Ron Greenwood

Book Review – Out of the Shadows

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England’s 1982 World Cup campaign has been recalled in the new book Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team by Gary Jordan. It takes us back 35 years to the days of Admiral kits, Ron Greenwood and an injury-hit Kevin Keegan…

There are two conflicting perspectives that exist concerning England’s 1982 World Cup campaign. The first is that it’s a tournament England could quite feasibly have won, the side starting superbly against France and cruelly being eliminated after not losing any games, conceding only one goal in five matches and having the misfortune to land a tougher second round draw by winning their first round group than if they had finished runners-up. But the second viewpoint is that England weren’t really that great as they struggled to qualify, only really excelled in one game during the tournament and displayed far more caution than they should have in the second group phase as they limped out when a great opportunity lay in front of them.

That lack of consensus is evident in Gary Jordan’s impressive new book Out of the Shadows, which provides a detailed look back at how Ron Greenwood’s men performed in Spain. After England won away to Wales in April 1982, the Welsh manager Mike England was damning about his namesakes and suggested they would be lucky to get out of the initial group stage; after England had exited in the second round group phase – effectively the quarter-finals – midfielder Ray Wilkins would state the side were “second-best of the 24” with only Brazil being better. “We all thought we were very unlucky,” writes Paul Mariner in the book’s foreword. If the opinions are balanced out, the reality of how good England were lay probably somewhere in between – about the position they ranked during the tournament.

But as Wilkins would state: “The nagging feeling remains we could have gone further.” For the decisive game against Spain, England knew they would have to score at least twice to top the second round group ahead of West Germany – with the Spaniards already out of their own party. The three-team group format was not without its faults, not least that a 2-1 England win would see their fate decided by the toss of a coin. But England wouldn’t get the goals required to even achieve that. Substitutes Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan missed key chances to break the deadlock after finally taking to the field following injury-plagued tournaments, as the game ended goalless. Jordan writes: “The dream was tantalisingly close, and yet in this game where they needed inspiration and goals, both were lacking.”

Keegan’s battle to be fit figures prominently, the captain and star name facing a race against time to shake off his back injury and finally appear at a World Cup finals. Imagine during next year’s World Cup if an injured Harry Kane drove 250 miles through the night in the hotel receptionist’s tiny car to then catch a flight so he could go and see a specialist in the land of England’s group rivals. The book details Keegan doing just that, increasingly disillusioned with the treatment given by England’s medics and knowing a specialist in Hamburg – where he had played for three years – could improve matters. He persuaded Greenwood to let him go ahead with his plan and put himself back in the World Cup reckoning, It’s a story which reminds us just how desperate Keegan was to play in that World Cup, not least because he was never realistically going to get another chance. He’d had a long wait to appear in one in the first place.

As the book’s title reminds us, this was England’s first World Cup finals for 12 years. It would be the equivalent of England now preparing for their first World Cup since 2006 after being absent in 2010 and 2014 (some might say that would have been preferable given how they performed in those two tournaments!). The proceeding years of struggle are recalled, especially the period after Greenwood took over as manager in 1977.

Come the finals England would come out of the blocks with three wins from as many games in the first group stage, then fail to score thereafter. It was the opposite of such fondly remembered England campaigns as the World Cups of 1966 and 1990 and Euro ’96, where they improved after labouring in their first game. It was also in contrast to Italy, who scraped through the first round round without winning before going on to be champions. As Jordan writes: “Italy started slowly and went though the tournament getting better with each game. England were the opposite, playing premium football at the start, only to run out goals at the end.” 

Ron Greenwood was England’s manager during the 1982 World Cup.

And that failure to score in the second round looms large. Writing of Greenwood, who retired as planned after the finals, Jordan states: “Having come away from the tournament unbeaten was an achievement, but to have come so close to a semi-final place at the very least but fall short due to a freeze in front of goal was galling. He walked away from the job after five years of struggle, grief, joy and relief in the knowledge that he had brought back some pride within the team and for the fans who deserved better than to be stuck in no man’s land on the world stage.”

It’s a fair summary. England had at least got back to their familiar exit level of just missing out on a semi-final place, which was less than the ultimate target but far better than the previous decade had yielded. Yet a nagging feeling persists it could have been more and Keegan’s miss would symbolise the opportunity that was there in front of them. There’s no guarantee that England would have got the required second goal had he scored, but it remains a ‘what if?’ moment. So too does whether England would have thrived more if he and Brooking had been fit for the whole tournament, rather than less than half an hour of it. Mariner certainly suggests things would have been different, echoing the thoughts of Kenny Sansom.

There’s plenty more to enjoy and recall here. The painful struggle England faced to qualify and how the senior players talked Greenwood out of calling it a day in the summer of 1981; the defensive crisis England endured that continually left Greenwood without a settled back line ahead of the finals; the balls-up made during the World Cup draw in front of the watching millions around the world; the potential threat the Falklands War was posing to the side’s presence in the finals; Bryan Robson scoring after just 27 seconds against France; the dilemma Greenwood faced over selecting Ray Clemence or Peter Shilton until he eventually finally picked his number one; and the Admiral shirts England wore out in Spain, with the polyester design proving particularly uncomfortable in the win over France in the Bilbao heat.

If you are of a certain age, it’s likely the England World Cup song This Time will be in your head as you read it all. Countless books have been written concerning the England’s team’s history, but very little has been devoted to the Greenwood era and the 1982 World Cup campaign. This book puts that right and gives long overdue attention to England’s return to international football’s biggest tournament after 12 years in the wilderness. We are sure ‘Reverend Ron’ would have given it his blessing.

  • Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team is out now and is written by Gary Jordan and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from sources including Amazon

England scrape into the 1982 World Cup 

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Today marks the 35th anniversary of England facing a decisive World Cup qualifier at home to Hungary. It had been a fraught qualifying campaign, but all would end happily for Ron Greenwood’s men as they made it through to the 1982 tournament in Spain…

On September 9, 1981, all hopes seemed lost of England reaching the 1982 World Cup in Spain after suffering an infamous defeat in Norway. With favourites Hungary and Romania – plus outside bet Switzerland – having games in hand, it was out of England’s hands. Things got even worse two weeks later, when Romania and Hungary drew 0-0. This meant that if Hungary took maximum points from their games against Norway and Switzerland and Romania picked up a win and a draw from two meetings with the Swiss, then it would be game over for England before they played their last match at home to Hungary on November 18. All the nation could do was hope.

When Romania took the lead during the second half at home to Switzerland on October 10, it looked just about the end for England and manager Ron Greenwood. But then the Swiss unexpectedly fought back to win 2-1 and throw England a sizeable lifeline. Whatever happened in the other qualifiers, matters were in English hands again. Hungary duly won their next two qualifiers to book their place as one of the top two – and end Swiss hopes at the same time – while a draw in the return game between Switzerland and Romania meant the picture had now totally changed from a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, England needed only a point at home to Hungary to qualify. They had much to thank the Swiss for.

So too did the Football Association. England’s lifeline had seen ticket sales escalate from about 30,000 to a 92,000 midweek Wembley sell-out, meaning the match could be shown live on television (quite a rarity for home games at the time apart from when Scotland visited). The BBC would have the rights, Jimmy Hill hosting live from the stadium in the company of pundits Bobby Charlton, Lawrie McMenemy and Bob Wilson. England looked to finally make it through to a World Cup finals after their failures for the 1974 and 1978 tournaments. Having qualified automatically in 1966 (hosts) and 1970 (holders), it was some 20 years since the Three Lions had last successfully come through a World Cup qualifying group. Missing out again didn’t bear thinking about, particularly now the expanded finals contained 24 teams.

Memories of ’73 evoked

Comparisons were being drawn in the build-up to England’s often-recalled costly draw against Poland at Wembley eight years earlier, not least because Peter Shilton would again be in goal for England. But the situation was not quite the same or as worrying. This time around a draw would be sufficient for England and it was not a head-to-head fight, given Hungary were already through and guaranteed top spot. England had been the only side to beat the Hungarians so far, their excellent 3-1 win in Budapest in June 1981 being at odds with much of the rest of their stumbling qualifying campaign. Now it remained to be seen how determined Hungary were to help out their Eastern European rivals Romania – a side who could unbelievably qualify having scored just five goals in eight matches (two of them against England).

Certainly Hungary did not seem to be sending out the message that they were determined to win at Wembley. “It will be a very nice result for us if we get a draw and I’m sure that will suit England as well,” claimed manager Kalman Meszoly. But Greenwood wasn’t buying such thoughts. “It would be a very clever and far-reaching mind that sent a team out just to get a draw,” he said. “The object of football is to win and score goals. To imagine they would let us win is just not on.”

Do or die for England


And so the nation anxiously waited for this do or die match, willing to forget about the turbulent qualifying campaign if the team could get the result needed to go through. Needing a draw at home is not always to a side’s advantage, as they can seem caught between a natural instinct to attack the visitors and a fear of conceding a vital goal. The situation was effectively identical to when England played Croatia in the infamous Euro 2008 qualifier 26 years later – the visitors having already qualified and England needing just to draw – and like on that painful occasion England would be having to make defensive changes, with young West Ham United defender Alvin Martin stepping into the breach at centre back to replace Dave Watson.

The smart money was on a draw, given that’s what England needed, considering their poor recent form and in recognition of Hungary’s qualities. England had never lost a World Cup match at Wembley – they could ill-afford for it to be now when that record ended. Not that Wembley was quite the fortress it once was, with England having failed to win any of their five home games in 1981 so far. Steve Curry wrote in the Daily Express: “I think England will go to Spain, though the nation may have to endure a night of torture and tension in a low scoring draw. What I am certain of is that every England player knows what the nation expects and is prepared to run himself to exhaustion to achieve it.”

It promised to be a tense night in the Wembley rain, but much of the anxiety eased as Paul Mariner scored after 14 minutes. Terry McDermott floated a free-kick into the area, with goalkeeper Ferenc Meszaros unable to claim in a crowded area. It fell to Trevor Brooking, who fired away from goal into the path of Paul Mariner. The Ipswich Town forward seemed to stumble as he shot, but he managed to divert the ball into the net. It was a slightly strange goal to sum up a surreal qualifying campaign, but also a vitally important one. Wembley erupted, several players mobbing Mariner while old campaigners Brooking and captain Kevin Keegan embraced each other a few yards away. They had waited their whole careers to play at a World Cup – now it was finally within sight.

Seeing the game out

England now effectively had a two-goal cushion in terms of what was needed to qualify, something that would only have been taken away if Hungary had scored with both shots they managed during the night as they offered little going forward. Shilton dealt competently with both efforts, as the shots poured in at the other end towards Meszaros – who had recently helped his Sporting Lisbon side knock Keegan and Southampton out of the UEFA Cup.

England could have won by a big score as they looked to wrap up the win in the second half, with players including Keegan, McDermott, Bryan Robson and substitute debutant Tony Morley all going close. Yet the real issue was England didn’t throw it all away and thankfully they were not troubled, the only disappointment being they didn’t add to their goal tally. Although the pessimists couldn’t relax until it was over, the match wasn’t quite the anxiety-fest that had been anticipated with the England defence holding firm. Keegan picked up a cut lip for his troubles, but he wasn’t complaining. Like several of his colleagues, he was set to finally grace a World Cup finals when it was probably going to be his last chance (butthings wouldn’t go to plan quite as much as he hoped – a story for another day).

The atmosphere at Wembley was frenzied, TV viewers able to hear the passionate singing as the referee prepared to blow the final whistle. Thousands roared as the 1-0 win was confirmed and England had finally made it. “England are back” chanted the crowd, while Greenwood was given a belated 60th birthday present – a week after reaching the landmark – as he could look forward to bowing out from management on the greatest stage.

The media reaction to England’s progression was positive, Alan Thomson writing in the Daily Express: “Don’t look for heroes this morning – just salute them all. Last night England played with a new-born pride and passion, with fury and with skill. But most of all they played their football from the heart and by doing so they restored to us our dignity.” Stuart Jones began his report in The Times by writing: “England have reached the World Cup finals in Spain. These nine words cannot begin to tell the tale of the last 14 torturous months, but in years to come they will be all that matters. For now the disappointment of Switzerland and despair of Norway are forgotten, pushed to the back shelf of the memory by the events that unfolded in the drizzle of Wembley last night.”

It had been a joyful end to a campaign that had been extremely stressful at times, England losing more World Cup qualifiers in this series than in total previously. Yet a combination of good fortune and making the most of a second opportunity that was unexpectedly handed their way meant Greenwood and his players – affectionately dubbed ‘Dad’s Army’ – could look ahead to a summer in Spain…

Six of the Best – England caretaker managers

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With interim boss Gareth Southgate about to manage England for the first time against Malta, we look back at the six previous occasions the side was led by temporary managers…

Joe Mercer


Of the men to lead England on a caretaker basis without getting the job permanently, Joe Mercer would easily have the busiest reign – his seven-game run also proving six matches longer than Sam Allardyce’s stint as ‘permanent’ manager! Coventry City general manager Mercer took the England job at a difficult time, the team having failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup and with Sir Alf Ramsey having been sacked. ‘Genial Joe’ was left to work with the players selected for the end of season matches by Ramsey, but helped stamp his own identity on the team as he sought for England to regain the smile that had been lost with their recent decline.

Keith Weller gives Joe Mercer’s England victory over Northern Ireland in 1974.

Taking the job shortly before his 60th birthday, Mercer won his first two games in May 1974 against Wales and Northern Ireland before losing to Scotland in a decisive Home International Championship match. That was the first of five successive matches Mercer would face against sides who, unlike England, would be going to the World Cup. There was a lot of national pride at stake, the nation wanting to believe the qualification failure was a mere fluke. A ‘friendly’ at home to Argentina took place with some scars having not totally healed from their infamous World Cup quarter-final in 1966. The Argentine referee awarded the visitors a late penalty that was converted as the fiery contest ended 2-2.

England then headed to Europe for a three-match tour, which yielded a 1-1 draw with East Germany, a 1-0 win over Bulgaria and a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia. Mercer proved popular with the players and achieved good results, but the Football Association was setting its sight on someone else for the job full-time. When England next took to the field in October, Don Revie was in charge.

Ron Greenwood

Following Revie’s sudden departure to the United Arab Emirates in the summer of 1977, the FA offered Ron Greenwood the chance to step into the breach for three games. Greenwood had moved upstairs at West Ham United but was happy to get his tracksuit back on and lead the national team. He quickly showed he was willing to do his own thing when he selected six Liverpool players for a goalless friendly against Switzerland, before the next game produced a 2-0 win away to Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier. England’s hopes of qualifying were very slim but a 2-0 win over Italy in their final game – while proving insufficient – gave cause for optimism for the future. Despite a public clamour for Brian Clough to get the job full-time, Greenwood was given the nod – remaining in the role until 1982.

Howard Wilkinson

Glenn Hoddle’s dismissal as England boss in February 1999 left England needing to find a manager for the friendly against world champions France at Wembley a week later. Howard Wilkinson, who was the FA’s technical director and had led Leeds United to the First Division title in 1992, was the man placed in temporary charge. He suffered a 2-0 defeat to the French and within days Kevin Keegan had replaced him.

In October 2000, Keegan suddenly quit after England lost 1-0 to Germany in the last match at the old Wembley. The timing was far from ideal, given the side faced a World Cup qualifier in Finland just four days later. Wilkinson was again asked to lead the side, with England labouring to a 0-0 draw – although they would believe Ray Parlour’s effort crossed the line. It was the last time Wilkinson managed the national side, although he did have a spell in charge of the under-21s.

Kevin Keegan


Kevin Keegan makes a winning start with England thanks to Paul Scholes.

During the caretaker reigns of both Mercer and Greenwood, Kevin Keegan had been a player. In February 1999 he accepted the England manager’s position for a four-game period, combining the caretaker role with managing Fulham full-time. Keegan got a fine response from the players in his first game in March, Paul Scholes scoring a hat-trick against Poland as England won 3-1 in a vital Euro 2000 qualifier. Keegan got on with leading Fulham to promotion from the Second Division, but by the time he next managed England for a 1-1 friendly draw away to Hungary in late April there was increasing speculation he could stay beyond the intended four games with his country. Sure enough, within days it was announced he was leaving Fulham. He remained in charge of England until October 2000, struggling to recapture the euphoria of the Poland game.

Peter Taylor


Peter Taylor handed David Beckham the England captaincy.

The year 2000 was a good one for former England player Peter Taylor. He led Gillingham to victory in the Second Division play-off final, then moved to Leicester City and briefly took them to the top of the Premier League early in the 2000-01 season. And in November he was given the chance to manage England for their friendly away to Italy, assisted by Steve McClaren. By then Sven-Goran Eriksson had been confirmed as new permanent manager but he was still under contract with Lazio, so Taylor was in charge for this match. The former England under-21s manager fielded a largely youthful side, with his most significant move being to hand David Beckham the captaincy for the first time. England lost 1-0 and, with Eriksson leaving Lazio earlier than expected in January 2001, it was to be the only time Taylor managed his country at full level.

Stuart Pearce

Gareth Southgate joins several of his interim predecessors in having also led the England under-21s. One of them, Southgate’s former England team-mate Stuart Pearce, was given his one chance to manage the England senior team against the Netherlands in February 2012 for a Wembley friendly following Fabio Capello’s departure. Pearce had been part of the senior coaching set-up under Capello and seemed a suitable figure to step into the breach. Unfortunately England suffered a 3-2 defeat and Roy Hodgson would be in permanent charge by the time of the next match three months later. Pearce was to lead Team GB during London 2012’s men’s football competition, but the following year he lost his role with England under-21s following a poor European Championship.

The Great Uncapped – Billy Bonds

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The recent appointment of Sam Allardyce as England manager has led to speculation that Mark Noble will win his first international cap, having played under Allardyce at West Ham United. But should the call never come then Noble can probably take some comfort in not being the first Hammer to be thwarted in his international ambitions. Club legend Billy Bonds would come closer than most, but ultimately take his place in many people’s England uncapped XI…

There are a lot of names put forward whenever the subjects of England’s most notable uncapped players comes up, but one you can guarantee will be mentioned is Billy Bonds. The man who turned 70 last week played 758 Football League matches in a 24-year professional career with Charlton Athletic and, mostly, West Ham United. While giving extraordinarily long service to the latter he captained them to two FA Cup triumphs and he was called up to the England squad. But Bonds would just fall short, never pulling on an England shirt after under-23s level.

Bonds had a fairly fearless reputation on the field but off it he was seen as a quiet man. His friend Trevor Brooking, who played alongside him at West Ham for many years, believes this probably helped cost Bonds his England chance. “Had he pushed himself to the forefront more I believe he would have played for England. He’s one of the best players of my generation never to have won an England cap,” wrote Brooking in his autobiography.

Harry Redknapp, who played and worked with Bonds at West Ham before the pair fell out when he replaced him as manager in 1994, also hailed Bonds’ playing ability. “Billy Bonds was the most fantastic player,” he wrote in his autobiography. “What would West Ham United, or any other club for that matter, give to have him now? He could play central midfield, centre-back, full-back; he was fearless in the tackle, he could run all day.” As we will see though, not everyone thought quite so highly of Bonds.

Greenwood calls up Bonds

Bonds would twice look set to be capped, only for the dream to cruelly be dashed. He had played for England twice at under-23 level, but he was 31 when his first real chink of light emerged. His old West Ham boss Ron Greenwood was appointed caretaker manager in 1977 and in November Bonds was called into the full squad for the final World Cup qualifier at home to Italy. All looked to be going well for Bonds, who had missed much of the season through injury but was now back in action.

The call-up for Bonds was not met with universal approval, Norman Fox in The Times rather dismissively describing him as “a player who probably has many equals who would not be considered”. But Greenwood was keen to play down any suggestions he was handing out favours to a player who had served him well previously, insisting Bonds had been picked after recommendations from others. The fact he was versatile and could operate in midfield or defence helped Bonds’ cause.

The player found support from Daily Mirror sports writer Frank McGhee, a man who tended to shoot from the hip. “Ron Greenwood has done something daft, delightful and possibly inspired in what could be his final act as England manager,” he wrote. “He has put into his squad to play against, and probably lose to, Italy at Wembley next week, a 31-year-old unranked but very effective person whom he will remember from his West Ham days – a guy called Billy Bonds. You wouldn’t rate Bonds a particularly good player, but then neither are many of the other 22 players Greenwood named yesterday. England just don’t happen to have many good players. What Bonds happens to have is something special. It is called character and I have always been convinced that this quality is the surest way of bridging the considerable gap between club and international football.”

Bonds was left watching on as England beat Italy.

And then came a club match against West Bromwich Albion just four days before the Italy clash. Greenwood would unfortunately see Bonds find the going tough in a 3-3 draw. David Miller wrote in the Daily Express: “The message to Ron Greenwood as he sat watching a 3-3 draw at Upton Park was crystal clear: his call to Billy Bonds comes several years too late for the rugged warhorse.” On the eve of the game the team was announced, with Bonds only on the bench. Greenwood insisted Bonds had only been selected for the squad as defensive cover, with his first-choice selections given the green light to play.

Bonds watched on as England beat Italy 2-0, a result that proved uplifting but insufficient for the team to reach the World Cup finals. Greenwood was given the job permanently but Bonds would stay uncapped as he moved towards his mid-30s. West Ham’s relegation in 1978 did not help his cause either. But then came the 1980-81 season, an Indian summer for Bonds. A year on from lifting the FA Cup for the second time, Bonds captained West Ham to the League Cup final against Liverpool, played in Europe and helped his side to a dominant Second Division title. And in May 1981 another call came from Greenwood.

The cap that almost was

England had a decimated squad for the friendly against Brazil and the Home Internationals that would follow, with their defensive options particularly limited. Greenwood looked towards his former club, believing Bonds and promising youngster Alvin Martin could fill the void. Just a few months short of his 35th birthday, Bonds was in line to become one of England’s oldest debutants. “I thought my chance had passed by years ago,” admitted Bonds, who added that he would be particularly pleased for his father if he was capped at last. It was reported Charlton stood to scoop a belated £2,500 bonus if Bonds played, owing to a clause in the deal when he left them in 1967.

All that was left was one end-of-season match for West Ham on a Friday night at Sheffield Wednesday, with the title already long wrapped up. Just 90 more minutes of club football to get through and then he could at last represent his country at full level. West Ham won, but Bonds injured his ribs after a clash with goalkeeper Phil Parkes. He played on and was adamant that he, along with Martin who had also picked up a knock, would be fit for the Brazil match. “I’m 99% sure we will be ok for the internationals. But we will know for sure in the morning,” Bonds said, having helped his side finish 13 points clear at the top (a huge amount under two points for a win).

Was he trying to put a brave face on it or did his injury seem less severe than the reality? Because Bonds would duly be ruled out of representing his country, as Martin (the only recognised central defender in the side) duly made his debut during a 1-0 defeat to Brazil. For Bonds there was a feeling his last realistic chance had passed. And so it proved. No caps would come his way.

But Bonds continued to serve West Ham well, playing for them beyond his 40th birthday in the top-flight until he finally called it a day in 1988 (later becoming manager). That year also saw him appointed an MBE and collect the PFA Merit Award in recognition of his contribution to the sport. Bonds may not have won any full England caps, but he had enjoyed a career to be proud of.

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

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

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

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

Flying start

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

England enjoy a winning start in Finland.

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

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

Roberto Bettega ensures England are beaten by Italy.

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

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

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

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

The end for Revie

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes fade away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England’s Euro ’80 – Hopes go up in smoke

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Today we look back at England’s fortunes in the 1980 European Championship. The competition marked England’s return to major tournaments after a lengthy absence, but they would make a quick exit – and the behaviour of a section of their followers would make all the headlines… 

England qualified in style for Euro ’80, winning seven of their eight matches to secure their place in the finals. This was to be the first European Championship to resemble a proper tournament, with the quarter-finals no longer played over two legs. Instead there would now be two groups of four teams in Italy, with the winners of each section progressing to the final. England were in the easier-looking of the two groups, having avoided a section which included holders Czechoslovakia, World Cup runners-up Netherlands and 1974 world champions West Germany. Instead, England’s main concern looked to be the hosts Italy, who they would face along with Belgium and Spain.

The qualifying campaign had raised expectations for England, along with an impressive 2-0 away win in a friendly against Spain in March 1980 and beating world champions Argentina in May. But four days later they were brought down to earth with a 4-1 loss to Wales at Wrexham. It was hard to be sure just how England would fare in Italy, but if Ron Greenwood could replicate the success of English club sides in Europe then they had every chance. While the national team had been experiencing a lean period, English clubs had dominated the European Cup for the past four years with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest each winning it twice. Both clubs would be well represented in the squad, including the goalkeepers of Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. This tournament would see Greenwood let the goalkeepers share duties, as he would continue to do until he finally picked Shilton as clear number one for the 1982 World Cup. One unfortunate absentee was forward Trevor Francis, ruled out through injury.

England’s absence from recent major competitions meant for virtually all the squad this would be their first major tournament, with Emlyn Hughes the only player left who went to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico (he didn’t play in either competition). Kevin Keegan had become the star England player of his era, but this was finally his chance to appear in a major finals. There were injury concerns about him prior to the competition, but he insisted he was fit to play. “I’m ready for Italy. There are no excuses now if we don’t do well,” he said. The build-up seemed very low-key by today’s standards. The back pages were dominated by cricket until the tournament began and England flew out to Italy just two days before their opening match. England may have been back in the big time, but this clearly did not compare to the World Cup – although they visited 10 Downing Street shortly before the finals. Kevin Keegan seemed to see the funny side as he met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher!

Trouble in Turin

England would start their tournament against Belgium in Turin on June 12. The Belgians were quoted as saying they did not expect to beat England, but Greenwood wasn’t buying it. “We don’t in any way underestimate them,” he said ahead of the match. “They are a strong side, a side with experience even if they are unpredictable.” The tournament was blighted by poor attendances and just 15,186 were in the Stadio Comunale to see Ray Wilkins put England ahead after 25 minutes. Not a renowned goalscorer, Wilkins expertly played the ball over the Belgian defence and ran through to then chip goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff and score. Surely this goal would set England on their way to victory and potentially a place in the final? Sadly not. Just four minutes later Jan Ceulemans equalised for Belgium. 

It was then that England’s tournament was tarnished. Fighting broke out on the terraces, with tear gas fired by police in a bid to quell the violence. Goalkeeper Clemence briefly lost vision due to the spray, with the match stopped for five minutes. There had been disorder involving English hooligans before, but this incident marked a new low point – inside the stadium during a major tournament, with the match halted as a result. Greenwood fumed afterwards: “We have done everything to create the right impression, then these bastards let you down.” He added: “I wish they could all be put in a boat and dropped in the ocean.” If this was the normally diplomatic Greenwood speaking out like this, one can only imagine what Brian Clough would have come out with if he’d been in charge…

Tear gas was sprayed during England’s match against Belgium.

The match was always going to struggle to get going again after the trouble, but in the closing stages England thought they had regained the lead through Tony Woodcock. But his effort was controversially ruled out and the decision would prove significant in the final reckoning. The match ended 1-1, representing a point dropped for England but with them still in with a shout of reaching the final.

The aftermath of the match was overshadowed by the crowd trouble and the FA being fined £8,000, which was considered a token gesture amid fears of possible expulsion. Under the headline of ‘Softies’, Frank McGhee angrily wrote in the Daily Mirror: “That is roughly the equivalent of a slap on the wrist with a wet lettuce leaf, or trying to starve a rich man to death by stealing a single potato from his plate. No one among the England officials out here is actually saying so, but you would have to nail their feet to the floor to prevent a dance of delight at the decision. I could belabour the metaphor forever because I am so cross about it. Punishment should hurt – and this one doesn’t.”

Hopes end after two games

England fans were now being urged to hide their colours en route to their next match – a Sunday night showdown with Italy in Turin. It was a match of vital importance, both in terms of England’s hopes of winning the tournament and the need for their fans to behave themselves. Off the field there was mercifully no repeat of the scenes three days earlier, with most England fans having walked together from the railway station in a bid to avoid attacks. On the pitch, whoever lost was staring elimination in the face. Italy had drawn 0-0 with Spain in their opening game, with the Spaniards then losing to Belgium. The Belgians were emerging as a surprise package, but the match between Italy and England was the blue riband fixture of the group and a crowd of 59,649 was the highest of the tournament. Italy’s preparations for the tournament had been hit by a bribery scandal, with forward Paulo Rossi banned as a result.

England and Italy prepare for their group stage showdown.

Greenwood handed a start to young Nottingham Forest forward Garry Birtles. An even contest ensued, settled 11 minutes from time with Phil Neal taking the blame for failing to win a tackle against Francesco Graziani. He put over an excellent cross for Marco Tardelli to score from close range past Shilton. Earlier Ray Kennedy had struck the woodwork for England, as they suffered a 1-0 defeat which made it impossible for them to win the competition. Their only hope now was they could win through to the third place play-off if they beat Spain. Trying to remain upbeat, Greenwood said: “We have got to keep our sights on that target and I’m proud that the spirit in the team is still sky-high. Phil Neal is blaming himself but no one else is blaming him.”

Pride restored

Greenwood again made changes for the Spain game, meaning 19 members of the squad enjoyed gametime in Italy. Trevor Brooking gave England the lead, but three minutes into the second half Dani equalised from the spot. He strode up to beat Clemence with another penalty a few minutes later, only for the referee to spot an infringement and order a retake. This time around Clemence saved and England were off the hook. They took advantage of this with Woodcock restoring their lead to give them a 2-1 victory. England had created a series of chances in the match with Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada continually denying them. But Greenwood wasn’t overjoyed with the win. “We played much better against Italy,” he admitted.

Ray Clemence saves a penalty as England beat Spain.

England now basically needed a team to win between Italy and Belgium later on to reach the third place match, certainly if the Belgians lost by at least two goals. But it wasn’t to be. Italy could not make the breakthrough, with the 0-0 draw meaning Belgium were surprisingly through to the final against West Germany. Italy’s dreams of glory were over, the only goal in any of their three group games being their winner against England. 

For England, the tournament set the trend for their other overseas European Championship appearances over the next 20 years. They would make a swift return home and with the conduct of a section of their fans having brought shame upon the nation. We have previously recalled how Euro ’80 – or Europa ’80 as it was generally known at the time – was not considered a success amid low crowds, negative tactics, criticisms of the competition’s format and the hooliganism seen during England’s match against Belgium. That would unfortunately be the tournament’s lasting image in England. The ‘English Disease’ was taking hold and further violence would follow on several occasions when England travelled abroad in the ensuing years.

On the field it had been a mixed bag for England. In today’s world a record of a win, a draw and a defeat from matches against Belgium, Italy and Spain would probably be considered a good return. Even at the time it represented disappointment over an early exit rather than abject failure. In keeping with Greenwood’s reign as a whole, England were neither good nor bad really. Yet it might have all been different. Had Woodcock’s disallowed goal against Belgium been allowed to stand and subsequent results stayed the same, England would have topped the group and been in the final. How differently we might look back at this tournament if that goal had been allowed…

Six of the Best – England under Ron Greenwood

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This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of former England manager Ron Greenwood. Today we recall six of the best games of his reign, choosing one match per year from 1977 to 1982.

November 16, 1977 Italy (h) 2-0, World Cup qualifier

  

Trevor Brooking in action for England against Italy in 1977.

Ron Greenwood was still in caretaker charge of England when they faced Italy in their last World Cup qualifying match in November 1977. Whatever England did, the night was always likely to be tinged with disappointment as Italy still had the luxury of a home game against whipping boys Luxembourg to come to claim the qualification spot. To make things genuinely tough for the Italians, England would need to beat them by several goals to potentially go through on goal difference. 

Most had accepted it wouldn’t happen and simply wanted to see the team restore pride with a good performance and win. They duly did so, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scoring as England triumphed 2-0 and the crowd went home satisfied with what they had seen. The FA evidently felt the same way as Greenwood was handed the job on a permanent basis the following month ahead of Brian Clough.

May 24, 1978 Hungary (h) 4-1, Friendly

Greenwood made a positive start in the England job and the Home International Championship was won before they concluded the 1977-78 season with a friendly against Hungary, who had qualified for the World Cup. England’s display gave cause for optimism as they beat the Hungarians 4-1 with Peter Barnes, Phil Neal (penalty), Trevor Francis and Tony Currie all finding the net. “England are back” chanted the buoyant Wembley crowd. It may only have been a friendly but there was a new-found belief about England and it boded well for the qualifying programme for the 1980 European Championship.

In The Times, Norman Fox wrote: “England offered their apologies for not qualifying for the World Cup when, at Wembley last night, they gave their best display since being taken over by Ron Greenwood. Against the Hungarians, who 25 years before had been the first foreign team to beat them at this stadium, they showed that in a few months they had learned a lot.”

June 6, 1979 Bulgaria (a) 3-0, European Championship qualifier

In a grim 1970s England had paid for away defeats to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Italy as they crashed out in three successive qualifying groups. Now they headed to Sofia standing every chance of making the 1980 European Championship, knowing that getting a good result in a potentially tough away match against Bulgaria would boost their prospects. They duly did that, winning 3-0 in energy-sapping heat to get the nation believing they were at last going to see England in a major tournament again. Kevin Keegan put England in front, before two goals in a minute from Dave Watson and Peter Barnes sealed the win. 

Greenwood purred: “We are trying to produce what I think is essential in world football – complete technique in every department with the physical effort to go with it.” There was no looking back and qualification was all but wrapped up in October with a 5-1 away win against Northern Ireland. With a qualifying record of seven wins and a draw from eight matches, it proved to be a very successful campaign for England and Greenwood.

May 13, 1980 Argentina (h) 3-1, Friendly

  

Diego Maradona was on the losing side against England in 1980.

In May 1980 England were preparing for the European Championship finals and they welcomed world champions Argentina to Wembley, which was full to its 92,000 night-time capacity. The match afforded the English public a first chance to see 19-year-old Diego Maradona in action and, although only a friendly, it would also act as a useful yardstick as to how good England now actually were. Sporting a new-look kit, England delivered and went 2-0 up thanks to goals from the impressive David Johnson either side of half-time. Daniel Passarella pulled a goal back from the penalty spot before Kevin Keegan sealed a 3-1 win for England, leaving fans genuinely optimistic for the summer in Italy. Hailing Johnson, Daily Express reporter Peter Edwards wrote: “A 92,000 crowd that had come to pay homage to £3m-rated Diego Maradona left saluting the exuberant Liverpool striker.”

Typically the euphoria proved short-lived, England being beaten 4-1 by Wales just four days later and then failing to progress beyond the group stage at the Euros. Now their attention turned to trying to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.

June 6, 1981 Hungary (a) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

England’s qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup was fraught and a poor 2-1 defeat in Switzerland in May saw Greenwood, 59, make up his mind to retire. He would delay his announcement until after the following weekend’s tough-looking trip to Hungary, where few were expecting an England win after a dreadful run of form. The recalled Trevor Brooking gave them the lead in Budapest, only for Hungary to level before the break through Imre Garaba after a mistake by Ray Clemence. But in the second half Brooking restored England’s advantage with a beautiful shot that saw the ball memorably became lodged in the stanchion of the goal, describing it as the “finest goal I scored in my entire career” in his autobiography. Kevin Keegan wrapped up a fine 3-1 win from the penalty spot and qualifying for Spain was now a realistic possibility again.

  

Trevor Brooking scores for England against Hungary.

On the flight home, Greenwood informed the players he was quitting but they talked him out of it and he focused again on leading England to the World Cup. Another bad defeat in Norway left alarm bells ringing, but other results went in their favour and a joyful 1-0 win over Hungary in the return game at Wembley saw them through to their first World Cup finals since 1970.

June 16, 1982 France (n) 3-1, World Cup qualifier

Greenwood was to leave the England job after the 1982 World Cup – this time not being persuaded to continue – and he looked to go out with the nation basking in success. England’s first match of the tournament brought them up against a decent France side featuring Michel Platini in Bilbao. Those English fans in the stadium or who had rushed home from work or school to watch it on TV were rewarded as Bryan Robson famously opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. Gerard Soler pulled France level but Robson headed England back into the lead during the second half. Paul Mariner wrapped up the 3-1 victory and England could savour beating their main threat in the group. 

It had been a long wait to see England play at a World Cup and the team had responded with a performance that they would struggle to match in the remainder of the tournament. Greenwood, who gave credit to assistant Don Howe for the set-piece which they scored their opener from, said: “Everyone in the England camp is delighted with the result and I think everyone agrees that we deserved it.”

  

Bryan Robson opens the scoring after 27 seconds against France.

Although England did not concede in any of their other four games at the tournament, their goals dried up and successive 0-0 draws against West Germany and Spain in the second group phase saw them make a rather low-key exit. They came in for criticism for their negative approach in the second phase and it marked a slightly anti-climatic ending to the manager’s reign. Greenwood’s England had been beaten just once across eight matches at two major tournaments, but at neither did they make the final four. 

Greenwood called time on his football career, other than offering his opinions as a radio summariser. He died on February 9, 2006, aged 84. Although he may not have received the widespread tributes when he died that were afforded to his successor, Sir Bobby Robson, there were plenty who spoke affectionately of Greenwood and his footballing contributions. As we have seen, his England reign included some memorable victories and he returned the nation to major tournaments after a dreadful era under his predecessors.