The 1974 World Cup qualification programme would go down in infamy for England, as the 1966 winners failed to even make the finals two tournaments on. There weren’t many highlights for the fans to look back at fondly, but one would be the thunderbolt goal scored by Norman Hunter against Wales on this day in 1973…
1973, Norman Hunter and Wembley weren’t the best of combinations. In May, Hunter was part of the Leeds United side that surprisingly lost to Sunderland in the FA Cup Final. In October, Hunter’s infamous error against Poland proved costly as England conceded the goal that ultimately stopped them qualifying for the World Cup. But on a happier note, in the previous home qualifier in January, Hunter had scored a screamer against Wales.
The visit of the Welsh marked the first World Cup match at Wembley since the 1966 World Cup final. As on that famous day, England were managed by Sir Alf Ramsey and captained by Bobby Moore. But Alan Ball was the only other player from the 1966 final taking to the field, although the side did contain Norman Hunter who had been an unused squad member in that triumph and made one substitute appearance at the 1970 tournament. This was realistically going to be the defender’s last chance to properly figure at a World Cup. With England having started the campaign by beating Wales in Cardiff two months earlier, there seemed little cause for concern ahead of this rare January international.
All that changed after 23 minutes, John Toshack scoring from close range to give Wales the lead. Suddenly it didn’t look so certain that England would be at the finals in West Germany. They now began to attack with vigour, but – in an ominous warning sign for what would later lie ahead with Poland and Jan Tomaszewski- they came up against a goalkeeper in good form in Gary Sprake. But the one man who would beat him shortly before the break was Hunter, his Leeds United colleague.
Hunter was involved in bringing the ball forward as England attacked in numbers. Colin Bell drove the ball into the box, with it being deflected away into the path of Hunter. He struck the ball goalwards with venom from outside the box, his left foot drive flying into the roof of Sprake’s net. “Sprake knows all about Norman Hunter but he knew nothing about that,” proclaimed BBC commentator David Coleman as Wembley erupted with delight. It had been a goal to savour.
“Oh, how England need forwards who can shoot like that,” reflected Geoffrey Green in The Times. Norman Giller in the Daily Express wrote of a goal that was “fashioned out of nothing”. In the Daily Mirror, Frank McGhee said: “It is in a way a tribute to England’s equaliser in the 40th minute that a ‘keeper in Sprake’s superb form was left frozen in disbelief at the ferocity and power of the Norman Hunter shot that flew past him from 25 yards.” Green also called it at 25 yards, Giller gave a more conservative estimate of 20. Wales’ Leighton James, in an interview in 2004, recalled it as being 30. But regardless of just how far out it was, there was no getting away from the fact that Hunter’s goal had caught the eye. “You did not see him often over the halfway line. It showed how much pressure they put on us,” recalled James.
Hunter would generally be known for his ‘bites yer’ legs’ reputation rather than his goalscoring ability, scoring just 22 times in 679 Football League appearances. For England he was hardly prolific either, the only other goal he scored in 28 caps coming against Spain in 1968. But against Wales he drove in a goal to remember.
It sadly wasn’t what most people would be talking about the following day, England having to settle for a 1-1 draw and being booed off the pitch. It wouldn’t be what most primarily remembered his England career for either, the mistake against Poland nine months later sadly – and perhaps unfairly – sticking in many minds far more. But Hunter’s goal against Wales had been one to treasure, a prime candidate for any list of forgotten great England goals – a left-footed drive from distance that flew past Sprake. It was a Bobby Charlton-esque goal from the most unlikely of sources.
Thirty years ago Gary Lineker continued his rich goalscoring streak for England and proved he could score more than just tap-ins when he produced a marvellous second goal in a 3-0 win against Northern Ireland at Wembley…
Last weekend, almost 82,000 were at Wembley to see England host Malta in a World Cup qualifier – their first home match after flopping at Euro 2016. In the same week 30 years ago, England were playing their first home game after reaching the quarter-finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It carried the added ingredient of being a European Championship qualifier against fellow UK opposition in Northern Ireland, who had also been present at the World Cup finals. And yet the turnout was a mere 35,304, even though it was not being screened live on television. Such was the way of life in the mid-1980s, as football lacked the pulling power of both before and since. But those who did pass through the Wembley turnstiles were rewarded as they saw a moment of magic from Gary Lineker.
A year to remember
1986 had certainly been a year to remember for Lineker. Despite Everton narrowly missing out on major honours in the 1985-86 season, Lineker won a series of personal accolades including being the PFA and Football Writers’ Association player of the year and First Division top scorer. He followed it up by winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, memorably scoring six times for England in the tournament. And then he made a big-money move to Barcelona, his status as a star name in European football continually growing. On October 15 he was back in England, turning out at Wembley for the first time since he had scored for Everton in their FA Cup final defeat by Liverpool in May.
The trophies were piling up for Gary Lineker in 1986.
When Northern Ireland had last visited Wembley 11 months earlier, they ground out the 0-0 draw they needed to join England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. But their hero from that night was no longer on the scene, veteran goalkeeper Pat Jennings having retired after the finals. He was proving pretty irreplaceable, manager Billy Bingham – who in a curious move got married on the day of this qualifier – having to select uncapped Phil Hughes of Third Division Bury between the sticks. Bingham was facing a rebuilding exercise, with some of the old favourites no longer involved and veteran Sammy McIlroy dropped to the bench.
Every member of the England starting XI had been to the World Cup except Dave Watson, although Viv Anderson had not played any matches and captain Bryan Robson’s tournament was blighted by injury. Headlines were being made by Ray Wilkins being axed from the side, not even making it onto the substitute’s bench. Just one more cap would follow for the midfielder, his international career never really recovering from his dismissal against Morocco at the 1986 World Cup.
Gary Lineker chips home England’s third against Northern Ireland.
With 33 minutes gone, England made the vital breakthrough. Lineker showed his trademark potency from close range as he was on hand to score from the edge of the six-yard box following a corner. But England were unable to build on their lead until 15 minutes from the end, Chris Waddle converting after Peter Beardsley’s effort was deflected into his path. England could now relax and five minutes later came the match’s defining moment.
Lineker’s moment of magic
It began with Glenn Hoddle putting his foot in to win the ball at the expense of two opponents and feeding Beardsley, who played a neat ball through to striking partner Lineker. He held off John McClelland’s challenge and, on the turn, produced a delightful chip with his left foot to beat Hughes. The ball went in off the inside of the post, Lineker wheeling away in delight. “That’s a lovely effort and a fine goal,” purred John Motson, commentating for BBC highlights. “Beautifully taken and the Beardsley-Lineker combination works again.”
As was often the case during his England career, Lineker found Beardsley to be the ideal partner up front. It had been a goal that went against the stereotypes, with Hoddle doing the dirty work to break up the play and Lineker scoring in style from distance rather than close range. It also wrapped up a decent victory for England.
The 3-0 win represented a good start to Euro ’88 qualifying for Bobby Robson’s men. But Lineker was dominating the headlines, particularly as Robson was absolutely brimming with delight about what the player was producing. “He’s possibly just about the greatest striker in the world today. [Diego] Maradona is a wonderfully gifted player with dribbling ability, but would he score more goals?” he asked rhetorically. Robson was also full of praise about Lineker’s superb goal. “I said to Gary ‘what a great goal to score at Wembley, son. I envy you’,” he excitedly told the media.
Lineker, who now had 14 goals from just 19 internationals, was somewhat surprised by his wondergoal. “I really don’t know how I scored my second goal,” he said. “It was as big a shock to me as everyone else.” The previous year Lineker had scored a tremendous volley away to the USA, but he was adamant this one was the best. “It is certainly the most spectacular goal I have ever scored for England,” he proclaimed. “It’s the sort of goal that happens very occasionally as far as I’m concerned.”
Bingham, whose wedding night had not exactly gone to plan, was graciously full of praise for the England striker when quizzed afterwards. “I think Lineker is superb. He has ability and if he gets the service he is lethal. He has that killer instinct,” said Bingham, who no doubt wished the player was Northern Irish.
Lineker failed to score when England beat Yugoslavia the following month, but in February 1987 he famously netted four times as England beat Spain 4-2 in Madrid. The player’s reputation was growing all the time and a hat-trick against Turkey in October 1987 moved England to the brink of Euro ’88 qualification. The 3-0 home victory over Northern Ireland would rarely be recalled except for one moment – Lineker’s delightful finish, one that was so different to his stereotypical close range finishing. As Lineker himself reflected afterwards: “Most of mine come from inside the six-yard box so naturally I’m delighted.” Most of the small crowd at Wembley that night 30 years ago shared the delight too.
Tomorrow sees England face Wales in their Euro 2016 group stage match. The derby clash will take place the day after the 20th anniversary of when England last took on a fellow British side in a major tournament. Scotland visited Wembley during Euro ’96 to face the hosts, with a moment of brilliance from Paul Gascoigne ensuring it would never be forgotten.
From the moment the draw was made for the 1996 European Championship, there was hype about England playing Scotland. The sides had not met for seven years since their annual jousts ended and the fact they would now be meeting in a major tournament hosted by England gave the fixture added spice. England’s frustrating draw with Switzerland in the opening match meant they could ill-afford to slip up again, experiencing a week-long wait to take on the Scots due to UEFA’s scheduling of the group stage (which had the group seeds playing their first two matches at weekends and the other games played in midweek).
The previous decade had seen a reversal of the traditional one-way traffic between Scotland and England of leading players, with Rangers having managed to sign a number of England internationals. Although the return of English clubs to Europe and the creation of the Premier League in the early 1990s helped the traditional order to be restored, in the summer of 1995 Rangers signed English star Paul Gascoigne from Lazio. It brought Gazza back home to British football.
Paul Gascoigne returned to Britain in 1995, joining Rangers.
When the Euro ’96 draw was made, it meant Gascoigne could enjoy months of pre-match banter with the Scotland contingent in the Rangers squad such as goalkeeper Andy Goram and striker Ally McCoist. “For the previous few months I’d taken so much stick in the Rangers dressing room. They told me all the time how they were going to stuff England,” Gascoigne recalled in his autobiography. This was one fixture Gascoigne was not going to want to miss.
But not everyone shared Gascoigne’s desire to see him involved in the match. He had been a star at the 1990 World Cup, but since then he had experienced two lengthy injury lay-offs and he had been a constant source of media attention – not all of it positive. Gascoigne was taking much of the blame for alleged incidents on England’s infamous pre-tournament trip to China and Hong Kong. Then, during the draw with Switzerland he made little impact and was substituted. Doubts were being cast upon how successful he could be during the tournament, with plenty of negative press coverage coming his way.
Gascoigne would go knocking on boss Terry Venables’ door the night before to seek assurances he would play. According to Gascoigne, Venables told him he wouldn’t be picking him and kept the pretence up for some time before finally admitting he was in. There was a mutual affection between Gascoigne and Venables, having previously worked together at Tottenham Hotspur. Not every manager would have been so willing to stand by Gascoigne amid the recent headlines.
Gascoigne scores his unforgettable goal against Scotland.
At half-time against Scotland, there was anxiety in the air. England were drawing 0-0 and showing little sign they could win. If they didn’t do so, they’d be in serious danger of going out in the group stage on home soil. The BBC panel were again offering criticism of Gascoigne, while in the Wembley changing room Venables was making a substitution. Some would have been happy to see Gascoigne hauled off, but instead it would be defender Stuart Pearce in a tactical switch. Jamie Redknapp was brought on, providing an extra midfielder.
The change seemed to galvanise England, who soon forged ahead with a goal that was excellent but overshadowed by what happened later – Alan Shearer’s header completing an impressive team move. But England’s improved second half display looked like it would count for little when Tony Adams fouled Gordon Durie in the area. For the second Saturday running, England seemed set to concede a late equaliser from the spot. But David Seaman saved from Gary McAllister (with Uri Geller claiming the credit!). It would prove a Sliding Doors moment in terms of England’s tournament. Who knows how we would look back at the competition had it gone in…
With the Scots still reeling from the miss, England broke away. Anderton found Gascoigne, who would memorably flicked the ball over Colin Hendry before volleying home. It wrapped up England’s win and ignited their campaign. It would forever stand out among the most famous England goals.
The ‘dentist’s chair’ celebration.
Writing in his autobiography, Gascoigne recalled the goal. “I was about on the corner of the Scotland box in between two defenders,” he wrote. “When the ball came through to me Colin Hendry was moving over to close me down. I just knew where he’d be, when he’d commit himself, so I knew what to do. It felt brilliant when it all worked. I went to look like I’d knock it past him and try and go round the outside, but I changed direction and flicked it over his head with my left foot. Hendry tried to get back to me, but ended up on the deck, and I volleyed the ball with my right into the corner of the goal, past Andy Goram, my Rangers team-mate.” Almost as memorable as the goal was the celebration, Gascoigne and colleagues performing the ‘dentist’s chair’ routine to make light of incidents on the pre-tournament trip to Asia.
For England the campaign was up and running, while Gascoigne was back as a national hero. ‘Mr Paul Gascoigne: An Apology’ screamed the front page of the Daily Mirror, with a somewhat at tongue in cheek story after his goal. For Gascoigne the comparisons would exist between the tournaments of 1990 and 1996, even though his injuries in the meantime meant he was not likely to be quite the star this time around at he had been at Italia ’90. In both competitions there would be heartache against the Germans in the semi-final and an incident that lived long in the memory.
In 1990 it had been his tears after receiving a booking that ruled him out of the final if England got there; six years on it was the sight of him literally being inches away from getting the touch needed to turn in Alan Shearer’s cross. Had it been the other way round, Shearer would almost certainly have scored. It was an incident that would barely have been recalled had England gone on to win, but their shoot-out loss means it has continually been brought up – the moment England could have won through to the final and probably have won the whole tournament.
Gascoigne would never play in another major tournament. He had thrived under Terry Venables but with successor Glenn Hoddle – like Graham Taylor before him – the relationship was more complex. His controversial omission from the 1998 World Cup squad marked a sad end to an incident-packed international career. He had only played in two major tournaments, but in both he left lasting memories as England so nearly reached the final.
On this day in 1966 Bobby Charlton scored arguably the best remembered of his 49 England goals – his long-range screamer against Mexico in the 1966 World Cup.
After all the build-up and preparation, England had endured a frustrating start to the 1966 World Cup when they drew 0-0 with Uruguay in the opening match. Alf Ramsey’s proclamation that England would win the World Cup on home soil was under scrutiny, after they failed to turn in either an impressive performance or result. Five days later there appeared to be more of the same in store at Wembley as Mexico stoutly defended and were stifling England’s attacking ambitions.
But after 38 minutes came the moment when England made the breakthrough and it came in style. Collecting the ball just inside his own half, Charlton was given space to keep running while controlling the ball with his left foot. He then cut inside slightly onto his right foot and unleashed an unstoppable drive that flew beautifully into the net, as goalkeeper Ignacio Calderon lay dejected on the floor having been well beaten by the shot. It was a goal of beauty and of high value, as England’s World Cup campaign at last took off. It was a moment similar to David Platt’s winner against Belgium in 1990 or Paul Gascoigne’s effort against Scotland in Euro ’96, in that a goal of quality was needed to spark England’s campaign into life.
Watching Charlton’s goal from the other end, England goalkeeper Gordon Banks said “the ball seemed to climb like a jet plane taking off”. Banks believed “no goalkeeper could have stopped it” and it’s hard to argue against that view, such was the power of the strike. A goal from Roger Hunt sealed a 2-0 win, with England then getting into their stride and emerging as competition victors. Charlton would again be the hero with his double strike against Portugal in the semi-final. As this compilation shows, Charlton could be relied upon to pull something out of the bag for England with plenty of other strikes coming from distance. But no other goal for his country would be as remembered as the one he struck on July 16, 1966.
In his biography of the Charlton brothers (2002), author Leo McKinstry puts into context Bobby’s goal against Mexico pretty well:
Bobby Charlton’s awesome shot was the spark that lit England’s campaign. Up until that moment, Ramsey’s side had looked stodgy, timid, lacking in ideas. A miserable early exit appeared a real possibility. But suddenly, thanks to a stroke of genius, England were on course – and they were never to look back. It was probably the most memorable goal of Bobby’s career, not only for the sheer breathtaking quality of his shot, but also for its context.
Turning the clock back exactly 25 years in the latest of our recollections of Italia ’90, we recall one of the most joyful moments for any England fan – David Platt’s dramatic and perfectly executed last minute winner against Belgium.
June 26, 1990 was a tense and long night in Bologna. The Belgians, with the dynamic Enzo Scifo pulling the strings, had been unfortunate not to forge ahead as both Jan Ceulemans and Scifo – with a stunning effort – were denied by the woodwork. But the luck was not totally on England’s side, as John Barnes had been flagged offside when he put the ball in the net during the first half despite TV footage suggesting it should have stood.
England captain Bryan Robson had flown home injured, with Steve McMahon having stepped into the combative midfield role. But after 71 minutes McMahon was taken off, with David Platt brought on. The fresh legs offered by Platt and fellow substitute Steve Bull proved welcome as the match meandered into extra-time. That had brought no change to the score, as the clock passed the 118 minute mark. Then Paul Gascoigne used up one last surge of energy to go on a run into the Belgian half and earn a free-kick after being fouled.
As Gascoigne lined up to take it, Bobby Robson hollered at him to get it into the box rather than trying to do anything fancy. He lofted it into a crowded penalty area and it reached Platt, who had just remained onside. He brilliantly swiveled to volley the ball past Michel Preud’homme. Platt had managed to correctly follow the flight of the ball and time his connection just perfectly. It was a goal of quality and equally one of real joy for England.
“And England have done it in the last minute of extra-time,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson – words that were fairly obvious but fitted perfectly. His ITV counterpart Brian Moore was hailing the “fantastic finale”, as England spared themselves the agony of a penalty-shoot-out. It certainly wasn’t a bad time for Platt to net his first England goal.
Suddenly, there were scenes of sheer joy. Platt sank to his knees and was being mobbed by most of his team-mates, with Gary Lineker looking particularly delirious. Bobby Robson danced a little jig on the touchline, knowing he had at the very least matched his achievement of four years earlier of leading England into the last eight of the World Cup. After the final whistle sounded a minute or so later, the party was in full swing and there was the memorable sight of Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle dancing (mimicked in plenty of school playgrounds the following day) as “let’s all have a disco” rang out. Sadly for Platt, he was whisked away from the party and taken for a drugs test as he endured the customary long wait to be able to give a sample.
“Don’t get me wrong, the goal wasn’t a fluke. I had an eye for getting on the end of that sort of ball and the technical ability to finish those chances off. I worked hard on practising overhead kicks and volleys in training at Aston Villa but, even so, if I had re-enacted that chance against Belgium 10 times in training the next day there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have scored once from it. It was just one of life’s rare, perfect moments.” David Platt in an excellent interview with The Guardian in 2010.
Platt’s rise to prominence was particularly impressive. In 1986 he had found himself surplus to requirements at Manchester United and dropped into the Fourth Division with Crewe Alexandra, where he thrived before moving to Aston Villa two years later. His form with Villa early in the 1989-90 season brought a first England cap against Italy in November 1989 and he never looked back. Although he had gone into Italia ’90 on the fringes, the goal against Belgium thrust the 24-year-old into the spotlight. He started the next game against Cameroon and opened the scoring, before netting in the penalty-shoot-out against West Germany and then heading home in the third place play-off against Italy. He could return home as one of England’s leading success stories. The tournament had made the Italian public aware of Platt and he would spend several years playing there from 1991 with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. Platt continued to be a regular for his country until 1996, proving a natural successor to Bryan Robson as a goal scoring midfielder and often being England’s main marksman during the early 1990s.
But had Platt not scored against Belgium, then who knows how things would have panned out? Had they lost on penalties then one suspects Italia ’90 would not be as fondly remembered in England as it is. Bobby Robson would not have bowed out a hero and Paul Gascoigne would almost certainly not have been voted Sports Personality of the Year. There would have been no dramatic win over Cameroon and no tears from Gazza against West Germany. Platt’s goal was the moment that World Cup sprung to life for England, not unlike Bobby Charlton’s goal against Mexico in 1966 or Gascoigne’s against Scotland in Euro ’96. It was a special moment for both the player and the country.
Critics may argue England may have been a bit lucky to win on the balance of play. But Robson’s men had also made their own luck and Platt’s goal was anything but lucky.