Football

England’s qualifying campaigns – Euro ’72: winning points but not plaudits

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On Friday England visit Malta for a World Cup qualifier. The previous occasion when the sides were in the same qualifying group was for the 1972 European Championship. Today we look back at that campaign…

For England and Sir Alf Ramsey, the 1970 World Cup represented disappointment as they surrendered their crown at the quarter-final hurdle against West Germany after leading 2-0. Ramsey now looked ahead to the challenge of the 1974 World Cup, as the Boys of ’66 continually dwindled in number. George Cohen, Roger Hunt and Ray Wilson had all left the scene before 1970, while the World Cup in Mexico marked the end of the international road for the Charlton brothers and Nobby Stiles – the latter never getting any game time in the finals. Other players including Jeff Astle, Brian Labone and Keith Newton would no longer feature after 1970 as Ramsey rebuilt and set his sights on four years down the road.

If West Germany in 1974 was the long-term focus for Ramsey, his first aim was steering England through the qualifying group to reach the quarter-final stage of the 1972 European Championship. They had been handed a favourable group containing Switzerland, Greece and Malta. England had never met the Greeks or Maltese before, while they had faced the Swiss several times including thrashing them 8-1 in Basel in 1963. But Switzerland had a greater track record than the other two opponents, having qualified for the 1966 World Cup.

Shilton’s debut

After Mexico there would be a five-month gap before England next took to the field, as East Germany visited Wembley for a friendly. The match was most significant for Peter Shilton winning the first of his record 125 caps, as Ramsey looked to find a new number two to Gordon Banks after Peter Bonetti had taken some of the blame for the World Cup exit. England won 3-1 to end 1970 in improved spirits.

In early February 1971 they faced their first European Championship qualifier, visiting the minnows of Malta. A key absentee would be captain Bobby Moore, unavailable owing to his suspension by West Ham United over the infamous Blackpool incident the previous month when he was among the players caught drinking in a nightclub on the eve of a game.

Again Ramsey seemed to be looking to the future, handing four players their debuts in Martin Chivers, Roy McFarland and Everton team-mates Colin Harvey and Joe Royle. It would be Harvey’s only cap and not the most glamorous international experience as England contended with a sandy, hard pitch. The game had the feel of an FA Cup tie with a non-league side hosting a top-flight club, the stadium packed to capacity with many more finding any vantage point to view proceedings in a less safety-conscious era. Malta competed well, limiting England to a goal by Martin Peters after 35 minutes. The Maltese public had not taking kindly to reports that sections of the English media had labelled their players “Spanish waiters”, as fans chanted: “We are the waiters, you are the bastards.”

The Maltese public turn out in force to watch England’s visit in February 1971.

Those fans would not see England sparkle in winning 1-0. Ramsey admitted afterwards: “Conditions were bad. But I was disappointed we did not overcome them better than we did. The harder we tried, the worse we seemed to become.” There would unsurprisingly be a fair amount of criticism aimed at England for only edging past Malta (in an era before the likes of Andorra and San Marino joined the party, the Maltese were rated as one of the weakest football nations in Europe).

‘Embarrassed’ in victory

Two months later England hosted Greece, staying on course to top the group by winning 3-0. Chivers scored his first England goal to break the deadlock, with Geoff Hurst and Franny Lee wrapping up the win in the closing quarter on a night when Peter Storey won his first cap. But the scoreline failed to prevent England coming in for criticism, summing up a qualifying campaign in which they won matches but not plaudits.

Not for the last time, the Greeks did anything but come bearing gifts as they set up with the intention of frustrating the hosts and in some respects succeeded. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “England were visibly embarrassed last night by a Greek team determined to avoid the humiliation of an overwhelming defeat at Wembley. It was not the first time that foreign opponents had been seen to arrange themselves in an effort to survive on England’s home ground. But few teams have managed to present such a consuming problem to the best of England’s players.”

Martin Chivers fires home for England against Greece.

It would be followed up by the visit of Malta to Wembley the following months, in which England faced a side even more determined to keep the score down rather than have a go. Banks would never collect an easier clean sheet in his career as he only touched the ball via a couple of backpasses in the 5-0 win. “I cannot remember an England match under my management in which the opposition has been so committed to defence,” said Ramsey afterwards. “Come to that, I cannot recall any soccer match I’ve seen in which one of the goalkeepers has never had a shot to save. I think the nearest Malta came to our goal was 35 yards out. That speaks for itself.”

Given the total domination of the game, there was a sense of disappointment that England only netted five goals. Desmond Hackett wrote in the Daily Express: “England were continually and deservedly slow handclapped. This morning they should be ashamed of themselves for their failure to win by at least double figures.”


Bobby Moore leads England out against Malta.

But at least they had won comfortably. Chivers again opened the scoring, with Franny Lee doubling the lead and Allan Clarke both scoring and missing a penalty as England totally controlled proceedings. Chivers netted his second goal of the night before Chris Lawler marked his England debut at right-back with a goal. Alas, he would only appear three more times.

The season ended with England winning the Home International Championship by beating Northern Ireland and Scotland and drawing with Wales, before having a warranted summer off after the demands of the previous year in Mexico. In October England were back in action for their next and most important qualifier away to Switzerland, a side who had won all four games so far and held top spot by virtue of having played a game more than Ramsey’s men. Amid speculation that England would be picked as hosts for the final stages if they reached the semi-finals, there was every reason for Ramsey to be particularly keen to progress.

The night would mark the end of Alan Mullery’s England career after 35 caps, while substitute John Radford made his second and last international appearance almost theee years after his first. Veteran Swiss manager Louis Maurer was quoted as predicting his side would win 2-1 after going on the attack. Although he wouldn’t get his wish result-wise, England were certainly given a scare and their performance did little to suggest they could ultimately become champions of Europe.

Struggling past the Swiss

England got the result they wanted in Basel, but lacked the conviction they would have liked. Twice in the first-half they went ahead – through Hurst after just 55 seconds and Chivers 11 minutes later – but they were pegged back, before an own goal by Anton Welbel on 77 minutes handed England a 3-2 win. Banks had unusually taken some blame for the first Swiss goal, while Geoffrey Green wrote in The Times that the second Swiss equaliser shortly before the break “was no more than they deserved” as he added: “For the previous half hour they had fairly roasted England.” The football played by the Swiss impressed more, but England stood firm to claim a vital win.

England were made to work hard for a 3-2 win away to Switzerland.

The following month brought the return game with the Swiss, the game’s importance such that more than 90,000 fans packed into Wembley for it. Shilton deputised for Banks in goal, while Rodney Marsh was handed his debut as a late substitute. Mike Summerbee netted his only England goal when he headed the side into an early lead, but the Swiss drew level when Shilton failed to hold Kurt Odermatt’s drive. The 1-1 draw effectively clinched qualification for England, given only a four goal defeat in Greece could stop them winning a group. But there was little celebration. Criticism was coming England’s way for how they had made such heavy weather of drawing with Switzerland. Peter Wilson wrote in the Daily Mirror: “In the record books it will go down as a 1-1 draw, but in my book it ranks as a victory for the Swiss part-timers who, after losing only 3-2 in Switzerland, went one better by holding England to a draw at Wembley last night.”

Gordon Banks contends with the sun and Greek attack in December 1971.

And so England headed for the final qualifier in Athens on December 1. Even the most optimistic Switzerland fan and negative England fan would have conceded it was all over, so the challenge now facing the Three Lions was to impress in victory. The Greek players reportedly stood to collect more than £1,000 each if they could claim a famous win, But second half goals from Hurst and Chivers secured a 2-0 win for the visitors over Billy Bingham’s men, as England finished two points clear at the top of the group. There was a feeling England had played better than against Switzerland, but they had not taken many of the decent chances to come their way. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “England had every reason to curse their poor marksmanship here as they came close to achieving an overwhelming victory.”

But they had certainly not struggled to pick up points, as England finished two clear at the top of the qualifying group. It had not been the most memorable of qualifying campaigns and criticism had been more noticeable than praise. But as England flew home from Greece, they could not have realised just what lay ahead in the ensuing years. A comprehensive defeat by West Germany in the two-legged quarter-finals – technically at least still part of qualifying but we’ve recalled it separately previously – acted as an ominous warning sign concerning where England now stood. They would fail to even get out of the qualifying group for the next three major tournaments as the 1970s became a barren decade. England’s qualifying group campaign for Euro ’72 had not been a classic and it was aided by a favourable draw, but at least they had achieved results – something they would struggle to do in the years that followed.

Barry Davies – the England years (part one)

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Hearing the evergreen Barry Davies commentating during Wimbledon recently in his 80th year, we became nostalgic for his days covering football. In the first of a two-part look back at his years commentating on England matches, we cover the period up until 1986…

We liked Barry Davies during his football commentary days, but not everyone did. Most commentators tend to divide opinion but Davies really did seem the ultimate ‘marmite’ broadcaster. In his commentating heyday there were plenty who practically worshipped the man, believing he was the ultimate wordsmith with a great turn of phrase and an air of authority about him. They felt he should get far more big matches than came his way. And at the same time there were some viewers who loathed him, considering him pompous, schoolmasterly and over-critical of what he was watching.

His willingness to speak his mind would go down well with his fans, but also lead to at least two England matches arguing with him over comments he made. His disappointment over being continually overlooked for major finals that went the way of John Motson would be totally justifiable in the eyes of his fan club, unnecessarily bitter to the anti-Davies brigade. The high number of other sports he commentated on made him wonderfully versatile in the eyes of admirers, not an out-and-out football man like Motson to the haters. He was a broadcaster who certainly split opinion, but had plenty of fans. “One man’s commentator is another man’s irritation,” he perceptively wrote in his autobiography. 

But whether one loved or loathed him as a commentator, there was no question that Davies became one of voices of football for decades. He first came to attention with ITV during the 1966 World Cup, before switching to the BBC in 1969 and remaining a football commentator until 2004 (making a one-off return in 2014 to mark Match of the Day’s 50th birthday). By anyone standards that’s a lot of matches and major tournaments, his England commentary years beginning when the likes of Bobby Charlton were still playing and ending after Wayne Rooney had burst onto the scene.

The whole ‘Davies v Motson’ saga is one we will come to later, but one area where Bazza could feel of something approaching equal standing to Motty concerned the selection for big England games at major tournaments. For such famous matches as England’s clashes with Argentina at the 1986 World Cup and Germany during Euro ’96, Davies was the man holding the microphone for the BBC. We begin our look back at his England broadcasting career today (such was his longevity that we are splitting this into two parts).

Davies would express feelings from an English viewpoint when the side played, as could be told from his “ohh noooooo” reaction when Gareth Southgate had his effort saved in the “penalty competition” – to use a Davies-ism – against Germany in Euro ’96. But Davies was a professional who respected England’s opposition and would give out praise when he felt it was merited. Watching the 1966 World Cup final from the back of the ITV commentary box, he was accused by a colleague of being unpatriotic for telling a West German counterpart he felt they deserved to be level after 90 minutes. When Sweden scored the winner against England at Euro ’92, his instinctive reaction while commentating was to hail the “brilliant goal” rather than focus on the shortcomings of Graham Taylor’s men. His often-recalled words immediately after Diego Maradona’s second goal against England in 1986 contain no reference to Bobby Robson’s side facing elimination.

Seeking further to convey at least some sense of impartiality, he would write in his autobiography that referring to England as “we” or “us” was wrong – despite knowing he was guilty of it during his career – when working for the British Browdcasting Corporation, with plenty of non-English viewers watching. “Getting the right balance between objectivity and looking at the contest through English eyes can be difficult,” he wrote.

Sadly football would not offer him a chance to mirror one of his most famous commentary lines (“Where were the Germans? And frankly who cares…”) from when Great Britain’s men’s hockey side won gold at the 1988 Olympics. Had Paul Gascoigne turned home THAT chance in extra-time during Euro ’96, we can only wonder if he might have been tempted…

“And England are out of the World Cup”

As mentioned above, Davies quietly watched the 1966 final at Wembley as Hugh Johns commentated for ITV and it would be the closest he would ever come to describing England winning a major tournament. Although behind old hands Kenneth Wolstenholme and David Coleman in the pecking order after moving to the BBC in 1969, Davies was picked to commentate on highlights of England’s friendly win over the Netherlands in November. It began a long relationship between Davies and the national team in his years at the Beeb.

The 1970 World Cup would pass without him commentating on England, but he would occasionally cover them in the ensuing years and in October 1973 he was handed a major match – the decisive World Cup qualifier between England and Poland at Wembley. “Win or bust,” Davies correctly stated at the start of his commentary. He was only describing the action for highlights while ITV showed it live, but his commentary would become well-remembered as England unsuccessfully peppered the Polish goal. Then came the sucker punch. “Hunter’s got to make that… and he’s lost it,” Davies accurately called, as Norman Hunter’s infamous mistake let Poland though to take the lead.

Although Allan Clarke’s penalty restored parity, the winner would not come as Jan Tomaszewski performed heroics to keep England at bay. “Why did he punch?”, Davies asked on one occasion as the goalkeeper’s unorthodox style came under scrutiny. But Davies was not the sort to go down the Brian Clough route of labelling the Polish goalkeeper a “clown”, recognising the talents of both the man and his side. The quality of the Poles is often overlooked when England’s failure is recalled, but Davies had seen for himself during the 1972 Olympics the ability they possessed. He wrote in his memoirs: “The Poles were a fine side, and some of the observations made on that miserable night in October 1973, when what felt like a Silesian winter descended on Wembley, were well wide of the mark.”

As the whistle sounded, Davies simply proclaimed: “And England are out of the World Cup.” Two tournaments earlier they had won it, now they wouldn’t even be in the 16-team finals. It was not the last time Davies would say those words in his career. But never again would he commentate on an England World Cup exit that carried with it such disbelief and a feeling of emptiness as that October night. He would be going to the 1974 finals, but England wouldn’t.

“And here’s Hoddle… ohhh yes”

The 1970s were to be a barren period for England, their continual qualifying failures meaning Davies ended the decade having still yet to commentate on the side at a major tournament. The appointment of Don Revie in 1974 initially brought hope, Davies describing the new manager’s opening 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia. But Revie’s reign would turn increasingly unhappy and problems grew with a home defeat to Wales in May 1977. An unimpressed Davies would express criticism while commentating, his words being taken personally by an under-pressure Revie – a man he had previously worked alongside at the BBC – to such an extent that the manager remonstrated with him when about to be interviewed live after England lost to Scotland four days later. One thing was sure, Davies was not the sort of commentator to hold back for fear of upsetting key contacts.

As it transpired Davies would have little to do with Revie after that, as the manager controversially quit just weeks later. Ron Greenwood would take over and easily steer England to the finals of the 1980 European Championship. At last England were back at a major tournament and towards the end of the qualifying campaign optimism built further with the debut display by Glenn Hoddle against Bulgaria.


Glenn Hoddle’s England debut attracted words of delight from Barry Davies.

The commentator may have hidden his support for Tottenham Hotspur for many years but he never masked his admiration for Hoddle, a man who had a tendency to pull the spectacular out of the bag when Davies was holding the microphone. Hoddle duly did so here with a memorable finish to seal a 2-0 win, as Davies purred: “And here’s Hoddle… ohhh yes! Well you won’t believe this but he said to me before the match ‘it could be I’ll get one’.”

Davies was hardly sticking his neck on the line when he predicted on air that Hoddle would be a star of the 1980s, with the flair player delivering again with a cracking volley for England against Spain in March 1981 as Davies commentated. “Oh I say. He’s done it again,” said Davies, joyously. Describing the goal was some compensation for a disappointing 1980 European Championship for Davies, where the only England match he covered was against Spain when the side were already unable to win the tournament.

A game against Spain would again be the most significant England match Davies covered at the 1982 World Cup. He was restricted to highlights of the three England games he commentated on – Czechoslovakia and Kuwait were the others – with the Spain match to decide whether England reached the semi-finals. “England come to their own private high noon. A semi-final place is England’s for the taking,” he said as the side entered the field for a game in which they would have to score at least twice. But it wasn’t to be. “The faces of dejection of the England players say it all,” he was left saying after the disappointing goalless draw. At least he was afforded more entertainment when he covered the captivating and controversial semi-final between France and West Germany three nights later.

England were absent from the 1984 European Championship in France and unusually so too was Davies, who instead was sent to South America to cover Bobby Robson’s side on their three-match tour. Sadly the one memorable match of the trip would be the game not covered by BBC television against Brazil, but Davies was holding the microphone for radio duties as John Barnes scored his wondergoal. When Barnes next excelled for England on the big stage, Davies would again be commentating…

“You have to say that’s magnificent”

TISWAS or Swap Shop? Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet? Seb Coe or Steve Ovett? Blur or Oasis? FIFA or Pro-Evolution Soccer? In each case, expressing an equal preference was seen as somehow being wrong and they were built up as big rivals. And ‘Davies or Motson?’ would be viewed in exactly the same light. It was a professional rivalry that lasted so long that all the examples listed above coincided or at least overlapped with it. Like Formula One team-mates, Davies and Motson were officially colleagues but unquestionably competing to be top dog. From the moment Motson was controversially picked ahead of the older and more established Davies to cover the 1977 FA Cup final for the BBC, the debate would crop up with alarming frequency. “We are different animals,” Davies has since reflected, with the pair offering contrasting styles that tended to leave viewers preferring one or the other. Both men insist they have always got on well – as further suggested by them being interviewed together for a BBC documentary last year on Euro ’96 – but stop short of making out they have ever been big mates. Each man wanted to get the biggest games. Sadly for Davies, the majority of them fell Motson’s way.


John Motson and Barry Davies hold aloft the World Cup – something England sadly would not do in their many years as BBC colleagues.

But while Motson was continually picked for FA Cup, World Cup and European Championship finals (Davies being able to count on one hand such matches that came his way), there was a much greater balance of power on show when it came to England matches – including during major tournaments. This was seen on June 22, 1986, when Davies was commentating live for the BBC on England’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

It’s not just retrospectively that this is considered a huge occasion in English football. This was viewed in the build-up as a major match, England up against the side containing the best player in the world in Diego Maradona and knowing they would stand every chance of winning the tournament if they could progress (the fact it was only four years after the Falklands War inevitably added to the hype). If Davies could be entrusted to describe it, then he must have wondered why he didn’t at least occasionally get the FA Cup final; equally, Motson probably felt a bit miffed at not getting matches like this when he was – effectively if not officially – the number one commentator (Motty would instead describe the gripping contest between Brazil and France the day before and was to get the final, so he could hardly feel deprived).

Davies had covered England’s nadir during the tournament when he commentated on what few highlights there were in the 0-0 draw against Morocco. “Disaster upon disaster for England,” he said with typical melodrama as Ray Wilkins followed Bryan Robson off the field and the side stared potential elimination in the face. They now had to get a result against Poland to stay in Mexico, with Davies to cover this one too – incredibly his first live England commentary at a major tournament. England started nervously and Davies vented his disgust as the Poles were almost gifted an early goal. “England just cannot afford to make crass errors like that. We’ve got away with it twice – we cannot tempt fate further,” he told viewers. It was as if the side listened to him, Gary Lineker netting a first-half hat-trick to seal victory as co-commentator Jimmy Hill chortled with delight. “Never mind the sunshine and the altitude – it’s raining goals,” was unusually a bit of a corny line for Davies, but it perhaps summed up the jubilant mood as England’s tournament at last got going. There was also a nice nod to the last meeting between the sides 13 years earlier. “Dare we call him the clown?” he quipped as the Polish goalkeeper’s fumble allowed Lineker to complete his hat-trick.

Six years earlier Davies had commentated when the English public was afforded its first real glimpse of Diego Maradona, when he almost scored a superb solo goal as England beat Argentina 3-1 at Wembley. Now Davies was seeing the sides meet again, with the player’s two much-talked about goals at the Azteca Stadium presenting Davies with a commentator’s nightmare for the first, the chance to wax lyrical over the second. We know what’s coming when we see the ‘Hand of God’ goal now, but at the time it took everyone by surprise – so unprecedented was it to English eyes. Davies, like the officials, would not spot it and believed Maradona had headed it in. Spotting the England players protesting, he would jump to the wrong conclusion. “They’re appealing for offside,” he told millions of viewers. He acknowledged in his autobiography that he got it wrong, first mentioning during the broadcast it may have been handball when told by his producer as replays – which Davies could not see – were being played of the goal.


Diego Maradona celebrates scoring one of the most famous goals described by Barry Davies.

But if Maradona’s first goal created a major headache for the commentator, his second would be a delight to describe for any wordsmith. “You have to say that’s magnificent,” was the memorable conclusion as the mesmerising run ended with the ball in the back of the net. “There is no debate about that goal. That was just pure football genius,” he added, emphasising the contrast between the two strikes.

Later in the game England brought Barnes on and he helped revive the side’s hopes as he set up Lineker to score. In the dying moments he looked to repeat the move as the ball came out to him out wide. “Every Englishman will surely be saying ‘go on, run at them’,” Davies said as Barnes duly beat his man and whipped over a superb cross towards Lineker. Davies had seen enough football over the years to instinctively know when a chance would surely go in. “Yessss,” he cried, only to almost immediately correct himself as the ball was somehow kept out. It was the last real chance and soon enough Davies would be repeating those painful words from October 1973: “And England are out of the World Cup.” Davies, like England, headed home from Mexico a few days earlier than he would have liked as Motson did the BBC’s live semi-final and then the final. But when people in England talk about Mexico ’86, two matches Davies commentated on involving Bobby Robson’s men tend to stand out.

In the next part of our reflections we will recall such dramatic matches covered by Davies as the Italia ’90 quarter-final against Cameroon and the semi-final of Euro ’96 against Germany.

England’s Euro ’92 – 25 years on

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This summer marks 25 years since the 1992 European Championship. England went into the finals having lost just once in two years, but as with four years earlier it would end in bitter disappointment and leave the manager a target for the tabloids…

To the many youngsters who fell in love with England and football during Italia ’90 or older fans whose passion was rekindled that tournament, Euro ’92 was to represent the difficult second album. There would be none of the Gazzamania or nerve-jangling excitement that left millions across the nation on the edge of their seats two years earlier, nor was there an England side to feel proud of. Instead, they simply limped out of the tournament after two forgettable 0-0 draws and a defeat to hosts Sweden. For manager Graham Taylor it was a tournament that marked a turning point in his reign for the wrong reasons and his reputation would unfortunately never recover during his time in charge.

England achieved two points more than when they were whitewashed during Euro ’88, yet it is held up as a comparable failure. It would be simplifying things somewhat to say England’s failures in West Germany in 1988 were down to bad luck, but in their first two defeats to the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands they’d at least had a proper go with several chances somehow not going in. That story would have a happy ending, Bobby Robson recovering from being lampooned to bowing out a hero two years later.

But for Taylor and Euro ’92, there would be no such recovery and the tournament represented the start of things going horribly wrong. England’s cause was not helped by injuries to key personnel but they were criticised for their negativity in Sweden – they weren’t the only culprits – and Taylor was becoming a target for sections of the media. He had lost just twice in two years when Euro ’92 ended but he was under pressure and now needed to enjoy a turnaround similar to Robson’s at Italia ’90 to win over the doubters. Sadly, he would never get the chance as England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

But it could have worked out differently. Taylor had led England to the finals as unbeaten group winners in a tight section including the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Turkey. Their only defeat under him so far was in a friendly to Germany and England certainly couldn’t be discounted in Sweden, for the eight-team European Championship. With only the group winners from each qualifying section having made it, this was a tournament promising high standards and little margin for error.

At the draw in January, Taylor hoped to avoid Germany, the Netherlands and neighbours Scotland who had qualified for the Euros for the first time. He got his wish, England being placed in the preferable-looking group with Sweden, France and Yugoslavia. His mood was lifted further by the draw allowing them to stay in Malmo and Stockholm as he had wished. “We couldn’t ask for much more than we got,” beamed Taylor.

Certainly, many seemed to share the view that England had got what they wanted and a place in the last four was the minimum target. “Graham Taylor rode his luck as England were given a European Championship draw that should give them at least a semi-final place,” proclaimed Steve Curry in the Daily Express. But being placed in the ‘easier’ group at the European Championship and avoiding the Germans was not a good omen. In both 1980 and 1988 England had received favourable draws only to crash out.

No game looked a given either. France had rebuilt after being absent from the last two major tournaments and were enjoying a lengthy unbeaten run, seeing them touted as a favourite to win it. Sweden had home advantage and had finished above England in qualifying for Italia ’90. And Yugoslavia could boast an impressive collection of players who had won admirers during the 1990 World Cup. But even as the draw was being made doubts were being cast upon Yugoslavia’s participation in the finals amid civil conflict back home. Just 10 days before the start of Euro ’92 it was confirmed qualifying group runners-up Denmark would take Yugoslavia’s place.

Any planning by Taylor for England’s first game against Yugoslavia could now go out of the window, but they were tipped to beat Denmark who were not held in quite the same esteem as their swaggering side of the mid-1980s. The Danes had not, contrary to the myth, needed rounding up off the beach to head to nearby Sweden but they would only have less than a fortnight to psychologically adjust to definitely being in the finals. But goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel sounded a warning to Taylor and his men. “England could make the mistake of underestimating Denmark,” he said.

Injuries plague England

Underestimating opponents was becoming the least of England’s concerns. Injuries were mounting, with several players ruled out of the finals. Paul Gascoigne had not played for more than a year since the 1991 FA Cup final, while at right back England seemed cursed. In quick succession Taylor lost Rob Jones, Lee Dixon and Gary Stevens, the latter’s hopes ending after England’s final warm-up match in Finland. But he wasn’t the only casualty that day, with John Barnes going down injured and immediately ruled out. “I’ve known him for a long time and I desperately wanted John to play for me in a major championship,” rued Taylor. “The seriousness of the injury to Barnes has hit everybody hard. He’d worked like hell to get himself fit.”

Graham Taylor was left to contend with a mounting injury list.

With players such as Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle having controversially been axed, England were now left short of both flair and tournament experience. The seasoned trio of Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson and Peter Shilton had all retired from international football and England were much-changed from two years earlier, but sadly not for the better. As the injuries mounted Keith Curle and Andy Sinton were drafted into the squad, but things then got worse as it came to light Mark Wright was a doubt.

A club versus country row broke out over whether the injury had been held back from Taylor, but ultimately Wright was the latest to be ruled out and England failed in their bid to call Tony Adams up as a late replacement. England’s 20-man squad was already a player light and particularly short of defensive options. Although England have often been hit by injury concerns ahead of major tournaments, it is hard to think of another occasion when they had it as bad as this.

England went into the finals having avoided losing games, but without convincingly winning them either. A 2-0 victory over France in February had been impressive and provided a big lift ahead of meeting the same opponents in Sweden, but since then England had drawn with Czechoslovakia, CIS and Brazil and narrowly edged past Hungary and Finland. The goalscoring form of captain Gary Lineker was proving a concern ahead of the finals and his impending international retirement. In three successive friendlies he had failed to get the goal he needed to equal Bobby Charlton’s England record and he seemed to lack some of his old predatory instincts. But it was hoped he would recapture his past form on the big stage.

Struggling against the Danes

The tournament began with Sweden and France drawing 1-1, which suited England who would go top if they beat Denmark 24 hours later. Taylor was adamant things were going to go well. “Let me do the worrying. That’s what I’m paid for. Just sit back and enjoy it,” he declared prior to the Denmark game. But there were things to worry about, not least the lack of a recognised right back. Curle, a central defender, would play there against the Danes in Malmo for only his third cap. At the other end Lineker would partner Alan Smith, rekindling memories of their Leicester City days.

Keith Curle performed as a makeshift right back for England against Denmark.

Once again, England struggled in their opening game when fancied by many to get a victory. They almost came totally unstuck, as John Jensen hit the post for the Danes during the second half. “That was our moment of good fortune,” reflected Taylor after a night in which Curle had struggled playing out of position (he would never be capped again) as England laboured to a 0-0 draw. Asked afterwards to sum up his feelings, Taylor told the BBC he was “satisfied” – drawing criticism from pundit Jimmy Hill who believed the performance had been a demonstration of players earning a lot of money to demonstrate they were not masters of their craft. Taylor would later hit back at Hill, one of several instances of the England camp and media being at odds out in Sweden.

“All is not lost by any means,” wrote Curry. “But Taylor has to be asked again just what he is playing at with his team selections and tactical switches.” England stayed in Malmo for their next match against France three days later, with violence in the city once more blighting an England European Championship campaign. On the field Taylor again made changes, midfielder David Batty came in for Curle, while Alan Shearer became the latest forward to be paired with Lineker. Sinton, who had so nearly missed out on the finals, replaced Paul Merson. Carlton Palmer was to play as sweeper.

Sterile and goalless

“The most sterile defensive international I’ve ever covered,” was commentator Barry Davies’ description of the France match in his autobiography and the cagey contest certainly lacked in attacking enterprise. Eight years earlier Michel Platini had inspired France to European Championship glory in style as captain. Now, as manager, he seemed to have fallen into the same trap as others in fearing losing during the last major tournament to apply the two points for a win system. It was also the last act before the backpass rule was introduced, with a fear of losing stinking the place out during the first few days of the tournament. England didn’t escape criticism but emerged with marginally more credit following yet another 0-0 draw, in which Stuart Pearce’s free-kick rattled the woodwork.

Stuart Pearce managed to keep his cool after an incident with Basile Boli.

But that wasn’t what Pearce’s afternoon was mainly remembered for. Blood poured from his face after he appeared to be headbutted by Basile Boli, in an incident which went unpunished. Asked afterwards, Pearce told the media it had been an innocent incident but years later he explained why he said this when he knew full well what had happened. “Common sense told me that if I’d said it was deliberate, then the first thing they would have done is dig out all the footage of me over the years and I’d be crucified,” he said, adding he received a thank you fax from Boli for his sportsmanship.

But that gesture was little consolation for England as they stared potential elimination in the face. For the fourth major tournament running they had no wins on the board after two games. “In my mind there are two games gone and three still to go,” Taylor optimistically told the media, as he remained defiant England could go all the way. To do that they would definitely have to score against the Swedes, who led the group after beating Denmark 1-0. David Lacey wrote in The Guardian that a third goalless draw would see England “flying home amid a barrage of criticism approaching the intensity of that which greeted Bobby Robson and his side after all three matches had been lost in the 1988 tournament”.

Swedes eliminate Turnips

The foreign invasion of English football had yet to properly take hold by the summer of 1992, but a growing number of overseas players were plying their trade on these shores ahead of the Premier League launching a few weeks later. In their opening game of the tournament England had been unable to score past Manchester United’s goalkeeper Schmeichel, while Eric Cantona of Leeds United was in attack for France in the second match. Now Arsenal’s Anders Limpar was gearing up to face England and seemed to want to play mind games beforehand, as he launched a stinging attack on goalkeeper Chris Woods who had been the regular number one since Shilton’s retirement in 1990. “It’s incredible Woods gets in the side,” declared Limpar. “He let in seven goals playing for Sheffield Wednesday at Arsenal. Woods is weak on crosses and for me he is the weak link in the team.”

But Woods was not the only player whose performances were of concern to England. Lineker had seldom looked like ending his drought during the previous two games as rumours grew that all was not well in his relationship with the manager. “He contributed in exactly the way I thought he would,” said Taylor rather cryptically after the France game. The goalscoring record was ebbing away along with England’s chances in the tournament. The match against Sweden could be his last chance. In yet another shift of system and personnel, Lineker now had no other natural forward alongside him for the Sweden match. Shearer and Trevor Steven made way for Tony Daley and Neil Webb.

England had to attack and they made a marvellous start through their main goal outlet besides Lineker – attacking midfielder David Platt, who scored after four minutes. Now they had to negotiate the next 86 minutes and they would be through to the semi-finals. As Denmark were surprisingly beating France, England held top spot in the group. They successfully got through to the break with the lead intact.

But half-time would offer a worrying warning sign to Taylor. In an interview 20 years later, he recalled asking the players at the break if any of them had anything to say. “They looked shattered,” he said. “The only player who said anything was Nigel Clough, who was a substitute. It really hit me at the time that we do take tired players.” Taylor’s case was not helped by the First Division having reverted to 22 teams the previous season, meaning players faced four extra games on top of multiple cup demands. Apart from the Premier League having reduced in size to 20 clubs, many of the same concerns apply 25 years later.

England go behind against Sweden.

Where England had excelled in the first half, they wilted after the break. The Swedes have made a habit of scoring headers against the Three Lions over the years and Jan Eriksson duly netted that way after 51 minutes from a corner. A 1-1 draw would be enough for Sweden to advance, but it would eliminate England and Taylor could see the game slipping away. Ten minutes later he made a decision that would pass into infamy. Captain Lineker was substituted, making way for Smith. England had needed to change things and Lineker was not looking his old self, but it would be a decision that led to Taylor coming under fire. If England didn’t get a goal without Lineker, then the player would never get another chance to equal the goalscoring record.

To make things worse for Taylor, England seldom threatened and on 82 minutes they fell behind. A delightful link-up between Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin ended with the former gracefully placing the ball beyond Woods’ reach. “Brilliant. Brilliant goal,” exclaimed commentator Davies. It was a move that perhaps underlined how far this England side lagged behind, being beaten by an effort of quality.

As Denmark were 2-1 up against France, an English equaliser would lead to lots being drawn to decide who went through with Sweden. But it was never likely to come and the side meekly exited the competition. In 45 minutes England had gone from top to bottom of the group. Of the 11 players England had on the field at full time, only Pearce, Platt and Des Walker had featured in the World Cup semi-final two years earlier. Injuries, international retirements and players being dubiously axed had left England looking a weak side. To compound England’s misery, they returned home outshone by Scotland who beat the CIS 3-0 and had played with honour in losing to the Dutch and Germans. As England crashed out, a previously tepid tournament seemed to spring into life with the goals now flying in and Denmark defying all expectations to win the tournament.

Taylor deservedly received many tributes when he sadly died earlier this year, but the morning after the Sweden defeat saw him and England heavily criticised. Curry wrote: “England learned last night that when it comes to illuminating the world of football they carry not so much a burning torch as a flickering candle.” Lacey afforded Taylor some sympathy over the injury situation, but added: “Despite the unavailability of Paul Gascoigne, the loss of John Barnes and a complete absence of suitable right backs, the England manager was always going to face severe criticism if his team failed to reach the semi-finals. But his decision to take Lineker off half-an-hour from the end with the score at 1-1 will surely stoke up the critical furnaces further still.”

Even those at the heart of the England camp could see the problems Taylor was creating for himself by hauling off Lineker, regardless of whether he thought it was the right decision. Assistant Lawrie McMenemy later wrote in his autobiography: “It was quite simply the wrong decision. I could not believe what Graham had done, how a manager of his experience would not see the danger to himself, if nothing else, from the decision.”

But ultimately, it was a witty play on words that created the most lasting damage for Taylor. The manager saw the funny side of the ‘Swedes 2, Turnips 1’ headline in The Sun, but what followed went beyond a joke and did nothing to help his reputation in the eyes of the average man in the street. He was now being portrayed as ‘Turniphead’, the coverage increasingly vitriolic.  Euro ’92 had not been a success for him and mistakes were made, but the personal attacks were unwarranted and they would unfortunately get worse in the months that followed.

All told it had really just been a typical England European Championship campaign, as they have so often ended early and in bitter disappointment. Euro ’92 felt worse because of what had been achieved two years before in Italy and given the group England were placed in, but ultimately various factors made it one to forget for all involved. There was plenty of nostalgia in England for the 25th anniversary of Italia ’90 two years ago. We suspect we won’t be seeing much this June to mark a quarter of a century since Euro ’92.  Try Denmark instead.

  • For a more detailed look back at how Gary Lineker missed out on becoming England’s record goalscorer during the tournament, see here
  • To read the tribute we wrote to Graham Taylor when he sadly died earlier this year, see here

Remembering the England B team

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This year marks the 10th anniversary of the last match played by England B, a team which often struggled to capture the public imagination and could disappear from view for several years…

Long time, no B

Since the 1950s England B have taken to the field only sporadically. They went more than 20 years without playing before being revived under Ron Greenwood in 1978 and not many of his successors would frequently make use of the team. They played just once in the first five years under Bobby Robson before a semi-regular revival ahead of Italia ’90, while the next incumbent Graham Taylor regularly had the team playing games in his first two years in charge before abandoning the idea. Since 1992 the team has played just six times, last appearing in 2007. An official total of 57 matches for England B since 1947 is low, but as we will soon see this does not tell the story of the number of times when England’s ‘reserves’ have taken to the field.

To B, or not to B…

As said, the England B name could often disappear from view for a long time. But this did not mean the basic notion of the side did not exist as various ‘FA XI’ teams fitted the bill. In 1969 England met Mexico two days after they had done so in a full international with a significantly changed team that was very much a ‘B’ side. But this would instead be deemed an unofficial international, as would a match played against Colombia by the second string in 1970 immediately before a full international between the sides.

Steve Perryman turns out for England B, which turns out to be the A team…

And there have been instances where sides that England fielded were dubiously classed as A rather than B teams, such as the significantly weakened side that visited Australia in 1980. Perhaps the most striking example was the B side England took to Iceland in 1982, with manager Ron Greenwood not even present as the A team were playing Finland the next day. And yet it would be upgraded to a full international, at least allowing players including Steve Perryman the chance to say they had earned a full cap. It is debatable though that if this match was deemed an ‘A’ fixture, why a similar match against Belarus at Reading prior to the 2006 World Cup wasn’t when every member of England’s starting XI would be going to the finals.

Nobody seems to B here

Even when – as now – England’s senior side never strayed from Wembley for home games, the public rarely turned out for B team matches across the country regardless of how strong the team was. Not helped by the fact the side could disappear from view for years, coupled with the fact they only played friendlies and the side was perceived as the ‘reserves’, low crowds were the norm. A reasonably attractive looking B international between England and the Republic of Ireland in December 1994 at Anfield, with local favourites including Robbie Fowler featuring, attracted a crowd of just 7,431. And that was a relatively big turnout compared to some, such as 3,854 at the City Ground in 1984 to see Gary Lineker come off the bench against New Zealand or just 3,292 at St Andrews in 1980 to see England B beat Australia.

But there were occasional exceptions, mainly when the side ventured to traditionally lower division grounds and it became a big deal to stage such a fixture. More than 10,000 packed into Walsall’s new Bescot Stadium in 1991 to see the side play Switzerland, and almost as many watched Glenn Hoddle score against New Zealand at Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road in 1979 shortly before his first full cap. The side’s brief revival in the mid 2000s with strong sides picked saw crowds of more than 22,000 attend games at Reading and Burnley against Belarus and Albania respectively. Just as the concept seemed to start appealing to the public, it vanished again.

This will B as good as it gets

For many players, a B team cap would be the pinnacle of their international careers as they fell just short of the A side. Steve Bruce was a prime example, captaining England B against Malta in 1987 but never earning a full cap. He would join plenty of other members of the ‘great uncapped’ over the years – such as Adrian Heath, Paul Lake, Dennis Mortimer and Derek Mountfield –  in turning out for the B team but never the A, when in another era they would almost certainly have made it.

Steve Bruce playing for England B, but no full caps would be forthcoming.

With hindsight, some past B team line-ups look like Fantasy Football teams where a couple of makeweights have been included alongside star names to meet the budget limit and it can be surprising to recall that they were ever in the England fray. The England B side that met Iceland during an end of season tour in 1989 is a good example of the diversity on show. Steve Bull, Tony Dorigo, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Parker and David Platt all went on to feature during Italia ’90, but their colleagues who enjoyed gametime that day included Tony Ford, Terry Hurlock, Tony Mowbray, Andy Mutch, Stuart Naylor and David Preece. They would never win a full cap between them and some spent much of their career below the top-flight.

Even for some players who did earn a few full caps, the B team would provide a welcome opportunity to boost their international experience as their path was otherwise blocked. Goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, who had the misfortune to be around at the same time as Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton, would earn a record 10 England B caps – one more than his tally for the A side.

It will soon B the A team

For some players, B team success would immediately followed by a call-up to the senior squad. Bull was a prime example of this, as his elevation to stardom in May 1989 looked like it had come from the pages of Roy of the Rovers. After a prolific season in the Third Division with Wolves, Bull – who had already played for England under-21s – and strike partner Andy Mutch were called into the England B side for matches against Switzerland, Iceland and Norway on the aforementioned tour. For Mutch the tour was to be as good as it got, but for Bull it would immediately lead to better things. Goals against Iceland and Norway didn’t go unnoticed and he was called up to the senior squad for the Rous Cup match against Scotland just days later, famously coming off the bench to score while technically still a Third Division player.

Steve Bull – the prime example of a player to thrive on a B team call-up.

Even for some already capped players, they needed to prove themselves with the B team before properly establishing themselves. One example was Paul Gascoigne, who in November 1989 found himself slumming it for the B team against their Italian counterparts in Brighton rather than playing in a glamour friendly between the A sides at Wembley 24 hours later. The bumper crowd of more than 16,000 who the saw the 1-1 draw at the Goldstone Ground could feel smug a few months later at having seen two of the standout players of Italia ’90 on the same field – Gascoigne and Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci.

Getting a B in the bonnet

Like reserve football, for some players the B team would represent a big step up on the way to the full ranks while for others it was an unwanted reminder they were not first choice for their country. Probably the best remembered outburst came from Chris Sutton, who in February 1998 snubbed his England B selection against Chile as he took umbrage over not being in the main squad to face the same opponents. “If someone doesn’t want to play for their country at any level I won’t force them. That’s his decision,” said England boss Glenn Hoddle, having seen the forward effectively end his international career by pulling out. Sutton would later concede he should have acted differently.

Chris Sutton would see his England career curtailed by his refusal to play for the B side.

One of the stronger England B line-ups travelled to Algeria in December 1990, the majority of the side being capped at full level. One eye-catching selection was Bryan Robson, who had captained England for eight years under Bobby Robson but now faced the challenge of convincing new boss Graham Taylor he was worthy of a place in the senior squad after six months out injured.

“What the hell do you want to go there for?” Robson recalled his Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson asking him, while the veteran midfielder was left asking the same question as he was moved around in defence. Playing in atrocious conditions and with his team-mate Neil Webb being sent-off, the 0-0 draw was a sobering experience for Robson. “For me the whole trip was a waste of time,” he wrote in his autobiography, seeing the clock tick towards the end of the international career.

It just won’t B enough

A few weeks on from Sutton snubbing the England B team, he was probably left feeling justified in his actions when he saw the fate that befell Matt Le Tissier. The Southampton star’s international career had proved frustrating and he had not been capped at full level for more than a year when he was picked for the B side against Russia in April 1998.

Matt Le Tissier in fine form for England B, but it counts for nothing.

If he was to make the plane to France for the World Cup, then he had to produce in this audition in front of a sparse crowd at Loftus Road. He did just that. In front of the watching Glenn Hoddle, Le Tissier scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win. But the call from Hoddle never came. “Looking back I do wonder why I was even there,” he said in 2014 about his B team experience. “I had the best game of my career, scored a hat-trick and it still wasn’t good enough to get in the squad. It made a bit of a mockery of the idea. I can understand why people said it was a waste of time, as it turned out to be.” He would never be capped again.

Will we B seeing the team again?

In the decade since the side last played, the B team has faded from view with few lamenting its absence. One notable exception was David James, who in 2010 called for the side’s revival as he believed there was a “massive void” between the under-21s and senior side and the B team was the answer – particularly for late developers. James wrote: “It’s not glamorous, it won’t get you a big-money contract anywhere, not many people bother turning up to watch you and you get a funny coloured cap when you play, but I would argue that it does help the England coaching staff to identify talent for the senior side. And it helps the player by giving him a chance to be involved in the national set-up – from playing international football to just being part of an England camp. Best of all, there is no age discrimination.”

And there is a pretty good summing up of England B. It lacked in glamour but served a purpose and in some cases definitely helped players progress to the full ranks.

Six of the Best – England Wembley wins over Scotland

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Ahead of England playing Scotland on Friday, we look back at six memorable Wembley wins for England against their old rivals since the Second World War…

April 2nd, 1955, England 7-2 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Wembley first hosted an England-Scotland clash in 1924, with the most famous pre-war meeting producing a 5-1 win for Scotland in 1928. Although England gained revenge by winning 5-2 two years later, they would face a long wait to beat the Scots by at least four goals to properly banish the pain of 1928. But in April 1955 came their moment, Dennis Wilshaw breaking the deadlock in the opening minute as the floodgates opened.

By half-time it was 4-1, Nat Lofthouse netting twice and Don Revie also scoring for England with Lawrie Riley having netted for Scotland. In the second half Wilshaw scored a further three times past Fred Martin, with Tommy Docherty marginally reducing Scotland’s level of humiliation when he scored a late consolation to make it 7-2. It was the first time England had scored more than five against the Scots and their biggest winning margin over them since 1888. It had certainly been an England debut to remember for 18-year-old Duncan Edwards.

April 15th, 1961, England 9-3 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Poor old Frank Haffey. Whatever he did in his football career he would forever be associated with a spring afternoon in 1961 when he kept goal for Scotland against England at Wembley. Haffey infamously conceded nine goals and would become the butt of jokes such as “Heard the time? Nearly 10 past Haffey”. By half-time England led 3-0 through goals by Bobby Robson and Jimmy Greaves (2). The second half saw Dave Mackay and David Wilson briefly give the Scots hope, before Bryan Douglas and Bobby Smith put England 5-2 up. Pat Quinn again gave Scotland an outside chance of a high-scoring draw when he scored after 76 minutes to make it 5-3, but a flurry of goals in the closing stages Johnny Haynes (2), Greaves and Smith completed the 9-3 victory and a day to forget for Haffey, who was never capped again.

Jimmy Greaves scored a hat-trick for England against Scotland in 1961.

For Greaves it was a day when he enjoyed much happier fortunes than future TV buddy Ian St John, who was on the losing side. But Greaves would feel some sympathy for Haffey and the criticism he received, writing in his autobiography: “It’s true he had a poor game, but Frank wasn’t the only Scot who didn’t perform well that day. In truth I don’t think any international team of the time could have lived with England that day. Johnny Haynes was outstanding.”

May 10th, 1969, England 4-1 Scotland (Home International Championship)

Since that 1961 meeting Scotland had won twice and drawn on their other visit to Wembley, the most famous encounter being their 1967 triumph in a Euro ’68 qualifier as England suffered their first defeat as world champions. Although England’s progression thanks to a 1-1 draw in the return fixture had helped heal the wounds a bit, there was still a wish for the bad memories to be banished as the Scots arrived for a rare Saturday night fixture in May 1969.

Bobby Moore leads England out for their 4-1 win over Scotland in 1969.

It was two of the heroes of 1966 who led England to glory, with Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst putting them into a 2-0 lead before Colin Stein reduced the deficit shortly before half-time. But a penalty from Hurst made it 3-1 on the hour, with Peters sealing the 4-1 win shortly afterwards as they finished with a 100% record in the Home Internationals. It was the first of four successive Wembley wins for England over Scotland. Ken Jones wrote in the Daily Mirror: “At Wembley Scotland were not a bad team. But they were destroyed by bad habits and a lack of awareness that is now instinctive in England’s play.”

May 24th, 1975, England 5-1 Scotland (Home International Championship)

In the mid-1970s the bragging rights lay with the Scots. In 1974 they beat England at Hampden Park, won the Home International Championship and were the only British representatives at the World Cup in West Germany. England went into the Wembley clash in May 1975 looking to get one over on their old rivals and also finish the 1974-75 season unbeaten under Don Revie.

Gerry Francis and Kevin Beattie celebrate as England thrash Scotland 5-1.

Within seven minutes it looked odds-on that would be the case, Gerry Francis and Kevin Beattie both finding the net. Colin Bell made it 3-0 shortly before half-time, although Bruce Rioch quickly reduced the arrears from the spot. But the second half brought further goals from the impressive Francis and David Johnson, completing a resounding 5-1 win as Stewart Kennedy became the latest Scottish goalkeeper to endure a day to forget at Wembley.

A buoyant Frank McGhee wrote in the Daily Mirror: “Suddenly on Saturday it felt great to be English, to smile at strangers, to scoff at Scotsmen, to walk 10-feet tall. For a few hours at least a lot of us were able to forget inflation, strikes, the bill for the rates, the Common Market and the long trudge home.” The match marked the end of captain Alan Ball’s England career after 72 caps. Scotland would gain revenge by beating England 2-1 at Hampden Park 12 months later, and again when they visited Wembley in 1977.

June 15th, 1996, Scotland 0-2 England (Euro ’96 group stage)

The group stage draw for Euro ’96 threw up a corker, with England and Scotland paired in the same group. Seven years had passed since the annual meetings were scrapped in 1989 along with the Rous Cup, but now the sides would meet in a crucial fixture midway through the group stage. Technically the Scots were the home side, but that was in name only as England looked to triumph at Wembley – something they had done on the last three occasions they had hosted the fixture in 1983, 1986 and 1988.

Paul Gascoigne’s unforgettable goal for England against Scotland.

But a frustrating draw with Switzerland in the tournament opener meant the pressure was on England to win, something they seldom looked like doing during a goalless first half. But the introduction of Jamie Redknapp gave England a new impetus, with Alan Shearer’s excellent header breaking the deadlock. As is well remembered, David Seaman saved a Gary McAllister penalty (with Uri Geller claiming the credit!) moments before Paul Gascoigne scored an unforgettable goal to wrap up victory. England’s Euro ’96 campaign was up and running, while Scotland agonisingly fell one goal short of joining them in the knockout rounds.

August 14th, 2013, 3-2 (Friendly)

In the 17 years after the Euro ’96 clash, Scotland only visited Wembley again in November 1999 for the second leg of their Euro 2000 play-off. The Scots had won the battle but lost the war, England progressing despite losing on the night. That had marked the last meeting at the old stadium and the sides did not meet again until 2013. The FA was celebrating its 150th birthday and the Scotland clash was finally resurrected in August. It may only officially have been a friendly at the start of the new season, but the revival of the fixture was met with an enjoyable encounter that whetted the appetite for further meetings.

Rickie Lambert scores England’s winner against Scotland in 2013.

Scotland twice went ahead through James Morrison and Kenny Miller, England pegging them back through Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck. And then came the Roy of the Rovers finale, 31-year-old Rickie Lambert scoring England’s winner moments after coming on for his international debut as they triumphed 3-2. It may not necessarily have been the highest quality meeting of the sides, nor England’s best performance, but this entertaining match had done the long history of England v Scotland proud and proved far more memorable than the usual August friendlies against foreign opposition. 

Like two old acquaintances meeting up for the first time in years, there was a sense of “let’s not leave it so long next time”. And indeed they didn’t, a return fixture being played in Glasgow the following year before the luck of the World Cup qualifying draw paired the teams together again. More memories are there to be made on Friday night…

England on TV – The Brian Moore Years

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Next week will sadly mark the 15th anniversary of the death of football broadcasting great Brian Moore. His long career would include covering England on many occasions and it is that element of his work we will focus on today…

Like just about ever commentator, Brian Moore attracted the odd critic who did not like the style of his commentary. However, he had a much higher number of admirers. And Moore the man was almost universally appreciated. His affable manner and dignity meant he was well-liked by ITV colleagues; BBC counterparts Barry Davies and John Motson appreciated that Moore was supportive rather than competitive (Motson was handed a ‘good luck’ note by Moore before his first FA Cup final in 1977, despite him commentating in direct competition); the public found him a friendly face and voice who was a part of their lives for many years; and people in football appreciated his respectful manner. In Moore’s obituary in The Guardian in 2001, Brian Glanville wrote: “He remained modest, affable and unaffected, well-liked not only by his colleagues in the media but by football players themselves. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that he remained a fan at heart.”

Although Moore may be synonymous with ITV’s football coverage, he was employed by the BBC as a radio commentator before he moved into television. During the 1966 World Cup final he was one of the radio commentators, being behind the microphone for Geoff Hurst’s controversial ‘did it cross the line?’ goal. Two years later he moved to ITV, helping front London Weekend Television’s football coverage on The Big Match as well as commentating for it.

The panel is born

The first major tournament for Moore with ITV was the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. But he would be staying in London, hosting the coverage rather than commentating. If he felt any disappointment at not doing commentary then it would be softened by the rave reviews the station received for its revolutionary panel. Jimmy Hill took much of the credit for the concept, but Moore fully played his part as Malcolm Allison, Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan and Bob McNab debated matters in entertaining fashion with ITV unusually winning the ratings war against the BBC.

For Moore, it set the trend. When World Cups came along he would stay at home, posing the questions to resident motormouths such as Brian Clough while Hugh Johns and then Martin Tyler voiced the biggest games instead of him. And the pattern would spread into other football coverage, particularly for midweek matches. When England played Poland in their never-to-be-forgotten qualifier at Wembley in October 1973, Moore was presenting the programme live on-site as the nation watched Sir Alf Ramsey’s side agonisingly fall short. Clough was one of the pundits and Moore eventually ran out of patience with him continually labelling Poland’s Jan Tomaszewski a “clown”, pointing his pen towards him as he reminded the outspoken panelist how the goalkeeper had made several vital saves to keep his side in the game. Clough didn’t agree, but the two Brians made for a good pairing. They may have seemed quite different as people but they worked well together and, by all accounts, enjoyed each other’s company.

Brian Moore takes Brian Clough to task over calling Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown”.

For Moore, England commentaries were a treat as his presenting duties quite often denied him the opportunity to perform the role. He did though usually get to describe the annual jousts with Scotland (shown in World of Sport hosted by Dickie Davies) among other matches each year. It was puzzling though that if Moore could be freed from presenting to go and commentate on the 1980 European Championship in Italy, why couldn’t he do so for at least part of the 1982 World Cup? And if he was allowed to fly out to Mexico to commentate on the 1986 World Cup final, then why wasn’t he able to do so a week earlier for England’s huge match against Argentina?

Perils of broadcasting abroad

When Moore did get to commentate on England, he would occasionally get a match to remember. One that would stand out was the great 2-0 win away to Brazil in June 1984, but it would be tinged with disappointment. ITV would only start showing the match at half-time, meaning the incredible goal John Barnes scored in the dying seconds of the first-half was not seen live. But Moore’s commentary of the goal for brief highlights shown at half-time has become well known. “John Barnes now… He might go all the way for England… Barnes… He’s scored and England, amazingly, are into the lead.” How cruel it wasn’t seen as it happened.

Foreign ventures could at times prove fraught. In 1985 Moore was in Mexico to see England play Italy as part of preparations for the World Cup a year later. But as his commentary began he sounded like a man commentating from deep inside a cave, eventually being cut off for 20 minutes as Martin Tyler filled in from London while attempts were made to solve the problems. Moore was then left to commentate down a telephone from the back of the commentary box. Sometimes a commentator’s life isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be!

Focusing on commentating

Moore was relieved of his presenting duties with Midweek Sports Special in the summer of 1986 and he was now free to focus on commentating (a reduction in his workload which he believed may have helped save his live after he was diagnosed with heart trouble). For the next two years he regularly described England matches – ITV tended to alternate games with the BBC – including the 4-1 win away to Yugoslavia that took them through to Euro ’88. While there, England flopped and Moore was commentating live for their opening defeat by the Republic of Ireland.

Two years later, the only England match ITV exclusively showed live at Italia ’90 was a poor 1-1 draw against the Irish with Moore commentating. But he would also commentate live on England’s three nerve-jangling knockout matches, hailing the “fantastic finale” as David Platt volleyed in a dramatic late winner against Belgium before telling us that “England sad, sad, sadly are out” after Chris Waddle’s penalty was missed against West Germany. In between he would try to talk Ron Atkinson out of trouble when his regular co-commentator made a remark that some might have considered racist during England’s win over Cameroon. Although Moore’s work had gone unappreciated by many due to England’s knockout matches also being live on the BBC, he could feel pride that he had finally commentated on them for ITV at a World Cup – and it had been their most epic adventure since 1966.

“He’s gonna flick one”

In October 1993 England visited the Netherlands for a vital World Cup qualifier. With Norway out in front, one of the two traditional heavyweights in the group would fail to make the finals as runners-up. ITV had secured the rights to the match, arguably the biggest England had played since the Italia ’90 semi-final. For ITV it was a rare opportunity to show England outside of a major tournament, the BBC having secured the exclusive terrestrial rights to the FA Cup and most England matches in 1988.

Moore and Ron Atkinson described the gripping and controversial contest, being adamant Ronald Koeman should have been red carded when the Dutchman hauled back David Platt. A few minutes later the Dutch were awarded a free-kick at the opposite end, to be taken by Koeman. “What an irony it would be if he scored with this when he should have been off the field,” said Moore. If that seemed perceptive given what was to follow, then his line as Koeman strode up for a retake (after his initial effort was charged down) has gone into legend.

Sensing Koeman was lining up differently to how he struck his trademark powerful free-kicks, Moore told viewers: “He’s gonna flick one now. He’s gonna flick one. He’s gonna flick one. And it’s in.” It was a moment of despair for England, but one of pride for Moore. He had been confident over what Koeman was about to do, so much so he said it three times. As an England fan he hadn’t wanted the ball to go in (he said “come on England, let’s see if we can hold it up again” just seconds beforehand), but the line would recalled for years to come. “He was breaking all the rules of broadcasting in anticipating something that might not happen,” wrote ITV colleague Clive Tyldesley after Moore died in 2001. “But he was spot on.”

Moore next commentated on England during Euro ’96, covering all their five matches including two ITV showed exclusively live. The following year ITV took over the contract for terrestrial coverage of England and the FA Cup, with Moore commentating for delayed coverage on England’s famous 0-0 draw with Italy that took them through to the 1998 World Cup. The tournament would mark the end for Moore after three decades with ITV as he prepared to hang up his microphone.

A dramatic ending

Although the 1998 World Cup final would be his last match, perhaps his true finale would be the momentous second round match between Argentina and England. Unlike the final this was exclusively live on ITV and it attracted a huge audience, with the watching millions experiencing a night of high emotion. He provided fitting words for Michael Owen’s brilliant goal (“it’s a great run by Michael Owen and he might finish it off… It’s a wonderful goal”) and summed up the agony over David Beckham’s sending off with a simple “oh no”.

Unfortunately Moore’s last act commentating on England would see him come in for some criticism. David Batty stepped forward to take England’s fifth kick in the shoot-out, needing to score to force sudden death with Moore sounding anxious about the fact Batty had never netted for his country. Connecting that his co-commentator Kevin Keegan had managed Batty at Newcastle United, he decided to put him on the spot just seconds before the penalty was taken as he sought reassurance. “Now you know him better than anyone, probably. Do you back him to score? Quickly, yes or no?” Keegan said yes, but he’d been backed into a corner where it was the only answer he could really give (imagine the slagging off he’d have got if he had said no and Batty then scored). Almost instantly Batty saw his effort saved as Moore described England’s third shoot-out exit from a major tournament in the 1990s. Moore’s England years were over, but it was an enthralling match to end with.

Sadly, Moore would not get long to enjoy his semi-retirement (he continued to perform some broadcasting duties but was no longer commentating). He died on September 1, 2001, the day when England memorably beat Germany 5-1. Tributes poured in for Moore and many would reflect on how much he would have enjoyed the match. One could certainly imagine him giving it the trademark “and it’s in there” as Michael Owen equalised; saying “and England go into the lead and what a way to do it” when Steven Gerrard drove in the second goal; and proclaiming it as “a truly wonderful night for England fans everywhere” as the goals continued in the second half.

While with ITV, Moore endured 30 years of hurt so far as covering England was concerned as they failed to win a major trophy or even reach a final. But there had been plenty of memorable moments along the way, getting to commentate on two epic semi-finals. His successor Clive Tyldesley has never even got to do that. Moore was a friend of the people and is sadly missed by many.

Football and Team GB at London 2012

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With the Olympics currently taking place in Rio, today we broaden our horizons slightly from our usual recollections about England and instead focus on the presence of Team GB in football at London 2012. For any England fan, the tournament carried a familiar feeling as Team GB’s men exited on penalties. The competition helped raise the profile of the women’s game, but the British would again fall during the last eight…


We’ll come to the women in a minute but Olympic men’s football struggles to capture the imagination on these shores for several reasons. It is not perceived as the pinnacle or even remotely close in status to the World Cup; Team GB are not normally able to enter a team (this is perhaps the key turn-off here in the UK); the restriction for all bar three players to be under-23 means few nations are fielding their strongest possible side; it takes place just after the European Championship so many star names are absent even if they are eligible for it; and it regularly clashes with the start of the domestic season so is viewed as a bit of an inconvenience by clubs.

And all this adds up to a perception in the UK that football isn’t really an essential part of the Olympics. It is perhaps the opposite situation to normal, with football considered a bit of a minority sport during the Games and tucked away on the red button channels. Some might argue that if rugby sevens is a part of the Olympics, then alternative versions of football such as six-a-side might be a better option than the current offering.

But having been contested at every Olympics bar two, the heritage of football at the Games isn’t in question. “Just because the Olympics is not part of our footballing DNA in Great Britain does not mean it is not very important,” said BBC pundit Garth Crooks in 2012. Nor should we forget that Great Britain won gold in both 1908 and 1912 before the World Cup had been conceived, while Matt Busby managed the amateurs to fourth place in the 1948 Olympics on home soil – an achievement worth hailing as most squad members were playing lower league or non-league football, whereas some opponents could field their full international side if professional football was not permitted in their homeland.

Hope Powell (women’s) and Stuart Pearce (men’s) were in charge of Team GB’s footballers at London 2012.

In 2012 Team GB would be entering teams in the football competitions, the first time for 40 years when the amateur era was still in place (professionals were first allowed to play in 1984). From the moment London was selected as host in 2005 the team’s revival became a source of debate, the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales concerned at the potential ramifications if their players were part of the  Team GB football team. It seemed a sport editor’s go-to subject for a slow news day, with someone invariably speaking out about it.

After a lot of talk, eventually the men’s team would consist predominantly of players from England with five from Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland were not represented. With England having gone to Euro 2012 a few weeks earlier, manager Stuart Pearce – who was also the boss of England under-21s – was left to pick a fairly inexperienced squad containing some players such as Scott Sinclair and Marvin Sordell who have never been capped at full level.

Perhaps the main intrigue concerned the selection of the three over-23 players. Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs of Wales would finally get the chance to appear in an international tournament as they neared retirement, while discarded England defender Micah Richards was the other ‘veteran’ at the ripe old age of 24.

Becks is axed

But the main talking point over the squad choice concerned the non-selection of David Beckham, some adamant he merited his place for his efforts over London 2012’s bid and for the experience he would provide. Respected football writer Henry Winter certainly takes Beckham’s side in his new book Fifty Years of Hurt. “It’s a snub for a popular footballing figure whose persuasive qualities helped bring the Olympics to London,” he writes. “It’s a no-brainier, a tap-in. Beckham will bring substance to GB football, an ersatz operation at the best of times. The former England captain deserves a place on footballing grounds.”

Winter notes the unhappy reaction of some FA personnel to Beckham’s snub, but he believes the subject should have been raised with Pearce when he was offered the job. The manager had the final say and would not budge. Pearce said: “In regard to ticket sales or merchandising or whatever, I’m a football man. I pick solely on footballing ability and I have to back my opinion. I feel very sorry for David, I know how much it meant to him.”

Big turnouts

Despite the perception that football in the Olympics carries limited appeal, some of the attendances suggested otherwise. On the first Sunday of both Euro ’96 and London 2012, this blogger was at Old Trafford to watch matches. In 1996 there was a crowd of 37,300 at the stadium to see Germany beat the Czech Republic, the two eventual finalists; in 2012 more than 66,000 watched Brazil’s men beat Belarus in an Olympic group game at the same stadium (with Egypt against New Zealand in the first part of a double header also well-attended).

Even accounting for Old Trafford’s capacity having grown since 1996 and ticket pricing issues during Euro’96, that was still a major increase in attendance – particularly considering the Olympics is generally viewed as a less prestigious football tournament than the Euros. The rare chance to see two matches back-to-back and the eternal pulling power of Brazil helped, but perhaps more significantly football was the one event that people in the north-west could easily access – and the same applied elsewhere in the country too. So many people simply wanted to say they had been a part of the Games, without necessarily having the time or resources to head to London. Three of the four men’s quarter-final matches attracted official attendances of more than 70,000. Olympic football might be easy to dismiss, but the public turned out in big numbers on plenty of occasions.

Girl power

The other main beneficiary of football in the Olympics was the women’s game. Without the age restrictions of the men’s tournament, it effectively acts as a second World Cup and a chance for women’s football to enjoy a place in the spotlight. Team GB had never participated in the Olympics before.


Team GB’s women come unstuck in the quarter-finals against Canada.

This was virtually the England side under a different name, manager Hope Powell’s squad being entirely English apart from two Scottish players. She resisted picking any Welsh players despite the team’s first two matches being at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. With England having reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2007 and 2011 and the final of Euro 2009, the team would fancy their chances of earning a medal on home soil.

The team had the honour of kicking off the Olympics with a win over New Zealand, then defeating Cameroon before more than 70,000 saw them beat Brazil at Wembley as they advanced with a 100% record from the group stage. But until last year the quarter-finals were England’s nemesis round at the World Cup and it would spread to Team GB at the Olympics, as they lost 2-0 to Canada at Coventry. “We wanted to be in it for the long run,” said Powell. “We have raised awareness but we would have liked to take it further.” Canada then lost to USA, who would beat Japan in the final in front of more than 80,000 at Wembley. 

The same old story

Think the night of Super Saturday in 2012 and the first names that come to mind for most people are Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford. Not too many will say Daniel Sturridge, who as the nation was rejoicing over triumphs in athletics was missing the decisive penalty as Team GB’s men went out to South Korea at the Millennium Stadium. It was the same old story for anyone who considered the team as an extension of the England side, with Team GB crashing out on spot-kicks in the last eight. For Pearce it was yet more international heartache from penalties, having played in defeats to the Germans in 1990 and 1996 and as a manager his England under-21 side had lost an epic shoot-out to the Netherlands at the 2007 European Championship.

Team GB had topped a group containing Senegal, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay (featuring Luis Suarez) before their shoot-out disappointment in Cardiff. The defeat denied them a glamour semi-final with Brazil at Old Trafford, a match which might just have triggered national interest in the football competition. Brazil comfortably beat South Korea but lost the final to Mexico, meaning the Brazilians have still yet to win the football tournament as they look to end the hoodoo on home soil this time around.

For most of the English members of the party it was not the passage to international success they might have hoped for, although Sturridge, Ryan Bertrand and Danny Rose would all be part of England’s Euro 2016 squad. But for the young Welsh contingent the tournament experience arguably proved more vital.  Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor would all go on to help Wales reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Allen had inadvertently been listed as ‘English’ in the first programme for the tournament, although the fuss over that was nothing compared to the blunder committed when the South Korean flag appeared rather than North Korea’s on the scoreboard before a women’s match at Hampden Park! 

He may be wearing Team GB’s colours but Daniel Sturridge gets to experience what plenty of his England predecessors have been through over the years.

For both manages of Team GB, the tournament should have provided welcome experience for them to build on in their roles with England. But for Pearce and Powell things would soon get  far worse. Dreadful European Championship tournaments in 2013 for England under-21s and the women would see both leave their respective positions. Powell had been touted as a potential manager in the men’s game a relatively short time earlier, but she would be left watching on from afar as Mark Sampson led England’s women to the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 2015.

When people get misty-eyed about London 2012, it is unlikely to be about football – particularly the men’s team. The Games brought countless moments to savour and, ultimately, football struggled to register in the same way that so many moments of British glory did. But as we’ve seen it did allow a wider audience to attend Olympic events and helped the profile of women’s football. For that it served a positive purpose and there has been criticism over the women being absent in 2016. If Team GB are to be represented in football at the Olympics again any time soon, we suspect it won’t be the men doing it.