England will this weekend begin their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia. Although the Three Lions have not always enjoyed a win to start a major tournament, they have often been quick out of the blocks and struck first. Today we recall six instances when they grabbed an early lead in their opening match, heightening expectations back home…
Bryan Robson v France, 1982 World Cup – 27 seconds
England fans had endured a 12-year wait to see England appear at the World Cup finals. Those who had loyally followed them during the lean years deserved something to get excited about and they got it 27 seconds into the first match against a highly-rated French team in Bilbao. A long throw was headed on by Terry Butcher and an unmarked Bryan Robson was on hand to score. It was a training ground move worked to perfection, England catching the French cold with one of the fastest goals in World Cup history.
Robson was rewarded with a solid gold watch for his timely strike and he added another goal later in a 3-1 win, as England gave a performance they struggled to replicate before being eliminated in the second phase. But for Robson it was a special moment, coming just a day before his wife gave birth to their second daughter, Charlotte. He really had scored the daddy of all early England tournament goals.
Paul Scholes v Portugal, Euro 2000 – 3 minutes
In a situation not too dissimilar to today, England went into Euro 2000 with their attack looking stronger than their defence. This would duly prove the case. England’s opening match against Portugal in Eindhoven was only in the third minute when David Beckham swung over an excellent cross and his Manchester United colleague Paul Scholes was on hand to head in. Steve McManaman soon put Kevin Keegan’s side 2-0 up and the nation began dreaming of the team finally winning major silverware. But not for long. The Portuguese fought back to win 3-2 and England failed to get out of the group stage.
Own goal v Paraguay, 2006 World Cup – 3 minutes
There was an extraordinary level of hype surrounding England going into the World Cup 10 years ago, with thousands of fans travelling to Germany and a widespread belief they could finally deliver. In the third minute of England’s opening match in the heat of Frankfurt that expectation grew even more. David Beckham’s free-kick went in via Paraguayan defender Carlos Gamarra.
It seemed the springboard to a comfortable win to let the rest of the world realise what a threat England posed. But it never came, the side looking increasingly less assured as the game progressed and stuttering to a 1-0 win. And that set the trend for a World Cup in which England seldom sparkled, before losing on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals.
Steven Gerrard v USA, 2010 World Cup – 4 minutes
Four years on and a similar story. There wasn’t quite the same hype or expectation as in 2006, but there remained a belief Fabio Capello’s side could do well in South Africa. ‘EASY’ The Sun had proclaimed when the draw placed England in a group with Algeria, Slovenia and the USA. Four minutes into the opening match against the Americans and it seemed they might be right, Emile Heskey feeding Steven Gerrard to score. 1-0 to England and also to anyone who hadn’t bothered forking out for a HD television, as ITV HD viewers missed the goal due to an advert inexplicably being broadcast at the time it was scored.
That might not have seemed quite so bad had England go on to win comfortably, but it was the only highlight of the night as they drew 1-1 and never got going in the tournament – eventually being crushed by Germany in the second round. Gerrard’s goal was one of just three they managed in four matches.
Gary Lineker v Republic of Ireland, 1990 World Cup – 8 minutes
During Euro ’88, England had been beaten in their opening match by the Republic of Ireland courtesy of an early goal by Ray Houghton. Now they were meeting again in the corresponding game of Italia ’90 and it was England who made the breakthrough. Despite feeling unwell, Gary Lineker managed to bundle the ball home and England were ahead after eight minutes. It was a scrappy goal in keeping with a poor game, but neither Lineker nor the English nation were complaining.
But unfortunately the match would follow a familiar pattern after England strike early, with Kevin Sheedy drawing the Irish level. For Lineker, his night would be remembered more for an incident in the second half which has provided Twitter trolls with endless fun. There was plenty of criticism of Bobby Robson’s side afterwards, having shown little evidence they could go on to look a potential winner – but they would of course get to the semi-finals, only losing on penalties to West Germany.
Alan Shearer v Switzerland, Euro ’96 – 23 minutes
It had been a long wait for the 1996 European Championship to start on home soil, while for Alan Shearer there had been a seemingly endless struggle to end his England goal drought. But midway through the first half of the tournament opener he duly netted when it mattered, making the most of an excellent ball from Paul Ince to score. England were on their way, although the usual story would follow – failing to build on their lead and being pegged back as they drew 1-1. It was a frustrating day, but for Shearer it was a goal that would set him on the way to finishing as the tournament’s top scorer. Against Germany in the semi-final he would strike an early goal, netting in the third minute.
Some honourable mentions here for Sol Campbell v Sweden (2002 World Cup, 24 mins); Ray Wilkins v Belgium (Euro ’80, 26 mins); Stan Mortensen v Chile (1950 World Cup, 27 mins) and Joleon Lescott v France (Euro 2012, 30 mins). All put England ahead within half an hour of their first match at a major tournament. As can be seen England have a habit of striking early when they play their opening match at a championship. Will it happen again against Russia?
In the latest of our articles on the 1986 World Cup we recall England’s captain 30 years ago, Bryan Robson, and how his tournament was ruined by a dislocated shoulder. What should have been a competition where he shone ended with him watching on from the sidelines after he went off injured against Morocco…
For much of the 1980s, the England team was about the Robsons. The manager was Bobby Robson, the captain was Bryan Robson. Bobby, like Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson, adored Bryan. His fierce will-to-win, bravery, box-to-box approach and leadership qualities all made him integral to the teams he played for. In an era between the departure of Kevin Keegan and emergence of Paul Gascoigne, Robson was a strong contender for the most famous current English footballer. Atkinson had forked out a then British record £1.5 million to get Robson to follow him from West Bromwich Albion in 1981. “Solid gold” was Big Ron’s description of the player, as he justified the transfer fee.
Although he wasn’t without his critics (as a Google search of ‘Bryan Robson over-rated’ will confirm), there were plenty who idolised Robson and shared the view of his managers about how important he was. Naysayers would have found it hilarious that Bobby Robson considered his namesake to belong in the same category as such greats as Diego Maradona and Michel Platini; others would have seen nothing wrong with that view.
Bobby Robson was a big fan of his namesake and England captain Bryan.
But one persistent problem throughout Bryan Robson’s career was injuries, something the player’s critics were happy to point out. His courage and desire to scrap for every ball probably did not help, as he would all too frequently have to spend time on the sidelines after sustaining an injury in the heat of battle. He had to sit out a number of crucial games for both club and country during his career, with perhaps his most high-profile injury woes prematurely ending his participation in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Robson was arguably at his peak at 29, well-established as England captain and considered central to the team’s prospects. But shoulder injuries sadly do not magically heal just because it’s the World Cup. As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the nation became obsessed with a key player’s injury concerns going into the World Cup. For Robson it all happened in Monterrey, a long time ago.
Bryan Robson is helped by physio Fred Street after his injury against Morocco.
Catalogue of injuries
The first warning sign of what lay ahead came in January 1985, when Robson sustained a dislocated shoulder during a defeat for United by Coventry City. Typifying the way Robson’s luck would seem to be out over the next 18 months, he landed on the transformer box of Old Trafford’s undersoil heating. He wrote in his autobigraphy: “The shoulder was put back in place and the medical advice was that, because it was the first dislocation, we should allow it to heal naturally… If I had known that there was such a good chance of the shoulder coming out again, I would have told the surgeons to sew it up then and there. It would have been far better to get the problem sorted for good.”
Despite not undergoing surgery, Robson still spent several weeks on the sidelines but the campaign ended with him lifting the FA Cup. The 1985-86 season began well for Robson and United, with the team famously winning their opening 10 league matches. Robson could dream of captaining his club to the First Division title and then his country to World Cup glory. On October 16 England booked their place in the World Cup finals and recorded a 5-0 win over Turkey, but Robson went off with a hamstring injury.
It was the start of a catalogue of problems that blighted his campaign. United were looking increasingly less assured at the top of the table and they would end up trundling home in fourth spot. In the FA Cup fourth round Robson was sent off at Sunderland and then he sustained an ankle injury in a league match at West Ham United a week later. But it was in a delayed fifth round FA Cup tie at the same ground on March 5 that his World Cup dream took its first serious dent.
A week earlier headlines appeared of ‘were would we be without him?” after Robson scored twice, including the BBC goal of the season, as England won in Israel. Now it looked like we might have to find out in the World Cup, as Robson began clutching his shoulder on the Upton Park turf. He had once more dislocated it, less than three months before the World Cup began. In the Daily Express two days later, John Bean wrote: “The Manchester United and England captain’s second shoulder dislocation in 14 months will leave him with just enough time to get fit to board the plane to Mexico and the World Cup in May. But the big fear is that after two dislocations of the same joint Robson could easily suffer the problem a third time.” His words would sadly prove prophetic.
Club vs country
United boss Atkinson was ruling out an operation, with a club versus country row brewing. There was no easy answer, as the operation would have left Robson desperately short of match practice going into the World Cup. But for his England manager it would be the better option. According to his World Cup Diary, Bobby Robson rang Atkinson and approached him about letting their mutual captain have the op. Bobby wrote: “I asked for the ultimate sacrifice a club manager can make because an operation would have ruled Robson out for the rest of the championship, but have guaranteed his fitness for Mexico.”
Atkinson’s reply made clear there would be no change of mind. It was an understandable situation, given that United were still in with a shout of the title and Big Ron was starting to come under pressure over their recent form. He knew Robson could be the difference between success and failure, being willing to gamble on him even when not fully fit.
Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson was not willing to sacrifice his captain to help England’s cause.
Captain Robson soon returned for United, but he would suffer more injury problems and sat out the season’s climax. But at least he joined the England squad as they headed out to the United States en route to the finals. During a practice match against South Korea, Robson volleyed in a goal and showed what he could be capable of. But Bobby Robson wrote: “Bryan’s shoulder was still causing me concern. I kept thinking back to the medical advice and wondering if it was going to go again. I closed my eyes every time he went rushing in for one of those crosses and willed to see him on his feet when I reopened them.”
Three days later those fears were realised when England played Mexico in Los Angeles. The captain was in a typically competitive mode and he made a sliding tackle that ended with him clutching his shoulder, which had popped out. Although it was placed back in quickly by the England team medics, it was now clear to the management just how serious the problem was and how loose the shoulder had become – even though they tried to hide the injury from the media when questioned.
Manager Robson was now beginning to contemplate life without his captain. The player was typically back in training just two days later, only to then sustain yet another hamstring injury. It seemed a never-ending tale of injury woe. But he was adamant he was okay. He wrote: “If I’d had any doubts about my fitness for our first match, against Portugal, in Monterrey, or the rest of the World Cup, I would have pulled out. I believed I could play my part in helping England go all the way.” Robson missed England’s friendly win over Canada, in which Gary Lineker sustained a wrist injury that briefly threatened his World Cup prospects. With Mark Wright having already been ruled out of the finals with a broken leg, injury problems seemed to be mounting for the team.
The nation hopes and prays
When England took on Portugal in their opening World Cup match against Portugal on June 3, Robson was in the starting line-up. The waiting was over, now the nation had to hope and pray the captain came through unscathed. When Robson challenged to win a header in the box, there was brief panic as he feel to the floor. “That was a worrying moment for me and I’m sure everyone,” said BBC co-commentator Jimmy Hill, relieved to see the captain get up as if nothing had happened. The game ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat and Robson came off a few minutes before the end, but he had not seemed inhibited by his injury concern.
Three days later, England played Morocco. It was in the closing minutes of the half that Robson’s World Cup came to a shuddering halt as he played the ball past Mustapha El-Biyaz in the penalty area. He wrote in his autobigtaphy: “As I went past him he grabbed me by the right shoulder and pulled me back. I fell in agony. The shoulder had come out again. Everybody thought it was the fall that did the damage but it wasn’t, it was their player pulling my shoulder… I was led away, clutching my shoulder, and the tears were of frustration and annoyance as much as pain.”
It was a lasting image of the competition. Robson would maintain England should have had a penalty over the incident, but nothing was given and he had barely left the pitch when vice-captain Ray Wilkins was red carded after throwing the ball back towards the referee.
The moment Bryan Robson’s World Cup dream was shattered.
Four years earlier, Robson had gone off with a knock in the second match of the World Cup against Czechoslovakia but he recovered to play in the second phase matches. This time his World Cup dream appeared to lie in tatters and there was a serious chance England wouldn’t remain in the competition beyond their final group game. Both the manager and captain were quoted afterwards as accepting he was definitely out of the competition, but as England prepared for their do-or-die match against Poland on June 11 there was growing speculation Robson could pick Robson again. It wasn’t well received.
Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “England’s World Cup crisis can be measured not by the fact that they have just 90 minutes to salvage some pride and a place in the second round… but that Bobby Robson is still thinking of picking Bryan Robson. The manager’s fixation with his skipper is not just ill-advised. It is Mexican madness.”
But the manager did not let his heart rule his head, leaving the captain out of the Poland game as England got their act together with a 3-0 win. A change of personnel seemed to help England flourish as a team. They followed it up by beating Paraguay by the same score. England had proved they could thrive without Captain Marvel, with critics happy to point this out when the extent of Robson’s abilities are discussed. Now they faced a quarter-final showdown with Argentina, starring Diego Maradona.
Robson had stayed in Mexico rather than fly home for treatment – to the annoyance of Atkinson – and now he was suddenly handed a glimmer of hope. Peter Reid was carrying a knock and Bobby Robson saw his captain as the man to sit in the hole if Reid did not recover. “It would not put his shoulder so much at risk as charging into the box and it is a job he could do to great effect,” wrote the manager in his World Cup Diary. “I was also aware of the psychological effect his appearance would have on the Argentinians.”
Ultimately Reid recovered and Captain Marvel was left to get his camera out (see above pic) as the sides lined up. We can only wonder what might have been had Robson been fully fit. One can just imagine him sliding in to stop Maradona going through to score his superb solo goal. Robson reflected in his autobiography: “I thought I just might have been able to make a difference against Maradona. I knew his game and felt I could have done a job on him.”
But the reality was Robson had been left a spectator for most of the competition, with Gary Lineker perhaps now replacing him as the national football hero. Robson would miss the start of the 1986-87 season, with his absence felt as Manchester United experienced a poor run of form that eventually cost Atkinson his job. He too may have wondered if things would have panned out differently if Robson had been allowed to have the operation prior to Mexico.
Robson went on to play for England for a further five years and in 1990 he remained captain under his namesake. At 33 there wasn’t quite as much hype and expectation surrounding him going into the World Cup finals as four years earlier, but he was still seen as a key player in the side. But Second Game Syndrome struck again as he limped out of England’s match against the Netherlands and a few days later he was flying home. For the second World Cup running England achieved success without Robson, who was left to provide analysis for the BBC during the semi-final against West Germany. Once more an injury had come at the worst possible time for him – and this time he knew any realistic hope of playing in a World Cup again had gone.
Thirty years ago today England met Israel for the first time in a friendly in Tel Aviv. England’s performance won few plaudits, but their 2-1 victory included the winner of the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition for 1985-86 – a volley by captain Bryan Robson. It provided a rare moment of joy for the player during a difficult few months…
England were having a busy few months preparing for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, playing at least one match in every calendar month from January to May. But the selection of the first two friendlies drew criticism and raised questions about their merit. In January England beat Egypt 4-0 in Cairo and the following month they travelled to Tel Aviv to take on Israel.
One of manager Bobby Robson’s arch-critics, Emlyn Hughes, slammed the decision to play Egypt and was also scathing about the Israel match. “There’s another joke trip lined up next month when England go to Israel. We won’t learn anything from that match either and by the time Mexico comes round everyone will be burned out,” he argued.
Israel welcome England in February 1986.
But for the England manager the match carried value. Writing in his 1986 World Cup Diary, Robson explained why Israel were chosen as opponents: “The reasons why we had picked Israel were that we were sure the weather in Tel Aviv would not hinder our preparations, that our fans would not be so stupid as to cause trouble over there and that we were reasonably confident that we would win. It was the sort of game a club manager likes to undertake pre-season against teams whom he knows will provide a test but are the sort of opposition where the club can play and enjoy their football.”
The first reason Robson gave for the choice of match would prove good thinking, given Britain endured bad weather in February 1986. The second was a sad indictment of how serious the hooligan problem had become for England. And the third reason given would quickly be put to the test, as England found their hosts looking to pull off a surprise victory.
The two Robsons
Bryan Robson (left) and Bobby Robson.
Much of the 1980s was all about the Robsons so far as England were concerned, with Bobby managing the team and namesake Bryan being his captain and inspiration in the heart of the midfield. The 1985-86 season was proving bitter-sweet for the player. He had helped Manchester United win their opening 10 league games and secured early qualification for the World Cup with England. But he had gone off injured during England’s win against Turkey in October, been sent-off playing for United in the FA Cup at Sunderland, seen his team’s title dream start to fade and then he sustained another injury against West Ham United in a league game in early February. Thankfully he was fit in time to play for England against Israel, but he went into the match with limited recent gametime under his belt.
Manager Robson fielded a strong side but England did not produce a good display in the first half, going in 1-0 down at half-time after an early breakaway goal by Eli Ohana that raised concerns about English defending. A dog running on the field was to be the most memorable sight for English viewers during the first half!
Six minutes after the break came the game’s turning point. Glenn Hoddle floated a lovely ball across to captain Robson, who scored with a delightful volley from the edge of the box. “It was a goal that would have graced the World Cup Final itself,” proclaimed England’s manager.
Bryan Robson volleys England level.
Barry Davies, commentating for live BBC coverage, was for once not in wordsmith mode. “Robson…yes….” was the rather low-key commentary of the goal, perhaps reflecting the fact it was only a friendly and Davies was unimpressed with England’s display. The celebrations were also muted, Robson settling for 1950s style handshakes with team-mates before making his way back to the centre circle.
But it proved sufficient to win the BBC Goal of the Season award, the only time an England goal has clinched the accolade (goals scored in major tournaments automatically miss out due to taking place after the voting finishes). Robson’s cause in winning the award was helped by the Football League TV blackout in the first half of the 1985-86 season, limiting the number of goals to choose from. It was perhaps not as well remembered as some other goals he scored for his country, but it was an excellent finish to win him an honour he missed out on the previous season for his volleyed goal against East Germany.
Coping without the captain
Bryan Robson’s World Cup ends prematurely.
As with Kevin Keegan in 1982, David Beckham in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006, the back pages became dominated by a key England player’s bid to be fit for the World Cup. Robson won his battle to be fit enough to be in the squad for the finals, but concerns still lingered about the shoulder. Sure enough, in the second game against Morocco he went off with his arm in a sling.
It was a sad sight, as England were left to try and stay in the tournament without their captain and star man. But ultimately they would prove they could survive without Robson, going on to reach the quarter-finals. At the age of 28, the World Cup in Mexico should have been the ideal time for Robson to shine on the world stage and repeat moments such as the goal against Israel. But his injury curse had struck again at the worst possible time for him.
In September 1984, an otherwise forgettable friendly between England and East Germany at Wembley was brought to life in the closing stages. Captain Bryan Robson memorably crashed in a tremendous volley to settle the match and we’ll mark the anniversary this weekend by looking back at that moment.
Whenever there are grumblings these days about occasional ‘low’ turnouts for England matches at Wembley (of say 50.000), it’s worth recalling how history has shown they could be a hell of a lot worse. During the nadir of the mid-1980s crowds below 25,000 were recorded on several occasions, with East Germany’s visit early in the 1984-85 campaign seeing just 23,951 show up. But even that figure was disputed, with several newspaper reports the following day saying the attendance seemed lower. BBC commentator John Motson told viewers England were unable to move such games to club grounds due to being contracted to play at Wembley – an issue that persists today.
The low crowd made for a subdued atmosphere, as England played their final friendly before embarking on attempting to qualify for the 1986 World Cup. Goalscoring had been a problem in recent matches for England, with the failure to qualify for the 1984 European Championship in France still fresh in the mind. Promising defender Mark Wright was handed his debut, joining Southampton team-mates Peter Shilton and Steve Williams in the starting line-up. Shilton had made his England debut against the East Germans – or the German Democratic Republic as the match programme called them – on their previous visit in 1970 and this would be the final meeting of the sides before Germany was reunified in 1990. Watford’s John Barnes took his place in the side buoyed by his wondergoal against Brazil in the summer, although he would struggle to make a similar impact here.
Williams came close to opening the scoring early on as he was denied at the end of an impressive England move, while at the opposite end Joachim Streich marked his 100th cap – in the days when that was still a rare achievement – by striking the woodwork. And bar the odd half chance and East German free-kick that was pretty much all of note in the opening 80 minutes, as the game seemingly meandered towards an inevitable goalless draw.
With 10 minutes left, Bobby Robson finally made use of his substitutes as he brought off Arsenal forwards Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock and replaced them with Trevor Francis and Mark Hateley. The change seemed to galvanise England and within two minutes came the one moment the match would be remembered for. Kenny Sansom floated the ball into the penalty box, with Ray Wilkins moving backwards to head the ball towards Bryan Robson. The Manchester United captain instinctively swivelled his body and beat his marker to catch the ball perfectly in mid-air, scoring with a beautiful right-footed volley that was totally out of the reach of René Müller. “What a goal,” exclaimed Motson, before inevitably pulling out a statistic. “Bryan Robson’s 10th goal for his country and what a way to go into double figures.”
The goal would soon be featuring in the opening titles for Match of the Day and later be included in the BBC’s 101 Great Goals video. The FA website says it was probably Robson’s best goal for England. Although it may not be recalled as frequently as his first minute goal against France in the 1982 World Cup or win him the BBC’s Goal of the Season competition (he did so the following season with his equaliser for England against Israel), it was certainly spectacular. On many occasions during the 1980s both England and Manchester United turned to their captain to pull them through and this was one such occasion. Robson had come up with the goods at the right moment.
It was the only goal and meant the captain’s namesake and manager received a better reception at the end than after the previous home match against USSR in June, when he had faced calls for his departure. Not that everyone in the media was entirely happy. Stuart Jones in The Times appeared to have written most of his report before the goal, barely making anything of Robson’s strike and instead singling out Wilkins for praise. Jones reflected grimly on a match which he felt was “devoid of atmosphere, of excitement and even of significance”.
More positive was the response of David Lacey in The Guardian, who described Robson’s effort as a “marvellous shot”. In the Daily Express, Steve Curry wrote: “Skipper Robson deserved his reward for his involvement alone – the lion on his shirt snarling and sniping throughout the night against a disciplined German defence that was not in a mood for easy surrender.”
It was only a friendly, but Bryan Robson’s winner had provided a chink of light on a night that was otherwise better best forgotten. As Bobby Robson reflected in his World Cup Diary covering his first four years in charge on the East Germany victory: “I was delighted for, apart from starting the new season with a victory, it was important that we should win at Wembley after two defeats in our previous three fixtures there. I had been worried that he squad might develop a phobia about playing on their own ground and that would have been a disastrous disadvantage to take into the World Cup [qualifiers].” England duly qualified comfortably and they did not suffer another home defeat until 1990.
On this weekend in 1987 Bobby Robson was in charge of the home team at Wembley with Bryan Robson captaining it. For once though they weren’t leading England but a Football League XI. To mark the start of the League’s centenary season, the team faced the Rest of the World in a celebration match. As a slight diversion from our usual looks back at past England fortunes, we today recall the start of the seemingly never-ending centenary celebrations.
A couple of months after It’s a Royal Knockout was screened, the Football League seemed to be trying its best to go one better with this multi-cast farce known as the Mercantile Credit Centenary Classic on August 8, 1987. It was played the week before the start of the league season, meaning the Charity Shield had to be moved and played on the unusually early date of August 1; there was a great hoo-ha over whether Diego Maradona would turn up and play, eventually doing so for a reported £100,000 (an extortionate fee at the time); Wembley was far from full with a crowd of 61,000, many stayaways not willing to pay the hefty ticket prices for a match being shown live on ITV; there was a never-ending series of 13 substitutions, rendering the match almost meaningless as a serious contest; and the Football League celebrations just seemed to go on and on after this.
‘The 100 years bore’ was one headline about the laborious centenary celebrations. It wasn’t until 14 months later when Arsenal beat Manchester United at Villa Park to win the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy that the Football League’s party finally ended, having attracted a fair bit of criticism along the way (most notably for the centenary festival tournament at Wembley in April 1988). And in many ways it was the beginning of a long goodbye for the 92-club Football League as we knew it then, given the Premier League breakaway would follow as soon as 1992.
The strong English presence
Until the early 2000s August was a dead month for international football so far as England were concerned, so this was about as close as they came with Robson and Robson leading the charge. There were seven Englishmen in the Football League starting line-up, with Neil Webb the only uncapped player. Players to come off the bench included further uncapped Englishmen in Arsenal’s Alan Smith and Coventry City goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic, the latter never going on to appear at full level for his country. The Football League had just one player hailing from outside the British Isles in the side, namely Argentina’s Ossie Ardiles who replaced Webb in the closing stages. How different things would be if a Premier League team played in such a fixture now!
Terry Venables was in charge of the Rest of the World team, but he did come across some problems trying to get clubs to release players. AC Milan’s newly-signed Dutch duo of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit were absent, along with Rangers defender Terry Butcher – who was not given permission to play despite being suspended for his club’s opening match of the season on the same day. The match would carry some obvious similarities with how the FA had marked its centenary 24 years earlier, when England beat the Rest of the World 2-1.
One player Venables was not going to struggle to get to play was his Barcelona forward Gary Lineker, who took his place as the sole Englishman in the visiting line-up. While most of the focus was on Maradona’s presence, there was also a welcome appearance for French star Michel Platini at the very end of his playing career. He had never played at Wembley and neither had the guest of honour at the event – Brazilian legend Pele. His compatriot Josimar, who had shone at the previous year’s World Cup but would soon slide into obscurity, took his place in the starting line-up. The lengthy cast of other players to feature for the visitors included Sweden’s future Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen, Portugal’s Paulo Futre, USSR goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev and his international team-mate and the reigning European Footballer of the Year, Igor Belanov.
Caption competition time over what Pele is saying about Diego Maradona!
With the plethora of substitutions, the ‘exhibition’ nature of the match and the fact some overseas players were some way off starting their new season, it was difficult to view this as a serious clash. In The Observer match report the following day, reporter Frank McGhee criticised the multi substitutions and the impact they had on the occasion. “The organisers seemed so intent on massaging the egos of every player chosen for the squads that they entirely lost sight of the original purpose of the game – to entertain the crowd and the alleged one billion television viewers around the world,” he wrote.
Perhaps the main talking point was the constant booing of Maradona, 14 months after the Hand of God. Venables had urged fans to clap Maradona rather than boo him, but the reality was unsurprisingly different. Some saw it merely as the jeering of a pantomime villain, but others found it more sinister and felt it painted a poor image of the English nation. The following Monday’s opinion column in the Daily Express condemned the “yobbish behaviour of fans” and feared it could prolong the ban on English clubs from European competition. “Their behaviour was televised worldwide, which will confirm the impression that our stadiums are disgraced by morons hardly able to remember all the words of Here We Go,” they added. Football writer Steve Curry made reference to Maradona being “tediously jeered each time he touched the ball”, expressing his belief a better spectacle may have been enjoyed had the match been played in late September when players were back to full fitness.
Robson delights Robson
It was a good day for Manchester United players. Defender Paul McGrath had a decent game, while his mate Norman Whiteside came off the bench to put the Football League 2-0 up in the second half. That goal came either side of two strikes from their club captain Bryan Robson, who showed his trademark goal scoring instincts from midfield in the 3-0 success. Arsenal and England left-back Kenny Sansom added creativity and was involved in the first two goals, while Northern Irishman John McClelland, of Watford, was an unlikely star with some vital clearances. If taken literally at face value (which few were doing), then the Football League had proved itself to be three goals better than the rest of the world combined. “We should all be delighted with the way the afternoon has gone for English football,” said Bobby Robson afterwards. The performance of Webb did not go unnoticed and he would make his England debut the following month, as Robson returned to the day job of leading England to the Euro ’88 finals.
But not before he had expressed consternation about the continued questioning after the centenary mach about Maradona and his big payday, rather than the Football League winning the game. “I don’t believe it. If we had been beaten 3-0 the knives would have been out. Because we have won no one seems the slightest bit interested,” he moaned, as he once more had cause to resent the press.
It wasn’t the last time words to the effect that “no one seems the slightest bit interested” would be heard regarding the Football League centenary celebrations.
If every picture tells a story, then this one shows just how many players were given the chance to get a game.