1982 World Cup

Book Review – Out of the Shadows

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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 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…

England Qualifying Campaigns: 1982 World Cup – Thank You Switzerland

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With England’s new season about to begin with matches against Norway and Switzerland, it seems the right time to recall when both sides featured in England’s qualifying group for the 1982 World Cup. In the second blog in the series recalling past England qualifying campaigns for major tournaments, we look back what surely must rank as their strangest ever. More than 30 years on, it still remains something of a mystery how they got through it to reach the finals in Spain – but they did…

To say this was an unusual qualifying campaign would be an understatement. England advanced despite losing three matches out of eight; they lost to all the bottom three sides in the group but did the double over the otherwise unbeatable group winners; they went from being all but out to odds on to go through without kicking a ball in the process; and had they lost their final game then Romania would have gone through with just two wins and five goals from eight matches. Throw in one of the most iconic commentary lines ever and some odd fixture scheduling and you’ve got one crazy football cocktail all told.

It had been a long wait for England to appear in the World Cup finals. Their last appearance was in 1970 and the last time they had come through a qualifying group to get there was 1962 (they qualified automatically as hosts in 1966 and holders in 1970). But now it seemed very likely they would finally get there, from a group containing Hungary, Romania, Switzerland and Norway.

An end to the exile?
There were three reasons why England were firm favourites to end their long exile from the World Cup finals. The first was the World Cup was expanding from 16 to 24 teams, meaning they would go through if they finished second (for all their recent failings, they had never finished outside the top two in a qualifying group). Secondly, to achieve that top two spot seemed all the more likely once the qualification draw was made in October 1979. Although only Norway of the five teams in the group had not appeared at a World Cup finals since 1966, there seemed little to fear with only Hungary having a recent track record to suggest they could top the group at England’s expense. It might not look a particularly easy group by modern standards, but in an era before the likes of San Marino joined the party sides such as Norway were rated among the worst in Europe. Switzerland’s reputation was not particularly strong either.

“I would dearly love to take England to the World Cup finals. We have a good draw and must have a good chance of qualifying. But remember, there are no easy internationals these days,” England manager Ron Greenwood after the World Cup qualifying draw was made.

The third, and perhaps most important reason, was England at last seemed to have turned the corner after a miserable decade that had brought continual failures to qualify for major tournaments. Things finally went in their favour in the qualifying campaign for the 1980 European Championship, easily topping the group to end their exile from major finals. Under Ron Greenwood, a new confidence and blend of players was developing. There were experienced players like Peter Shilton (continuing to alternate with the similarly established Ray Clemence), Phil Thompson, Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan, while promising players including Glenn Hoddle and Kenny Sansom had broken into the international fray the previous year.

Greenwood’s first tournament with England was Euro ’80. Like ‘Reverend Ron’s’ reign as a whole it was a bit of a curate’s egg as England neither did particularly well or badly. They went out at the group stage (effectively the quarter-finals) with a win, draw and defeat, in a tournament overshadowed by disturbing trouble on the terraces from their followers in their opening match against Belgium. It was sadly to be an all too familiar tale when England went overseas in the 1980s.

Start as you mean to go on, but won’t do…
England got their campaign under way in a convincing style at odds with the rest of the group, beating Norway 4-0 at Wembley in September 1980. It wasn’t a vintage display, but it would be the biggest margin of victory in the whole group against the lowest rated side in it. England gave Eric Gates and Graham Rix their debuts while Bryan Robson (with just two previous caps to his name) was also in the starting line-up and properly embarked on his long international career in the heart of the midfield. He would be the only player to start all qualifying matches and moved to Manchester United from West Bromwich Albion for a record £1.5 million before the qualifying campaign ended.

England appear to lay down a marker in their opening World Cup qualifying match against Norway.

A month later came the first ringing of alarm bells, as England went down 2-1 in Romania. But the qualifying games were coming thick and fast and they saw 1980 out with a 2-1 home win over Switzerland in November, Greenwood’s side making much harder work of the win than they should have after being 2-0 up. It was not considered an impressive win, with the Swiss having already lost at home to Norway. England now had a four month break until their next game, as domestic club commitments led to them not taking part in the Gold Cup tournament in Uruguay at Christmas to mark the 50th anniversary of the World Cup. They were the only past winner to miss the competition.

From bad, to worse, to despair
1981 was about as grim a year as England have ever had. They played nine matches (six of them at Wembley) and won just twice. They failed to score in four successive matches and went six games without a win, while they would also suffer one of their most embarrassing defeats that appeared to have left their World Cup qualification hopes in tatters. With the conduct of England followers attracting even more negative headlines, it really wasn’t a proud year. And yet it would all end in happiness, somehow.

A 2-1 friendly home defeat to Spain in March set the trend, being memorable only for a cracking Glenn Hoddle goal. That would be the last goal England fans could enjoy for a while. A month later Romania came to Wembley in the next qualifier and ground out a 0-0 draw, as the sense of uncertainty over England’s World Cup finals spot grew. In May Brazil triumphed 1-0 in a Wembley friendly, on a night when Alvin Martin and Peter Withe won their first caps. The Home International Championship was effectively null and void due to the political situation in Northern Ireland leading to England’s trip there being called off, but they played their remaining two games. Wales drew 0-0 at Wembley, three days before Scotland claimed a 1-0 win there. The pressure was mounting on Greenwood, who had presided over England’s worst run for more than 100 years.

It was about to get worse. The month ended with England heading to Switzerland, a night that dragged the nation’s football reputation further into the gutter. More trouble on the terraces was sickening to see and made front page headlines, while the back pages were full of England’s 2-1 loss in Basel. A Terry McDermott goal to end the goal drought was scant consolation. England had played five games in the group, won two and lost two. It was looking ominous and Greenwood had seen enough, privately deciding the time was right to leave.

Restoring hope and changing Ron’s mind
His planned departure would be on hold for a week, by which time things could be even worse. During fixture negotiations England had either been bullied into playing two away qualifiers on successive Saturdays at the end of a long, domestic season (in which Ipswich Town and Liverpool had gone all the way to European glory and Aston Villa barely changed their team all campaign in winning the First Division) or someone believed it was a good option in place of the unusual end of season tour. They now faced the most daunting game of the qualifying series, away to qualification favourites Hungary. Almost 70,000 were present in Budapest to see one of England’s best performances under Greenwood as they achieved a memorable 3-1 victory, with Trevor Brooking scoring twice and Kevin Keegan netting the other from the penalty spot. Greenwood announced his resignation to the players on the flight home, but was talked out of it. He would be sticking around until the conclusion of a World Cup qualifying programme that would go to the wire.

A priceless win for England in Hungary.

One problem with this qualifying process compared to today was the total lack of an international calendar, meaning matches were played in isolation on all sorts of odd dates. Nations were also pretty much free to decide if they wanted to play several matches close together, creating a situation in this group where Hungary were continually left with numerous matches in hand as they had an intensive spell of games near the end of the group. As a result it made it hard to call exactly how the group was panning out. But England had just seven points from six games, while the Romanians had six from five and Hungary had five from four. A 1-1 draw between Norway and Switzerland later in the month meant the Scandinavians had three points from five games and were all but out, while the Swiss had four from five.

Taking a hell of a beating
September 9th, 1981. A date that resonates as a true low point for English football. After the high of Hungary came the utter low of the away game in Norway. A win for England was expected and would put them on course for a place in the finals. They had dished out thrashings to Norway in the past and Scandinavian sides were not really taken seriously (apart from Sweden), a view that would change considerably in the early 1980s. Bryan Robson scored his first England goal to give them the lead, but by half-time they trailed 2-1. If there was a game that made Greenwood’s mind up about who should be his first choice goalkeeper for the following summer’s World Cup, it was probably this as Clemence could take a fair chunk of the blame for Norway’s goals (along with Terry McDermott who helped gift Norway their winner). England never recovered, running out of ideas as Norway held out for a famous win.

John Bond tries to keep morale up as the nation plunges into despair after losing to Norway.

The contrast in moods between the two nations was stark. Brian Moore conveyed the sense of desolation on ITV, while Norwegian television would enjoy post-match lines from Bjørge Lillelien that have gone down in folklore. England had indeed taken a ‘hell of a beating’, although whether Margaret Thatcher could hear him was another matter! But it really looked all over for England. They had to hope for results to somehow go their way. In the ITV studio, Manchester City manager John Bond seemed to briefly switch from critical pundit to England cheerleader as he tried to convince presenter Jim Rosenthal that they still had a chance of making the finals. It seemed a forlorn hope, rational thinking going out of the window. There would be 10 weeks until they concluded their qualifying programme against Hungary, in which time five other matches would be played. By then their hopes could already be over.

England were now left to just watch and hope. On September 23th, it got worse as Romania and Hungary drew 0-0. A win for either would have been bearable but this was the worst scenario. Romania were level on points with England with a game in hand, while Hungary were one point behind with two games to spare. To stand a chance Greenwood’s men needed either Romania to slip up in their double-header against Switzerland, or Hungary to drop points in home games against Switzerland and Norway.

Thank you Switzerland
The most joyous day for England was really October 10th, the day the door to the finals opened for them again. Switzerland went to Romania and fell behind in the second half. Incredibly they turned it round to win 2-1 and keep alive their own slim hopes, but more importantly from an English perspective they had thrown the Three Lions a lifeline. There was still work to do, but a collective sigh of relief was blown. Whatever now happened, they would be through by beating Hungary.

The Hungarians then proceeded to comfortably beat Switzerland and Norway, wrapping up their qualification before the final match at Wembley. On November 11, Switzerland and Romania drew 0-0. It was a result that suited England fine. Romania were only one point ahead of them and with an inferior goal difference. Incredibly, despite having lost three times England would only need a point from their final match a week later against Hungary. But as would be seen 26 years later when England met Croatia in almost identical circumstances to determine if they would qualify for the European Championship, there would be no guarantee of things working out.

With England back in with a chance, ticket sales went from slow to a 92,000 midweek sell-out and the match was also shown live on the BBC (a relative rarity for home matches). A highly charged atmosphere, a true desire from the players to get through and a fairly uninspired performance from the visitors all added up to make it a night when England did what was required. Indeed, the tension was arguably less than it should have been given the nature of the group as England took an early lead through a slightly clumsy Paul Mariner goal, typifying the stumbling nature of the qualification process. Hungary rarely threatened to equalise and did not offer much help to Eastern European neighbours Romania, on a night when Tony Morley came on for his international debut (capping a memorable year when he had won the BBC’s Goal of the Season, his house had burnt down and he won the First Division with Aston Villa).

England make it – just feel the relief around Wembley.

When the final whistle blew the sense of joy around Wembley was tangible, it had been a long wait but England were at last in a World Cup finals. It was their first win at Wembley for almost exactly a year. They had finished with worse records than Wales and the Republic of Ireland, who both missed out. But this whole group had been a bit of a abnormality, with no whipping boy unlike most other sections. It was far from the Group of Death in terms of being full of excellent sides, but it was so far as no weak ones were concerned. Norway were certainly a stronger team than the likes of Luxembourg, Cyprus and Malta.

Somehow England would find themselves seeded for the World Cup finals, seemingly based on nothing other than their 1966 glory. It wasn’t quite the end of the drama, as the Falklands War threatened to put England’s place in the finals in jeopardy again. But they went to Spain and in contrast to their losing record in the qualifiers, they were unbeaten in five games but their goals dried up. It was disappointing not to go further, but after all the qualifying commotion it was just a relief for England to at last be back in the World Cup finals.

England banished into the shadows – June 25th, 1982

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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.”

Bingham’s Glory

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?