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England’s Qualifying Campaigns: 1998 World Cup – Hoddle’s dream start

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Twenty years ago England were looking to qualify for their first World Cup since 1990, being involved in a straight contest for top spot with Italy. It all boiled down to an unforgettable decider in Rome in October 1997…

After the high emotion of Euro ’96, England were quickly back in competitive action as they focused on their next key task – getting to a World Cup finals after failing to make it four years earlier. They had a new manager, Glenn Hoddle having been announced as Terry Venables’ successor prior to Euro ’96. But any hopes Hoddle had of being able to spend plenty of time during the tournament with the side he was about to inherit were quickly dashed. “These are my finals. You get yours next time,” Venables later recalled telling him, accusing his successor-in-waiting of “arrogance” in his autobiography. Although it had been an open secret during the 1982 World Cup that Bobby Robson would replace the retiring Ron Greenwood and again in 1990 that Graham Taylor was to succeed Robson, there was no official announcement made until after England bowed out. But this time it was confirmed beforehand and Venables appeared particularly unhappy with the arrangement, a joint press conference feeling awkward despite the smiles on show.


There was an uncomfortable handover from Terry Venables to Glenn Hoddle in 1996.

Hoddle was therefore left looking in from the outside as England almost won Euro ’96, but he would have just two months to wait until his first match. The previous December had seen the 1998 World Cup qualifying draw made and it could probably have been kinder to England, with 1994 runners-up Italy the obvious main threat as group seeds. Poland were familiar opponents from recent qualifying groups, but Georgia and Moldova had never met England before. Both had enjoyed wins over Wales during Euro ’96 qualifying and England’s away trips could potentially be daunting trips into the unknown. Only one side would qualify automatically, but unlike when England had missed out on making it for 1974 to Poland and 1978 to Italy there would be a play-off place for the runner-up.

The new boss was only 38, but already had been in management for five years. He had won promotion with Swindon Town, before a three-year reign at Chelsea had yielded no major silverware but lengthy runs in both the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup. Hoddle knew the international scene well from his playing days, where he had been capped 53 times (a criminally low figure in the eyes of his admirers). He also had experience of playing abroad and his stylish reputation as a player was mirrored in how he wanted this team’s to play. Even strong critics of his man-management skills have praised his coaching and technical abilities.

Beckham’s debut

Hoddle, who set about seeking to get England playing a 3-5-2 system, inherited a buoyant side that Venables had rebuilt and it would need little tweaking. David Platt was the most noticeable player to never be capped again, while Stuart Pearce had intended to enter international retirement but would remain in the side. Hoddle’s first game was a qualifier on September 1 in Moldova and it would mark David Beckham’s England debut. The 21-year-old midfielder’s reputation had grown further with his incredible goal for Manchester United against Wimbledon two weeks earlier and Hoddle now believed it was time to give him his big chance. Also making his England bow was full-back Andy Hinchcliffe as a surprise occupant of the number 11 shirt, while Alan Shearer began his reign as England captain after a summer in which he had made a record £15m transfer to Newcastle United from Blackburn Rovers. Gary Pallister and subs David Batty and Matt Le Tissier all played after not being in the Euro ’96 squad.

The qualifying campaign starts with a win in Moldova.

England had rarely strayed from Wembley in the past couple of years and Hoddle would have presumably preferred a first game other than a qualifier and a potential banana skin. Mercifully it all worked out well on this Sunday afternoon in Chisinau, England overcoming a nervy opening to lead 2-0 inside 25 minutes through Nick Barmby and Paul Gascoigne. Shearer wrapped up a 3-0 victory, with the hosts then hitting a penalty against the woodwork after Pearce was adjudged to have handled. It wasn’t a classic, but this was a good way to start for Hoddle. As Glenn Moore wrote in The Independent: “The match, played in a low-key atmosphere, was unexceptional. The performance, apart from a cluster of highlights, workmanlike. But the points were the thing and England have got the first three of Group Two.”

The next match was at home to Poland in October, Hoddle pairing Newcastle United duo Shearer and Les Ferdinand in attack and playing just one natural central defender in Gareth Southgate as Hinchcliffe again took his place in the side. The spirit of the summer was on show as almost 75,000 showed up, but they saw England fall behind after just six minutes. By half-time it was 2-1 to England thanks to two goals from Shearer, with the side successfully seeing the game out. Played two, won two. It was a good start for England and Hoddle and already clear it looked a straight fight for top spot with Italy, who had so far beaten Moldova and Georgia.

Three out of three

A month later England fans would unusually find the side playing on a Saturday lunchtime (UK time) for an away qualifier in Georgia,  being without Shearer but welcoming back Tony Adams who two months earlier had revealed his problems with alcoholism. Hoddle stood by Gascoigne despite reports he had attacked his wife, leading to some calling for Gazza to be dropped.

Tony Adams returned to lead England in Georgia.

Gascoigne repaid Hoddle by being involved in the build-up to Teddy Sheringham putting England in front, with Ferdinand adding a second before the break as England saw out the 2-0 win. “This is not an easy place to come and win,” said a satisfied Hoddle. “I showed the team a 45-minute video in which Georgia had torn teams apart. The tactics were right, the players agreed with them and the proof of it was in the performance.”

Hoddle had made a great start, but the real test lay three months away: Italy at home.

Advantage Italy

England went into the showdown with Italy having never lost a World Cup match at Wembley. The Italians were back on English soil after a poor Euro ’96, in which they were the most high-profile group stage casualty. England were without some key players including Adams, Gascoigne and David Seaman. Again England fielded just one natural centre back in Sol Campbell, while further up the field Le Tissier was given his chance to start.

Matt Le Tissier goes close against Italy, but is never capped again.

In many respects Hoddle and Le Tissier were kindred spirits, natural talents whose ability to pull off the spectacular was not enough to make them central to England’s plans. But Hoddle would show little patience with Le Tissier, hauling him off after an hour and never capping him again. A total of eight caps was considered pitiful in the eyes of the Southampton star’s admirers. Another selection of interest was goalkeeper Ian Walker, starting an international for the first time after two sub appearances. It was a big game to throw him into the side as England had to cope without the experience of Seaman.

Gianfranco Zola had arrived in England in recent weeks at Chelsea and he was to do the damage here, showing pristine control to take Allesandro Costacurta’s superb ball onto his right foot and fire out of Walker’s reach (aided by a deflection off Campbell). Le Tissier would head inches wide as England pursued an equaliser and Campbell had the ball hooked away from him in front of goal. The final chance fell to Shearer, but the impressive Italian goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi again thwarted him. The match was slipping away from England and the Italians saw the game out to win 1-0. England knew three vital points had been squandered to their main rivals for top spot. Hoddle tried to keep things in perspective, saying: “It’s a setback, not a disaster.”

March brought Hoddle’s first friendly, a 2-0 home win over Mexico. A few days later England were given some hope when Italy were held to a draw by Poland and in late April Hoddle’s side stayed in the hunt by beating Georgia 2-0. On the eve of Labour’s General Election landslide, the old Shearer and Sheringham double act did the trick as both scored, although it wasn’t until a cleverly worked indirect free-kick ended with Shearer scoring in stoppage time that the game was wrapped up.

Saturday night on Channel 5

It was to be a busy end to the season, beginning with England facing South Africa at Old Trafford in a friendly in which Ian Wright scored his first international goal since 1993 to earn a 2-1 win. But of far more concern was England’s qualifier in Poland seven days later, a match best remembered for being shown on the newly-launched Channel 5. “The channel that brings you England goals,” bemusingly proclaimed commentator Jonathan Pearce. Viewers would happily see two of them, the SAS pairing again coming up trumps as Shearer gave England an early lead – but later missed a penalty – before Sheringham wrapped up a 2-0 victory late on. It was an impressive triumph for England, who had cemented a top-two spot. It was now a question of whether they could overhaul the Italians to go through automatically, with everything to boil down to the final match in Rome.

The Shearer and Sheringham double act works again for England in Poland.

Before then the sides met again in France in the mini Le Tournoi competition, England turning in the style to win 2-0 and gain a degree of revenge for the result four months earlier. A 1-0 win over the French three days later meant England were surprise winners of the tournament before the final match against Brazil. Although England lost 1-0 to the world champions, there was pride and optimism as the team returned home with unexpected silverware. The question now was whether the team could repeat the success in France 12 months later at the World Cup. But first of all they had to qualify.

Ahead of the 1997-98 season beginning, England were dealt a blow when Shearer sustained an injury in pre-season with Newcastle United. It ruled him out for the remaining qualifiers – at home to Moldova in September, followed by the group decider in Italy a month later.

Paul Gascoigne slots home as England beat Moldova 4-0.

The build-up to the Moldovan match was totally overshadowed by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales 10 days previously. With little major football action taking place in the meantime, this was going to be an emotional night and the crowd paid its respects before kick-off. Candle in the Wind was played and some candles were on show in the crowd, with the minute’s silence impeccably observed. It evoked memories of when England had hosted Albania during Italia ’90 qualifying shortly after the Hillsborough Disaster. And there would be other similarities too: England won convincingly; Gascoigne was on the scoresheet; and the Three Lions moved a step closer towards qualifying. Ferdinand and Wright were paired in attack, the latter enjoying one of his best nights in an England shirt as he netted twice, with Paul Scholes having broken the deadlock in a 4-0 win.

That night in Rome

The national mood was boosted further with the news that Italy had been held to a draw in Georgia, meaning England now topped the group. All they had to do was avoid defeat in Rome a month later and they would be through as group winners. It was sure to be a major occasion. Some of the spirit of the summer of 1996 seemed to be resurfacing, with the match getting a pretty huge build-up. “The whole of England is behind you,” Prime Minister Tony Blair told Hoddle and his players. ‘By George We’ll Do It’ declared the front page of the Daily Express with many other tabloids going down a similar line. Sky were showing it live, ITV in full on delay almost immediately afterwards. It may have seemed a lot of fuss over a qualifying match, but a combination of England’s failure to make it four years earlier, the quality of the opposition and the fact there was no guarantee the runners-up would go through in the play-offs had made this a big deal.

Fears about trouble off the field were sadly realised, although much of the criticism was directed towards Italian police. It was always going to be a highly-charged night where England needed to keep their heads to qualify. Paul Ince, who had played in Italy for two years, was handed the captain’s armband. Ince would evoke memories of another stand-in captain, Terry Butcher, as he played on with his head bandaged and his shirt covered in blood during a vital World Cup qualifier and led by example. “I played a lot of games for England, including Euro ’96, but I think the Italy game is probably still the stand-out one,” Ince said in 2015. “At the time it was so important.”

England showed discipline in both matching the Italians and seeing the game out, on a night which was always going to seem a long 90 minutes as long as it stayed at 0-0. But during the first-half England came closest to breaking the deadlock, Ince’s powerful volley saved by Peruzzi and Beckham firing just over after excellent hold-up work by Sheringham. Italy stepped it up a gear after the break, sub Enrico Chiesa being denied by Seaman before a heart in mouth moment as Alessandro del Piero went down over Adams’ outstretched leg in the area. But there was a growing sense this was going to be England’s night when del Piero was booked for diving, before Angelo de Livio picked up his second booking following a challenge on Campbell.

England simply needed to keep their heads and see the game out as the seconds ticked away. The match moved into stoppage time for an unforgettable few moments. England caught Italy on the break and Wright, who had run his heart out all night, suddenly found himself rounding Peruzzi but hitting the post from an acute angle. Sheringham was dispossessed and Italy swept away, England seeming to lose concentration for the first time in the game. Del Piero got to the byline and crossed into the area, where Christian Vieri was lurking. It looked like the most heartbreaking ending for England but he headed inches wide of the goal. Every England fan, whether in Rome or back home, breathed a huge sigh of relief. “You’ve had the drama of top-level sport encapsulated in those last few seconds,” proclaimed Sky commentator Martin Tyler.

Seconds later the final whistle sounded and England were back in the World Cup finals, clinching their place on a momentous night. The Italians may have had the better head-to-head record but England’s consistency had seen them through with the most points. Their defence had been breached just twice in eight games (never on foreign soil) and Hoddle’s tactics had paid off. He shared in a jubilant group hug with his coaching staff as the final whistle sounded. On the field Wright sank to his knees in joy, having finally appeared to have booked his place in a squad for a major tournament. Sadly for him fate would intervene, as it would – for different reasons – with his mate Gascoigne who was equally ecstatic at the time qualification was clinched. Various newspaper headlines about England having achieved ‘The Italian Job’ were inevitable, but also merited.


Celebrations for England in Rome.

The match in Rome would mark about the midway point between Hoddle’s announcement as England manager and his departure. And it was really as good as it got, a performance that is still hailed two decades later. The qualifying campaign had been the calm before the storm so far as his regime was concerned – controversies such as omitting Gascoigne from the France ’98 squad, the publication of Hoddle’s World Cup Diary and views on reincarnation that ultimately proved his downfall were still to come. Hoddle had made an excellent start, his tactical beliefs proving vindicated. The Italy game was not a totally happy time in his life as he revealed in his diary he was planning to end his marriage upon his return home. But football-wise there would be few occasions that would rank as highly as that unforgettable night in Rome.

 

England’s qualifying campaigns: 1994 World Cup – did we not like that?

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December marked the 25th anniversary of the draw being made for the qualifying stages of the 1994 World Cup. The campaign would become infamous as England, semi-finalists at Italia ’90, failed to make it to the USA and Graham Taylor’s managerial reign ended in ignominious fashion.

The weekend of December 7-8, 1991, was certainly one for draws being made. On the Saturday lunchtime, Saint & Greavsie viewers saw a certain Donald Trump help make the Rumbelows Cup quarter-final draw. That night, Match of the Day broadcast the FA Cup third round draw – with title protagonists Leeds United and Manchester United paired together for the second time in a day. And the following day the 1994 World Cup qualifying groups were decided. Few could have envisaged just what a calamitous campaign lay ahead for England.

For the first time England were placed in a group of six sides, European football having welcomed an influx of new countries following the break-up of the Soviet Union. But England would not meet any of them, and apart from minnows San Marino – entering only their second major qualifying tournament – there was little in the way of originality. The Dutch, who seemed set to provide the sternest test, had met the English at both Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 (and it was a distinct possibility they could also face each other at Euro ’92). Poland were in England’s group for the third qualifying tournament in succession, while Turkey had been paired with the English in three other campaigns in the past decade. You had to go a bit further back for the last clashes with Norway, England infamously losing to them during qualifying for the 1982 World Cup.

If the draw lacked in novelty for England fans, then at least on paper it looked like the side had a strong chance of progressing. The Three Lions only had to finish second to qualify, having always finished at least that high in every previous qualifying group even when they failed to make it. The Dutch were an obvious threat, but no other side in the group had qualified for a major tournament since Poland reached the 1986 World Cup. But as with the Poles 20 years earlier and Denmark a decade before, England had landed a joker in the pack who were about to represent their undoing. Norway had beaten Italy in Euro ’92 qualifying and they would pose a serious threat to the established order.


The pressure was increasing on Graham Taylor after Euro ’92.

At the time the draw was made, Graham Taylor was enjoying a decent reign as England boss having lost just once since taking over in the summer of 1990 and qualified for Euro ’92. But then came the turning point of the European Championship in Sweden, a negative England crashing out in the group stages as the ‘Turnip’ taunt began against the boss. He had seemed tetchy when dealing with the media during the competition and now faced a tough challenge to win over the doubters, not helped by his controversial decision to sub Gary Lineker in defeat by the Swedes.

It was the forward’s last act for his country before retiring, as Taylor now sought both a new captain and star striker. Alan Shearer – fresh from a big-money move from Southampton to Blackburn Rovers – would be the ideal man to fill the latter role, while Stuart Pearce became captain. But injuries would deprive Taylor of both men for part of the campaign, midfielder David Platt taking the captain’s armband and often being the main goal threat. One man back in the picture was Paul Gascoigne, returning to action after more than a year out injured and now playing in Italy for Lazio.

Pegged back by Norway

By the time England next took to the field in September 1992, the new Premier League was under way. Paul Ince was handed his debut as he began his lengthy England career in a 1-0 defeat. But it was Taylor’s last chance to experiment for the qualifiers. The expansion of the qualifying programme meant competitive football would dominate the agenda in the coming months, starting with a home qualifier against Norway in October. In an era before the international calendar as we know it now, Norway had already played three qualifiers and won them all – laying down a marker by thrashing San Marino 10-0 and beating the Netherlands 2-1. They were not to be underestimated.

Paul Gascoigne returned for England against Norway in October 1992.

The build-up was overshadowed by Gascoigne’s ill-judged jokey response when asked by a TV interviewer to say hello to Norway. As the words “f*** off Norway” left his lips they were clearly going to create headlines, assistant boss Lawrie McMenemy trying to limit the damage as he reprimanded the player for his actions. For Taylor it was imperative England got off to a good start and they looked set to do just that when Shearer gave them a second half lead. But as England looked set to see the game out, they were undone by a long-range equaliser from Kjetil Rekdal. It ended 1-1, representing a point dropped by England (UEFA were still applying the two points for a win system) on a night when they had created more chances than the visitors. “Sometimes you don’t get what you deserve from life and this was one of those nights,” reflected Taylor, who remained confident of qualification.

Five weeks later, Taylor expressed his wish for England to give him an early Christmas present by delivering at home to the Turks. Although Turkey had been thrashed by England three times during the 1980s, they had looked much-improved in two narrow defeats during Euro ’92 qualifying. The old order was to be re-established here, the impressive Gascoigne scoring twice in a 4-0 win as England ended a difficult year in better spirits. The resurgence of Gazza was a pleasing sight, but Taylor issued some words of caution: “Gascoigne is not fully fit yet. He knows that himself and the difference could be as much as another two goals out of him.” Rarely did Gascoigne seem as happy or loved under Taylor as he did during the reigns of Bobby Robson or Terry Venables.

John Barnes was abused by a section of the Wembley crowd during England’s win over San Marino.

A joyless 6-0 win

In February England hosted the whipping boys of San Marino, amid the sad news about the legendary Bobby Moore being seriously ill with cancer. He was at Wembley to co-commentate for radio, just a week before he would lose his fight for life. It was not a glorious match for Moore to say farewell to the Twin Towers, England only holding a 2-0 lead until midway through the second half. The floodgates then finally opened, England eventually winning 6-0 with Platt scoring four of them. There would also be a solitary international goal for Carlton Palmer (memorably met with Taylor asking “what was he doing in the f***ing box?”) and a debut strike for Les Ferdinand.

Platt could have equalled Malcolm Macdonald’s achievement of scoring five times in one match for England, only to have his late penalty saved. But the night had already been soured by the jeering of England’s John Barnes. England had won comfortably, but there was little to feel buoyed about. Gascoigne’s display had concerned Taylor, who said: “There is something there with the player that isn’t right and it is affecting his fitness.”

Paul Gascoigne scores for England in their win in Turkey.

Next up was England’s trip to Turkey the following month, goals from Platt and Gascoigne providing a 2-0 win in a hostile atmosphere in which the players were struck by coins. Taylor’s side had seven points from eight and all looked positive going into the huge game at home to the Netherlands in late April.

A crushing blow

Barnes enjoyed a far more positive response from the Wembley crowd than a few weeks earlier and within two minutes had scored a delightful free-kick to break the deadlock. When Platt doubled the lead midway through the half all seemed good in the world, England giving one of their best displays under Taylor. But a touch of class by Dennis Bergkamp reduced the deficit and England would lose the injured Gascoigne thanks to Jan Wouters’ elbow. Taylor later fumed: “It was a premeditated assault, utterly disgraceful. And he didn’t even get a caution.” It wasn’t the last time Taylor would rue refereeing decisions during the qualifying process. But it looked like England would see the game out until five minutes from time. Des Walker had been immense for England at Italia ’90 but was now suffering a dramatic loss of form.


England were frustrated when the Dutch visited Wembley.

Walker panicked into pulling back Marc Overmars, the referee pointing to the spot with Peter van Vossen levelling as the game finished 2-2. The smart money would have been on a draw beforehand and England still stood a good chance of making it, but it was a crushing blow to have squandered victory. They had now been pegged back in home games against their main two rivals. “We played very well in both of those games and if we had won just one, which we deserved to, we would have been ok,” reflected Taylor 20 years later. Mathematically his statement wasn’t quite correct, but things may well have panned out differently had England seen out either of those games.

The nightmare in Oslo

The first serious doubts that England would make it came at the end of the season. During fixture negotiations England had been handed away trips to Poland and Norway within five days, in an era when double headers were rare. If England could take three points or more they would look favourites to make it to the USA, but a defeat in either clash would be worrying. The first match was a Saturday night trip to Poland, England showing their limitations as they trailed at half-time and almost fell further behind. They got out of jail with a first England goal for substitute Ian Wright to salvage a 1-1 draw

Ian Wright rescues England in Poland.

If that had been disappointing, then what followed over the next fortnight would go a long way to sealing Taylor’s fate. England went into the away game against Norway having not lost a World Cup qualifier since their previous visit in 1981, but they produced a performance that sadly merited that run coming to an end. A decision to switch to three centre backs failed to help matters and England missed the combative presence of the suspended Ince, as the side slumped to a costly and deserved 2-0 defeat. For the first time England were in real trouble, while Norway moved closer to qualifying. They would duly top the group.

England or the Netherlands would miss out, with most predicting the former. Taylor was taking a hell of a beating from the press, ‘Norse Manure’ being one standout headline. In The Independent Joe Lovejoy wrote: “For England to qualify they will probably need maximum points from their last three games, which means beating the Dutch away – a task which looks light years beyond them. They were second-best throughout against the group leaders, who might easily have had more than the two goals they scored either side of half-time, through Oyvind Leonhardsen and Lars Bohinen.”

From bad, to worse…

Feeling low from the Norway defeat, England now headed off to the USA to compete in the US Cup against Brazil, Germany and the hosts. If the main aim of the trip was to help England prepare for the World Cup in America a year later then it was already looking a futile exercise. But they did get one piece of positive news while out there, with the Netherlands being held to a draw by Norway in a World Cup qualifier to keep England in with a shout. Any pleasure from that result quickly evaporated on the same evening as Taylor’s side sank to a 2-0 defeat to the USA. It provided more ammunition for Taylor’s critics, ‘Yanks 2, Planks 0’ the latest headline to scream out how badly things were going. Goalkeeper Chris Woods would be a fall-guy, never being capped again.

To their credit, England picked themselves up and produced much-improved displays in drawing 1-1 with Brazil and narrowly losing 2-1 to Germany. But the damage had already been done and the Norway and USA defeats were what the summer would be remembered for. A run of six games without a win meant Taylor urgently needed a response from his side as they prepared for the final three qualifiers. The first was at home to Poland in September, as England at least beat another of the top four sides. The win was wrapped up inside an hour as Ferdinand, Pearce and Gascoigne scored in a 3-0 success. The one downside was Gascoigne picking up a caution to rule him out of the following month’s showdown in the Netherlands, while they would also be without Pearce.

A night of controversy

It wasn’t quite going to be winner takes all in Rotterdam, but to all intents and purposes it was. The sides were level on points so whoever won would need just a point from their last game (the Dutch away to Poland, England taking on San Marino in Bologna) to be sure of going through. If it was a draw then things would get complicated, England needing to beat San Marino by a sufficient score to take them through on goal difference (assuming the Dutch beat Poland). It was a scenario that would suit Taylor’s team. The build-up saw Taylor have an infamous exchange with journalist Rob Shepherd at the press conference, captured in the fly-on-the-wall documentary about the campaign that would soon make headlines (we will save assessing that show for another day).

Given how much was at stake, if you look at it as a neutral for a minute then this was actually a bloody good game of football in which both sides went in search of the result they needed and created several decent chances. The Dutch were always a threat with wingers Marc Overmars and Bryan Roy continually a danger, while at the other end Tony Dorigo and Paul Merson both hit the post and Tony Adams had an effort cleared off the line. 

But controversy and key incidents were never far away, not all to England’s detriment given Frank Rijkaard’s goal was dubiously ruled out in the first half. During the second half the same player was somehow denied by David Seaman. Yet those moments would not live in the memory. Instead it would be the lasting sight of Ronald Koeman hauling back goalbound David Platt at 0-0. The referee initially appeared to award a penalty, eventually determining it was a free-kick on the edge of the box. But more contentious was the decision not to dismiss Koeman. “Is that not a sending off offence?” asked ITV co-commentator Ron Atkinson, rhetorically. Taylor was understandably livid on the touchline.

Graham Taylor experiences a painful night in Rotterdam.

As is well-known, Koeman duly scored a retaken free-kick with Taylor’s wounds deepened by England not having the chance to themselves retake a free-kick after being charged down in similar circumstances. Bergkamp wrapped up the 2-0 Dutch victory to effectively seal England and Taylor’s fate, as the manager told the linesman that his mate had cost him his job. “That blond man should not be on the field,” he said angrily when interviewed by ITV immediately afterwards. The man’s fury and pain was clear for the nation to see, knowing he would now face even more calls to leave.

The inevitable becomes reality

It was a low point, but – although criticism was pouring in over England’s impending absence from the World Cup – there wasn’t the same level of disappointment over England’s display as there had been in Norway. But the damage had been done. England needed the Dutch to lose in Poland and for them to beat San Marino by at least seven goals (assuming Poland only won by a one-goal margin). A big England victory was feasible, and it was possible that the Netherlands could could unstuck in Poland. But most were resigned to the inevitable, the Dutch good enough to get the result they needed against a side already out of the running.

Captain Stuart Pearce leaves the field after England fail to qualify for the World Cup.

England duly scored seven in front of a sparse crowd in Bologna (four netted by Ian Wright), but all their game against San Marino would really be remembered for was for embarrassingly going 1-0 down within seconds to one of the world’s football minnows. It was the final humiliation, symbolic of a campaign of failure. And before the end the BBC sacrificed live coverage to switch to Wales against Romania, as they clung to the hope of seeing a British side reach the USA. By then England’s chances were long gone, the Dutch winning 3-1 in Poland. Only at the moment when the Poles had levelled it at 1-1 had there ever been a glimmer of hope. Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “There was no act of God to provide the miracle for England – just a parable of painful failure as the dream died in the bitter cold of Bologna.”


Taylor’s departure was inevitable, but it would not be confirmed for almost a week. ‘That’s Yer Allotment’ proclaimed The Sun’s front page, again accompanied by a picture of his head as a turnip. The man had failed to take England to the finals, but the joke had gone too far. It was now getting extremely personal and generating an unnecessary level of hatred against a decent man. Taylor’s record in itself was not bad, but in three matches that had really mattered – against Sweden at Euro ’92 and then the World Cup qualifiers in Norway and the Netherlands – England had been beaten and that was sadly what many would remember his reign for. 

England would not be at the finals and for Taylor – so successful with Lincoln City, Watford and Aston Villa – it constituted his first real failure in football management. He had taken stick for his style of football before but now it was for his inability to get results. The flack he had taken – along with predecessor Bobby Robson – created the impression managing England was no longer seen as quite the dream job it once was, as the FA began looking for a successor.

On the night of the qualifying failure, Terry Venables was a pundit on the BBC’s Sportsnight. He remained non-committal when questioned by Des Lynam if he wanted the job, but within weeks he would be in the role as England looked towards Euro ’96 on home soil after a painful World Cup qualifying campaign. The failure under Taylor was a distant memory by the time of Euro ’96, but it would never be totally forgotten…

England on TV – the Brian Clough Years

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Brian Clough may be forever dubbed “the greatest manager England never had”, but he retained a close association with the national team. For the best part of two decades he could be heard offering – often controversial – thoughts on England and other international matches in his capacity as an ITV pundit.

Clough and television was a rather contradictory relationship. He would bang on in interviews about how there was too much football on the box and bemoaned an excessive amount of talking about the game. “I suggest you shut up and show more football,” he told John Motson at the height of Clough’s Nottingham Forest success. Yet Clough regularly supplemented his income by appearing as a pundit, proving pretty knowledgeable, unpredictable and outspoken. And his services were certainly in demand.

Clough was a man who plenty believed should be managing England, as he enjoyed widespread success at club level. For most of the 1970s and 1980s he had sections of the sporting press repeatedly calling for him to replace the serving England boss, although the role would elude him despite being interviewed for it (more on that in a future blog post). Analysing England matches would have to do as the next best thing and he wasn’t afraid to hold back. His distinct and often-imitated voice was heard a lot by TV viewers in the 1970s and 1980s, meaning he became well-known by people with limited interest in football. Even Muhammad Ali had a message for him!

Clough’s confidence in telling it as he saw it was his big selling point. There was no dodging the question or trying to be polite to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And that made him an asset to ITV’s coverage. They liked employing straight-talking motormouths such as Malcolm Allison, but Clough was unique and things he said both on television and in newspaper columns would be quoted for years to come – his soundbite that Trevor Brooking “floats like a butterfly and he stings like one too” being one such example. 

  

Clough during the 1982 World Cup with ITV.

Of course, there were also comments made that could be interpreted as xenophobic and would probably have left the FA convinced they did the right thing not appointing him as manager, fearing he would have lacked the necessary diplomacy. As West Germany reached the latter stages of the 1982 World Cup, Clough found it necessary to tell millions of viewers that “they’re murder the Germans” if you spend time on holiday with them – pointing out Peter Taylor had a German son-in-law as if it made his Basil Fawlty-esque view more justifiable. “Can you imagine spending three weeks with them in Palma if they win the World Cup? They’re bad enough as it is.” One wonders if he would have lasted as long in punditry in today’s more cosmopolitan and politically correct world.

But Old Big ‘Ead was a one-off and one particular punditry contribution from more than 40 years ago would never be forgotten and is still talked about today…

Clowning Around

Clough, who won two England caps in his injury-curtailed career, was a BBC analyst during the 1970 World Cup – a tournament when their coverage was unusually overshadowed by ITV and their straight-talking panel. But in 1973 Clough switched channels, in an indirect station swap with the similarly opinionated Jimmy Hill, who moved to the BBC as Match of the Day presenter. Soon Clough was popping up regularly on The Big Match as a summariser. Two months into the season came arguably his most memorable contribution in many years of punditry.

England were in a do-or-die World Cup qualifier at home to Poland. If they won they would make the finals in West Germany, if they didn’t then the 1966 winners wouldn’t qualify. It was a major occasion, with ITV showing the match live. Clough – who had just left Derby County – was a studio panelist, beginning the show in rather odd fashion by saying he had a nail that would be going in either Poland’s coffin or England manager Sir Alf Ramsey’s. He seemed keen to allay the nation’s fears by branding Poland’s goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown” and giving strong assurances England would easily get the win they needed.

  
Brian Moore runs out of patience with Brian Clough after Poland prevented England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

As everybody knows, Tomaszewski continually kept England at bay as chance after chance went begging and the Poles drew 1-1. Would Clough now be gracious enough to accept labelling the goalkeeper as a clown was unfair? In a word, no. During the post-match analysis, Clough still used the term to describe Tomaszewski (who would later carve out a Clough-style reputation in his homeland for making outspoken statements). Eventually, host Brian Moore snapped like a dad running out of patience with his kids making trumping noises in the back of the car. “You keep calling him a clown but that fellow has made some fantastic saves,” Moore told Clough, pointing his finger towards him. But this was a view Clough refused to go along with. Fellow pundit Derek Dougan also weighed in and defended the Polish goalkeeper, but Clough would have none of it. If anything, he seemed even more keen to show he had been right all along. 

  
The man Cloughie labelled a “clown” stopped England qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

Clough wouldn’t let the matter drop, declaring on TV a few days later that Tomaszewski would be found out in the World Cup the following summer and saying he was the weak link in the Polish side. He was wrong on that, as the goalkeeper twice saved penalties in the tournament and helped them to an impressive third place. Clough spent the competition offering his thoughts in the ITV studio – a panel that basically followed the lead of 1970 in containing colourful football personalities with strong views. 

  

Clough took his place on ITV’s 1974 World Cup panel – sadly without England matches to analyse.

He fitted in perfectly on the panel, which couldn’t be said of his infamous brief spell at Leeds United in the weeks that followed. It ended after just 44 days with an often-recalled TV head-to-head with his great rival Don Revie, who was now in charge of England. The mutual dislike couldn’t have been more obvious.

The two Brians

While Clough and Peter Taylor may be the partnership most frequently recalled, there was another enduring double act Cloughie enjoyed. Brian Moore would regularly be alongside him as presenter of The Big Match or as lead commentator on occasions when Clough was deployed as co-commentator. It was an unlikely friendship between two men who appeared to have contrasting personalities, but they complemented each other well and appeared genuinely fond of each other. 

  

Brian Moore and Brian Clough preparing for an episode of The Big Match.

But the aforementioned Poland game was probably not the only time Moore grew irritated with Clough and his rather unpredictable nature. In September 1983 England hosted Denmark in a vital qualifier for Euro ’84 that was live on ITV. With the game less than a minute old, teenager Michael Laudrup missed a chance to put the Danes ahead. “The wonderboy is human after all,” exclaimed Moore. Co-commentator Clough pedantically shot back: “I’ve never seen a 19-year-old wonderboy in my life.” 

Moore did see the funny side during the 1986 World Cup, when Clough again joined him in the London studio. During a discussion with Clough’s new punditry sparring partner Mike  Channon, the former Southampton star said: “The Irish have done it, the French do it, the West Germans do it…” Clough seized his moment. “Even educated bees do it,” he quipped, to raucous laughter from Moore. 

McCarthy has the last laugh

Clough was one of ITV’s leading pundits during Euro ’88 in West Germany. This tournament really represented his last hurrah in terms of international punditry, as he was absent from their Italia ’90 coverage (his choice according to newspaper reports of the time) and the BBC had exclusive terrestrial rights to most England matches for several years after this. In a warm-up for Euro ’88 Clough was in the studio with Nick Owen for England’s trip to Hungary – oddly calling Gary Pallister “McAllister” – and he cast doubt upon captain Bryan Robson’s position in the side after “an indifferent season”. Again, Clough certainly wasn’t going to sit on the fence or just go along with what the nation at large may have thought about their footballing heroes.

Fifteen years on from the Poland game, it seemed Clough still wasn’t afraid to make controversial statements that had the potential to backfire – and duly did. Prior to England’s tournament opener against the Republic of Ireland, Clough decided to dismiss the credentials of Irish defender Mick McCarthy who had passed a fitness test to play. “I’m glad from an English point of view that the Irish centre half’s fit… because I don’t think he’s international class for a start and I would have thought [Peter] Beardsley and [Gary] Lineker will be rubbing their hands. In fact if they could have got him a few Deutschmarks to get him even fitter still so there’d be no doubt I think they would have slipped him a few.”

  
Brian Clough during ITV’s coverage of Euro ’88 – his last major tournament as a pundit.

Clough knew he was being witty with the last bit but he was also pretty damning about a player who was about to appear against England. But McCarthy would have the last laugh as the Irish won 1-0 and England crashed out with three successive defeats. If Clough hoped this might at last give him he chance to manage his country, then it wouldn’t happen for him as Bobby Robson kept his job and – despite still having his fans in the media – Clough was realistically never in the running when Robson did leave in 1990.

Not being a pundit on England matches in this period was perhaps for the best, given Clough’s son Nigel was first capped in 1989 and deserved his chance without having his father being constantly asked about him in the studio (it was difficult enough a few years later when Ian Wright was on the BBC panel when Shaun Wright-Phillips was playing for England). Some later appearances as a pundit such as when Derby County met Tottenham Hotspur in 1991 sadly did not go particularly well, Clough almost seeming like a parody of his past self and lacking the insight he once had. But after retiring from football management in 1993 he still remained in demand for his views, continuing to write opinion columns in the media until shortly before he died in 2004. And his death opened the floodgates to a never-ending steam of documentaries, films and books about the man, ensuring the many views he shared at his peak are still heard today.

When he reached that peak, Clough was revered like no other TV football pundit. He was witty, very opinionated, knowledgeable (if not always on the money with his predictions) and entertaining, certainly not a nodding dog who didn’t really want to be sat in front of the cameras. In such respects he was quite like the Formula One world champion turned co-commentator James Hunt – minus the playboy lifestyle – as you could never be sure just what he would say next. Clough was made for both football management and television and he relished both roles, it’s fair to say.

England Qualifying Campaigns: Euro 2000 – Staggering Home

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With the qualification draw for 2018 World Cup having paired together England and Scotland, we look back at the last time they met in qualifying for a major tournament by recalling England’s road to Euro 2000. It was a campaign in which England were far from convincing, but they managed to stagger their way into the finals…

In September 1998, England began their quest to qualify for the Euro 2000 finals in Belgium and the Netherlands with the memories of the 1998 World Cup still fresh in the memory. Despite the heartbreak of the Argentina game, there were reasons to be optimistic about Glenn Hoddle’s side with a strong blend of youth and experience and the manager’s belief in an attractive style of play. Unfortunately for Hoddle, his other – far more controversial – beliefs would soon spell the end for his time at the helm.

The Euro 2000 qualifying draw in January 1998 had paired England with Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Poland and Sweden. Minnows Luxembourg were always going to be whipping boys, so it was effectively a four-way fight for the top two spots – the winner going through automatically, the runner-up into the play-offs. 

It wasn’t easy looking but Hoddle’s side would be favourites. Sweden had failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments; Bulgaria had been present at the last three of them and reached the semi-finals at the 1994 World Cup, but their poor performances in the 1998 finals suggested the good times may be over; and although memories of that fateful night at Wembley in 1973 persisted, Poland had not qualified for anything since the 1986 World Cup. Excluding Euro ’96 – when they qualified automatically as hosts – England had now been paired with the Poles every qualifying campaign since Italia ’90. It seemed almost inevitable they would be drawn together. “We certainly know our way to Poland,” said Hoddle as he reflected on England being in a group which The Guardian felt was the “short straw” due to the number of tough opponents. 

Ominous Start

When Alan Shearer scored from a free-kick a minute into England’s opening qualifier in Stockholm in September 1998, it was hard to imagine the sheer struggle that lay ahead over the next 15 months. But by half-time it was pretty clear of how things would pan out as Sweden came from behind to lead 2-1.  They held out for the remainder of the match as England started with an ominous defeat. Hoddle’s side were without the suspended David Beckham, who had become only the fifth England player ever to be sent-off against Argentina in the World Cup. The match against the Swedes saw Paul Ince become the sixth, with it being far from the last show of indiscipline from the side during the campaign.

  
Jamie Redknapp in action during England’s tedious 0-0 draw with Bulgaria.

This qualifying campaign marked the start of the regular international double headers we are now used to and in October England played two matches in five days. They did little to boost Hoddle’s reputation, coming after the controversial publication of his My 1998 World Cup Story book had left some players unhappy at dressing room secrets being revealed. At Wembley against Bulgaria – who had lost 3-0 to Poland the previous month – England were far from impressive. They were held to a sterile 0-0 draw that attracted much criticism. 

The End for Glenn

Things looked like they were about to get a whole lot more embarrassing away to Luxembourg when England’s part-time opponents were awarded a penalty five minutes in. Dany Theis squandered the chance by firing well over the bar, bizarrely prompting Channel 5 commentator Jonathan Pearce to excitedly react almost as though a major football nation had missed a crucial last minute penalty against England. Hoddle’s side eventually won 3-0 with Owen, Shearer and Gareth Southgate all scoring. But there were few cheers for the win, as there remained a sense of a World Cup hangover lingering in the air. Hoddle angrily dismissed tabloid speculation of a dressing room mutiny, but it was clear all was not well after a mediocre start to the qualifying campaign.

1998 ended with a 2-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic at Wembley, in what would turn out to be the end of the line for Hoddle. As England prepared to face world champions France the following February in another friendly, Hoddle’s contentious views expressed in an article in The Times about the disabled and reincarnation would cost him his job. It was a messy end to his reign and former Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson took temporary charge for the France match, which saw Arsenal’s Lee Dixon make a one-off international return after more than five years and England beaten 2-0.

Kev Takes Charge

Before England played their next qualifier in late March against Poland, they had a new boss. Kevin Keegan, the man England so often turned to for on-field inspiration in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was now tasked with helping leading the team towards the Euro finals. He had won managerial plaudits for the free-flowing football his Newcastle United side had played a few years earlier, although major honours had eluded him after the Premier League title slipped through their grasp in 1996. Keegan made clear he was only taking charge for four games as a job share with his role at Fulham, adding his wish to see a “1,000% effort” in those games.

  

All smiles after Kevin Keegan’s first match in charge of England produces a 3-1 win over Poland, with Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick.

He got the right response in his first match, Paul Scholes scoring three times against Poland in a 3-1 win at Wembley to boost their qualification hopes. All seemed well with the world and Keegan duly left Fulham and took the role on a permanent basis, but doubts were setting in again. 

After a 1-1 friendly draw in Hungary in which Wes Brown, Jamie Carragher, Michael Gray, Emile Heskey and Kevin Phillips made their England debuts, the qualifiers resumed in June and alarm bells started ringing. Scholes became the first England player to be sent-off at Wembley in a frustrating 0-0 draw with Sweden. Although England had ended their opponents’ 100% record, the result meant the best Keegan’s men could now realistically hope for was second place in the group. Four days later there followed more disappointment with an underwhelming 1-1 draw in Bulgaria, leaving them still with much to do to make the finals. ‘The honeymoon is over after the first kiss” screamed the headlines, with Keegan’s ‘Messiah’ status having proved short-lived.

  
Summing up the qualifying campaign: Paul Scholes sees red at home to Sweden.

The group had a strong echo of the qualifying process a decade earlier for Italia ’90, with Sweden in front, England at risk in second spot and the Poles the only other side capable of finishing above them. It came as no surprise that England beat Luxembourg 6-0 at Wembley in early September, with Shearer scoring a hat-trick. But it was the match four days later in Poland that really mattered. If England won they would definitely finish second; if Poland won they would be runners-up and England would be out. It was if it ended in a draw that things became complicated, as Poland would then need a result in their final match in Sweden to edge out England.

Keegan’s side seemed torn between going for the win to seal a play-off place and a draw to at least give them a chance. The goalless match summed up England’s qualifying campaign, as David Batty was red carded and the team struggled to stamp their authority on the game. Indeed, they could easily have lost and been definitely out of the running. England had failed to qualify for the next World Cup after being semi-finalists in 1990 and it looked like history would repeat itself after coming so close to winning Euro ’96. They still had a chance, but it was out of their hands.

England now had a month to wait and hope Sweden could do them a favour. Although there was little doubt the Swedes were a better team than Poland and had a near-perfect qualifying record, they were already through and could potentially take their foot off the pedal whereas the Poles needed a result and that extra desire could see them achieve it. But, as with Switzerland digging them out of a hole in the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign and – for a few days at least – when Israel beat Russia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, England were thrown a lifeline they hadn’t really merited. Two goals in the final half hour gave Sweden a 2-0 win and the feeling across England was one of sheer relief. The following day’s friendly against Belgium at the Stadium of Light was not the wake many had anticipated, with a renewed sense of optimism in the air. Jamie Redknapp scored a cracking goal in the 2-1 win, as cousin Frank Lampard made his international debut.

Drawing the Scots

For the first time since 1972 England would now be involved in a two-legged tie as they awaited the play-off draw. And what a draw – Scotland v England. “I think we’ve both hit the jackpot,” said Keegan. The sides had met just once in the previous decade since the demise of the Rous Cup and now they were reacquainted with a place in the Euro 2000 finals at stake. Although England would start as favourites, the Scots had a good recent qualifying record and, like England, the only major tournament they had missed in the 1990s was the 1994 World Cup. Scotland boss Craig Brown seemed content with the draw, declaring: “I think the England team were stronger in Euro ’96 [the most recent meeting] and I don’t think we need to fear them.”

  
Paul Scholes helps England to a 2-0 win at Hampden Park.

After a month of build-up, the talking could finally end on November 13 at 2pm at Hampden Park. Scholes scored twice in the first half as England won 2-0, with Keegan declaring his side “played fantastic today”. Although many would have disputed that version of events, given England rode their luck a bit during the afternoon, there was no question they looked odds on to go through.

The second leg was played four days later, marking Scotland’s final visit to the old Wembley. What should have been a comfortable passage into the finals turned into a night of tension for England and it could have been even worse. Don Hutchinson’s 39th minute goal gave Scotland the lead on the night and if either side looked like scoring again, it was the Scots as England failed to muster a shot on target. David Seaman had to deny Christian Dailly from levelling the aggregate scores late on, as Scotland went in search of extra-time. They never got it, with it not being quite clear who was comforting who as Keegan and Brown hugged at the end. 

England were through but it was Scotland who could leave the field to greater cheers from their fans after winning on the night. “Maybe it was too much for the players psychologically having a 2-0 lead,” admitted a baffled Keegan afterwards, as he again learnt about international management the hard way. But at least England had progressed, something that had looked unlikely after the match in Poland two months earlier. For the Scots, the play-off exit marked the beginning of a long absence from major tournaments – which they are looking to finally end by making it to Euro 2016.

Keegan’s men had staggered into the Euro 2000 finals with a very unconvincing record. They had managed just four victories in their 10 qualifying matches, two of them coming against minnows Luxembourg. After all the excitement of Euro ’96 and France ’98, this had been a serious wake-up call. The finals in the Low Countries would expose England’s inadequacies – and the tactical shortcomings of Keegan – as they crashed out in the group stage.

England Qualifying Campaigns: Euro 92 – Before Taylor was a ‘Turnip’

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This month marked Graham Taylor’s 70th birthday and also the anniversary of his first England match in September 1990. In the third in our series recalling past England qualifying campaigns we recall the road to Euro ’92 in Sweden as Taylor took charge shortly after England’s dramatic run to the World Cup semi-finals in Italy with football’s popularity soaring again.

As the 1990-91 season got under way, ‘Gazzamania’ had taken hold the return of English clubs to European competition added to the feel good factor. Bobby Robson had bowed out as a hero after Italia ’90 and now Taylor was entrusted with the role. He inherited a strong set of players with age mostly on their side, although veterans Peter Shilton and Terry Butcher had retired from international football after the World Cup with more than 200 caps between them. Bryan Robson was to play on for his country but injury would keep him out of action for several months, with Gary Lineker taking on the captaincy.

It had been the worst-kept secret Taylor was to be England’s new manager, spending the World Cup working for ITV without it being announced he would replace Bobby Robson. His appointment attracted mixed views. Taylor had held three managerial roles since his late 20s and done a tremendous job at Lincoln City, Watford and Aston Villa. Although he had never won a major honour, he had achieved five promotions as well as two First Division runners-up spots (beaten only by a dominant Liverpool) and an FA Cup final appearance. He had also played a big role in the development of John Barnes and David Platt at club level, both going on to be regulars for England.

But there were concerns too. Unlike most of his predecessors he had no direct experience of international football as a player or manager and his involvement in European club competition was limited to three rounds in the UEFA Cup. His direct style of play had not always been well received, Taylor seeming to be often at pains to defend it in interviews. But he was certainly not given the savage ‘Turnip’ press treatment upon his appointment that would follow in the coming years as English football began to look forward with excitement.

The draw for the qualifying stages of the 1992 European Championship provided little in the way of originality for England followers. The Three Lions were placed in a four team group with Republic of Ireland, Poland and Turkey, having met all of them in competitive matches in recent years. It wouldn’t be easy either. Only one side would definitely go through and Ireland had already got under England’s skin by beating them at Euro ’88. Poland were not regarded as the same force as a few years earlier but could not be discounted either. Turkey would find the group too hard to compete but would prove more difficult opposition than previously.

Taylor inherited the basis of a good squad, with players of quality like Platt, Paul Gascoigne, Stuart Pearce and Des Walker having established themselves and with age on their side. Lineker was still a couple of months away from his 30th birthday and expected to go on to break Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 England goals. But we would soon see Taylor appear keen to give as many players as possible a chance, handing out a plethora of new caps and suddenly recalling discarded players from the international wilderness. It was a trend that would continue throughout his reign and with dubious rewards.

Off to a Good Start
Taylor’s first game in charge was effectively a celebration of the World Cup achievements, more than 50,000 seeing them beat Hungary in a friendly at Wembley thanks to a goal from captain Lineker. Taylor basically stuck with Bobby Robson’s team, Lee Dixon the only player to appear who had not gone to the World Cup on a night when Barnes gave an encouraging display. After years as a patient deputy and occasional caps, Chris Woods could now emerge from Shilton’s shadow as the regular goalkeeper with David Seaman his main rival for the number one spot.

In October, the first round of qualifying matches for Euro ’92 took place. Ireland thrashed Turkey 5-0 in the afternoon to lay down a marker, before England beat Poland 2-0 at Wembley. A Lineker penalty set them on their way, although it wasn’t until the closing moments they sealed the win with a brilliant curling goal by substitute Peter Beardsley. The true significance of the result would be seen 13 months later.

Dropping Gazza
Taylor’s first real test would come the following month, when they travelled to Dublin to take on the Republic of Ireland. It was a match high on importance but never likely to be one for the purists. The match kicked-off at 1.30pm on a Wednesday (which seemed an antiquated idea even then) and the new manager controversially dropped Gascoigne to the bench as Aston Villa’s Gordon Cowans returned to the international fold after almost five years away. He also recalled Arsenal’s Tony Adams two years on from his most recent cap.

In windy conditions England went ahead through David Platt during the second half, before Ireland made use of their aerial power with Tony Cascarino heading in a late equaliser as the sides inevitably drew 1-1. “A fair result in a highly predictable game. Everything we thought would happen, happened,” said ITV pundit Jimmy Greaves. The result played into the hands of Poland, who won 1-0 away to Turkey.

By the time England next took to the field in February 1991, Great Britain had a new Prime Minister in John Major and the Gulf War had broken out. In freezing conditions Cameroon were beaten in a Wembley friendly, the only real comparison with the previous summer’s dramatic World Cup meeting being Lineker scored twice. Ian Wright made his international debut, on a night when Bryan Robson returned and regained the captain’s armband.

A Familiar Pattern
March brought the crucial return clash with the Republic of Ireland at Wembley, following a very familiar pattern. Lee Dixon’s shot was deflected in off Steve Staunton to give England an early lead, but they allowed Ireland to dictate the game at times and Niall Quinn equalised before the break. If either side was going to win it thereafter it was Ireland, Jack Charlton being disappointed afterwards they hadn’t won. Lee Sharpe came off the bench for his England debut, having enjoyed a season shining for a resurgent Manchester United. It was the third time in less than a year Charlton’s side had come from behind to draw 1-1 with England.

The following month saw Poland beat Turkey 3-0 and the top three sides were all locked on four points (under the two points for a win system). May Day was to be crucial. Ireland drew 0-0 at home to Poland, while England travelled to face Turkey in Izmir. Taylor dropped Robson and midfielders Geoff Thomas and Dennis Wise were handed their debuts, while fellow starters David Seaman, Gary Pallister and Alan Smith all had less than five previous caps. England won few plaudits in scraping a 1-0 victory thanks to a strange goal by Wise in the first-half, as they were made to sweat with the Turks growing in confidence. But at least they were now a point clear at the top of the group.

No time to rest
A year after a demanding World Cup campaign, this should have been a quiet end of season for England but instead they still faced six more games before packing up for the summer. The one-off England Challenge Cup was won after a win over USSR and draw with Argentina, before they headed Down Under and – despite a struggle at times – beat Australia, New Zealand (twice) and Malaysia. New caps were being handed around rather generously, with David Batty, David Hirst, John Salako, Brian Deane, Earl Barrett, Mark Walters and Gary Charles making their debuts in the end of season matches. Taylor had already started to dismantle Bobby Robson’s squad – Steve Bull, Chris Waddle, Bryan Robson and Peter Beardsley all found themselves discarded, while Paul Gascoigne would be a long-term absentee through injury.

England completed the season unbeaten, but in September they finally lost under Taylor as Germany came to Wembley and won 1-0. England gave a decent display, with substitutes Paul Merson and Paul Stewart becoming the latest debutants. But the following month brought more important matters with round five of the qualifying matches, as Turkey arrived at Wembley. Robson and Waddle were recalled, but it was to be a low-key end to England careers after 90 and 62 caps respectively as they would never feature again. Defender Gary Mabbutt also returned to the England side after a four-year absence. In a telling indicator of Robson’s fading power, Lineker retained the captain’s armband. An Alan Smith header from a Stuart Pearce cross proved decisive, but England really did not perform and they were never going to enhance their goal difference. But the result of the other game in the group produced the best result possible as Poland and Ireland drew 3-3.

A Three-Way Fight
With one round to go, England were two points ahead of Ireland and Poland with the three sides all in with a realistic chance of claiming the one qualification spot. If England won or drew in Poland they would be through, if they lost they would be out – the Republic of Ireland going through if they won in Turkey, otherwise Poland would take top spot on goal difference. Once more England’s fate boiled down to a decider against Poland.

Taylor bravely threw two uncapped players into the starting line-up in midfielder Andy Gray and winger Andy Sinton – the latter being substituted by another new cap in Tony Daley. Of the 13 players England used on the night, only four had made appearances in the World Cup finals less than 18 months earlier. Taylor had overseen a dramatic change in the side but the same sparkle and spirit of the summer of 1990 did not seem to be there – just the ability to grind out results.

The BBC only joined live coverage at half-time and viewers discovered England were 1-0 down, a free-kick by Roman Szewczyk deflecting past Woods. The Poles briefly held the group leadership but Ireland went on to win 3-1 in Turkey to sit on the brink of qualification. With 15 minutes left Woods appeared to commit a foul in the area and a goal then would surely have killed off Taylor’s men. Nothing was given and two minutes later England were level. David Rocastle’s corner was nodded on for Lineker to volley home and put England back on top of the group, as they saw out the draw needed to qualify.

Taylor had led England to a place in Sweden. It had not been a memorable qualifying campaign and the Three Lions had done the job required rather than flourished. It was easy to point to how the Irish perhaps should have been the team to qualify, but they had squandered points and failed to beat anyone apart from Turkey. Ultimately the decisive match in the group had been England’s first against Poland, the only time a game was won in matches between the top three.

England would play a further six matches before the finals, Taylor seeming determined to try and give every candidate a game as Rob Jones, Martin Keown, Alan Shearer, Nigel Martyn, Keith Curle and Carlton Palmer joined the list of new caps and Mark Hateley had a one-off return after nearly four years off the scene. England did not lose any of the friendlies and they went into the finals with just one defeat in 21 matches under Taylor, who was still yet to receive the ‘Turnip’ treatment. But his reign was about to take a turn for the worse and never properly recover…

England Qualifying Campaigns: 1990 World Cup – Robson’s slow road to redemption

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Ahead of England returning to qualifying action next month for Euro 2016 after a poor record at the World Cup finals in Brazil, we recall when they came home from the horror show of Euro ’88 and began the process of attempting to make it to Italia ’90. Bobby Robson was a man under pressure and faced a tough job rebuilding pride and his reputation. It was a rocky path at times, but he would get them there although he would have to wait for the finals for the tide to properly turn in his favour…

England’s route to Italia ’90 really began in December 1987 when the qualifying draw was made. At that point Robson’s side were still celebrating qualifying with an unbeaten record for the European Championships and being one of the favourites to win it. They had no reason to fear other sides in the World Cup qualifying draw and were one of the seeded teams. The draw, not unlike the eventual qualifying process as a whole for England, would prove to be a case of ‘could have been better, could have been worse’.

They crucially avoided the Dutch from pot two, landing Poland who had reached the past four World Cups but were entering a period of decline. They could have drawn an easier side from pot three than Sweden, but they had not qualified for a major tournament for a decade. And Albania were a candidate for the weakest team in pot four, being something of an unknown quantity to the English. The Three Lions were favourites to progress, but being drawn in one of the groups with just four teams meant they would have to finish top to be sure of a World Cup spot. In an era before play-offs became the norm for second place sides, if they had the poorest of the runners-up records from the three groups with four teams in then they would miss out.

But thoughts of the World Cup were put on hold as England focused on their Euro ’88 preparations. Gradually, things began to go wrong with Terry Butcher ruled out with a broken leg and the goals drying up as the finals approached. When they began, Robson’s men would infamously lose all three games and the manager found his future under scrutiny. The use of the term ‘Plonker’ by Del Boy to Rodney in Only Fools and Horses may have been good natured, but it certainly wasn’t when tabloid newspapers screamed out the term about Robson after a bad result. Crucially though, the FA stood by him after Robson appeared set for the axe as the side flopped in West Germany.

Those who demanded my resignation – and I am thinking in particular about specific newspapers – will be disappointed to hear me reinforce my decision not to quit. It might have crossed my mind, fleetingly, when I wondered if my family could cope with almost intolerable strain, that I should step down. But I am not a quitter and will not back down,”  Bobby Robson in his first programme notes after the European Championship.

Robson wields the axe
As the dust settled on Euro ’88, Robson knew he had to act and make tough decisions to regain the winning formula by dispensing with members of his core squad of players. Kenny Sansom, Glenn Hoddle, Mark Hateley and Dave Watson played for Robson for the last time in the finals, while Viv Anderson and Peter Reid were never recalled after winning their final caps shortly before the tournament. Tony Adams played the first three games after Euro ’88 but was never picked again by Robson and fellow central defender Mark Wright was discarded until April 1990 before coming back to prominence at Italia ’90.

In their place would emerge an abundance of new players, gradually phased in with 17 new caps awarded between September 1988 and December 1989. The key men to enter the squad were Paul Gascoigne, Paul Parker, David Platt and Des Walker, who would all start the 1990 World Cup semi-final, while players such as Steve Bull and David Rocastle would also establish themselves in the squad. For several others like Brian Marwood, Mike Phelan and Mel Sterland it would be a very short international road, but they could at least console themselves with the knowledge they had been capped at full level by England. Robson gave several players from the under-21s their chance at full level and also utilised the England ‘B’ squad as a means of assessing the talent available.

A different era
1988 was a very different era to today’s football world, with Luton Town and Wimbledon having just won the two main domestic cups. Chelsea and Manchester City would be spending 1988-89 in the Second Division (when that term still meant the second tier). International football tournaments and qualifying campaigns operated on a two points for a win basis and this was still the era of the old Czechoslovakia, USSR and Yugoslavia taking to the field. The Berlin Wall had yet to fall and the 1990 World Cup would be the final tournament East Germany and West Germany both competed in. Hopes of the ban on English clubs competing in Europe had been ended by further hooliganism in recent months, including at the European Championship. It was genuinely feared the national team could be next to pay the price for the ‘English disease’ and be given a ban from major tournaments if there was further serious disorder.

But domestically there were also moves into the modern footballing world. The summer saw some big money transfers, including Gascoigne’s £2.2 million switch from Newcastle United to Tottenham Hotspur. ITV splashed out to secure exclusive coverage of the Football League. Their deal would have particular emphasis on the ‘Big Five’ (Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs) and the First Division title race. The BBC countered, striking a deal for exclusive terrestrial rights of the FA Cup and England matches. England fans would be hearing a lot from Jimmy Hill in the coming years.

Out with the old, in with (some of) the new
England’s road to recovery would appropriately begin with a clash with fellow Euro ’88 flops Denmark in a friendly at Wembley in September, an unofficial decider for the wooden spoon winner of the tournament. Old campaigners like Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson and Terry Butcher were joined by three debutants. Gascoigne and Walker came off the bench, on a night when Rocastle also made his first appearance. Luton Town’s powerful striker Mick Harford won his second and final cap in attack as Robson tried to find an alternative big man to Hateley up front, while Stuart Pearce was now first choice left-back after previously being Sansom’s understudy. Neil Webb scored the winner in a low-key atmosphere, just 25,837 showing up.

Five weeks later came a more important test as Sweden visited Wembley in the opening World Cup qualifier. It proved to be a night of frustration as England were unable to break down their opponents, for whom defender Glenn Hysen ran the show. Gary Lineker (who was hospitalised with hepatitis shortly after the Euro finals) seemed to lack the sharpness and precision that had previously made him so deadly. The goalless draw was not a good start for Robson, who now faced a long five-month wait before the next qualifier.

Getting results but not much praise
Things would get worse before 1988 was out, a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia attracting the infamous ‘In the name of Allah, Go!’ headline. Robson wouldn’t be leaving and would justifiably point out how the Saudis had managed draws with several other established football nations, but that would not wash with many critics.  The match saw Robson experiment and recognise Arsenal’s strong start to the season with first caps for Michael Thomas, Alan Smith and Brian Marwood along with David Seaman (QPR) and Mel Sterland (Sheffield Wednesday). It was clear Robson was feeling the strain and was increasingly on the defensive with most members of the media, telling BBC commentator Barry Davies he was “impertinent” the following day over his line of questioning in his post-match interview.

The press vultures seemed to be growing in number as England began 1989 with an away friendly in Greece, but mercifully Robson’s side came from behind to win 2-1 and keep their unbeaten run going. Come March, the World Cup campaign resumed with a trip into the unknown as England travelled to Albania. It wasn’t a stirring performance and England could have fallen behind, but the watching audience back home on a Wednesday afternoon could at least enjoy a 2-0 win thanks to goals from John Barnes and Bryan Robson (who shrugged off a stomach bug to play and inspire his country to victory). Lineker’s ongoing poor form prompted concern, Jimmy Hill in the London studio calling for him to be dropped for the next match.

Football pays its respects
That match would be the return at Wembley against Albania late the following month. Initially the fixture had been overshadowed by a row over the scheduling over the crunch Liverpool against Arsenal clash for TV purposes, being due to be played just three days beforehand on the Sunday afternoon much to Bobby Robson’s annoyance. But this dispute was totally put into perspective by the horrific events at Hillsborough on April 15th, which sent football into mourning. The Liverpool against Arsenal match was understandably postponed. John Barnes withdrew from the squad, but Liverpool team-mate Peter Beardsley would play.

Wembley fell silent before kick-off 11 days on from the tragedy as English football paid its respects, with the team then turning in a committed display to win 5-0 and boost their goal difference and qualification hopes. Lineker kept his place and scored his first England goal for 10 months and the night was capped by Gascoigne coming off the bench to round off the scoring with his first international goal. Not that Robson was totally satisfied with the young talent, deciding to bring him down a peg as he told Sportsnight interviewer Tony Gubba that Gascoigne had “played in every position of the pitch except the position I told him to play in”.

A chance to experiment in attack
Before the summer break, England still had four matches to play. The Hillsborough disaster meant there was a prolonged end to the league season and limited England’s squad for the Rous Cup, with Liverpool and Arsenal players all absent. The three-cornered tournament was on its last legs, with Chile as the ‘other’ side struggling to capture the public imagination in England and Scotland. Not helped by a tube strike, a record low Wembley crowd for England of 15,628 witnessed a 0-0 draw that saw Wimbledon’s John Fashanu and Nottingham Forest’s Nigel Clough win their debuts in a new-look attack. The selection of the bustling Fashanu was not universally approved and his international career would last for just two matches.

Four days later (the night after Robson had been at Anfield to witness Arsenal dramatically clinch the league title) what turned out to be the last annual Scotland against England fixture brought a 2-0 win for Robson’s men at Hampden Park, with arguably the manager’s biggest selection gamble of his England reign paying off. The powerful Steve Bull was still technically a Third Division player with Wolves, for whom he had been scoring goals for fun for the past couple of years. That potency and confidence in front of goal was on show here as he came off the bench to seal a 2-0 win, ensuring he would stay in the fray.

On June 3rd, England took a big step towards the World Cup finals by beating Poland 3-0 at Wembley. For all the talk in the build-up of the Poles’ infamous last visit in 1973 when they qualified at England’s expense, this was a comfortable win for Robson’s men as Lineker found the net before Barnes and Webb wrapped things up. After four games England led the table by two points from Sweden, who had played a game less, with Poland being cut adrift. There was still work to be done to qualify, but Robson and his players could for once walk off Wembley to genuine cheers. The season ended with a 1-1 draw away to Denmark, Lineker again scoring on a night when Peter Shilton became England’s most capped player. Although it had not been a season when England met world class opposition, the statistics would show it was their first unbeaten campaign since 1974-75.

Sweating blood for the England cause
England’s World Cup qualifying programme resumed in early September 1989. For many years the Three Lions had been hit by ‘Septemberitis’, often suffering bad results in their first international of the season. It was not an ideal time to be facing a crucial qualifier away to Sweden. A draw would edge England towards the finals, although they would not be certain of wrapping up their place there. Reports of trouble involving English followers did not lift the mood as the side prepared for a vital clash. It was a night mainly remembered for injuries: captain Bryan Robson sat it out and watched from the BBC studio with Des Lynam, Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables; Neil Webb was carried off just weeks after joining Manchester United; and most famously of all, Terry Butcher refused to let the fact he split his head open and was covered in blood put him off, as he played on as his white England shirt became increasingly red. It was another 0-0 draw, with England not sparkling but not letting themselves down either. Lineker (now back playing in England with Spurs) again spurned chances and Waddle fired wide after appearing to have done the hard work with a jinking run towards goal.

“I felt we were the better side and it was a disappointment, in the circumstances, that we did not do better,” – Bobby Robson after the 0-0 draw in Sweden.

The draw meant England still had to get something in Poland a month later to be sure of going through. A win would ensure they topped the group, a draw would take them through as one of the best second place sides. It was a big game, with an international break the weekend before the match seeing Saint & Greavsie come live from the England team hotel. Poland’s hopes of making the finals were slim. They would have to win all three remaining games and overturn a fairly substantial goal difference to finish ahead of England.

By the width of the crossbar…
It was a far from vintage display from Robson’s men and they were pretty fortunate to get the draw they needed to make it through to Italy. Shilton gave a vintage display to keep the Poles out and lay the ghost of 16 years earlier to rest, but England rarely threatened and seemed ultra-cautious at times in the hostile Katowice atmosphere. Two years earlier in Yugoslavia they had gone at their hosts early in similar circumstances to wrap up qualification when a draw would have done it; this time around they seemed to let the need for a point dominate their thoughts. Perhaps the failings of Euro ’88 still preyed on their mind. In the dying seconds Shilton was finally beaten from 30 yards out by Ryszard Tarasiewicz, the relief being palpable as the ball struck the bar and bounced away to safety. Moments later the final whistle sounded and England were there, relief rather than joy being the main emotion. But they had qualified without conceding a goal and had not lost a qualifying match for a major tournament since September 1983.

In the weeks that followed, it became clear just how close England came to not making the finals. Had they conceded that last-gasp goal to Poland, they would have been reliant on any of three results going in their favour and none did. They saw Sweden leapfrog them to top spot in their group by winning in Poland, while Denmark’s defeat to Romania and West Germany’s win over Wales would have seen England finish as the poorest of the second-place teams by virtue of having scored less goals than Denmark. As it was, they finished a point ahead of them and the Danes – so stylish at the 1986 finals – had missed out.

England could start planning for Italy and did so with a friendly against the Italians at Wembley in November. The game once more ended 0-0 but was perhaps most significant for another new face, David Platt, making his international debut en route to being a key man for England the following summer. New caps were also handed out to Dave Beasant, Nigel Winterburn and Mike Phelan. Gascoigne had still yet to fully establish himself, playing in the B international against the Italians at Brighton instead.

Before the year was out England would ominously be placed in a World Cup group with European Championship opponents Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, along with Egypt. Preparations were gathering place the finals and a rare December friendly at home to Yugoslavia brought the curtain down on the 1980s, with Tony Dorigo becoming the 17th new cap since the summer of 1988. In a decade when the Robsons symbolised the England set-up, it was perhaps appropriate it would be captain Bryan who scored twice (including a first minute effort) to give England a 2-1 victory.

England would go into the new decade off the back of a 14 match unbeaten run, having qualified for the World Cup finals and started to lay the Euro ’88 mishaps to rest. A momentous and memorable year was in store, but that’s another story…

Six of the Best – England matches under Bobby Robson

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To mark the anniversary of the death of Sir Bobby Robson in 2009, let’s look back at six of the best games of his reign as England manager. It was a spell in charge that would not always go smoothly, as he found himself in the line of fire from the tabloids at times, but would end with Robson leaving as a hero after Italia ’90 and being much-loved in the later years of his life. A true legend of English football who will never be forgotten.

  

June 10th, 1984 – Brazil (a) 2-0 (Friendly)
It may only have been a friendly, but 30 years later this remains one of the most talked about games of the Bobby Robson era. The result in itself was momentous as England had only beaten Brazil once before, but it was particularly joyful for an under-pressure Robson. A week earlier England had been booed off after a home defeat by the USSR, following on from their failure to qualify for the European Championship and a poor showing in the last Home International Championship. While Brazil looked a pale shadow of the side that had won so many admirers at the 1982 World Cup, it was still a win to treasure for England in the Maracana and will forever be remembered for the incredible John Barnes goal shortly before the break (missed by England fans back home as ITV’s coverage only began at half-time). A Mark Hateley header wrapped things up in the second half. The pressure on Robson had eased and good results would now follow.

 

November 14th 1984 – Turkey (a) 8-0 (World Cup qualifier)
Fast forward five months and England had renewed confidence, having beaten Finland 5-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier in October 1984. They were expected to get a result against Turkey in Istanbul, with the Turks not regarded as one of the stronger European nations of the time. However, few were anticipating England to be so quite dominant and subdue the fervent home crowd with such an emphatic display. England in the 1980s were inspired by the two Robsons, with Bobby being manager and namesake Bryan his captain and on-field general. The skipper netted a hat-trick, with Tony Woodcock (2), John Barnes (2) and Viv Anderson also finding their way onto the scoresheet.

In typical football manager fashion, the older Robson was not totally satisfied. “I never thought I would ever win an international match 8-0 and think we’d let them off the hook because really we could have gone into double figures,” he told ITV’s Brian Moore afterwards, reflecting on missed chances. But there was a new-found confidence from England and they qualified with an unbeaten record for the finals. Other notable thrashings dished out by England under Robson included a 9-0 win over Luxembourg (December 1982) and another 8-0 win over Turkey (October 1987), both coming in European Championship qualifiers at Wembley.

 

June 11th, 1986 – Poland (n) 3-0 (World Cup Group F)
Almost exactly two years after the Brazil game, the pressure was again on Bobby Robson as England went into their final World Cup group game in Mexico in June 1986. They were in serious danger of an immediate exit after losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco. A defeat would ensure elimination and a draw could also see them on the next plane home, with Robson’s job at serious risk if they failed to get the required result. Without the injured Bryan Robson and suspended Ray Wilkins, the manager reshuffled his midfield pack and brought Peter Beardsley in for Mark Hateley in attack. The changes paid off as Gary Lineker famously scored a first half hat-trick and went on to win the World Cup Golden Boot. The relief was visible for the manager, as England saw out the match and repeated the scoreline in the second round against Paraguay. Another 3-0 over Poland in a World Cup qualifier in June 1989 was one of the Wembley highlights of the Robson years.

 

February 18th, 1987 – Spain (a) 4-2 (Friendly)
There was a time in the mid to late 1980s that, if they clicked, England looked as dangerous going forward as any side in the world. It didn’t always work out but if Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Bryan Robson et al were on top of their game then few defences would find it easy to live with them. This was one of those games when the forward line was on-form, making it a happy 54th birthday for Bobby Robson. Lineker had moved to Barcelona after the 1986 World Cup and his stock was to rise in Spain as he tore the home side apart in Madrid. England recovered from being 1-0 down to lead 4-1, as Lineker scored all of them past Barcelona team-mate Andoni Zubizarreta. Robson’s side could even afford to concede a second goal before the end and still win comfortably against a fellow World Cup quarter-finalist. Another friendly win worth remembering came away to Soviet Union in March 1986, the 1-0 success inflicting a rare home defeat on the USSR.

 

November 11th, 1987 – Yugoslavia (a) 4-1 (European Championship qualifier)
Another example of England looking unstoppable, with the goals flying in against decent opposition. Played in foul weather in Belgrade, England could have been forgiven for keeping it tight and settling for the draw they needed to qualify for the European Championship finals. But Bobby Robson’s side were brimming with confidence after beating Turkey 8-0 the previous month and they destroyed Yugoslavia in the opening 25 minutes. An early Peter Beardsley goal settled the nerves, with further efforts from John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams ensuring the game was settled long before half-time. Yugoslavia could only manage one goal after the break, as England deservedly clinched their place in the Euro finals. Sadly, it’s fair to say what happened there will not rate as a highlight of the Bobby Robson England reign and he once more became a target for the tabloids.

 

July 4th, 1990 – West Germany (n) 1-1 (World Cup semi-final – lost on penalties)
It ended in heartache, but this was the night that cemented Bobby Robson’s reputation as an England hero. He’d become the first England manager to guide England into the World Cup last four on foreign soil, Robson memorably dancing a jig of delight as David Platt scored a last-gasp winner against Belgium in the second round and then breathing a huge sigh of relief as his men edged out Cameroon in an enthralling quarter-final. But now came the major test, up against the World Cup favourites in Turin and needing to perform better than in the previous rounds if they were to stand a chance of winning. England gave what was widely considered to be their best performance at a major finals for years, genuinely having a go at their highly-rated hosts and winning over many critics.

You all know what ultimately happened, as it took a penalty-shoot-out to separate the sides on a night of high emotion and tears. England returned home with their pride intact and the departing Robson could bask in a level of public affection he had not always enjoyed in the previous eight years. A knighthood would eventually come his way. With every passing World Cup disappointment since then, England’s achievements in Italy grow more impressive and may not be matched for some time yet.