle. Thousands roared as the 1-0 win was confirmed and England had finally made it. “England are back” chanted the crowd, while Greenwood was given a belated 60th birthday present – a week after reaching the landmark – as he could look forward to bowing out from management on the greatest stage.

The media reaction to England’s progression was positive, Alan Thomson writing in the Daily Express: “Don’t look for heroes this morning – just salute them all. Last night England played with a new-born pride and passion, with fury and with skill. But most of all they played their football from the heart and by doing so they restored to us our dignity.” Stuart Jones began his report in The Times by writing: “England have reached the World Cup finals in Spain. These nine words cannot begin to tell the tale of the last 14 torturous months, but in years to come they will be all that matters. For now the disappointment of Switzerland and despair of Norway are forgotten, pushed to the back shelf of the memory by the events that unfolded in the drizzle of Wembley last night.”

It had been a joyful end to a campaign that had been extremely stressful at times, England losing more World Cup qualifiers in this series than in total previously. Yet a combination of good fortune and making the most of a second opportunity that was unexpectedly handed their way meant Greenwood and his players – affectionately dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’ – could look ahead to a summer in Spain…

Six of the Best – England Wembley wins over Scotland

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Ahead of England playing Scotland on Friday, we look back at six memorable Wembley wins for England against their old rivals since the Second World War…

April 2nd, 1955, England 7-2 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Wembley first hosted an England-Scotland clash in 1924, with the most famous pre-war meeting producing a 5-1 win for Scotland in 1928. Although England gained revenge by winning 5-2 two years later, they would face a long wait to beat the Scots by at least four goals to properly banish the pain of 1928. But in April 1955 came their moment, Dennis Wilshaw breaking the deadlock in the opening minute as the floodgates opened.

By half-time it was 4-1, Nat Lofthouse netting twice and Don Revie also scoring for England with Lawrie Riley having netted for Scotland. In the second half Wilshaw scored a further three times past Fred Martin, with Tommy Docherty marginally reducing Scotland’s level of humiliation when he scored a late consolation to make it 7-2. It was the first time England had scored more than five against the Scots and their biggest winning margin over them since 1888. It had certainly been an England debut to remember for 18-year-old Duncan Edwards.

April 15th, 1961, England 9-3 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Poor old Frank Haffey. Whatever he did in his football career he would forever be associated with a spring afternoon in 1961 when he kept goal for Scotland against England at Wembley. Haffey infamously conceded nine goals and would become the butt of jokes such as “Heard the time? Nearly 10 past Haffey”. By half-time England led 3-0 through goals by Bobby Robson and Jimmy Greaves (2). The second half saw Dave Mackay and David Wilson briefly give the Scots hope, before Bryan Douglas and Bobby Smith put England 5-2 up. Pat Quinn again gave Scotland an outside chance of a high-scoring draw when he scored after 76 minutes to make it 5-3, but a flurry of goals in the closing stages Johnny Haynes (2), Greaves and Smith completed the 9-3 victory and a day to forget for Haffey, who was never capped again.

Jimmy Greaves scored a hat-trick for England against Scotland in 1961.

For Greaves it was a day when he enjoyed much happier fortunes than future TV buddy Ian St John, who was on the losing side. But Greaves would feel some sympathy for Haffey and the criticism he received, writing in his autobiography: “It’s true he had a poor game, but Frank wasn’t the only Scot who didn’t perform well that day. In truth I don’t think any international team of the time could have lived with England that day. Johnny Haynes was outstanding.”

May 10th, 1969, England 4-1 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Since that 1961 meeting Scotland had won twice and drawn on their other visit to Wembley, the most famous encounter being their 1967 triumph in a Euro ’68 qualifier as England suffered their first defeat as world champions. Although England’s progression thanks to a 1-1 draw in the return fixture had helped heal the wounds a bit, there was still a wish for the bad memories to be banished as the Scots arrived for a rare Saturday night fixture in May 1969.

Bobby Moore leads England out for their 4-1 win over Scotland in 1969.

It was two of the heroes of 1966 who led England to glory, with Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst putting them into a 2-0 lead before Colin Stein reduced the deficit shortly before half-time. But a penalty from Hurst made it 3-1 on the hour, with Peters sealing the 4-1 win shortly afterwards as they finished with a 100% record in the Home Internationals. It was the first of four successive Wembley wins for England over Scotland. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “At Wembley Scotland were not a bad team. But they were destroyed by bad habits and a lack of awareness that is now instinctive in England’s play.”

May 24th, 1975, England 5-1 Scotland (Home International Championship)

In the mid-1970s the bragging rights lay with the Scots. In 1974 they beat England at Hampden Park, won the Home International Championship and were the only British representatives at the World Cup in West Germany. England went into the Wembley clash in May 1975 looking to get one over on their old rivals and also finish the 1974-75 season unbeaten under Don Revie.

Gerry Francis and Kevin Beattie celebrate as England thrash Scotland 5-1.

Within seven minutes it looked odds-on that would be the case, Gerry Francis and Kevin Beattie both finding the net. Colin Bell made it 3-0 shortly before half-time, although Bruce Rioch quickly reduced the arrears from the spot. But the second half brought further goals from the impressive Francis and David Johnson, completing a resounding 5-1 win as Stewart Kennedy became the latest Scottish goalkeeper to endure a day to forget at Wembley.

A buoyant Frank McGhee wrote in the Daily Mirror: “Suddenly on Saturday it felt great to be English, to smile at strangers, to scoff at Scotsmen, to walk 10-feet tall. For a few hours at least a lot of us were able to forget inflation, strikes, the bill for the rates, the Common Market and the long trudge home.” The match marked the end of captain Alan Ball’s England career after 72 caps. Scotland would gain revenge by beating England 2-1 at Hampden Park 12 months later, and again when they visited Wembley in 1977.

June 15th, 1996, Scotland 0-2 England (Euro ’96 group stage)

The group stage draw for Euro ’96 threw up a corker, with England and Scotland paired in the same group. Seven years had passed since the annual meetings were scrapped in 1989 along with the Rous Cup, but now the sides would meet in a crucial fixture midway through the group stage. Technically the Scots were the home side, but that was in name only as England looked to triumph at Wembley – something they had done on the last three occasions they had hosted the fixture in 1983, 1986 and 1988.

Paul Gascoigne’s unforgettable goal for England against Scotland.

But a frustrating draw with Switzerland in the tournament opener meant the pressure was on England to win, something they seldom looked like doing during a goalless first half. But the introduction of Jamie Redknapp gave England a new impetus, with Alan Shearer’s excellent header breaking the deadlock. As is well remembered, David Seaman saved a Gary McAllister penalty (with Uri Geller claiming the credit!) moments before Paul Gascoigne scored an unforgettable goal to wrap up victory. England’s Euro ’96 campaign was up and running, while Scotland agonisingly fell one goal short of joining them in the knockout rounds.

August 14th, 2013, 3-2 (Friendly)

In the 17 years after the Euro ’96 clash, Scotland only visited Wembley again in November 1999 for the second leg of their Euro 2000 play-off. The Scots had won the battle but lost the war, England progressing despite losing on the night. That had marked the last meeting at the old stadium and the sides did not meet again until 2013. The FA was celebrating its 150th birthday and the Scotland clash was finally resurrected in August. It may only officially have been a friendly at the start of the new season, but the revival of the fixture was met with an enjoyable encounter that whetted the appetite for further meetings.

Rickie Lambert scores England’s winner against Scotland in 2013.

Scotland twice went ahead through James Morrison and Kenny Miller, England pegging them back through Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck. And then came the Roy of the Rovers finale, 31-year-old Rickie Lambert scoring England’s winner moments after coming on for his international debut as they triumphed 3-2. It may not necessarily have been the highest quality meeting of the sides, nor England’s best performance, but this entertaining match had done the long history of England v Scotland proud and proved far more memorable than the usual August friendlies against foreign opposition. 

Like two old acquaintances meeting up for the first time in years, there was a sense of “let’s not leave it so long next time”. And indeed they didn’t, a return fixture being played in Glasgow the following year before the luck of the World Cup qualifying draw paired the teams together again. More memories are there to be made on Friday night…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Back at Wembley

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

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

Scotland celebrate a famous win over England.

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

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

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

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

Regaining the advantage

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

England meet Wales in October 1967.

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

The decider against Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year to remember

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

The trophies were piling up for Gary Lineker in 1986.

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

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

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

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

Lineker’s moment of magic

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

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

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

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

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

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


Six of the Best – England caretaker managers

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With interim boss Gareth Southgate about to manage England for the first time against Malta, we look back at the six previous occasions the side was led by temporary managers…

Joe Mercer


Of the men to lead England on a caretaker basis without getting the job permanently, Joe Mercer would easily have the busiest reign – his seven-game run also proving six matches longer than Sam Allardyce’s stint as ‘permanent’ manager! Coventry City general manager Mercer took the England job at a difficult time, the team having failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup and with Sir Alf Ramsey having been sacked. ‘Genial Joe’ was left to work with the players selected for the end of season matches by Ramsey, but helped stamp his own identity on the team as he sought for England to regain the smile that had been lost with their recent decline.

Keith Weller gives Joe Mercer’s England victory over Northern Ireland in 1974.

Taking the job shortly before his 60th birthday, Mercer won his first two games in May 1974 against Wales and Northern Ireland before losing to Scotland in a decisive Home International Championship match. That was the first of five successive matches Mercer would face against sides who, unlike England, would be going to the World Cup. There was a lot of national pride at stake, the nation wanting to believe the qualification failure was a mere fluke. A ‘friendly’ at home to Argentina took place with some scars having not totally healed from their infamous World Cup quarter-final in 1966. The Argentine referee awarded the visitors a late penalty that was converted as the fiery contest ended 2-2.

England then headed to Europe for a three-match tour, which yielded a 1-1 draw with East Germany, a 1-0 win over Bulgaria and a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia. Mercer proved popular with the players and achieved good results, but the Football Association was setting its sight on someone else for the job full-time. When England next took to the field in October, Don Revie was in charge.

Ron Greenwood

Following Revie’s sudden departure to the United Arab Emirates in the summer of 1977, the FA offered Ron Greenwood the chance to step into the breach for three games. Greenwood had moved upstairs at West Ham United but was happy to get his tracksuit back on and lead the national team. He quickly showed he was willing to do his own thing when he selected six Liverpool players for a goalless friendly against Switzerland, before the next game produced a 2-0 win away to Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier. England’s hopes of qualifying were very slim but a 2-0 win over Italy in their final game – while proving insufficient – gave cause for optimism for the future. Despite a public clamour for Brian Clough to get the job full-time, Greenwood was given the nod – remaining in the role until 1982.

Howard Wilkinson

Glenn Hoddle’s dismissal as England boss in February 1999 left England needing to find a manager for the friendly against world champions France at Wembley a week later. Howard Wilkinson, who was the FA’s technical director and had led Leeds United to the First Division title in 1992, was the man placed in temporary charge. He suffered a 2-0 defeat to the French and within days Kevin Keegan had replaced him.

In October 2000, Keegan suddenly quit after England lost 1-0 to Germany in the last match at the old Wembley. The timing was far from ideal, given the side faced a World Cup qualifier in Finland just four days later. Wilkinson was again asked to lead the side, with England labouring to a 0-0 draw – although they would believe Ray Parlour’s effort crossed the line. It was the last time Wilkinson managed the national side, although he did have a spell in charge of the under-21s.

Kevin Keegan


Kevin Keegan makes a winning start with England thanks to Paul Scholes.

During the caretaker reigns of both Mercer and Greenwood, Kevin Keegan had been a player. In February 1999 he accepted the England manager’s position for a four-game period, combining the caretaker role with managing Fulham full-time. Keegan got a fine response from the players in his first game in March, Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick against Poland as England won 3-1 in a vital Euro 2000 qualifier. Keegan got on with leading Fulham to promotion from the Second Division, but by the time he next managed England for a 1-1 friendly draw away to Hungary in late April there was increasing speculation he could stay beyond the intended four games with his country. Sure enough, within days it was announced he was leaving Fulham. He remained in charge of England until October 2000, struggling to recapture the euphoria of the Poland game.

Peter Taylor


Peter Taylor handed David Beckham the England captaincy.

The year 2000 was a good one for former England player Peter Taylor. He led Gillingham to victory in the Second Division play-off final, then moved to Leicester City and briefly took them to the top of the Premier League early in the 2000-01 season. And in November he was given the chance to manage England for their friendly away to Italy, assisted by Steve McClaren. By then Sven-Goran Eriksson had been confirmed as new permanent manager but he was still under contract with Lazio, so Taylor was in charge for this match. The former England under-21s manager fielded a largely youthful side, with his most significant move being to hand David Beckham the captaincy for the first time. England lost 1-0 and, with Eriksson leaving Lazio earlier than expected in January 2001, it was to be the only time Taylor managed his country at full level.

Stuart Pearce

Gareth Southgate joins several of his interim predecessors in having also led the England under-21s. One of them, Southgate’s former England team-mate Stuart Pearce, was given his one chance to manage the England senior team against the Netherlands in February 2012 for a Wembley friendly following Fabio Capello’s departure. Pearce had been part of the senior coaching set-up under Capello and seemed a suitable figure to step into the breach. Unfortunately England suffered a 3-2 defeat and Roy Hodgson would be in permanent charge by the time of the next match three months later. Pearce was to lead Team GB during London 2012’s men’s football competition, but the following year he lost his role with England under-21s following a poor European Championship.

The Great Uncapped – Billy Bonds

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The recent appointment of Sam Allardyce as England manager has led to speculation that Mark Noble will win his first international cap, having played under Allardyce at West Ham United. But should the call never come then Noble can probably take some comfort in not being the first Hammer to be thwarted in his international ambitions. Club legend Billy Bonds would come closer than most, but ultimately take his place in many people’s England uncapped XI…

There are a lot of names put forward whenever the subjects of England’s most notable uncapped players comes up, but one you can guarantee will be mentioned is Billy Bonds. The man who turned 70 last week played 758 Football League matches in a 24-year professional career with Charlton Athletic and, mostly, West Ham United. While giving extraordinarily long service to the latter he captained them to two FA Cup triumphs and he was called up to the England squad. But Bonds would just fall short, never pulling on an England shirt after under-23s level.

Bonds had a fairly fearless reputation on the field but off it he was seen as a quiet man. His friend Trevor Brooking, who played alongside him at West Ham for many years, believes this probably helped cost Bonds his England chance. “Had he pushed himself to the forefront more I believe he would have played for England. He’s one of the best players of my generation never to have won an England cap,” wrote Brooking in his autobiography.

Harry Redknapp, who played and worked with Bonds at West Ham before the pair fell out when he replaced him as manager in 1994, also hailed Bonds’ playing ability. “Billy Bonds was the most fantastic player,” he wrote in his autobiography. “What would West Ham United, or any other club for that matter, give to have him now? He could play central midfield, centre-back, full-back; he was fearless in the tackle, he could run all day.” As we will see though, not everyone thought quite so highly of Bonds.

Greenwood calls up Bonds

Bonds would twice look set to be capped, only for the dream to cruelly be dashed. He had played for England twice at under-23 level, but he was 31 when his first real chink of light emerged. His old West Ham boss Ron Greenwood was appointed caretaker manager in 1977 and in November Bonds was called into the full squad for the final World Cup qualifier at home to Italy. All looked to be going well for Bonds, who had missed much of the season through injury but was now back in action.

The call-up for Bonds was not met with universal approval, Norman Fox in The Times rather dismissively describing him as “a player who probably has many equals who would not be considered”. But Greenwood was keen to play down any suggestions he was handing out favours to a player who had served him well previously, insisting Bonds had been picked after recommendations from others. The fact he was versatile and could operate in midfield or defence helped Bonds’ cause.

The player found support from Daily Mirror sports writer Frank McGhee, a man who tended to shoot from the hip. “Ron Greenwood has done something daft, delightful and possibly inspired in what could be his final act as England manager,” he wrote. “He has put into his squad to play against, and probably lose to, Italy at Wembley next week, a 31-year-old unranked but very effective person whom he will remember from his West Ham days – a guy called Billy Bonds. You wouldn’t rate Bonds a particularly good player, but then neither are many of the other 22 players Greenwood named yesterday. England just don’t happen to have many good players. What Bonds happens to have is something special. It is called character and I have always been convinced that this quality is the surest way of bridging the considerable gap between club and international football.”

Bonds was left watching on as England beat Italy.

And then came a club match against West Bromwich Albion just four days before the Italy clash. Greenwood would unfortunately see Bonds find the going tough in a 3-3 draw. David Miller wrote in the Daily Express: “The message to Ron Greenwood as he sat watching a 3-3 draw at Upton Park was crystal clear: his call to Billy Bonds comes several years too late for the rugged warhorse.” On the eve of the game the team was announced, with Bonds only on the bench. Greenwood insisted Bonds had only been selected for the squad as defensive cover, with his first-choice selections given the green light to play.

Bonds watched on as England beat Italy 2-0, a result that proved uplifting but insufficient for the team to reach the World Cup finals. Greenwood was given the job permanently but Bonds would stay uncapped as he moved towards his mid-30s. West Ham’s relegation in 1978 did not help his cause either. But then came the 1980-81 season, an Indian summer for Bonds. A year on from lifting the FA Cup for the second time, Bonds captained West Ham to the League Cup final against Liverpool, played in Europe and helped his side to a dominant Second Division title. And in May 1981 another call came from Greenwood.

The cap that almost was

England had a decimated squad for the friendly against Brazil and the Home Internationals that would follow, with their defensive options particularly limited. Greenwood looked towards his former club, believing Bonds and promising youngster Alvin Martin could fill the void. Just a few months short of his 35th birthday, Bonds was in line to become one of England’s oldest debutants. “I thought my chance had passed by years ago,” admitted Bonds, who added that he would be particularly pleased for his father if he was capped at last. It was reported Charlton stood to scoop a belated £2,500 bonus if Bonds played, owing to a clause in the deal when he left them in 1967.

All that was left was one end-of-season match for West Ham on a Friday night at Sheffield Wednesday, with the title already long wrapped up. Just 90 more minutes of club football to get through and then he could at last represent his country at full level. West Ham won, but Bonds injured his ribs after a clash with goalkeeper Phil Parkes. He played on and was adamant that he, along with Martin who had also picked up a knock, would be fit for the Brazil match. “I’m 99% sure we will be ok for the internationals. But we will know for sure in the morning,” Bonds said, having helped his side finish 13 points clear at the top (a huge amount under two points for a win).

Was he trying to put a brave face on it or did his injury seem less severe than the reality? Because Bonds would duly be ruled out of representing his country, as Martin (the only recognised central defender in the side) duly made his debut during a 1-0 defeat to Brazil. For Bonds there was a feeling his last realistic chance had passed. And so it proved. No caps would come his way.

But Bonds continued to serve West Ham well, playing for them beyond his 40th birthday in the top-flight until he finally called it a day in 1988 (later becoming manager). That year also saw him appointed an MBE and collect the PFA Merit Award in recognition of his contribution to the sport. Bonds may not have won any full England caps, but he had enjoyed a career to be proud of.

England’s qualifying campaigns: 1978 World Cup – Failure becomes a habit

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England’s qualifying campaign is under way for the 2018 World Cup. Forty years ago they were seeking to reach the 1978 finals in Argentina, but they would once more miss out on making it to a major tournament…

England had begun the 1970s with serious aspirations to retain the World Cup in Mexico. But a quarter-final loss to West Germany started a decade to forget, including failing to progress from the qualifying group for the 1974 World Cup and 1976 European Championship. Now they would try to make it to the 1978 World Cup, but few Englishmen were making plans to spend that summer in Argentina. England’s recent decline meant they were not a seeded nation in qualifying and they would have the misfortune to be paired with Italy. With only one nation going through, a previous World Cup winner would definitely be missing out.

The Italians would be favourites, but they too had endured a lean recent period. They had gone out at the group stage of the 1974 World Cup and then failed to make it to the 1976 Euros – albeit after being placed in the mother of all hard qualifying groups including the Netherlands and Poland (second and third respectively at the 1974 World Cup). Italy had been surprisingly held to a draw by Finland, who would be in England and Italy’s qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup along with European football’s whipping boy of Luxembourg. It looked a clear two-horse race between England and Italy.

Flying start

At the end of the 1975-76 season England gave themselves a psychological boost for the qualifying campaign when they beat Italy 3-2 in the US Bicentennial Cup. It put them in good heart for the opening qualifier in June 1976 away to Finland. It was an unusually early start to an England qualifying series and they laid down a marker by winning 4-1, with Kevin Keegan scoring twice. It was just the sort of convincing result manager Don Revie needed to get the nation believing that England would get to Argentina.

England enjoy a winning start in Finland.

As the scorching summer of 1976 finally started to draw to a close, England drew 1-1 with the Republic of Ireland in a September friendly before Finland visited Wembley for the next qualifier in October. If the away win had generated belief, then this match would see pessimism resurface as fans voiced their displeasure over England’s display.

England had started brightly and quickly forged ahead through Dennis Tueart, but they failed to make the most of their early dominance. Kalle Nieminen drew the Finns level early in the second half, and though Joe Royle quickly regained England the lead there would be no further scoring. The 2-1 victory was seen as a missed opportunity in terms of the goal difference and confidence, with Revie unimpressed and sympathising with supporters. “I want to apologise to them on behalf of myself and the team… We lost our rhythm, our passing, our thinking, our positional sense – in fact, everything.”

Roberto Bettega ensures England are beaten by Italy.

The key date in the group was November 17, 1976, as England made the daunting trip to Rome for a huge qualifier. Revie contentiously made a series of changes from the previous game, including recalling Emlyn Hughes after 18 months in the wilderness. England seemed to lack the belief they could go and win. The Italians were a good side with a heavy Juventus influence, seeming far more settled than England. It appeared a draw at best would be England’s reward. Trevor Brooking recalled in his autobiography that he was the only attacking midfielder selected. “It was a team designed to contain the Italians,” he wrote, adding that Revie had watched the Italians seven times in preparation. 

They held out for 36 minutes before Giancarlo Antognoni’s free-kick was deflected in off Keegan. Revie’s side stayed in with a glimmer of hope until 13 minutes from time, Roberto Bettega’s diving header sealing a deserved 2-0 win for the hosts. “They murdered us 2-0,” recalled Hughes 20 years later. It left the Italians as clear favourites to qualify, England knowing they would have to win the return 12 months later to stand any chance. But Bettega’s goal would symbolise England’s failure. “We knew then that we had almost certainly blown our chances of qualifying for Argentina,” admitted Brooking.

England’s 5-0 win over Luxembourg failed to silence the critics.

England had looked second best in Rome and they would again be well-beaten when an excellent Dutch side visited Wembley for a friendly in February 1977 and won 2-0. The inquests were continuing into what had gone wrong with English football, but they stayed in with a shout of making the finals with a 5-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley. Mick Channon scored twice on a night when John Gidman won his only England cap and Paul Mariner came off the bench for his international debut. Even after a big win, the criticism poured in with the result put into context by the opposition’s limitations. Norman Fox wrote in The Times: “It was another unsatisfactory performance, too stunted by unimaginative, mundane football that persistently threatens to stop them qualifying for the final tournament in Argentina next year.”

The end for Revie

Liverpool’s European Cup victory at the end of the season began a period of domination for English clubs in the competition, but the national team remained away from international football’s top table. The gloom for Revie continued during the Home International Championship, England losing at home to both Wales and Scotland. The side now headed off to South America for their end-of-season tour. If it was intended as preparation for the following year’s World Cup finals in Argentina, then it was increasingly looking a futile exercise. While there, Italy won 3-0 away to Finland – leaving them as firm favourites to qualify. England returned home unbeaten after draws with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay – the middle match having been particularly brutal with Trevor Cherry sent-off and losing two of his front teeth after being punched.

The results on tour seemingly represented an improvement for Revie (pictured below), but the manager was already looking towards his next challenge. The following month The Daily Mail ran an exclusive story that he was quitting the England job, with it coming to light he was taking up a role in the United Arab Emirates that offered high earnings if not necessarily top class football.

The Football Association hierarchy were infuriated to learn of Revie’s defection via the media before they received his resignation latter. It was a messy divorce that sadly left the former Leeds United boss ostracised from the English game. He would maintain though that he jumped before he was pushed, fearing the sack was inevitable if England did not reach the World Cup. “Nearly everyone wanted me out. So I’m giving them what they want,” was Revie’s parting shot. 

With Revie gone, the FA was now left to find a successor. Amid the public clamour for Brian Clough, a less outspoken figure was selected as 55-year-old Ron Greenwood became caretaker manager. Greenwood had moved upstairs at West Ham United but he had admirers at the FA who saw ‘Reverend Ron’ as the right man to manage England in the circumstances – appreciating his coaching methods and diplomacy. He had his fans among the players too, Brooking – who knew him well from West Ham – describing him as “the most imaginative and thoughtful coach I worked with in my career”.

Greenwood made a bold statement in his first friendly against Switzerland when he named six Liverpool players in the side (plus Kevin Keegan who had just left the European champions for a new challenge with SV Hamburg). The decision to select Ian Callaghan was most intriguing, 11 years having elapsed since his last cap against France during the 1966 World Cup. Unfortunately the match saw England continue their poor Wembley run, being held to a 0-0 draw.

Hopes fade away

If England’s chances of qualifying looked bleak going into October, then they would soon slip towards non-existent. Away to Luxembourg, England needed a big victory to stay in with a realistic chance and they could only win 2-0 (with a section of their followers making headlines for the wrong reasons). “Our finishing and composure was not good,” admitted Greenwood. Italy then thrashed Finland 6-1 and England now needed a miracle to qualify. The Italians had the same points as England but a goal difference four better and a game in hand. England would have to beat Italy convincingly and then somehow hope Luxembourg could keep the score down away to the Italians. It was a forlorn hope.

To make things genuinely difficult for the Italians, England would probably have to beat them by at least five goals – an unlikely scenario that would leave the Azzurri needing to beat Luxembourg by seven. But even then Italy would still be capable of getting the required score, so limited were Luxembourg. Whatever England did, there would be a feeling it wasn’t going to be enough. Most had accepted it was already over and just wanted to see a win on the night to restore pride. Greenwood sought to get maximum use out of wingers, with debutants Peter Barnes and Steve Coppell both coming into the side and giving cause for optimism. Forward Bob Latchford was also handed his first cap.

England’s 2-0 win over Italy proved too little, too late.

They duly got it. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scored as England atoned for their 2-0 defeat a year earlier by beating Italy by the same scoreline. Although the result meant Italy needed only a win of any scoreline against Luxembourg to qualify, there was a sense of satisfaction around England about the performance. Fox wrote that England supporters saw “something for the future beyond present disappointments”, while conceding the side had “less than a slim chance” of making it to Argentina. 

But the evening had helped Greenwood’s chances of becoming manager full-time. On December 3 only the most optimistic of Englishmen clung to the tiniest hope that whipping boys Luxembourg could somehow hold out against the Italians to take the Three Lions through to Argentina. Within 11 minutes they were 2-0 down, Italy eventually easing home to a 3-0 win as they took their regular spot in the finals.

For England it was disappointing, but less devastating than their other failures to make the World Cups of 1974 and 1994. There had been no game as painfully dramatic as the infamous draw with Poland in October 1973, nor one as controversial as the costly defeat against the Netherlands in October 1993. They had matched the Italians head-to-head, won five games out of six and fallen just three goals short of making it. But the failure to win the group surprised few, many younger fans having yet to see them qualify for a major finals. 

England had paid for losing away to Italy and a lack of goals in the victories at home to Finland and away to Luxembourg. In some respects they were unlucky, and they were certainly no less deserving of qualifying than when they scraped through four years later (after the competition had expanded to 24 teams). But they had ultimately fallen short and looked second best when it really mattered in Rome, always unsuccessfully playing catch-up after that.

The one consolation for England was they once more only missed out to a side who made an impact at the finals. Italy would finish fourth in Argentina, beating the hosts and eventual winners along the way. By then Greenwood was firmly installed as permanent England manager, as he sought to finally lead the country to a major tournament.