Six of the Best & Worst

Six of the Best – England in April

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Although no longer usually a month when England are in action, April was traditionally quite a busy time internationally with the Three Lions frequently playing at least one match then. Let’s look back at six of England’s best April games from the past 50 years.

April 2, 1966 Scotland (a) 4-3 Home International Championship

Just under four months before England’s greatest day, they made the trip to Hampden Park in the Home International Championship. It ended in a cracking  4-3 win for England as Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt (2) and Bobby Charlton all found the net in front of more than 123,000 fans. The result ended a poor recent record for England against their old rivals and their attacking display gave hope for the forthcoming World Cup finals (amid concern about defensive frailty having conceded three). Scotland would gain revenge 12 months later by famously winning 3-2 at Wembley.

April 3, 1968 Spain (h) 1-0 European Nations Cup quarter-finals

Bobby Charlton takes a bow after scoring the winner against Spain.

Two years on from their World Cup glory, England were again going in pursuit of silverware as they were paired with Spain in the quarter-finals of the European Nations Cup. The first leg was played at a packed Wembley, with a well-taken Bobby Charlton goal in the closing stages proving decisive for England in their all-white strip. Earlier Martin Peters had controversially had a goal ruled out on a night when England really should have won more comfortably. But they would also win the second leg to advance to the semi-finals held in Italy. Having also overcome them in Euro ’96, Spain remain the only nation England have defeated in the Euro quarter-finals.

April 21, 1970 Northern Ireland (h) 31 Home International Championship

Not so much a classic match as a celebration of Bobby Charlton’s 100th cap, in an era when it was rare for anyone to reach that feat. He was handed the captaincy for the night and scored in a 3-1 win on a much-criticised Wembley pitch, as Sir Alf Ramsey’s men continued their preparations for the World Cup in Mexico. Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst also scored for England, with Charlton’s Manchester United team-mate George Best replying for Northern Ireland. “I am delighted for Bobby – he has achieved a truly great feat,” said Sir Alf afterwards.

April 16, 1975 Cyprus (h) 5-0 European Championship Qualifier 

Supermaccelebrates one of his five goals during the 5-0 win over Cyprus.

A big win for England at home to Cyprus was not unexpected, but it was a significant night. Malcolm Macdonald generally struggled to find the same potency for England as he did at club level, but that wasn’t the case in this match as he scored all five goals as England won 5-0. Don Revie’s side had beaten world champions West Germany in a friendly the previous month and they looked confident as they continually found Macdonald in space to head home. It was the first time since the war a player had scored five times in a match for England, but not everyone was in awe of his achievement. In the Daily Express, reporter David Miller wrote:  “This was Third Division stuff in international terms. Let us keep the champagne for the moment when the English bull does the same against Argentina, Brazil or Holland.”

And sadly such pessimism bore fruit – Macdonald never scored again for his country and England failed to qualify for the European Championship.

April 25, 1990 Czechoslovakia (h) 4-2 Friendly

Celebration time for Paul Gascoigne and Steve Bull against Czechoslovakia in 1990.

The night that changed Paul Gascoigne’s England career and really the start of ‘Gazzamania’ that would sweep the country in the coming months. Almost exactly a year after scoring his first international goal against Albania, Gascoigne was picked to start an international for only the second time as Czechoslovakia visited Wembley. Many saw it as his audition to claim a place in the World Cup squad and, if so, he grabbed it with both hands. Gascoigne shone and rounded off the scoring in an entertaining 4-2 win in front of just 21,342, with Steve Bull (2) and Stuart Pearce also on target. Bobby Robson stopped short of saying Gascoigne would definitely be in the World Cup squad, but dropped a pretty big hint by saying he “passed every test that was set him”.

April 2, 2003 Turkey (h) European Championship Qualifier

It was clear from the moment this group kicked off it would be between England and Turkey for top spot, with their dominance in other fixtures meaning their head to head record was likely to be decisive. That proved to be the case, with this memorable meeting at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light putting England in the driving seat. At 17, Wayne Rooney was handed his first England start and he played his part in a 2-0 win courtesy of goals in the closing stages from Darius Vassell and David Beckham (penalty). A goalless draw in the return match took Engkand through to Euro 2004, preserving their proud record of having never conceded a goal to Turkey.

Six of the Best – England European Championship qualifying matches

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As England prepare to get their campaign to reach Euro 2016 underway in Switzerland, let’s recall six of their most memorable qualifying matches from past European Championships (limited to no more than one per qualification campaign).

Czechoslovakia (h) 3-0, October 1974
Wembley
A game significant for two reasons. Firstly, it was a victory during Don Revie’s first game at the helm as a new era was ushered in at Wembley. And secondly, this result would go on to look particularly impressive two years later as the Czechs went on to win the European Championship. A year to the month of their World Cup failure against Poland, England appeared to start turning the corner as goals in the closing stages from Mike Channon and Colin Bell (2) gave them a 3-0 success. Another highlight would come the following April when Malcolm MacDonald scored all five goals as Cyprus were thrashed at Wembley. But England let qualification slip through their grasp, the Czechs getting their revenge with a 2-1 win in Bratislava the following October.

 

Bulgaria (h) 2-0, November 1979
Wembley
The 1970s had been grim for England fans. After losing in the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup and 1972 European Championship to West Germany, they fell at the qualifying stage of the next three major tournaments. By the time the 1980 European Championship qualifiers began, there was a sense of desperation for England to end their exile from major tournaments. They did so in emphatic fashion, enjoying big wins away to Bulgaria and Northern Ireland to wrap up qualifying. They were able to celebrate qualifying early and this match saw the nation cheer them towards the finals. Fog postponed the match by 24 hours, but when it took place Dave Watson opened the scoring early on. In the second half came the most memorable moment, as young debutant Glenn Hoddle scored a brilliant side-footed shot to wrap up the victory. The nation was now looking forward to Hoddle starring in midfield during the 1980s. It didn’t always work out quite like that, but more than 50 caps would be won by the Spurs player.

 

Luxembourg (h) 9-0, December 1982
Wembley
By the early 1980s, the cliche “no easy games in international football” was being dished out with increased frequency and England’s shock defeat to Norway the previous year was still fresh in the mind. But there was one true exception to the rule in an era before the likes of Andorra and San Marino came on the European national scene and that was Luxembourg. Played just 10 days before Christmas, England tore the minnows to shreds and Luther Blissett helped himself to a hat-trick. They led 4-0 by half-time but it will still only 6-0 with five minutes to go, as some gloss was added to the scoreline with three further efforts – the last coming from a Phil Neal cross that the visiting goalkeeper failed to deal with. But Bobby Robson would come unstuck in his first qualifying tournament, England finishing second to an excellent Denmark side, who won 1-0 at Wembley the following September to move to the brink of qualification.

 

Yugoslavia (a) 4-1, November 1987
Belgrade
England had one of their best qualifying campaigns in reaching Euro ’88 with some clinical displays in front of goal including an 8-0 win over Turkey. However, they went into their final match in the group needing to get a result in Yugoslavia to ensure their place in West Germany. Within 25 minutes all doubts had been shattered as England led 4-0 against a decent side thanks to goals from Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Bryan Robson and Tony Adams. The hosts pulled a goal back late on but it was a mere consolation in a game that would stand out as one of the best matches of Bobby Robson’s reign in charge. Sadly, the tournament itself would prove a particular disappointment for England.

 

Scotland (a) 2-0, November 1999 (play-off, first leg)
Glasgow
Probably the most hyped-up European Championship qualifying matches involving England were their play-off fixtures against Scotland in November 1999.  The sides had met just once in the previous decade, as a new generation of England players prepared to make their first trip to Hampden Park. It had been a poor qualifying campaign from England in which they won just one match out of six against the other top four sides (beating Poland in Kevin Keegan’s first game in charge, the only other wins in the group being against Luxembourg) and they had been reliant on Poland losing their final match to Sweden to scrap into the play-offs. Further good fortune helped them over the qualifying line against the Scots. The first-leg at Hampden Park saw them triumph 2-0 with Paul Scholes getting both goals to leave them firmly on course for the finals. Kevin Keegan’s side should have been home and dry but proceeded to lose the return leg 1-0 at Wembley four days later, almost throwing away their Hampden Park success.

 

Turkey (h) 2-0, April 2003
Sunderland
In the qualifying campaign for Euro 2004, it was clear from the start it would be a head-to-head fight for top spot between England and Turkey. The Turks had made massive strides from their thrashings by England in the 1980s and had just finished third in the World Cup. Sadly not all the headlines from this meeting at the Stadium of Light were made by what happened on the pitch, but the match brought a priceless win for England. 17-year-old Wayne Rooney shone on his first start for England and he helped the Three Lions triumph 2-0 thanks to late goals from Darius Vassell and David Beckham (penalty), going on to win the group with a 0-0 draw in the return game in October that again attracted plenty of talking points.

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.