David Beckham

Six of the Best – Dramatic England World Cup qualifying climaxes

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In the coming days England will be expected to wrap up World Cup qualification without too much anxiety. But plenty of England World Cup qualifying campaigns have gone right to the wire and we today recall six such instances…

Republic of Ireland 1-1 England, May 1957

England qualified unbeaten for each World Cup from 1950 to 1962 (and then automatically for the two after that), with their one real moment of worry coming in their last qualifier for the 1958 World Cup. Just 11 days after England had won 5-1 at home to the Republic of Ireland and more than a year before the finals, the sides met again in Dublin with Walter Winterbottom’s team needing a point to clinch qualification. If England lost, then they would have to face their opponents again in a play-off provided the Irish beat Denmark (considered a weak side at the time).

John Atyeo’s late goal took England through to the 1958 World Cup, but he would never appear for them again.

Alf Ringstead put Ireland in front after three minutes and that looked like it would settle the contest. But in the last minute Bristol City’s John Atyeo levelled matters to break Irish hearts and send England through to Sweden. Atyeo was rewarded by never being capped again. This contest may not be as well-known as the others we are recalling today, but it was no less dramatic as England rode their luck to qualify. “Never will they have a narrower squeak,” reported The Times. “Indeed every Irishman this evening will be darkly muttering the word ‘robbery’.”

England 1-1 Poland, October 1973

A match that will never be forgotten and still crops up in discussion more than 40 years later. When England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1978 and 1994 they went into the last match still in with a shout but with matters out of their hands, with fortune not on their side as they missed out despite beating Italy and San Marino respectively. But at the climax of qualifying for the 1974 tournament, matters were more straightforward. “Win or bust,” said BBC commentator Barry Davies as England welcomed Poland to Wembley in October 1973. The 1966 World Cup winners had to win this match to make the 1974 finals, or the Poles would be the side to make it to West Germany. First was first, second really would be nowhere with no play-offs to offer another shot at getting through. Poland had inflicted England’s first World Cup qualifying defeat four months earlier and were not to be underestimated.

An image that sums up the infamous night: England attacking, but not scoring.

As has been well-documented, England peppered the Polish goal but a combination of bad luck, Jan Tomaszewski’s heroics – despite being labelled a “clown” by Brian Clough – and Sir Alf Ramsey’s men failing to take chances kept the game goalless. Then the sucker punch was dealt after the break, Norman Hunter and Peter Shilton both taking the blame for Jan Domarski’s breakaway goal to give the Poles the lead. Although Allan Clarke’s penalty restored parity, the winner would not come for England despite creating further chances – with substitute Kevin Hector almost the hero at the death. As the final whistle sounded there was disbelief at Wembley. “One of the blackest days they’ve ever had,” said ITV commentator Hugh Johns as reality bit about England’s failure. They should have won this one, but the Poles would prove they had merited qualification when they excelled to take third spot in the tournament. By then, Ramsey was out of a job.

England 1-0 Hungary, November 1981

When England took “a hell of a beating” away to Norway in September 1981, it looked like the game was up and they would fail to qualify for a third successive World Cup and potentially be out even before they played their last game at home to Hungary. But then the footballing gods answered ‘Reverend Ron’ Greenwood’s prayers. An unexpected combination of results – most notably main challengers Romania taking one point from two games against Switzerland – meant England now only needed a point at home to the Hungarians, who had already qualified as group winners. But so fraught had England’s qualifying campaign been that nobody was celebrating yet. The game’s importance was such that Wembley was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity and it was being televised live on the BBC – a rarity for home games at the time.

Paul Mariner’s goal takes England through to the 1982 World Cup.

The nation prepared for a tense night but an early goal by Paul Mariner calmed nerves and the Hungarians rarely looked like they might bail out their Eastern European rivals Romania. England successfully saw the game out and at last they could plan for a summer in Spain. The game itself was perhaps less dramatic and nerve-jangling in the closing stages than most of the others we are recalling today, but it would not be surpassed for sheer relief over qualification being achieved as the crowd at Wembley sang themselves hoarse in the rain. “England are back,” they roared, as England followers felt delight that the Three Lions would finally be present in a World Cup finals.

Poland 0-0 England, October 1989

When England visited Poland for their final Italia ’90 qualifier, it seemed more than likely they would make the finals after Terry Butcher’s full-blooded display in Sweden the previous month. To simplify a rather complicated situation they would definitely go through if they avoided defeat in Chorzow. If they lost they would then endure a tense few weeks hoping other results went in their favour to qualify. They had yet to concede a goal in five matches, although Bobby Robson and his side had not totally shaken off the criticism that came their way after flopping during Euro ’88. Failure to qualify would almost certainly spell the end for Robson.

England were far from fluent in this game and were reliant on the veteran Shilton, who made amends for his error against the same opponents 16 years earlier with a series of impressive stops. As the clock reached 90 minutes England appeared to have wrapped up the draw they needed to make it to Italy. Then, after 540 minutes of keeping opponents out during the group, they suddenly looked like they were going to concede in stoppage time of the last game as Ryszard Tarasiewicz let fly from outside the area. His strike beat Shilton but cannoned back off the crossbar and away to safety. England’s sigh of relief over that was nothing compared to that breathed once the enormity of the point earned became clear in the weeks that followed. Wins for Sweden (v Poland), Romania (v Denmark) and West Germany (v Wales) would have all conspired to keep England at home as the weakest runner-up from the groups containing four teams had they lost. Considering how fondly remembered Italia ’90 is by England fans, it’s amazing to think just how close they came to not even qualifying for it.

Italy 0-0 England, October 1997

Eight years to the night of England getting the draw required in Poland, they again needed to stand firm to make the finals as they faced a showdown with Italy in Rome. Although the Italians had won at Wembley in February, England had shown greater consistency during the qualifying campaign to hold top spot ahead of the decisive final qualifier. If England avoided defeat they were through, if they lost they would be in the play-offs. It was Glenn Hoddle’s biggest test since taking over as boss the previous year, taking on proven opposition in a frenzied atmosphere. 

David Beckham, Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne celebrate in Rome.

England gave a disciplined display that is still fondly remembered 20 years later, withstanding the Italian threat and at times looking like they could win it themselves. Never more so than in stoppage time, as Ian Wright struck the post after chasing down the Italian defence. It would have capped the night but suddenly Italy – down to 10 men after Angelo de Livio received a second yellow card – broke forward and for once managed to carve out a clear opening. Time stood still as the ball was crossed for Christian Vieri, who headed across goal and inches wide. It was the last chance and seconds later Hoddle could celebrate his crowning glory. Wright sank to his knees in joy, but fate would lead to him missing out on yet another major tournament. The night also really marked the last international hurrah for Paul Gascoigne, back in the city he graced with Lazio, while midfield colleague Paul Ince led by example as he played on with his head bandaged up. It really was a night to remember.

England 2-2 Greece, October 2001

Following Sven-Goran Eriksson’s arrival, England had been unstoppable and recovered from a poor start in the group to lead it with a game to play. Now they simply had to win at home to a Greece side who were already out of the running, or match whatever Germany’s result was at home to Finland. But England, fielding Nigel Martyn in goal in David Seaman’s absence, endured an afternoon of struggle on a day when the Greeks gave an early inkling of what they would go on to astonishingly achieve during Euro 2004. Greece twice took the lead, with substitute Teddy Sheringham’s goal seconds after coming on only briefly levelling matters.

David Beckham’s free-kick clinches England’s World Cup finals place in the dying seconds.

England seemed destined to have to settle for a play-off spot, but there was one glimmer of hope. Germany were being held by Finland, meaning that a draw would be sufficient for England to claim top spot. The ending would be unforgettable, David Beckham’s free-kick levelling matters and sending Eriksson’s side through. It had hardly been a performance or result to savour, but the manner in which qualification was clinched brought wild celebrations at Old Trafford. “It’s a fantastic ending to a very poor performance,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson.

Since then England have made lighter work of qualifying for World Cups, wrapping up their place before the final game for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments and getting the win they needed at home to Poland to top the qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup.

England’s Qualifying Campaigns – 2002 World Cup

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This week marks the 15th anniversary of England’s famous 5-1 win away to Germany in September 2001. To celebrate that, and also with England about to embark on their qualifying programme for the 2018 World Cup, we look back at England’s campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. It was a qualifying process that brought the end of the old Wembley, the arrival of England’s first foreign manager and the most dramatic of climaxes…

As the 2000-01 season began, England were at their lowest point since they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. They had struggled to make it to Euro 2000 and at the finals they made a quick exit after losing two games out of three. Doubts were being cast about the extent of manager Kevin Keegan’s tactical astuteness, both defeats coming in games which they had led. With English hooligans again making headlines during the tournament and then England losing the vote to host the 2006 World Cup, there wasn’t much to smile about.

The one high point from the summer was a rare win over Germany, who flopped even more than England during Euro 2000. The sides would now be meeting twice more during qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, in a group also containing Greece, Finland and Albania. It looked a straight fight for top spot between England and Germany, with the runner-up to face a play-off. It was widely considered to be one of Germany’s weakest teams, but England were hardly receiving rave reviews either. The side’s chances were not helped by the international retirement of Alan Shearer, while the exit gate also beckoned for some of the other older members of the set-up. Paul Ince would be called into the squad again but never win another cap, while Tony Adams would soon make his final appearance.

The end for King Kev

After the gloom of the summer there was a chink of light as England drew 1-1 away to World Cup and European Championship holders France in September thanks to a Michael Owen goal. But the acid test was the opening qualifier the following month. After 77 years the curtain was coming down on the old Wembley, England against Germany seeming an appropriate way to bid farewell to the Twin Towers.  But amid all the nostalgia about past matches at the stadium, Keegan was coming under increasing scrutiny. “If it doesn’t go too well at Euro 2000 it might not be me as coach in 2002,” he said the previous December. He was still there after the Euros, but his position looked more vulnerable as the ‘cheerleader rather than coach’ jibes grew. News leaked that Keegan was planning to deploy defender Gareth Southgate as a holding midfielder against Germany, in a surprise move that was met with scepticism.

Germany provided the opposition for the last match in front of the Twin Towers.

There were a couple of comparisons with the 1966 World Cup final: England played in red and the Germans, wearing white, took an early lead. But that was it. England failed to recover from Dietmar Hamann’s free-kick beating David Seaman after 13 minutes and lost 1-0. On a wet and miserable afternoon, Wembley’s farewell was a damp squib so far as England were concerned and a number of fans voiced their displeasure at the end as Keegan made his way towards the tunnel.

It was the final straw for the England manager, who decided to call it a day. Things became rather farcical as Keegan had to be locked in a toilet cubicle with the Football Association’s David Davies as he confirmed he would be stepping down – Davies revealing it was the only place he could think of to hold such an important conversation privately. For all the nostalgia over the old Wembley, a stadium with improved facilities was a necessity.

“I’m blaming nobody but myself. I wasn’t good enough,” admitted Keegan, who was refreshingly honest about his shortcomings as a manager. But FA chief executive Adam Crozier described the timing of the resignation as “not ideal”, something of an understatement given England faced a tricky away qualifier in Finland four days later. As with after Glenn Hoddle’s sudden departure in February 1999, Howard Wilkinson would step into the breach for one match.

The match was controversially only being shown live on pay-per-view television in the UK and anyone who paid up to £10 for the privilege would have felt short changed by what they saw from England. They again struggled to make inroads as they drew 0-0, although Ray Parlour’s late effort appeared to cross the line without being given. But the performance had won few plaudits. It was still early days but England were the only side in the group yet to win after Albania surprisingly defeated Greece. David Lacey in The Guardian wrote: “The chances of England qualifying for the 2002 World Cup in the Far East are still no more than a dim light on the horizon. They are now two points behind Albania and Greece at the bottom of their group. As poor starts go this is the pits.”

Sven arrives 

It was too early to panic, but England now faced a five-month wait until the next qualifier to get their first win. In the meantime there was the question of who would become England’s new boss. With a significant lack of top English managers emerging, the FA effectively were left with considering reappointing a former boss or bringing in the national team’s first foreign manager.

A nostalgic return for Sir Bobby Robson on a short-term basis was ruled out by Newcastle United, as it became increasingly clear who the favoured candidate was. Sven-Göran Eriksson was being courted by the FA, but the situation was complicated by the Swede being under contract with Lazio for the rest of the season. Eventually in late October it was announced Eriksson would take over the following summer, although the FA expressed hope he would manage the side before then. In the meantime Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren looked after the team for a friendly in Italy, Eriksson watching on as David Beckham captained the side for the first time in a 1-0 defeat.

In January the FA got the news they wanted as Eriksson prematurely left Lazio and was free to start his work with England. The appointment of a foreigner was not met with universal approval. A John Bull figure would follow Eriksson around in protest at his appointment, while journalist Jeff Powell expressed his vehement opposition in The Daily Mail. “We sell our birthright down the fjord to a nation of seven million skiers and hammer throwers who spend half their year living in total darkness,” he infamously wrote. “There were a lot of errors in that sentence,” replied Eriksson in his autobiography, branding Powell – without naming him – an “idiotic journalist”. By his standards it was outspoken stuff.

If Eriksson was bothered about silencing the critics then he went about it the right way. His first game brought an encouraging 3-0 friendly win over Spain at Villa Park, as England began their six-years ‘on the road’ without a proper home. But the crucial test was the next qualifier against Finland on March 24 at Anfield. They had to come from behind to achieve it but goals from Michael Owen and Beckham earned a 2-1 win to at last get a victory in the group.

Ashley Cole makes his England debut in Albania.

Four days later they had two after winning 3-1 in Albania. It wasn’t a vintage England display but the victory was vital, a flurry of late goals including Andrew Cole’s only strike for his country seeing them through. Cole’s namesake Ashley made his senior international debut at left-back, impressing but being struck by a missile for his troubles.

Eriksson retained his 100% record in May when England beat Mexico 4-0 in a friendly at Pride Park, Derby. Belief seemed to have returned to the side and that was clear as they safely negotiated a potentially tricky qualifier away to Greece to end the season. Paul Scholes broke the deadlock in the second half, with a trademark David Beckham goal securing the 2-0 win. With five games gone England had 10 points on the board and they were chasing Germany. The qualifier in Munich on September 1 was looking increasingly decisive.

THAT night in Munich

A 2-0 friendly defeat by the Netherlands at White Hart Lane in August ended Eriksson’s perfect start, but it would be quickly forgotten if the Three Lions could triumph in Munich. Eriksson was getting an uncomfortable first insight into Anglo-German rivalry as he read newspapers ahead of the game. “Everything that was written alluded to the war. I did not understand it. To me it was a game like any other,” he wrote in his autobiography.

He may have been bemused by how much the match meant to the English nation (dismissing it as “a one-sided rivalry” in his book), but he would find himself hailed as a hero for what happened over the course of 90 minutes. Fielding a starting XI containing players only from the Premier League’s top four in 2000-01 of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Leeds United, England enjoyed a never-to-be-forgotten night that sent the country into raptures.

Michae Owen scores for England against Germany.

And yet it began with Carsten Jancker putting the Germans ahead, with Sebastian Deisler squandering a great chance to restore the lead after Owen had equalised. The crucial moment came when Steven Gerrard drove England ahead on the stroke of half-time. From then on it was all England, Owen scoring twice more to complete his hat-trick. “This is getting better and better and better,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson, with the drama not finished yet. An excellent ball from Scholes allowed Emile Heskey to make it 5-1 with 16 minutes left. It was ‘pinch me’ stuff, England humiliating their old nemesis. Few England victories over the years have been as widely celebrated as this one, a result that was particularly significant as the Germans had previously only lost one World Cup qualifying match.

MIchael Owen celebrates as England run riot against Germany.

England had a largely young side, several of whom would be part of the ‘golden generation’ set-up in the ensuing years, and there now seemed much to get excited about. Eriksson was being hailed as a hero, his success so far having silenced most who criticised his appointment. ‘Sven-sational’ was the sort of headline gracing just about tabloid. His sex life wasn’t filling column inches as much as in the ensuing years, his tactics weren’t being questioned and nor was too much criticism flying around over his reported salary after the win over Germany like it later would. This was really as good as it got, the man being hailed as a saviour of the England team. It certainly wouldn’t always be like this.

Now it looked just a formality that England would get the two wins needed against Albania and Greece to ensure qualification. The nation was in party mood as Albania arrived at St James’ Park four days after the Germany game, but it threatened to be an anti-climax. England had to wait until the 44th minute to go ahead through Owen, with the killer second not arriving until the closing minutes from Robbie Fowler. But the 2-0 win meant England topped the table with one game to play. If they matched Germany’s result at home to Finland when Greece came to Old Trafford then they were through.

Albania were England’s first opponents after thrashing Germany.

In the month between England beating Albania and welcoming Greece to Old Trafford, the world was rocked by the events of September 11 which put football firmly into perspective. But there was still plenty of attention given to the decisive qualifier in the build-up to it, the BBC starting its live programme two hours before kick-off. It wasn’t quite win or bust, as the runners-up would have a second chance in the play-offs. In a curious move, the play-off draw was made some weeks before the groups concluded – England knowing they would have a fairly favourable tie with Belarus or Ukraine if they slipped up. But there were no guarantees they would defeat them. A win over Greece would make things far more straightforward.

Becks to the rescue

England were without Owen and Seaman against Greece, as Fowler and Nigel Martyn deputised. Eriksson’s side were still widely expected to prevail, but they toiled in the October sunshine. The match provided the first hints of some of Eriksson’s shortcomings, as well as the improvements Greece were making under Otto Rehhagel that would lead to them sensationally winning Euro 2004. They were to stun Old Trafford by taking a half-time lead, with England not striking back until the 67th minute. Seconds after coming on, veteran Teddy Sheringham headed England level. That should have been the springboard for England to go on and get the victory, but two minutes later the Greeks were back in front.

It was now starting to look increasingly ominous for England, whose fans were keeping tabs on events in Gelsenkirchen. Earlier in the campaign Finland had drawn with Germany and now they were doing so again. If they could keep it goalless, then an English equaliser would be enough to send Eriksson’s side through. The Finns duly did their bit, but where would England’s goal come from?


David Beckham celebrates saving England against Greece.

It had been a frustrating afternoon for captain Beckham, who had worked tirelessly but his free-kicks had failed to trouble the Greek net. But deep in stoppage time England won another free-kick outside the area. Beckham at last curled it brilliantly into the net and Old Trafford erupted. The anticipated ‘Greek tragedy for England’ headlines could be spiked and Eriksson had led England into the finals. Paul Wilson wrote in The Guardian: “This was not a great England performance but it was a display of great character, and it was fitting that David Beckham should secure the all-important point in the third minute of stoppage time. At times the captain was almost playing Greece on his own, and no one worked harder in twice bringing England back from a goal down.”

“Even I threw my arms up in the air and jumped up off the bench,” wrote Eriksson, almost appearing to mock his usual lack of animation on the touchline. But this was a goal worth celebrating – it had come down to virtually the final kick and England had done it. They’d done it the hard way and also had Finland to thank for getting them out of jail. But they had made it all the same. German celebrations were curtailed as news broke of England’s goal, although they would beat Ukraine in the play-offs and go on to reach the final as England went out to Brazil in the quarter-finals. But the qualifying campaign had for once seen England come out on top, with that unbelievable night in Munich being the standout result.

Six of the Best – England Sports Personality Moments

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

1966 – Moore lifts another trophy

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

Bobby Moore and Eusebio compare trophies.

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

1986 – Lineker loses out

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

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


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

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

1990 – Gascoigne’s glory

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

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

Paul Gascoigne triumphs in 1990.

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

1998 – Owen’s instant impact

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

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

2001 – Beckham’s redemption

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

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

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

2007 – Not a dry eye in the house

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

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