Don Revie

Don Revie and England – an unhappy marriage and a messy divorce

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This week marks 40 years since Don Revie controversially left England to manage the United Arab Emirates and is also the 90th anniversary of his birth. Today we assess an England reign in which Revie could never quite recapture the success or happiness he enjoyed at Leeds and would end with him ostracised from English football

On the morning of July 12, 1977, readers of the Daily Mail were stunned to find the front page headline screaming out that ‘Revie quits over aggro’. Although England were not in good form and in serious danger of failing to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, this was still shock news – including to many who knew him or worked with him. Football Association secretary Ted Croker was surprised the night before to receive a flurry of calls from media members who had caught a glimpse of the Mail’s sensational exclusive and wanted to know if it stacked up. He was caught on the hop and knew nothing about it. Revie had told journalist Jeff Powell about his plans before his employer. A resignation letter would duly arrive by post after the newspapers hit the stands. Revie spoke of how he and wife Elsie had agreed the job was no longer worth the aggravation and “it was bringing too much heartache to those nearest to us”. He added: “Nearly everyone in the country wants me out, so I am giving them what they want.”

It quickly came to light that Revie had agreed a lucrative contract to take over as manager of the United Arab Emirates, a deal negotiated while still employed as England boss. Revie had endured a troubled working relationship with FA chairman Sir Harold Thompson and there would be a messy, acrimonious divorce that had lasting recriminations. A legal battle saw the FA seek to ban Revie sine die from English football for 10 years and initially get their way. Revie successfully fought to overturn that ruling, but he became depicted as a greedy man who had turned his back on his country. The dispute was such that, when Revie sadly died just 12 years later after being afflicted with the dreadful motor neurone disease, the FA was not represented at his funeral.

When Revie departed his beloved Leeds United for England in the summer of 1974, he was the meritocratic choice having led his club to the First Division title just weeks earlier. There had been a number of major honours won and he could feasibly have doubled the tally, so often were they in the reckoning. But he was not everyone’s cup of tea. The ‘Dirty Leeds’ and ‘Don Readies’ jibes would be hard to shake off and there were some who loathed him and the club he built – not least the man who would controversially be replacing him at Elland Road, his arch-rival Brian Clough. Revie and his family would find Clough’s assertion that he was a “cold man” laughable, but the new boss of England would never develop the charismatic public persona of contemporaries such as Clough and Bill Shankly. And there would be various allegations made about his managerial practices which, while remaining unproven, did nothing to help his reputation and built the perception among some that he literally had a win-at-all-costs mentality. Mud can indeed stick.

Revie may not have been loved nationally, but at Leeds he was almost God-like and remains adored by fans more than 40 years later. He faced a tug-of-love between club and country in the summer of 1974, deciding that the chance to lead England was one he could not turn down – even though he would have to sacrifice the chance to potentially win the European Cup with Leeds in 1974-75. “Any Englishman that is worth his salt would want to manage the England team,” he said as the former England player was unveiled as team manager. As he departed Leeds, Revie spoke of how it was like leaving behind a family. And over the next three years he would rarely seem as settled or happy with his lot as as he had at Elland Road.

Sir Harold Thompson, a man with whom Don Revie had a difficult relationship.

Continuing with the family analogy, it was a bit like leaving your wife and kids to set up home with your childhood sweetheart but then quickly discovering you would be inheriting a father-in-law you couldn’t stand – while your stepchildren would never bring the same love and affection as the ‘real’ ones you left behind. The proverbial father-in-law was Thompson, an Oxford chemistry don who had very little in common with former bricklayer Revie. He did not become FA chairman until 1976 but held plenty of sway before that, being seen as a key figure in Sir Alf Ramsey’s sacking in 1974. Thompson – a man widely described as an autocrat – would bluntly insist on addressing Revie by his surname, not even affording him the courtesy of ‘Mr’. One suspects that Revie may even have found some common ground with Clough had his rival succeeded him as England manager in 1977 and had to deal with the FA chief. Revie must certainly have longed for the days of  serving under the likes of Manny Cussins at Leeds.

And the proverbial stepchildren were the players, who unlike Revie’s great Leeds side would never come close to major silverware. There was no transfer market for Revie to utilise in international football and he was left to try and find English players to achieve what he wanted. When Revie left the England role, Daily Mirror sports journalist Frank McGhee wrote of the lack of class players available to him over the previous three years. He said: “Although Revie never moaned about it publicly – he had the same fiercely protective attitude towards his players as Ramsey – I know that privately he was disturbed and distressed by this lack of class. He found it even harder to understand the lack of technique and professionalism in players from clubs who hadn’t organised as he had in his 13 outstandingly successful years with Leeds.”

Showing an innovative streak, Revie would introduce a new Admiral-produced England team strip – a bold move at the time – and got the Wembley crowd singing Land of Hope and Glory before kick-off. McGhee would call him “a superb public relations man for the Football Association” for the way he whipped up interest in matches at Wembley and over the commercial deals he struck. But while his reign would initially bring plenty of hope, there was limited glory. Until Steve McClaren three decades later, Revie was the only ‘permanent’ England manager never to lead the side in the finals of a major tournament…

No Leeds repeat

If Revie was expected to make England clones of Leeds, then that was going to be impossible from the word go. Many players in his Leeds machine were not English, a number instead heading to the 1974 World Cup with Scotland. And for the English contingent, the clock was ticking on their careers. The likes of Allan Clarke, Terry Cooper and Norman Hunter would only briefly figure, while Paul Madeley was far from an ever-present. Trevor Cherry was the one man to emerge from Revie’s Leeds empire and break into the England ranks – but even then his first cap did not arrive until 1976. The point is that vast majority of the personnel Revie managed at Leeds were not there to choose and he was going to have to get used to working with a vastly new group of players.

Over the years many England managers have struggled to adapt to the routine that goes with international management compared to club level. Revie arguably found it tougher to make the change than any of them. At Leeds he had spent hour upon hour at the club, forging strong relationships with everyone from star players to the tea ladies. Now he moved into a different world where he could go weeks or even months without spending time with the players and there was none of the intimacy or family atmosphere he built up with his charges at Elland Road. Leeds players taking part in activities such as carpet bowls would attract intrigue from outsiders, but it was helping with team bonding. Now with England such ideas would be met with more resistance and Revie struggled to replicate the Leeds spirit.

Not that Revie was totally blameless on that score, as constant chopping and changing made it difficult to build a club-like atmosphere. Paradoxically he seemed to find the pool of players available both too limited and too wide – he privately rued the talent that was available to achieve what he wanted, but then seemed to fall into the trap of trying too many players in a bid to resolve matters. A get-together of about 80 English footballers shortly after he took the job was done with the right intentions, but to critics he was casting the net too wide by keeping so many individuals in mind.

Captain Alan Ball was sent a letter informing he was not being selected for a trip to Switzerland in 1975, the 1966 World Cup winner hurt that Revie did not even afford him the courtesy of a phone call to discuss the matter as his international career came to a sad close. Fellow senior player Emlyn Hughes – the captain when Revie first took the job – would also harbour a grudge for many years afterwards, having been axed shortly into the reign (although he was later recalled). Even after Revie’s death Hughes would put the boot in, laying into him in the BBC series Match of the 70s during the mid-1990s. “I think he was virtually money-ruled,” said Hughes, slamming Revie for significantly increasing the players’ appearance money as the Liverpool star believed it was irrelevant when representing your country,

Emlyn Hughes and Don Revie – a pairing that would soon end with Hughes bitter towards the manager.

The 1970s Maverick flair players had struggled to win over Ramsey and would make limited inroads with Revie too, men such as Stan Bowles, Charlie George and Alan Hudson enjoying only the briefest of international outings under him. Hudson shone on his debut in a friendly win over West Germany, then won just one more cap. It should also be noted that Revie was to unfortunately lose key players to injuries, particularly midfielders Colin Bell and Gerry Francis who both looked impressive early in his reign when the side seemed to offer a real goalscoring threat from midfield. It was a genuine blow to Revie and undid his plans.

While the relationship between Revie and certain players may have inevitably fallen short of the bond he enjoyed at Leeds, it was not without mutual affection. In his resignation letter, Revie said of his players: “They have been magnificent. Many of them have been upset on my behalf and have tried too hard to get results for me, and the pressure has sometimes produced the wrong results.” One player who certainly took a shine to Revie was Kevin Keegan, who flew in from Spain to attend his former England manager’s funeral in 1989. “He was like a father figure to me,” he said during a TV interview, one of a minority of footballing personnel present who had not been part of his Leeds empire. Keegan had extra reason to be grateful to Revie, a man who forgave the player’s decision to walk out on the England squad after being dropped for a game against Wales in 1975. Had it been someone else in charge, Keegan’s international career could have ended there and then.

A promising start

Revie’s England reign was certainly not a great success, but it was not some catastrophic failure either. He was unbeaten in his first season, which included beating world champions West Germany 2-0 in a friendly, not conceding in his opening six games and thrashing Scotland 5-1. His first match in charge was particularly memorable, as the side beat Czechoslovakia 3-0 at Wembley in a European Championship qualifier. The nation felt buoyant, a new sense of belief emerging a year after the pain of failing to qualify for the World Cup. But Henry Winter’s excellent book Fifty Years of Hurt contains a particularly insightful interview with Revie’s son Duncan – who has sadly recently died at a similar age to when his father passed on – about how the new manager looked solemn rather than euphoric afterwards. “We just haven’t got the players,” said Revie Sr, which seemed a strange time to make such comments after a good victory.

But maybe he was already wondering if he’d made the right decision to leave Leeds for England. The 3-0 win had probably raised expectations higher than he knew they realistically should be; he was struggling to strike up a positive relationship with certain FA bigwigs such as Thompson and encountering obstruction from the Football League as he sought to rearrange club fixtures for the benefit of the national team; and he’d seen his beloved Leeds taken over by his arch-nemesis Clough and then plunged into disarray, the man lasting just 44 days at Elland Road as the near-invincibles of the previous season lay well down the table.

But there wouldn’t be many grumbles over the next few months about Revie and England, although a dismal 0-0 home draw with Portugal in his second game removed some of the initial optimism. The turning point in Revie’s reign came exactly a year after his first game, when England lost the return match against the Czechs 2-1 and ultimately failed to qualify for the last eight. It was Revie’s first defeat and came when he could least afford it. There were fine margins, the Czechs going on to eventually win the tournament when it could so easily have been England in the finals instead. While England’s qualifying exit lacked the pain and drama of the failure to make the 1974 World Cup, it was still a black mark against Revie’s name. He wouldn’t be hounded out for missing out on the Euros but would be judged on whether England could make the 1978 World Cup. It had been his aim since day one – actually declaring early on he believed they could win it – but now there was increased pressure on him to deliver.

A bad day in Rome

England’s decline meant they were no longer seeded and they paid for it by being grouped with Italy, only one side being able to reach the finals in Argentina. D-Day for England and Revie came in November 1976 against the Italians in Rome. With the other teams in the group being the minnows of Finland and Luxembourg, it was likely to boil down to the head-to-head battles between Italy and England, plus possibly goal difference. A narrow 2-1 home win over Finland the previous month did nothing to help Revie or raise confidence. England could not afford to lose in Rome. Revie, a man famed for his dossiers at Leeds, was diligent in his research as he watched the Italians multiple times. But his selection would be criticised as he made a series of changes and the team had an unfamiliar line-up and shape (including a back four that had not played together before), set-up with the intention of trying to stop the Italians. The Revie plan didn’t work.

By contrast Italy were almost like a club side, the bulk of their side playing together at Juventus. It showed. “They murdered us 2-0,” said the recalled Hughes, after a match in which only the most partisan of England followers could claim they had deserved a result. Trevor Brooking, who played in the defeat, would reflect years later: “I think even coming off the pitch it wasn’t a great surprise [to have lost], because going out there you were hoping it was going to happen but you didn’t quite have that belief.”

The loss marked the beginning of the end. Things would get worse with the Netherlands, Wales and Scotland all winning at Wembley between February and June 1977. The defeat by the Dutch emphasised how far England now lagged behind the top sides. The only positive result at Wembley during the run, a 5-0 win over Luxembourg, was considered merely European football’s equivalent of squatting a fly. Even when England won 2-1 away to Northern Ireland in May, Revie would be told that it it had been “a load of rubbish” by Thompson. It was hardly a classic England display, but the comments summed up the chasm that existed between Revie and his employer. By then the end was in sight, a job offer emerging in the United Arab Emirates. Revie oversaw a draw-laden tour of South America that did give a degree of cause for optimism as England matched Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. But he was already planning his way out, secretly heading off to the UAE to finalise the deal during the tour.

Don Revie during his England reign.

On July 10, Revie celebrated his 50th birthday at the start of a hectic week. The following day he posted his resignation letter and that night the first glimpse of the following day’s Daily Mail front page led to sports journalists desperately playing catch-up. On July 12 the news broke that Revie had quit, amid some initial speculation he may be heading for Manchester United. But 24 hours later the Mail broke yet another major exclusive, revealing he was taking up a very well-paid job as the United Arab Emirates team manager. A storm was brewing and the FA were seething over Revie’s conduct, while critics perceived him a traitor to the national cause and a man who had been unwilling to ride the storm and try and turn fortunes around.

But had Revie really been that or was he simply jumping before he was pushed? He would maintain he knew the axe was coming and wanted to get out while there was a job offer and security on the table. He also claimed the FA had approached Bobby Robson behind his back (an allegation Robson vehemently refuted in his 1986 World Cup Diary, although another source suggests the approach was made to Robson’s Ipswich Town chairman John Cobbold). If true, it does seem a bit like branding a man a homewrecker for moving out after discovering his wife had been having an affair with another man.

If the FA were really planning for life after Revie, then they should have been upfront with him. And he too should not have gone behind his employer’s back. Both parties could certainly have avoided a lot of aggro had they simply agreed to part amicably. The ideal solution would have been for Revie to leave by mutual consent, saving him the indignity of being sacked butalso offering the comfort of having a well-paid job to go to without any legal wrangles to negotiate. Or the deal with the UAE could have been done through the right channels (given the money Revie would reportedly be paid, his new nation could certainly have afforded to pay compensation).

Instead the departure was rich in controversy, with it being reported Revie had skipped part of the South American tour to get the deal sorted while officially claiming he was off to scout Italy against Finland; it was also claimed he had made enquiries to the FA about resigning but still wanted to have his salary paid up (leading the FA to feel he had tried to deceive them, given he had another job offer on the table) while it did not help that he had only recently declared he would be seeing the job through until at least after the home game against Italy in November.

Unfortunately, the combination of Revie having sold his story and taking a job in a nation rich in finance but not football heritage did nothing to stem the perception he was money-obsessed. Doing an exclusive deal with one tabloid also inevitably irked rival football correspondents and the publications they worked for, few offering much support for Revie. “To be blunt he doesn’t deserve sympathy,” wrote McGhee. “Pressure, criticism and unpopularity are his basic reasons for quitting. But all three are part of the deal for any manager, particularly one in the England job. Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom can testify to that. And they weren’t paid anything like Revie’s £25,000 a year to take it, live with it and shrug it off.” Wherever you looked with Revie, money seemed to creep in.

But McGhee’s article assessing Revie’s reign was more balanced than that of David Miller’s in the Daily Express, who seemed particularly keen to get one back on the outgoing manager for selling his story to the paper’s main rival. Without naming him directly, Miller scathingly branded Powell “an acolyte journalist who touchingly still believed in the myth of Revie’s infallibility.” He also cast doubt upon the reasons Revie gave for quitting, writing: “Revie has said his resignation came because his family were upset by the pressure, but his daughter’s appearance, straight from boarding school, to sing in a Luton nightclub was hardly the action of a sensitive, publicity-shy girl.” Miller went on to list all sorts of reasons why Revie should be viewed as a failure, including his high turnover rate of players and the changes he made for the game in Italy.

For Revie there remained a legal contest with the FA. Even when he was successful in overturning a hefty 10-year ban from working in English football, it proved something of a Pyrrhic victory as the judge came out with a series of damning comments in his summing up that further sullied Revie’s reputation. The High Court was told that Revie had shown “disloyalty, breach of duty, discourtesy and selfishness” and that his conduct had led English football to “a high level of disrepute”. By the time of the verdict in December 1979 Revie was well-settled in the UAE and enjoying life out there. His managerial work did not reap obvious rewards at the time but the side ultimately went on to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, his reign almost certainly helping move things forward. Sadly Revie would not live to see it, his painful struggle with motor neurone disease blighting the last couple of years of his life before he died in May 1989. It was merely 15 years since he had taken charge of England, when hope briefly grew before it all went sour.

Revie did not find life easy as England manager and some mistakes were made. But one can’t help wondering if he might have found things easier as England boss if he had been born in a different era and was around today. He would hardly be alone in today’s football world in being associated with making money (Sven-Goran Eriksson certainly was); he would have the benefit of international breaks, which he tried unsuccessfully to introduce; finishing second in qualifying groups would not leave England in the wilderness as happened in Revie’s days; and he would surely find the current FA bosses preferable to Thompson. Even if things did not work out, he would almost certainly be able to part on more amicable terms than he experienced in 1977. Some of his successors, such as Eriksson and Sam Allardyce, had messy departures which – while not exactly the same circumstances as Revie’s – did not see them have to fight just for the right to work in English football again.

In many ways the Revie England reign reminds us of Graham Taylor’s. Both men took charge of England after plenty of club success but they seemed unable to replicate the same spirit at international level. However, they began amid national optimism with an unbeaten first season but then suffered a costly defeat in the second. Things would turn sour in the third season and leave both men knowing England were unlikely to qualify for the World Cup and they were facing the axe. Each would receive criticism for dropping senior players and over some of those they called up as they handed out a plethora of new caps, while both men had the misfortune to lose key men due to injuries.

But for all the comparisons, the way they would be perceived in later years was vastly different. When Taylor died earlier this year, the Football Association voiced its deep sadness and most seemed to recognise him as a decent man who gave his all; when Revie died in 1989, the FA steered clear of his funeral. It summed up the messy way that the Revie years ended – whereas Taylor saw it out until the bitter end, Revie jumped before he was pushed and, while he enjoyed a good standard of life in the United Arab Emirates, found himself ostracised from English football. It was a sad situation that perhaps summed up Revie and England – it was a relationship that could have worked so well, but seemed fated never to turn out happily.

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

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

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

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

Flying start

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

England enjoy a winning start in Finland.

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

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

Roberto Bettega ensures England are beaten by Italy.

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

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

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

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

The end for Revie

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes fade away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six of the Best – England managerial debuts

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This weekend England will be managed by Sam Allardyce for the first time when they visit Slovakia for a World Cup qualifier. History is on his side, with the majority of his predecessors having started with a win. Today we recall six winning England managerial debuts…

Walter Winterbottom

The post-war period saw England appoint their first manager, Walter Winterbottom initially being known as national director of coaching in 1946 before the title was altered to manager a year later. Unfortunately the archaic selection committee continued to pick the side, but Winterbottom had coaching and managerial responsibilities.

Walter Winterbottom.

He was just 33 when he led the side for a Home International Championship match against (Northern) Ireland in Belfast in September 1946 and he got off to a dream start. Wilf Mannion scored a hat-trick in a 7-2 win, the sort of result today that would have every match report focusing upon the instant impact made by the new boss. And yet The Times never even mentioned Winterbottom in its summary of the match. He would win his first four games in charge and stay at the helm until 1962.

Don Revie

A year on from the pain of England failing to qualify for the World Cup, there was a new sense of optimism in the Wembley air in October 1974. Don Revie’s first game in charge would bring a European Championship qualifier at home to Czechoslovakia. In the final 20 minutes Mick Channon and Colin Bell (2) scored to produce an impressive 3-0 win, spreading hope that Revie – fresh from winning the First Division with Leeds United – would bring success to England.

Don Revie begins his England reign with a 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia.

But the new manager wasn’t so convinced. Interviewed for Henry Winter’s excellent new book Fifty Years of Hurt, Revie’s son Duncan recalls his father looking miserable after the match. “We just haven’t got the players,” he told him, perhaps sensing that expectations were now going to be higher than they realistically should be. England remained unbeaten during Revie’s first season in charge but failed to qualify after losing the return match against the Czechs in October 1975. Czechoslovakia went on to win the tournament, making Revie’s opening result look particularly good in hindsight. 

Terry Venables

Like Revie, Terry Venables faced the challenge of restoring national pride when he took over in early 1994 in the wake of England’s failure to reach the World Cup under Graham Taylor. A home friendly against European champions Denmark in March was a good way to start, Venables handing debuts to Darren Anderton, Graeme Le Saux and Matt Le Tissier and recalling Peter Beardsley. The team showed that Venables’ new ‘Christmas tree’ formation could bear fruit, offering a greater attacking zest than on many occasions during the previous regime. A crowd of almost 72,000 saw an encouraging display, David Platt scoring the only goal.

Terry Venables arrives and is soon off to a winning start.

Joe Lovejoy wrote in The Independent: “Wembley loved it. A full house had greeted Venables like a conquering hero and left with battered pride fully restored by an England team good enough to take play to the European champions and attack them with imagination and conviction.” Venables would not suffer his first England defeat until the following year, going on to lead them to the Euro ’96 semi-finals.

Kevin Keegan

In March 1999 Kevin Keegan took charge of England for the first time for a vital Euro 2000 qualifier at home to Poland, initially accepting the job only on a temporary basis. But he would soon feel the clamour to leave Fulham and manage his country full-time as he led England to a 3-1 win over the Poles, with Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick.

A hat-trick from Paul Scholes gives Kevin Keegan a winning managerial debut for England.

“Played one, won one. I should resign now,” quipped Keegan, who would find the temptation to permanently lead his country too strong as he left Fulham. But he would struggle to replicate the magic of the Poland game, the only time England would win during their qualifying group apart from against whipping boys Luxembourg. They scraped into the play-offs, going on to beat Scotland before exiting during the group stage at Euro 2000. Keegan could feel the public support slipping away, resigning almost immediately after losing 1-0 to Germany in a World Cup qualifier in October 2000.

Sven-Göran Eriksson

Keegan’s permanent successor was England’s first foreign manager, with increased levels of attention given to the team’s friendly against Spain at Villa Park in February 2001. Sven-Göran Eriksson’s team selection raised a few eyebrows, with uncapped 31-year-old Charlton Athletic defender Chris Powell named at left back. It proved a good night, as goals from Nick Barmby, Emile Heskey and Ugo Ehiogu brought England a 3-0 victory – ending a five-match winless run.

England beat Spain 3-0 in February 2001.

This was not the Spain that would become so dominant in the ensuing years, but it was still an impressive result. “Abba be praised. England appear to have rediscovered the art of winning,” wrote David Lacey in his match report in The Guardian. And during 2001 they kept on winning, topping their World Cup qualifying group as Eriksson enjoyed a longer honeymoon period than most. Only when England limply lost to 10-man Brazil at the 2002 World Cup were the first real doubts cast.

Steve McClaren

There would be one direct comparison between the opening and ending nights of Steve McClaren’s England reign – on both occasions it rained. But there was little indication of the turbulence that lay ahead when McClaren took charge of England for the first time in August 2006 against Greece in a friendly at Old Trafford. England tore the European champions apart in the first half, with John Terry, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch (2) giving them a 4-0 lead after just 42 minutes. There was no more scoring, but all seemed to bode well.

England enjoy a 4-0 win over Greece in Augusr 2006. All looks promising for Steve McClaren.

Although McClaren’s first three matches all brought victories without conceding, things would soon start to unravel but it was still in England’s hands going into the decisive final Euro 2008 qualifying match against Croatia in November 2007. On an infamous night, McClaren became dubbed the ‘wally with the brolly’ as England sank to a 3-2 defeat in the Wembley rain. He was on his way out and probably wished he could just turn the clock back to that opening night 15 months earlier when all seemed so positive.

And the rest

Honourable mentions here for several other England managers to start with a win, most notably Glenn Hoddle who led them to a 3-0 win in a World Cup qualifier in Moldova 20 years ago (until Allardyce this weekend, he’s the only England boss to begin with a World Cup match). Graham Taylor enjoyed a 1-0 friendly win over Hungary in September 1990, like Revie being unbeaten for a year before woes would set in.

Fabio Capello began well, a 2-1 friendly win over Switzerland in February 2008 paving the way for a dominant 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Roy Hodgson began his reign with a 1-0 win away to Norway in May 2012, shortly before he led England to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. Caretaker boss Joe Mercer’s first England match brought a 2-0 win over Wales in 1974, unlike fellow interim managers Stuart Pearce (2-3 vs Netherlands, 2012), Peter Taylor (0-1 vs Italy, 2000) and Howard Wilkinson (0-2 vs France, 1999) who all suffered defeats.

Ron Greenwood’s first match was a 0-0 friendly draw with Switzerland in September 1977 , while Bobby Robson saw his side draw 2-2 away to an impressive Denmark in a Euro ’84 qualifier – the build-up overshadowed by the fallout from Kevin Keegan controversially being axed from the England squad.

And that leaves just one of England’s past 13 full-time managers who started with a defeat. Step forward Alf Ramsey, who began with a 5-2 mauling by France in a European Nations Cup qualifier in February 1963. Given what was achieved under Sir Alf three years later, perhaps it won’t be a bad omen for Big Sam if England do slip up in Slovakia…

England’s Qualifying Campaigns – Euro ’76: Staying in the Wilderness

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England are currently preparing for Euro 2016, having qualified with ease for the finals. But 40 years ago the final stages of the European Championship took place without them, England having failed to progress beyond their qualifying group. Coming after missing out on a place at the 1974 World Cup finals, it added to the gloom for England fans and proved a big disappointment for new manager Don Revie after he appeared to have started well in the job…

In October 1973, England infamously drew with Poland and failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. In the ensuing months the Football Association parted company with Sir Alf Ramsey, with Joe Mercer looking after the shop for seven matches as he sought to help restore national pride. In July 1974 the FA unveiled the new manager, as Don Revie left First Division champions Leeds United to lead his country.

Although Revie may not have had the public support of Brian Clough and his Leeds side were far from universally loved, he had a track record for success – either winning major honours or coming perilously close to doing so. Now the nation hoped he could restore that winning mentality, with England having lost the aura they had held when they won the World Cup in 1966. Their recent record at Wembley, where once they had been almost invincible, was a particular concern. They had been beaten there by West Germany in the European Championship quarter-finals in 1972 and then failed to beat Wales and Poland beneath the Twin Towers in qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. Revie’s first challenge would be to lead England to the final stages of the 1976 European Championship, although he quickly made clear what his real priority was in an era when the World Cup dwarfed the Euros. “The main object must be to build up to the World Cup of 1978,” he said upon his appointment. “Four years seems a long way off, but it isn’t.”

But there was no time like the present and England would be in a Euro ’76 qualifying group with Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus. None of the four sides had made it to the 1974 World Cup finals. The Czechs had come unstuck against Scotland; England and Portugal were pale shadows of their great sides of 1966; and Cyprus were seen as just making up the numbers. When the draw was made in January 1974, Geoffrey Green in The Times described the group as “a comparatively mild sector at present-day values” given the sides would all be absent from the World Cup. Only the group winners would progress to the two-legged quarter-finals.


Don Revie with his first England captain, Emlyn Hughes. It proved a short-lived partnership.

Revie’s first England match would not be until October 30. However, his first get-together was at a Manchester hotel in September when more than 80 established and potential players were invited to attend. Many of them – such as John Beck, Micky Horswill, Kevin Lock and Denis Smith – would never be capped by England at full level but Revie was certainly going to look far and wide for men who could bolster the squad. However, the rather generous number of debuts he handed out while in charge would attract criticism. So too would be the decision to axe established players, including captains Emlyn Hughes and Alan Ball. Like Ramsey, Revie showed a reluctance to pick the flair ‘Maverick’ players who had burst onto the scene and this also gave ammunition to his critics.

The great start for Revie

Although the late date for his first game afforded Revie time to prepare, he would not have the luxury of a friendly to ease his way into the role. His opening match would be the first qualifier against Czechoslovakia at Wembley. It felt like the dawn of a new era, with a new manager in charge who was bringing in Land of Hope and Glory as a pre-match anthem and England were donning a new-look Admiral kit that divided opinion.

The Czechs held out for more than 70 minutes before Mick Channon and Colin Bell (2) found the net as England won 3-0. “It was a match with a beginning and ending but little in the middle to excite us,” wrote Green, adding a note of caution amid the delight over the result. It was though an encouraging evening, where the introduction of substitutes Trevor Brooking and Dave Thomas had helped push England on. Making effective use of substitutes had not been Ramsey’s forte but his permanent successor had made a double change that had paid off. His decision to hand a first cap to midfielder Gerry Francis had also been rewarded with a good display, with the player going on to be a central part of Revie’s plans.

Back to reality

Revie’s honeymoon would last just three weeks, before being brought back down to earth. Portugal visited Wembley for England’s second qualifier, with the hosts expected to make it two wins out of two – particularly after Portugal were beaten 3-0 in a friendly by Switzerland the week before. A big crowd at Wembley saw the Portuguese adopt a defensive approach that England were unable to breach, although visiting goalkeeper Vitor Damas would pull off some good saves to keep them out. The celebrations of Damas and his colleagues at the finish were an indicator they had exceeded expectations with a goalless draw, while England left the pitch to a loud chorus of ‘what a load of rubbish’.


Dave Thomas in action for England against Portugal.

Revie did not try to hide from the crowd’s disappointment. “No excuses. We didn’t play at all,” he told the media. “It was a bad performance, we didn’t deserve anything more than a draw.” In the Daily Mirror, Frank McGhee wrote: “Quite the worst feature of the whole affair was that England produced so pitifully few ideas during the game to change a course that gradually became inevitable.” To put the result into a gloomy perspective, Portugal would lose 5-0 when they visited Czechoslovakia during the qualifying series.

England’s next match was due to be an away qualifier in Cyprus in February, but it was postponed due to concerns over political unrest. Instead their first game in 1975 was a home friendly against world champions West Germany in March, marking England’s 100th match at Wembley. The night rekindled optimism about Revie’s reign as Colin Bell and Malcolm Macdonald scored in a 2-0 win. Ball was the new captain after Hughes was controversially axed, although ‘Crazy Horse’ would make further appearances under Revie (a man he would regularly criticise in later years).

Malcolm Macdonald 5-0 Cyprus

In April England were in must-win territory as group outsiders Cyprus visited Wembley. Fresh from netting his first England goal the previous month, Macdonald showed his potency by continually being in the right place to score on the night. He scored the lot as England crushed their opponents 5-0. But not everyone felt euphoric about the win or Macdonald’s goal blitz. In the Daily Express, reporter David Miller wrote: “This was Third Division stuff in international terms. Let us keep the champagne for the moment when the English bull does the same against Argentina, Brazil or Holland.”


Malcolm Macdonald helps himself to five goals against Cyprus.

England had unusually played all their three home qualifiers before any of the away ones took place, but in May they finally ventured onto foreign soil under Revie for the return game in Cyprus. An early goal from Kevin Keegan looked like it may open the floodgates, but it was to be a disappointing afternoon for the Three Lions as they had to be content with a 1-0 win. Macdonald couldn’t score and indeed would never find the net for his country again, Miller’s comments the previous month sadly bearing fruit. But England had at least ground out a result. David Lacey wrote in the Guardian: “If their performance was unspectacular, at least they avoided the sort of catastrophe that can easily occur when teams have to encounter weak but spirited opponents in alien conditions.”

The season wound down with the Home International Championship. A 0-0 draw away to Northern Ireland meant Revie’s team had not conceded in six games, a sequence that ended in the next match. Although a 2-2 draw at home to Wales was disappointing, the two debut goals for David Johnson gave encouragement. But England saved their best until last, crushing Scotland 5-1 at Wembley. Francis (2), Bell and Johnson joined Kevin Beattie on the England scoresheet, as they completed the season unbeaten and as Home International champions. Revie appeared to be rehabilitating England and putting the painful memories of 1973 behind them. Sadly, things were about to fall apart.

Ball axed

England were to start the 1975/76 season with an away friendly in Switzerland. But the build-up was overshadowed by Ball discovering he had been dropped and stripped off the captaincy, which was handed to Francis. Ball claimed he received an unsigned letter from Revie informing him of the decision, the player revealing his hurt at the manager not speaking to him in person about the matter. It marked a sad end to Ball’s international career and meant all of England’s World Cup winning XI were no longer playing for their country. The row over Ball coincided with Stoke City manager Tony Waddington speaking out over Revie’s decision to not pick ‘Maverick’ Alan Hudson, with the England boss learning what an unforgiving world international football management could be. But he wasn’t going to cave in.


Alan Hudson and Alan Ball were controversially dropped by Don Revie.

Speaking about players having been axed, Revie said: “I feel particularly sad in the case of Emlyn and Alan, but although I wrote each of them a letter I suppose I shall have to wait until they become managers before they appreciate what I had to do. I haven’t had time for sitting on the fence and postponing unpleasant decisions.”

England won 2-1 in Switzerland, but the most important internationals still lay ahead. They faced away qualifiers in Czechoslovakia and Portugal. England were in the driving seat but they could ill-afford to lose either game. Their game in Bratislava against Czechoslovakia was abandoned at 0-0 after 17 minutes due to fog. The match would start again the following afternoon – a year to the day of when Revie’s reign had begun in style against the Czechs.


England’s hopes faded with defeat in Czechoslovakia.

All seemed to be going to plan as Channon put England in front, but Revie’s unbeaten run came to an end when the result most mattered as the Czechs came from behind to win 2-1. After an ill-tempered contest, England were fuming towards Italian referee Alberto Michelotti for how they felt he had handled the match. Revie, who hailed the way his players had performed despite the result, said: “I saw the worst provocation in this game that I have ever seen in an international match, certainly worse than Argentina against England in the 1966 World Cup.” It was fair to assume he wasn’t blaming his own team for the said provocation. 

The following month, the group picture remained murky after Czechoslovakia drew 1-1 away to Portugal. England led the group by virtue of having a goal difference one better than Czechoslovakia, but that wasn’t much of an advantage in the circumstances. It now basically came down to who got the best result from their final match – England in Portugal, Czechoslovakia in Cyprus. The Czechs faced the easier task and would also know exactly what they had to do as they would be playing four days after England’s match. To believe they would do it, England were realistically going to have to record a big win in Portugal. It was a tall order.

Missing out again

A stunning free-kick from Rui Rodrigues put Portugal ahead and although Channon equalised before the break, England could not snatch a winner and drew 1-1. Their only hope now was for the Czechs to fail to win in Cyprus, which seemed unlikely. According to Green, Revie saved “time, petrol and expense” by cancelling the executive jet to take him to see the match. He seemed to have accepted the inevitable. Any hopes England had of advancing to the last eight were duly extinguished by half-time, as Czechoslovakia led 3-0. Even the most optimistic of English fans would have abandoned hope, with the Czechs duly seeing the game out to go through.

Lacey wrote of England’s latest failure: “An outcome which first emerged as a possibility when Portugal forced a goalless draw at Wembley a year ago, became a probability with the defeat in Bratislava last month, a near-certainty with last week’s draw in Lisbon and actuality when Czechoslovakia beat Cyprus 3-0.” 

Czechoslovakia beat West Germany on penalties to win Euro ’76.

For the second major tournament in a row England had been eliminated in the qualifying group stage, paying the price for losing away to their rivals for top spot. Although there was more far melodrama over England failing to make the 1974 World Cup, this latest disappointment in some ways sent out the greater warning message. England were no longer among the elite and their previous failure could not just be written off as a fluke because of the heroics of a Polish goalkeeper. The Czechs surprisingly went on to win the final against West Germany in Yugoslavia, but that provided little consolation to England. Ten years on from winning the World Cup they were increasingly retreating from international football’s frontline and Revie knew he could not afford to fail again during the next qualifying programme.

Six of the Best – England European Championship qualifying matches

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As England prepare to get their campaign to reach Euro 2016 underway in Switzerland, let’s recall six of their most memorable qualifying matches from past European Championships (limited to no more than one per qualification campaign).

Czechoslovakia (h) 3-0, October 1974
A game significant for two reasons. Firstly, it was a victory during Don Revie’s first game at the helm as a new era was ushered in at Wembley. And secondly, this result would go on to look particularly impressive two years later as the Czechs went on to win the European Championship. A year to the month of their World Cup failure against Poland, England appeared to start turning the corner as goals in the closing stages from Mike Channon and Colin Bell (2) gave them a 3-0 success. Another highlight would come the following April when Malcolm MacDonald scored all five goals as Cyprus were thrashed at Wembley. But England let qualification slip through their grasp, the Czechs getting their revenge with a 2-1 win in Bratislava the following October.


Bulgaria (h) 2-0, November 1979
The 1970s had been grim for England fans. After losing in the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup and 1972 European Championship to West Germany, they fell at the qualifying stage of the next three major tournaments. By the time the 1980 European Championship qualifiers began, there was a sense of desperation for England to end their exile from major tournaments. They did so in emphatic fashion, enjoying big wins away to Bulgaria and Northern Ireland to wrap up qualifying. They were able to celebrate qualifying early and this match saw the nation cheer them towards the finals. Fog postponed the match by 24 hours, but when it took place Dave Watson opened the scoring early on. In the second half came the most memorable moment, as young debutant Glenn Hoddle scored a brilliant side-footed shot to wrap up the victory. The nation was now looking forward to Hoddle starring in midfield during the 1980s. It didn’t always work out quite like that, but more than 50 caps would be won by the Spurs player.


Luxembourg (h) 9-0, December 1982
By the early 1980s, the cliche “no easy games in international football” was being dished out with increased frequency and England’s shock defeat to Norway the previous year was still fresh in the mind. But there was one true exception to the rule in an era before the likes of Andorra and San Marino came on the European national scene and that was Luxembourg. Played just 10 days before Christmas, England tore the minnows to shreds and Luther Blissett helped himself to a hat-trick. They led 4-0 by half-time but it will still only 6-0 with five minutes to go, as some gloss was added to the scoreline with three further efforts – the last coming from a Phil Neal cross that the visiting goalkeeper failed to deal with. But Bobby Robson would come unstuck in his first qualifying tournament, England finishing second to an excellent Denmark side, who won 1-0 at Wembley the following September to move to the brink of qualification.


Yugoslavia (a) 4-1, November 1987
England had one of their best qualifying campaigns in reaching Euro ’88 with some clinical displays in front of goal including an 8-0 win over Turkey. However, they went into their final match in the group needing to get a result in Yugoslavia to ensure their place in West Germany. Within 25 minutes all doubts had been shattered as England led 4-0 against a decent side thanks to goals from Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams. The hosts pulled a goal back late on but it was a mere consolation in a game that would stand out as one of the best matches of Bobby Robson’s reign in charge. Sadly, the tournament itself would prove a particular disappointment for England.


Scotland (a) 2-0, November 1999 (play-off, first leg)
Probably the most hyped-up European Championship qualifying matches involving England were their play-off fixtures against Scotland in November 1999.  The sides had met just once in the previous decade, as a new generation of England players prepared to make their first trip to Hampden Park. It had been a poor qualifying campaign from England in which they won just one match out of six against the other top four sides (beating Poland in Kevin Keegan’s first game in charge, the only other wins in the group being against Luxembourg) and they had been reliant on Poland losing their final match to Sweden to scrap into the play-offs. Further good fortune helped them over the qualifying line against the Scots. The first-leg at Hampden Park saw them triumph 2-0 with Paul Scholes getting both goals to leave them firmly on course for the finals. Kevin Keegan’s side should have been home and dry but proceeded to lose the return leg 1-0 at Wembley four days later, almost throwing away their Hampden Park success.


Turkey (h) 2-0, April 2003
In the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004, it was clear from the start it would be a head-to-head fight for top spot between England and Turkey. The Turks had made massive strides from their thrashings by England in the 1980s and had just finished third in the World Cup. Sadly not all the headlines from this meeting at the Stadium of Light were made by what happened on the pitch, but the match brought a priceless win for England. 17-year-old Wayne Rooney shone on his first start for England and he helped the Three Lions triumph 2-0 thanks to late goals from Darius Vassell and David Beckham (penalty), going on to win the group with a 0-0 draw in the return game in October that again attracted plenty of talking points.