In the coming days England will be expected to wrap up World Cup qualification without too much anxiety. But plenty of England World Cup qualifying campaigns have gone right to the wire and we today recall six such instances…
Republic of Ireland 1-1 England, May 1957
England qualified unbeaten for each World Cup from 1950 to 1962 (and then automatically for the two after that), with their one real moment of worry coming in their last qualifier for the 1958 World Cup. Just 11 days after England had won 5-1 at home to the Republic of Ireland and more than a year before the finals, the sides met again in Dublin with Walter Winterbottom’s team needing a point to clinch qualification. If England lost, then they would have to face their opponents again in a play-off provided the Irish beat Denmark (considered a weak side at the time).
John Atyeo’s late goal took England through to the 1958 World Cup, but he would never appear for them again.
Alf Ringstead put Ireland in front after three minutes and that looked like it would settle the contest. But in the last minute Bristol City’s John Atyeo levelled matters to break Irish hearts and send England through to Sweden. Atyeo was rewarded by never being capped again. This contest may not be as well-known as the others we are recalling today, but it was no less dramatic as England rode their luck to qualify. “Never will they have a narrower squeak,” reported The Times. “Indeed every Irishman this evening will be darkly muttering the word ‘robbery’.”
England 1-1 Poland, October 1973
A match that will never be forgotten and still crops up in discussion more than 40 years later. When England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1978 and 1994 they went into the last match still in with a shout but with matters out of their hands, with fortune not on their side as they missed out despite beating Italy and San Marino respectively. But at the climax of qualifying for the 1974 tournament, matters were more straightforward. “Win or bust,” said BBC commentator Barry Davies as England welcomed Poland to Wembley in October 1973. The 1966 World Cup winners had to win this match to make the 1974 finals, or the Poles would be the side to make it to West Germany. First was first, second really would be nowhere with no play-offs to offer another shot at getting through. Poland had inflicted England’s first World Cup qualifying defeat four months earlier and were not to be underestimated.
An image that sums up the infamous night: England attacking, but not scoring.
As has been well-documented, England peppered the Polish goal but a combination of bad luck, Jan Tomaszewski’s heroics – despite being labelled a “clown” by Brian Clough – and Sir Alf Ramsey’s men failing to take chances kept the game goalless. Then the sucker punch was dealt after the break, Norman Hunter and Peter Shilton both taking the blame for Jan Domarski’s breakaway goal to give the Poles the lead. Although Allan Clarke’s penalty restored parity, the winner would not come for England despite creating further chances – with substitute Kevin Hector almost the hero at the death. As the final whistle sounded there was disbelief at Wembley. “One of the blackest days they’ve ever had,” said ITV commentator Hugh Johns as reality bit about England’s failure. They should have won this one, but the Poles would prove they had merited qualification when they excelled to take third spot in the tournament. By then, Ramsey was out of a job.
England 1-0 Hungary, November 1981
When England took “a hell of a beating” away to Norway in September 1981, it looked like the game was up and they would fail to qualify for a third successive World Cup and potentially be out even before they played their last game at home to Hungary. But then the footballing gods answered ‘Reverend Ron’ Greenwood’s prayers. An unexpected combination of results – most notably main challengers Romania taking one point from two games against Switzerland – meant England now only needed a point at home to the Hungarians, who had already qualified as group winners. But so fraught had England’s qualifying campaign been that nobody was celebrating yet. The game’s importance was such that Wembley was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity and it was being televised live on the BBC – a rarity for home games at the time.
Paul Mariner’s goal takes England through to the 1982 World Cup.
The nation prepared for a tense night but an early goal by Paul Mariner calmed nerves and the Hungarians rarely looked like they might bail out their Eastern European rivals Romania. England successfully saw the game out and at last they could plan for a summer in Spain. The game itself was perhaps less dramatic and nerve-jangling in the closing stages than most of the others we are recalling today, but it would not be surpassed for sheer relief over qualification being achieved as the crowd at Wembley sang themselves hoarse in the rain. “England are back,” they roared, as England followers felt delight that the Three Lions would finally be present in a World Cup finals.
Poland 0-0 England, October 1989
When England visited Poland for their final Italia ’90 qualifier, it seemed more than likely they would make the finals after Terry Butcher’s full-blooded display in Sweden the previous month. To simplify a rather complicated situation they would definitely go through if they avoided defeat in Chorzow. If they lost they would then endure a tense few weeks hoping other results went in their favour to qualify. They had yet to concede a goal in five matches, although Bobby Robson and his side had not totally shaken off the criticism that came their way after flopping during Euro ’88. Failure to qualify would almost certainly spell the end for Robson.
England were far from fluent in this game and were reliant on the veteran Shilton, who made amends for his error against the same opponents 16 years earlier with a series of impressive stops. As the clock reached 90 minutes England appeared to have wrapped up the draw they needed to make it to Italy. Then, after 540 minutes of keeping opponents out during the group, they suddenly looked like they were going to concede in stoppage time of the last game as Ryszard Tarasiewicz let fly from outside the area. His strike beat Shilton but cannoned back off the crossbar and away to safety. England’s sigh of relief over that was nothing compared to that breathed once the enormity of the point earned became clear in the weeks that followed. Wins for Sweden (v Poland), Romania (v Denmark) and West Germany (v Wales) would have all conspired to keep England at home as the weakest runner-up from the groups containing four teams had they lost. Considering how fondly remembered Italia ’90 is by England fans, it’s amazing to think just how close they came to not even qualifying for it.
Italy 0-0 England, October 1997
Eight years to the night of England getting the draw required in Poland, they again needed to stand firm to make the finals as they faced a showdown with Italy in Rome. Although the Italians had won at Wembley in February, England had shown greater consistency during the qualifying campaign to hold top spot ahead of the decisive final qualifier. If England avoided defeat they were through, if they lost they would be in the play-offs. It was Glenn Hoddle’s biggest test since taking over as boss the previous year, taking on proven opposition in a frenzied atmosphere.
David Beckham, Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne celebrate in Rome.
England gave a disciplined display that is still fondly remembered 20 years later, withstanding the Italian threat and at times looking like they could win it themselves. Never more so than in stoppage time, as Ian Wright struck the post after chasing down the Italian defence. It would have capped the night but suddenly Italy – down to 10 men after Angelo de Livio received a second yellow card – broke forward and for once managed to carve out a clear opening. Time stood still as the ball was crossed for Christian Vieri, who headed across goal and inches wide. It was the last chance and seconds later Hoddle could celebrate his crowning glory. Wright sank to his knees in joy, but fate would lead to him missing out on yet another major tournament. The night also really marked the last international hurrah for Paul Gascoigne, back in the city he graced with Lazio, while midfield colleague Paul Ince led by example as he played on with his head bandaged up. It really was a night to remember.
England 2-2 Greece, October 2001
Following Sven-Goran Eriksson’s arrival, England had been unstoppable and recovered from a poor start in the group to lead it with a game to play. Now they simply had to win at home to a Greece side who were already out of the running, or match whatever Germany’s result was at home to Finland. But England, fielding Nigel Martyn in goal in David Seaman’s absence, endured an afternoon of struggle on a day when the Greeks gave an early inkling of what they would go on to astonishingly achieve during Euro 2004. Greece twice took the lead, with substitute Teddy Sheringham’s goal seconds after coming on only briefly levelling matters.
David Beckham’s free-kick clinches England’s World Cup finals place in the dying seconds.
England seemed destined to have to settle for a play-off spot, but there was one glimmer of hope. Germany were being held by Finland, meaning that a draw would be sufficient for England to claim top spot. The ending would be unforgettable, David Beckham’s free-kick levelling matters and sending Eriksson’s side through. It had hardly been a performance or result to savour, but the manner in which qualification was clinched brought wild celebrations at Old Trafford. “It’s a fantastic ending to a very poor performance,” proclaimed BBC commentator John Motson.
Since then England have made lighter work of qualifying for World Cups, wrapping up their place before the final game for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments and getting the win they needed at home to Poland to top the qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup.
This entry was posted in England Qualifying Campaigns, Six of the Best & Worst, World Cup and tagged David Beckham, England, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, John Atyeo, Peter Shilton, Poland, Qualifying, World Cup.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of England facing a decisive World Cup qualifier at home to Hungary. It had been a fraught qualifying campaign, but all would end happily for Ron Greenwood’s men as they made it through to the 1982 tournament in Spain…
On September 9, 1981, all hopes seemed lost of England reaching the 1982 World Cup in Spain after suffering an infamous defeat in Norway. With favourites Hungary and Romania – plus outside bet Switzerland – having games in hand, it was out of England’s hands. Things got even worse two weeks later, when Romania and Hungary drew 0-0. This meant that if Hungary took maximum points from their games against Norway and Switzerland and Romania picked up a win and a draw from two meetings with the Swiss, then it would be game over for England before they played their last match at home to Hungary on November 18. All the nation could do was hope.
When Romania took the lead during the second half at home to Switzerland on October 10, it looked just about the end for England and manager Ron Greenwood. But then the Swiss unexpectedly fought back to win 2-1 and throw England a sizeable lifeline. Whatever happened in the other qualifiers, matters were in English hands again. Hungary duly won their next two qualifiers to book their place as one of the top two – and end Swiss hopes at the same time – while a draw in the return game between Switzerland and Romania meant the picture had now totally changed from a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, England needed only a point at home to Hungary to qualify. They had much to thank the Swiss for.
So too did the Football Association. England’s lifeline had seen ticket sales escalate from about 30,000 to a 92,000 midweek Wembley sell-out, meaning the match could be shown live on television (quite a rarity for home games at the time apart from when Scotland visited). The BBC would have the rights, Jimmy Hill hosting live from the stadium in the company of pundits Bobby Charlton, Lawrie McMenemy and Bob Wilson. England looked to finally make it through to a World Cup finals after their failures for the 1974 and 1978 tournaments. Having qualified automatically in 1966 (hosts) and 1970 (holders), it was some 20 years since the Three Lions had last successfully come through a World Cup qualifying group. Missing out again didn’t bear thinking about, particularly now the expanded finals contained 24 teams.
Memories of ’73 evoked
Comparisons were being drawn in the build-up to England’s often-recalled costly draw against Poland at Wembley eight years earlier, not least because Peter Shilton would again be in goal for England. But the situation was not quite the same or as worrying. This time around a draw would be sufficient for England and it was not a head-to-head fight, given Hungary were already through and guaranteed top spot. England had been the only side to beat the Hungarians so far, their excellent 3-1 win in Budapest in June 1981 being at odds with much of the rest of their stumbling qualifying campaign. Now it remained to be seen how determined Hungary were to help out their Eastern European rivals Romania – a side who could unbelievably qualify having scored just five goals in eight matches (two of them against England).
Certainly Hungary did not seem to be sending out the message that they were determined to win at Wembley. “It will be a very nice result for us if we get a draw and I’m sure that will suit England as well,” claimed manager Kalman Meszoly. But Greenwood wasn’t buying such thoughts. “It would be a very clever and far-reaching mind that sent a team out just to get a draw,” he said. “The object of football is to win and score goals. To imagine they would let us win is just not on.”
Do or die for England
And so the nation anxiously waited for this do or die match, willing to forget about the turbulent qualifying campaign if the team could get the result needed to go through. Needing a draw at home is not always to a side’s advantage, as they can seem caught between a natural instinct to attack the visitors and a fear of conceding a vital goal. The situation was effectively identical to when England played Croatia in the infamous Euro 2008 qualifier 26 years later – the visitors having already qualified and England needing just to draw – and like on that painful occasion England would be having to make defensive changes, with young West Ham United defender Alvin Martin stepping into the breach at centre back to replace Dave Watson.
The smart money was on a draw, given that’s what England needed, considering their poor recent form and in recognition of Hungary’s qualities. England had never lost a World Cup match at Wembley – they could ill-afford for it to be now when that record ended. Not that Wembley was quite the fortress it once was, with England having failed to win any of their five home games in 1981 so far. Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “I think England will go to Spain, though the nation may have to endure a night of torture and tension in a low scoring draw. What I am certain of is that every England player knows what the nation expects and is prepared to run himself to exhaustion to achieve it.”
It promised to be a tense night in the Wembley rain, but much of the anxiety eased as Paul Mariner scored after 14 minutes. Terry McDermott floated a free-kick into the area, with goalkeeper Ferenc Meszaros unable to claim in a crowded area. It fell to Trevor Brooking, who fired away from goal into the path of Paul Mariner. The Ipswich Town forward seemed to stumble as he shot, but he managed to divert the ball into the net. It was a slightly strange goal to sum up a surreal qualifying campaign, but also a vitally important one. Wembley erupted, several players mobbing Mariner while old campaigners Brooking and captain Kevin Keegan embraced each other a few yards away. They had waited their whole careers to play at a World Cup – now it was finally within sight.
Seeing the game out
England now effectively had a two-goal cushion in terms of what was needed to qualify, something that would only have been taken away if Hungary had scored with both shots they managed during the night as they offered little going forward. Shilton dealt competently with both efforts, as the shots poured in at the other end towards Meszaros – who had recently helped his Sporting Lisbon side knock Keegan and Southampton out of the UEFA Cup.
England could have won by a big score as they looked to wrap up the win in the second half, with players including Keegan, McDermott, Bryan Robson and substitute debutant Tony Morley all going close. Yet the real issue was England didn’t throw it all away and thankfully they were not troubled, the only disappointment being they didn’t add to their goal tally. Although the pessimists couldn’t relax until it was over, the match wasn’t quite the anxiety-fest that had been anticipated with the England defence holding firm. Keegan picked up a cut lip for his troubles, but he wasn’t complaining. Like several of his colleagues, he was set to finally grace a World Cup finals when it was probably going to be his last chance (butthings wouldn’t go to plan quite as much as he hoped – a story for another day).
The atmosphere at Wembley was frenzied, TV viewers able to hear the passionate singing as the referee prepared to blow the final whistle. Thousands roared as the 1-0 win was confirmed and England had finally made it. “England are back” chanted the crowd, while Greenwood was given a belated 60th birthday present – a week after reaching the landmark – as he could look forward to bowing out from management on the greatest stage.
The media reaction to England’s progression was positive, Alan Thomson writing in the Daily Express: “Don’t look for heroes this morning – just salute them all. Last night England played with a new-born pride and passion, with fury and with skill. But most of all they played their football from the heart and by doing so they restored to us our dignity.” Stuart Jones began his report in The Times by writing: “England have reached the World Cup finals in Spain. These nine words cannot begin to tell the tale of the last 14 torturous months, but in years to come they will be all that matters. For now the disappointment of Switzerland and despair of Norway are forgotten, pushed to the back shelf of the memory by the events that unfolded in the drizzle of Wembley last night.”
It had been a joyful end to a campaign that had been extremely stressful at times, England losing more World Cup qualifiers in this series than in total previously. Yet a combination of good fortune and making the most of a second opportunity that was unexpectedly handed their way meant Greenwood and his players – affectionately dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’ – could look ahead to a summer in Spain…
This summer England will make the short trip to France to compete in Euro 2016. But when the French last hosted the European Championship in 1984, England failed to make it. Today we look back at what went wrong, as Bobby Robson’s reign began in difficult fashion.
Bobby Robson’s appointment as England manager was confirmed shortly after Ron Greenwood’s men were eliminated from the 1982 World Cup in Spain. His reign at Ipswich Town had earned many plaudits and yielded two major trophies, with the proud Englishman now tasked with leading his country. He would have little time to dwell on the task in front of him, as his first match in September 1982 was the opening European Championship qualifier away to Denmark.
On paper, England had been handed a reasonable qualifying draw, with their opponents being Hungary, Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg. Hungary had finished above England in qualifying for the 1982 World Cup but England had done the double over them and progressed further at the finals; Greece had qualified for the 1980 European Championship but had little other pedigree; and Luxembourg were the whipping boys of Europe. The joker in the pack came from pot four. Denmark had enjoyed limited past success but something was stirring in Scandinavia. Manager Sepp Piontek was building a side that would soon be talked about across Europe, but – despite beating Italy in World Cup qualifying in 1981 – had yet to come into the spotlight. Robson though knew just how talented they were and he probably cursed whoever had agreed for England to start with a trip to Copenhagen – particularly as the average man in the street would assume England were going to win there.
Out with the old guard
Robson had difficult decisions to make prior to the Denmark game, having inherited an ageing side. Robson was primarily setting his sights on success at the 1986 World Cup and he knew time would have to be called on the international careers of several players. As we’ve previously recalled, Robson controversially dropped Kevin Keegan and came under fire before he’d even led his team into battle for the first time as the former captain took exception to not being told the news directly. A decision that probably was harder for Robson to make on a personal level was to leave out his former Ipswich captain Mick Mills, while other old heads including Trevor Brooking, Joe Corrigan, Terry McDermott and Dave Watson would never win another cap. Ray Clemence would be selected just twice more as Peter Shilton became fully established as number one goalkeeper.
Robson’s first year or so in charge would see a high number of debutants given their chance. Players such as Luther Blissett, Mark Chamberlain, Gordon Cowans and Sammy Lee would briefly shine before fading from the international scene. Only John Barnes would break into the set-up during the period and remain involved throughout Robson’s reign. Robson’s cause was not helped by injury woes for key men he inherited, with his favoured midfielders of Glenn Hoddle, Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins all spending time on the sidelines during the qualifying campaign. To compound matters, winger Steve Coppell would sadly soon have to retire due to his injury troubles.
England’s Bryan Robson in action against his future Manchester United team-mate in England’s opening Euro ’84 qualifier against Denmark.
If Bobby Robson was under any illusions about the size of the task facing him, then the first match in Denmark would have shattered them. Firstly, the fallout with Keegan meant he had attracted negative publicity in his opening weeks in the job. Secondly, England were shaken by the Danes who duly looked the real threat Robson had feared. And thirdly, there was widespread fighting on the terraces. It was the third year in a row that an England match overseas had been blighted by serious crowd trouble and Robson was left knowing that his time in charge would see him regularly being asked about a section of England’s followers and not matters on the field.
England came within moments of snatching a 2-1 win thanks to two Trevor Francis goals in Copenhagen before Jesper Olsen waltzed through to equalise, but it was felt afterwards that England were the team who had been let off the hook during the 2-2 draw. The Danes were certainly no longer the low-achieving amateurs of a few years before. ‘England are lucky to escape defeat’ screamed the headline in The Times, with the new manager admitting it would have been a “travesty of justice” had they won.
Blissett’s debut hat-trick
England players had nine goals to celebrate against Luxembourg in December 1982, including a hat-trick for Luther Blissett.
Robson’s first home match in charge produced a 2-1 friendly defeat to West Germany, but a month later came the second European Championship qualifier away to Greece. Bryan Robson captained England for the first time and he would never relinquish it whenever he played under his namesake. Tony Woodcock scored twice and debutant Lee got the other in an excellent 3-0 win. Just 10 days before Christmas England welcomed Luxembourg to Wembley and Watford forward Blissett marked his first cap with a hat-trick in an emphatic 9-0 victory – he never scored again for his country – that meant they boasted a goal difference of +12 after only three qualifying matches.
England began 1983 with a 2-1 win over Wales in the Home International Championship, before welcoming Greece to Wembley in March for their next qualifying match. It proved an extremely frustrating night for England as the Greeks did not come bearing gifts and defended deeply. England were unable to break the visitors down and were booed off after a 0-0 draw. “I counted seven of Greece’s players who never even crossed the halfway line,” said Robson as he reflected on a frustrating night. The night had marked the first real low point of Robson’s reign but all looked good again when England won 2-0 at home to Hungary the following month, Francis and Peter Withe scoring. After five matches in the group England had three wins and two draws and were still firmly in the qualifying picture. “Within a month the tune has changed dramatically for Bobby Robson,” wrote Stuart Jones in The Times.
The Home International Championship was won after drawing 0-0 away to Northern Ireland and winning 2-0 against Scotland. The latter match took place on the same day as a vital qualifying clash between Denmark and Hungary. The Danes won 3-1 and it was now clear they would provide the most serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. England ended the 1982-83 season with a three-match tour of Australia, which brought a plethora of new caps and an unbeaten record but precious little else to shout about. Robson and his under-strength side returned home with a three-month break in store before their next match – a huge qualifier at home to Denmark in September 1983.
Despair against the Danes
The Danes arrived at Wembley with the backing of a tremendous away support. With only one side going through to the finals, this match was likely to be decisive. England led the group by a point but Denmark had a game in hand. Whoever won would be clear favourites to progress. If the match was a draw then matters would be in Denmark’s hands but with little margin for error. England were without the injured Bryan Robson and, controversially, Hoddle, with Bobby Robson opting instead to field John Gregory. “I wanted someone a bit spikey,” said the manager as he tried to justify his selection. But it proved a bad call, England’s midfield operating deep and creating little for the forwards to feed off.
From the moment teenager Michael Laudrup almost gave Denmark an early lead, it was clear that this was going to be a long and torturous night for England. Bobby Robson seemed to have become too concerned about the threat of the Danes for his own side’s good, as England played with fear rather than belief. Phil Neal’s handball in the area on his 50th and final cap allowed Allan Simonsen to put the Danes in front in the first half and they continued to boss the game, albeit without creating many clear-cut chances. “We are red, we are white, we are Danish dynamite” was the song ringing out at Wembley.
Allan Simonsen scores the winner for Denmark against England from the penalty spot.
They deservedly protected their 1-0 advantage, with England posing little threat until injury time. Suddenly a chance was made by Blissett, but he was denied by Ole Kjær from point blank range just seconds before the final whistle sounded. Prior to the emergence of Peter Schmeichel it was generally felt that goalkeeper was the weak position for the Danes, but Kjær had proved his worth with such a priceless save. It was the first time the Danes had ever beaten England and the win left them firm favourites to reach France.
For Bobby Robson, the defeat was painful. He later revealed he offered to resign after the loss, but he was given the green light to carry on. He wrote in 1986: “Whatever I may or may not achieve in my football career, the blackest day will remain as September 21, 1983. It was the worst moment I had experienced at any level of football, no question about it… The 1-0 defeat was only part of it. The way the team played; the walk back to the dressing room afterwards; the abuse of the crowd; the feeling of total confusion all contributed to the desolate feelings.”
The defeat was bad enough, but for England to play so tepidly when the stakes were so high meant criticism poured in on the England manager. In the magazine Football Monthly, it was stated that “this was without doubt England’s worst-ever performance at Wembley”. Piontek certainly believed his opposite number’s approach had helped the Danes, with Robson having made several visits to see them in action. “England were afraid to attack us,” he said. “I think it was good for us that Mr Robson watched us so many times in Denmark. Sometimes it is not always good to see opponents too much.”
Three days later Robson was booed when he went to watch Aston Villa against Southampton, while Hoddle scored a superb goal for Tottenham Hotspur at Watford. The decision to leave him out of the Denmark game looked to have been the wrong one.
Hope restored and then removed
Matters were now well and truly out of England’s hands. They would have to win away to Hungary and Luxembourg and hope Denmark took no more than three points from as many games (under two points for a win) – with it being a given they would beat Luxembourg at home in one of them. They duly did so by a 6-0 scoreline on October 12, the same day England visited Hungary. Hoddle was recalled to the side and he responded with a superb free-kick in the 3-0 win, which gave England a glimmer of hope. But so comfortably had they beaten the Hungarians that it was hard to see the Eastern Europeans doing England a favour by getting a result against Denmark two weeks later.
But that was just what they did, Denmark suffering their first defeat of the qualifying series as they went down 1-0. England had been bailed out during qualifying for the 1982 World Cup when all seemed lost and now it looked like history might repeat itself. Denmark were a point ahead of England but had an inferior goal difference. If Denmark failed to win away to Greece in their final match then England would go through by beating Luxembourg on the same night. The pressure was on the Danes.
The matches did not kick-off simultaneously, Denmark decisive contest in Athens finishing before England’s contest in Luxembourg began. According to Bobby Robson, as England’s squad arrived at the stadium “some wally of a fan shouted out to us that Greece were ahead”. Within moments they learned the crushing news that the Danes were actually winning, going on to claim a 2-0 victory to deservedly win the match and the group. “It’s rather like asking soldiers to go on firing bullets after a peace treaty had been signed,” said Robson, as he was left trying to motivate his players for a dead rubber match. He duly did that as England produced a professional performance in beating Luxembourg 4-0, leaving them with the best goal difference of any side in Euro ’84 qualifying with +20.
Denmark were the side celebrating at the end of qualifying for Euro ’84.
But all anyone was talking about was the fact England hadn’t made it, along with yet more trouble involving the hooligan fringe. The hosts had been concerned about England’s visit after previous trouble in 1977 and unfortunately the antics of some individuals in both the stadium and on the streets had justified those fears. “They had disgusted us all by giving those lovely people a bad time for our second successive visit,” said a despairing Robson.
It was not a time when the English nation was covering itself in glory when it came to football, with the hooligans continually causing trouble off the field and the players struggling to hit the heights on it. Whereas Euro 2016 in France will contain four sides from the British Isles, the finals of Euro ’84 went ahead without any of them. TV viewers in Britain saw just two live matches from one of the most highly-regarded tournaments of all-time, with the Danes playing with a swagger as they reached the semi-finals before losing on penalties to Spain. France won it on home soil and it was a competition that we missed far more than the rest of Europe missed us.
And yet if the same qualifying criteria had existed for 1984 as it did for 2016, then – in theory at least – we would have had plenty of British Isles representation at the finals. England, Northern Ireland and Wales would have all qualified automatically; the Republic of Ireland would have been in the play-offs; and Scotland would have failed to make it at all after finishing fourth in their qualifying group. The more things change…
This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of former England manager Ron Greenwood. Today we recall six of the best games of his reign, choosing one match per year from 1977 to 1982.
November 16, 1977 Italy (h) 2-0, World Cup qualifier
Trevor Brooking in action for England against Italy in 1977.
Ron Greenwood was still in caretaker charge of England when they faced Italy in their last World Cup qualifying match in November 1977. Whatever England did, the night was always likely to be tinged with disappointment as Italy still had the luxury of a home game against whipping boys Luxembourg to come to claim the qualification spot. To make things genuinely tough for the Italians, England would need to beat them by several goals to potentially go through on goal difference.
Most had accepted it wouldn’t happen and simply wanted to see the team restore pride with a good performance and win. They duly did so, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scoring as England triumphed 2-0 and the crowd went home satisfied with what they had seen. The FA evidently felt the same way as Greenwood was handed the job on a permanent basis the following month ahead of Brian Clough.
May 24, 1978 Hungary (h) 4-1, Friendly
Greenwood made a positive start in the England job and the Home International Championship was won before they concluded the 1977-78 season with a friendly against Hungary, who had qualified for the World Cup. England’s display gave cause for optimism as they beat the Hungarians 4-1 with Peter Barnes, Phil Neal (penalty), Trevor Francis and Tony Currie all finding the net. “England are back” chanted the buoyant Wembley crowd. It may only have been a friendly but there was a new-found belief about England and it boded well for the qualifying programme for the 1980 European Championship.
In The Times, Norman Fox wrote: “England offered their apologies for not qualifying for the World Cup when, at Wembley last night, they gave their best display since being taken over by Ron Greenwood. Against the Hungarians, who 25 years before had been the first foreign team to beat them at this stadium, they showed that in a few months they had learned a lot.”
June 6, 1979 Bulgaria (a) 3-0, European Championship qualifier
In a grim 1970s England had paid for away defeats to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Italy as they crashed out in three successive qualifying groups. Now they headed to Sofia standing every chance of making the 1980 European Championship, knowing that getting a good result in a potentially tough away match against Bulgaria would boost their prospects. They duly did that, winning 3-0 in energy-sapping heat to get the nation believing they were at last going to see England in a major tournament again. Kevin Keegan put England in front, before two goals in a minute from Dave Watson and Peter Barnes sealed the win.
Greenwood purred: “We are trying to produce what I think is essential in world football – complete technique in every department with the physical effort to go with it.” There was no looking back and qualification was all but wrapped up in October with a 5-1 away win against Northern Ireland. With a qualifying record of seven wins and a draw from eight matches, it proved to be a very successful campaign for England and Greenwood.
May 13, 1980 Argentina (h) 3-1, Friendly
Diego Maradona was on the losing side against England in 1980.
In May 1980 England were preparing for the European Championship finals and they welcomed world champions Argentina to Wembley, which was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity. The match afforded the English public a first chance to see 19-year-old Diego Maradona in action and, although only a friendly, it would also act as a useful yardstick as to how good England now actually were. Sporting a new-look kit, England delivered and went 2-0 up thanks to goals from the impressive David Johnson either side of half-time. Daniel Passarella pulled a goal back from the penalty spot before Kevin Keegan sealed a 3-1 win for England, leaving fans genuinely optimistic for the summer in Italy. Hailing Johnson, Daily Express reporter Peter Edwards wrote: “A 92,000 crowd that had come to pay homage to £3m-rated Diego Maradona left saluting the exuberant Liverpool striker.”
Typically the euphoria proved short-lived, England being beaten 4-1 by Wales just four days later and then failing to progress beyond the group stage at the Euros. Now their attention turned to trying to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.
June 6, 1981 Hungary (a) 3-1, World Cup qualifier
England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup was fraught and a poor 2-1 defeat in Switzerland in May saw Greenwood, 59, make up his mind to retire. He would delay his announcement until after the following weekend’s tough-looking trip to Hungary, where few were expecting an England win after a dreadful run of form. The recalled Trevor Brooking gave them the lead in Budapest, only for Hungary to level before the break through Imre Garaba after a mistake by Ray Clemence. But in the second half Brooking restored England’s advantage with a beautiful shot that saw the ball memorably became lodged in the stanchion of the goal, describing it as the “finest goal I scored in my entire career” in his autobiography. Kevin Keegan wrapped up a fine 3-1 win from the penalty spot and qualifying for Spain was now a realistic possibility again.
Trevor Brooking scores for England against Hungary.
On the flight home, Greenwood informed the players he was quitting but they talked him out of it and he focused again on leading England to the World Cup. Another bad defeat in Norway left alarm bells ringing, but other results went in their favour and a joyful 1-0 win over Hungary in the return game at Wembley saw them through to their first World Cup finals since 1970.
June 16, 1982 France (n) 3-1, World Cup qualifier
Greenwood was to leave the England job after the 1982 World Cup – this time not being persuaded to continue – and he looked to go out with the nation basking in success. England’s first match of the tournament brought them up against a decent France side featuring Michel Platini in Bilbao. Those English fans in the stadium or who had rushed home from work or school to watch it on TV were rewarded as Bryan Robson famously opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. Gerard Soler pulled France level but Robson headed England back into the lead during the second half. Paul Mariner wrapped up the 3-1 victory and England could savour beating their main threat in the group.
It had been a long wait to see England play at a World Cup and the team had responded with a performance that they would struggle to match in the remainder of the tournament. Greenwood, who gave credit to assistant Don Howe for the set-piece which they scored their opener from, said: “Everyone in the England camp is delighted with the result and I think everyone agrees that we deserved it.”
Bryan Robson opens the scoring after 27 seconds against France.
Although England did not concede in any of their other four games at the tournament, their goals dried up and successive 0-0 draws against West Germany and Spain in the second group phase saw them make a rather low-key exit. They came in for criticism for their negative approach in the second phase and it marked a slightly anti-climatic ending to the manager’s reign. Greenwood’s England had been beaten just once across eight matches at two major tournaments, but at neither did they make the final four.
Greenwood called time on his football career, other than offering his opinions as a radio summariser. He died on February 9, 2006, aged 84. Although he may not have received the widespread tributes when he died that were afforded to his successor, Sir Bobby Robson, there were plenty who spoke affectionately of Greenwood and his footballing contributions. As we have seen, his England reign included some memorable victories and he returned the nation to major tournaments after a dreadful era under his predecessors.
November has long been a busy month for England and one that they have traditionally done well in. We recall six of the best matches from an English perspective from the month during the past 50 years…
November 16, 1966 Wales (h) 5-1 European Championship qualifier
England’s first home match after the 1966 World Cup glory was an anti-climatic 0-0 friendly draw with Czechoslovakia, but two weeks later they regained their goalscoring form when it mattered more. Their new aim was to become 1968 European Championship winners, with successive Home International series doubling up as the qualifying group. Against Wales, England fielded their revered World Cup winning XI for the sixth successive – and final – time. Geoff Hurst rounded off his most memorable year by scoring twice, with the Charlton brothers each on the scoresheet along with an own goal by Terry Hennessey as England won 5-1.
It wasn’t a bad way to end England’s most glorious year, in which they had remained unbeaten. In the Daily Mirror, Tom Lyons wrote: “The World Cup poise and brilliance wasn’t quite there, but England are still a very fine side. They were in command for practically the whole game and probably would have won by an even bigger margin but for some wild finishing, especially in the first half.”
November 18, 1981 Hungary (h) 1-0 World Cup qualifier
Paul Mariner puts England ahead against Hungary and the nation breathes a huge sigh of relief.
England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup had been turbulent and they had looked all but out after losing to Norway two months earlier. But then came the stroke of good fortune they had been praying for, as Romania twice slipped up against Switzerland – who in turn lost to Hungary to end their own qualification hopes. Suddenly, England now only needed a draw at home to Hungary to make it – a situation identical to against Croatia almost exactly 26 years later in Euro 2008 qualifying, both matches against teams who were already through.
But where Croatia played with tenacity and broke English hearts, the Hungarians gave a leisurely performance that helped ease any anxiety at Wembley. In front of a capacity night-time crowd of 92,000 and with millions more watching the BBC’s live coverage, Paul Mariner’s early goal put England on their way. They were rarely threatened and should have increased their 1-0 lead but that mattered little. England were through to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970 and the feeling of relief around Wembley was tangible. Rarely has an England home win in a qualifier been so widely celebrated. In the Daily Express, Alan Thompson wrote: “Wembley was last night an amphitheatre of happiness, a packed arena waving flags and sore hoarse throats. And that was half-an-hour after the players had disappeared to the dressing room.”
November 14, 1984 Turkey (a) 8-0 World Cup qualifier
Bryan Robson bags a hat-trick as England beat Turkey 8-0 in 1984.
Three years on from the Hungary game, England were back on the World Cup qualifying trail as they met Turkey for the first time. Although the Turks were not regarded as a good side at the time, a potentially tough fixture seemed in store in front of a partisan home crowd in Istanbul. But England had renewed confidence after winning away to Brazil in a friendly in the summer and a 5-0 victory over Finland in their opening qualifier the previous month. That buoyancy was in evidence as they won 8-0, looking capable of scoring with each attack. Captain Bryan Robson netted a hat-trick, with Tony Woodcock and John Barnes each bagging a brace and Viv Anderson rounding off the scoring.
It could have been more, leading to manager Bobby Robson saying afterwards he felt England had “let them off the hook” by ‘only’ winning 8-0. But that was just nit-picking, for it had been an excellent afternoon’s work for England.
November 11, 1987 Yugoslavia (a) 4-1 European Championship qualifier
John Barnes in action for England against Yugoslavia in 1987.
A crunch qualifier for England, as they looked to seal their place at Euro ’88. A draw away to Yugoslavia would be enough, but if they lost to a decent-looking side then in all probability they wouldn’t make it. A tight contest was forecast, with England expected to keep things tight on a filthy afternoon in Belgrade. To everyone’s amazement England led 4-0 within half an hour, as they looked extremely potent in front of goal. “I had to pinch myself when the third and fourth goals went in,” said a delighted Bobby Robson afterwards.
Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams all found the net as even the most pessimistic of England fans began celebrating early. Although a late consolation goal would deny England from qualifying without conceding a goal, this was a day to treasure and the 4-1 victory looked a very impressive result. England had scored 12 goals in their last two qualifiers and would seemingly go into Euro ’88 as a genuine contender. Alas, it was not to be.
November 13, 1999 Scotland (a) 2-0 European Championship play-off
England celebrate as Paul Scholes scores against Scotland in 1999.
There was excitement both north and south of the border in the autumn of 1999 as old rivals Scotland and England were paired together in the play-offs to decide who would qualify for Euro 2000. England had struggled in qualifying to even reach this stage and they knew they would be up against a determined Scottish side, backed by a fervent home crowd in the first-leg at Hampden Park – where England had not played for 10 years. Kevin Keegan’s side rode their luck a bit at times but enjoyed a memorable 2-0 win as Paul Scholes scored twice in the first half and left the Scots facing an uphill struggle to qualify. “We played fantastic today. I couldn’t have asked for more,” raved Keegan afterwards.
The result meant England were unbeaten in 23 consecutive November matches since losing to Italy in 1976, a record which helped back up former manager Bobby Robson’s belief that this was a time of year when the team was at its best. But sadly it would be the end of the run, as the second-leg was lost 1-0 and England scraped into the finals. However, that first-leg win had been decisive in taking them through.
November 12, 2005 Argentina (n) 3-2 Friendly
Michael Owen gives England a memorable win over Argentina in 2005.
So far this century friendlies have – with a couple of exceptions – monopolised England’s November schedule. Although they have enjoyed wins over Germany, Spain (World Cup and Euros holders at the time) and Scotland in such matches that could all have well have made our selected six, the friendly that stands out most took place in neutral Geneva against Argentina 10 years ago.
“No such thing as a friendly when these two meet,” may be a bit of an overused cliché when England take on any of their main rivals, but in this instance it was true for positive reasons – as unlike many friendlies it felt like a genuine international contest where the result really meant something. Three momentous World Cup clashes between the sides in the previous 20 years added to the fixture’s intensity. Argentina were predicted to be a force in the following year’s World Cup so this fixture looked a good benchmark as to how good England were, coming after poor defeats in recent months to Denmark and Northern Ireland.
Despite a goal from Wayne Rooney, England trailed 2-1 with four minutes remaining before Michael Owen popped up twice to give them a dramatic 3-2 win. Although England’s cause had been helped by Argentine substitutions in the closing stages, this was still a widely heralded win that raised expectations to a particularly high level for the following summer. As England friendlies go, this was as enthralling as it gets. Owen reflected afterwards: “There was so much more to it than a friendly. Even when they scored their fans and players were going mad. It really could have gone either way – they had chances too – and it shows there is not much to choose between the top few teams in the world.”
As we’ve seen, November has often been a good month for England over the years – there were several other games that could have easily been included here. But there have been some exceptions and later this month we will reflect on six instances where things didn’t go quite so well…
This entry was posted in England Qualifying Campaigns, International Friendlies and Mini Tournaments, Six of the Best & Worst and tagged Argentina, England, Football, Hungary, November, Scotland, Turkey, Wales, Yugoslavia.
With England’s new season about to begin with matches against Norway and Switzerland, it seems the right time to recall when both sides featured in England’s qualifying group for the 1982 World Cup. In the second blog in the series recalling past England qualifying campaigns for major tournaments, we look back what surely must rank as their strangest ever. More than 30 years on, it still remains something of a mystery how they got through it to reach the finals in Spain – but they did…
To say this was an unusual qualifying campaign would be an understatement. England advanced despite losing three matches out of eight; they lost to all the bottom three sides in the group but did the double over the otherwise unbeatable group winners; they went from being all but out to odds on to go through without kicking a ball in the process; and had they lost their final game then Romania would have gone through with just two wins and five goals from eight matches. Throw in one of the most iconic commentary lines ever and some odd fixture scheduling and you’ve got one crazy football cocktail all told.
It had been a long wait for England to appear in the World Cup finals. Their last appearance was in 1970 and the last time they had come through a qualifying group to get there was 1962 (they qualified automatically as hosts in 1966 and holders in 1970). But now it seemed very likely they would finally get there, from a group containing Hungary, Romania, Switzerland and Norway.
An end to the exile?
There were three reasons why England were firm favourites to end their long exile from the World Cup finals. The first was the World Cup was expanding from 16 to 24 teams, meaning they would go through if they finished second (for all their recent failings, they had never finished outside the top two in a qualifying group). Secondly, to achieve that top two spot seemed all the more likely once the qualification draw was made in October 1979. Although only Norway of the five teams in the group had not appeared at a World Cup finals since 1966, there seemed little to fear with only Hungary having a recent track record to suggest they could top the group at England’s expense. It might not look a particularly easy group by modern standards, but in an era before the likes of San Marino joined the party sides such as Norway were rated among the worst in Europe. Switzerland’s reputation was not particularly strong either.
“I would dearly love to take England to the World Cup finals. We have a good draw and must have a good chance of qualifying. But remember, there are no easy internationals these days,” England manager Ron Greenwood after the World Cup qualifying draw was made.
The third, and perhaps most important reason, was England at last seemed to have turned the corner after a miserable decade that had brought continual failures to qualify for major tournaments. Things finally went in their favour in the qualifying campaign for the 1980 European Championship, easily topping the group to end their exile from major finals. Under Ron Greenwood, a new confidence and blend of players was developing. There were experienced players like Peter Shilton (continuing to alternate with the similarly established Ray Clemence), Phil Thompson, Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan, while promising players including Glenn Hoddle and Kenny Sansom had broken into the international fray the previous year.
Greenwood’s first tournament with England was Euro ’80. Like ‘Reverend Ron’s’ reign as a whole it was a bit of a curate’s egg as England neither did particularly well or badly. They went out at the group stage (effectively the quarter-finals) with a win, draw and defeat, in a tournament overshadowed by disturbing trouble on the terraces from their followers in their opening match against Belgium. It was sadly to be an all too familiar tale when England went overseas in the 1980s.
Start as you mean to go on, but won’t do…
England got their campaign under way in a convincing style at odds with the rest of the group, beating Norway 4-0 at Wembley in September 1980. It wasn’t a vintage display, but it would be the biggest margin of victory in the whole group against the lowest rated side in it. England gave Eric Gates and Graham Rix their debuts while Bryan Robson (with just two previous caps to his name) was also in the starting line-up and properly embarked on his long international career in the heart of the midfield. He would be the only player to start all qualifying matches and moved to Manchester United from West Bromwich Albion for a record £1.5 million before the qualifying campaign ended.
England appear to lay down a marker in their opening World Cup qualifying match against Norway.
A month later came the first ringing of alarm bells, as England went down 2-1 in Romania. But the qualifying games were coming thick and fast and they saw 1980 out with a 2-1 home win over Switzerland in November, Greenwood’s side making much harder work of the win than they should have after being 2-0 up. It was not considered an impressive win, with the Swiss having already lost at home to Norway. England now had a four month break until their next game, as domestic club commitments led to them not taking part in the Gold Cup tournament in Uruguay at Christmas to mark the 50th anniversary of the World Cup. They were the only past winner to miss the competition.
From bad, to worse, to despair
1981 was about as grim a year as England have ever had. They played nine matches (six of them at Wembley) and won just twice. They failed to score in four successive matches and went six games without a win, while they would also suffer one of their most embarrassing defeats that appeared to have left their World Cup qualification hopes in tatters. With the conduct of England followers attracting even more negative headlines, it really wasn’t a proud year. And yet it would all end in happiness, somehow.
A 2-1 friendly home defeat to Spain in March set the trend, being memorable only for a cracking Glenn Hoddle goal. That would be the last goal England fans could enjoy for a while. A month later Romania came to Wembley in the next qualifier and ground out a 0-0 draw, as the sense of uncertainty over England’s World Cup finals spot grew. In May Brazil triumphed 1-0 in a Wembley friendly, on a night when Alvin Martin and Peter Withe won their first caps. The Home International Championship was effectively null and void due to the political situation in Northern Ireland leading to England’s trip there being called off, but they played their remaining two games. Wales drew 0-0 at Wembley, three days before Scotland claimed a 1-0 win there. The pressure was mounting on Greenwood, who had presided over England’s worst run for more than 100 years.
It was about to get worse. The month ended with England heading to Switzerland, a night that dragged the nation’s football reputation further into the gutter. More trouble on the terraces was sickening to see and made front page headlines, while the back pages were full of England’s 2-1 loss in Basel. A Terry McDermott goal to end the goal drought was scant consolation. England had played five games in the group, won two and lost two. It was looking ominous and Greenwood had seen enough, privately deciding the time was right to leave.
Restoring hope and changing Ron’s mind
His planned departure would be on hold for a week, by which time things could be even worse. During fixture negotiations England had either been bullied into playing two away qualifiers on successive Saturdays at the end of a long, domestic season (in which Ipswich Town and Liverpool had gone all the way to European glory and Aston Villa barely changed their team all campaign in winning the First Division) or someone believed it was a good option in place of the unusual end of season tour. They now faced the most daunting game of the qualifying series, away to qualification favourites Hungary. Almost 70,000 were present in Budapest to see one of England’s best performances under Greenwood as they achieved a memorable 3-1 victory, with Trevor Brooking scoring twice and Kevin Keegan netting the other from the penalty spot. Greenwood announced his resignation to the players on the flight home, but was talked out of it. He would be sticking around until the conclusion of a World Cup qualifying programme that would go to the wire.
A priceless win for England in Hungary.
One problem with this qualifying process compared to today was the total lack of an international calendar, meaning matches were played in isolation on all sorts of odd dates. Nations were also pretty much free to decide if they wanted to play several matches close together, creating a situation in this group where Hungary were continually left with numerous matches in hand as they had an intensive spell of games near the end of the group. As a result it made it hard to call exactly how the group was panning out. But England had just seven points from six games, while the Romanians had six from five and Hungary had five from four. A 1-1 draw between Norway and Switzerland later in the month meant the Scandinavians had three points from five games and were all but out, while the Swiss had four from five.
Taking a hell of a beating
September 9th, 1981. A date that resonates as a true low point for English football. After the high of Hungary came the utter low of the away game in Norway. A win for England was expected and would put them on course for a place in the finals. They had dished out thrashings to Norway in the past and Scandinavian sides were not really taken seriously (apart from Sweden), a view that would change considerably in the early 1980s. Bryan Robson scored his first England goal to give them the lead, but by half-time they trailed 2-1. If there was a game that made Greenwood’s mind up about who should be his first choice goalkeeper for the following summer’s World Cup, it was probably this as Clemence could take a fair chunk of the blame for Norway’s goals (along with Terry McDermott who helped gift Norway their winner). England never recovered, running out of ideas as Norway held out for a famous win.
John Bond tries to keep morale up as the nation plunges into despair after losing to Norway.
The contrast in moods between the two nations was stark. Brian Moore conveyed the sense of desolation on ITV, while Norwegian television would enjoy post-match lines from Bjørge Lillelien that have gone down in folklore. England had indeed taken a ‘hell of a beating’, although whether Margaret Thatcher could hear him was another matter! But it really looked all over for England. They had to hope for results to somehow go their way. In the ITV studio, Manchester City manager John Bond seemed to briefly switch from critical pundit to England cheerleader as he tried to convince presenter Jim Rosenthal that they still had a chance of making the finals. It seemed a forlorn hope, rational thinking going out of the window. There would be 10 weeks until they concluded their qualifying programme against Hungary, in which time five other matches would be played. By then their hopes could already be over.
England were now left to just watch and hope. On September 23th, it got worse as Romania and Hungary drew 0-0. A win for either would have been bearable but this was the worst scenario. Romania were level on points with England with a game in hand, while Hungary were one point behind with two games to spare. To stand a chance Greenwood’s men needed either Romania to slip up in their double-header against Switzerland, or Hungary to drop points in home games against Switzerland and Norway.
Thank you Switzerland
The most joyous day for England was really October 10th, the day the door to the finals opened for them again. Switzerland went to Romania and fell behind in the second half. Incredibly they turned it round to win 2-1 and keep alive their own slim hopes, but more importantly from an English perspective they had thrown the Three Lions a lifeline. There was still work to do, but a collective sigh of relief was blown. Whatever now happened, they would be through by beating Hungary.
The Hungarians then proceeded to comfortably beat Switzerland and Norway, wrapping up their qualification before the final match at Wembley. On November 11, Switzerland and Romania drew 0-0. It was a result that suited England fine. Romania were only one point ahead of them and with an inferior goal difference. Incredibly, despite having lost three times England would only need a point from their final match a week later against Hungary. But as would be seen 26 years later when England met Croatia in almost identical circumstances to determine if they would qualify for the European Championship, there would be no guarantee of things working out.
With England back in with a chance, ticket sales went from slow to a 92,000 midweek sell-out and the match was also shown live on the BBC (a relative rarity for home matches). A highly charged atmosphere, a true desire from the players to get through and a fairly uninspired performance from the visitors all added up to make it a night when England did what was required. Indeed, the tension was arguably less than it should have been given the nature of the group as England took an early lead through a slightly clumsy Paul Mariner goal, typifying the stumbling nature of the qualification process. Hungary rarely threatened to equalise and did not offer much help to Eastern European neighbours Romania, on a night when Tony Morley came on for his international debut (capping a memorable year when he had won the BBC’s Goal of the Season, his house had burnt down and he won the First Division with Aston Villa).
England make it – just feel the relief around Wembley.
When the final whistle blew the sense of joy around Wembley was tangible, it had been a long wait but England were at last in a World Cup finals. It was their first win at Wembley for almost exactly a year. They had finished with worse records than Wales and the Republic of Ireland, who both missed out. But this whole group had been a bit of a abnormality, with no whipping boy unlike most other sections. It was far from the Group of Death in terms of being full of excellent sides, but it was so far as no weak ones were concerned. Norway were certainly a stronger team than the likes of Luxembourg, Cyprus and Malta.
Somehow England would find themselves seeded for the World Cup finals, seemingly based on nothing other than their 1966 glory. It wasn’t quite the end of the drama, as the Falklands War threatened to put England’s place in the finals in jeopardy again. But they went to Spain and in contrast to their losing record in the qualifiers, they were unbeaten in five games but their goals dried up. It was disappointing not to go further, but after all the qualifying commotion it was just a relief for England to at last be back in the World Cup finals.