1982 World Cup
England’s 1982 World Cup campaign has been recalled in the new book Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team by Gary Jordan. It takes us back 35 years to the days of Admiral kits, Ron Greenwood and an injury-hit Kevin Keegan…
There are two conflicting perspectives that exist concerning England’s 1982 World Cup campaign. The first is that it’s a tournament England could quite feasibly have won, the side starting superbly against France and cruelly being eliminated after not losing any games, conceding only one goal in five matches and having the misfortune to land a tougher second round draw by winning their first round group than if they had finished runners-up. But the second viewpoint is that England weren’t really that great as they struggled to qualify, only really excelled in one game during the tournament and displayed far more caution than they should have in the second group phase as they limped out when a great opportunity lay in front of them.
That lack of consensus is evident in Gary Jordan’s impressive new book Out of the Shadows, which provides a detailed look back at how Ron Greenwood’s men performed in Spain. After England won away to Wales in April 1982, the Welsh manager Mike England was damning about his namesakes and suggested they would be lucky to get out of the initial group stage; after England had exited in the second round group phase – effectively the quarter-finals – midfielder Ray Wilkins would state the side were “second-best of the 24” with only Brazil being better. “We all thought we were very unlucky,” writes Paul Mariner in the book’s foreword. If the opinions are balanced out, the reality of how good England were lay probably somewhere in between – about the position they ranked during the tournament.
But as Wilkins would state: “The nagging feeling remains we could have gone further.” For the decisive game against Spain, England knew they would have to score at least twice to top the second round group ahead of West Germany – with the Spaniards already out of their own party. The three-team group format was not without its faults, not least that a 2-1 England win would see their fate decided by the toss of a coin. But England wouldn’t get the goals required to even achieve that. Substitutes Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan missed key chances to break the deadlock after finally taking to the field following injury-plagued tournaments, as the game ended goalless. Jordan writes: “The dream was tantalisingly close, and yet in this game where they needed inspiration and goals, both were lacking.”
Keegan’s battle to be fit figures prominently, the captain and star name facing a race against time to shake off his back injury and finally appear at a World Cup finals. Imagine during next year’s World Cup if an injured Harry Kane drove 250 miles through the night in the hotel receptionist’s tiny car to then catch a flight so he could go and see a specialist in the land of England’s group rivals. The book details Keegan doing just that, increasingly disillusioned with the treatment given by England’s medics and knowing a specialist in Hamburg – where he had played for three years – could improve matters. He persuaded Greenwood to let him go ahead with his plan and put himself back in the World Cup reckoning, It’s a story which reminds us just how desperate Keegan was to play in that World Cup, not least because he was never realistically going to get another chance. He’d had a long wait to appear in one in the first place.
As the book’s title reminds us, this was England’s first World Cup finals for 12 years. It would be the equivalent of England now preparing for their first World Cup since 2006 after being absent in 2010 and 2014 (some might say that would have been preferable given how they performed in those two tournaments!). The proceeding years of struggle are recalled, especially the period after Greenwood took over as manager in 1977.
Come the finals England would come out of the blocks with three wins from as many games in the first group stage, then fail to score thereafter. It was the opposite of such fondly remembered England campaigns as the World Cups of 1966 and 1990 and Euro ’96, where they improved after labouring in their first game. It was also in contrast to Italy, who scraped through the first round round without winning before going on to be champions. As Jordan writes: “Italy started slowly and went though the tournament getting better with each game. England were the opposite, playing premium football at the start, only to run out goals at the end.”
Ron Greenwood was England’s manager during the 1982 World Cup.
And that failure to score in the second round looms large. Writing of Greenwood, who retired as planned after the finals, Jordan states: “Having come away from the tournament unbeaten was an achievement, but to have come so close to a semi-final place at the very least but fall short due to a freeze in front of goal was galling. He walked away from the job after five years of struggle, grief, joy and relief in the knowledge that he had brought back some pride within the team and for the fans who deserved better than to be stuck in no man’s land on the world stage.”
It’s a fair summary. England had at least got back to their familiar exit level of just missing out on a semi-final place, which was less than the ultimate target but far better than the previous decade had yielded. Yet a nagging feeling persists it could have been more and Keegan’s miss would symbolise the opportunity that was there in front of them. There’s no guarantee that England would have got the required second goal had he scored, but it remains a ‘what if?’ moment. So too does whether England would have thrived more if he and Brooking had been fit for the whole tournament, rather than less than half an hour of it. Mariner certainly suggests things would have been different, echoing the thoughts of Kenny Sansom.
There’s plenty more to enjoy and recall here. The painful struggle England faced to qualify and how the senior players talked Greenwood out of calling it a day in the summer of 1981; the defensive crisis England endured that continually left Greenwood without a settled back line ahead of the finals; the balls-up made during the World Cup draw in front of the watching millions around the world; the potential threat the Falklands War was posing to the side’s presence in the finals; Bryan Robson scoring after just 27 seconds against France; the dilemma Greenwood faced over selecting Ray Clemence or Peter Shilton until he eventually finally picked his number one; and the Admiral shirts England wore out in Spain, with the polyester design proving particularly uncomfortable in the win over France in the Bilbao heat.
If you are of a certain age, it’s likely the England World Cup song This Time will be in your head as you read it all. Countless books have been written concerning the England’s team’s history, but very little has been devoted to the Greenwood era and the 1982 World Cup campaign. This book puts that right and gives long overdue attention to England’s return to international football’s biggest tournament after 12 years in the wilderness. We are sure ‘Reverend Ron’ would have given it his blessing.
- Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team is out now and is written by Gary Jordan and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from sources including Amazon.
England’s final group game yesterday was, very unusually, low on headlines and almost totally devoid of the usual hype. A forgettable, if somewhat predictable, 0-0 dead rubber draw with Costa Rica was not even the main football talking point at the moment the game finished, as the antics of a certain Mr Suarez dominated ITV’s post-match debate. Throw in the evening drama of Greece beating the Ivory Coast with a last-gasp penalty to go through and Colombia’s glittering performance against Japan and it has to be said England were very much last on the global footballing agenda. Even their arrival back in the UK today after failing in Brazil has not received the usual publicity given to the team coming home.
This was the first time England have ever played a group game when already out of the tournament, but it wasn’t the only occasion when they failed to hog the British headlines on a day they played in the World Cup. For proof of that we can look back exactly 32 years to June 25th, 1982. A day when there were three matches all ending in 1-0 scorelines – a famous shock win for a British side; one of the most controversial matches in World Cup history; and by far the least memorable, England winning a dead rubber.
A strange tournament
The 1982 World Cup was a strange experience for England. They had made extremely heavy weather of qualifying for their first finals since 1970 and then their presence in the finals was thrown into doubt as the Falklands War broke out. They played in the first 24-team finals and – despite missing the last two World Cups – England were seeded in the draw (a controversial move at the time). They made an incredible start by scoring through Bryan Robson in under 30 seconds of their opening match against a highly-rated French side. But England’s 3-1 win was to be the highlight of their finals, as the goals dried up and Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking desperately fought to be fit to be even bit-part players in the World Cup (they had never played in the finals and would never get another chance). Throw in an odd second round format of four groups of three teams with just one progressing and England going out without losing, and it was a very different World Cup to normal for the English fan. And sadly, not perhaps the most memorable either.
Ron Greenwood’s men qualified from their first round group with a routine 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia in their second group game. Their third game against Kuwait would be played on Friday, June 25th in Bilbao. England had already won the group and Kuwait were out unless they could win by a cricket score, effectively making it meaningless. England didn’t change things too much (the decision to keep Peter Shilton in goal virtually ended any hope Ray Clemence had of playing a World Cup match) but Steve Foster, Phil Neal and Glenn Hoddle were brought into the starting line-up. It proved a fairly forgettable contest in the afternoon sunshine, settled in England’s favour thanks to a Trevor Francis first half goal as they enjoyed a rare 100% group record.
Highlights of England’s 1-0 win over Kuwait. Well done anyone who can recall anything other than the goal from this game.
An inevitable outcome
The real drama, or total lack of it, was taking place at the same time as England’s match. In another oddity of the World Cup, West Germany’s three group matches were all played at the same time as England’s despite the teams being in different groups (it was common until Italia ’90 for group games that had no bearing on each other to be played at the same time). This made it more strange that FIFA still did not consider it appropriate for the final round of games in each game to be played simultaneously to limit the threat of possible collusion, particularly after the controversy of Argentina’s decisive 6-0 win over Peru in 1978 being played in isolation. West Germany had famously lost 2-1 to Algeria in their opening match in Spain, with subsequent results meaning it would come down to the final game in the group against neighbours Austria in Gijon. Algeria had won 3-2 against Chile the previous day and they would go through if the Germans failed to win or if Austria were beaten by three goals or more.
The passage of time means some British fans seem to recall sitting through the 90 minutes of West Germany against Austria and being disgusted at what they saw. The reality is no one, apart from presumably the odd person in a TV studio, would have watched it in full unless they were abroad at the time. ITV was probably one of the few channels in the world to screen England’s meaningless match live and the BBC did not show an afternoon match. But viewers would soon discover just what had taken place. As is well known, the West Germans scored early and the game quickly fizzled out to a lifeless 1-0 result that suited both sides as suspicions grew around the world. Algeria were left particularly disgusted, but so too were many others. Anschluss was one memorable headline used to describe the events. Perhaps the most disappointing element was that Austria seemed to abandon any attempt to repeat their great victory over West Germany at the previous World Cup finals, which they had widely celebrated despite already being out of the tournament.
BBC viewers tuning in for the live Spain against Northern Ireland match that evening were to see the controversy already developing. “It has to be said the match had all the makings of a carve-up and that’s the way it turned out,” said a clearly unimpressed David Coleman when introducing brief footage of the match, which incidentally meant West Germany would be in the same second phase group as England (whose own highlights on the BBC were extremely brief, summing up the meaningless nature of their match).
BBC commentator Alan Parry summed it up when he said: “It is difficult to prove that 22 footballers weren’t trying, or that these two countries might have got together and decided that a 1-0 scoreline was in their best interest for both of them but that it certainly the way it looked and it is difficult to imagine that FIFA won’t do something to stamp out the memory of an afternoon that was an insult to the crowd and an embarrassment to football.”
FIFA would rightly change the format from 1986 to as we know it today with the final matches in each group played simultaneously, but that was four years too late for Algeria. Some faith quickly needed to be restored in the tournament and for British viewers that would come in the evening match. On a momentous night, Northern Ireland famously won 1-0 against hosts Spain thanks to a Gerry Armstrong goal. Billy Bingham’s side courageously held out despite being reduced to 10 men when Mal Donaghy was controversially sent off. Another goal for the Irish would have put Spain out, but there was no suggestion of any underhand arrangement here as Bingham’s men gave one of the most gutsy performances by a UK side at any World Cup. Spain had been poor in the group stage and things would not improve in the second round as they took just one point from their matches against West Germany and England, the latter falling at the same hurdle after two 0-0 draws.
By then how England did was back as the main concern for the British sporting media. But for one game in this World Cup they had been last on the agenda, a day when UK pride was reserved for Northern Ireland defying the odds and when all the controversy was in the one match containing no direct British interest. We’ve had to wait a long time for an England World Cup match to be so insignificant again. And it somehow doesn’t feel right when it happens, does it?