The nation that created the game of football has been blessed with many great players and teams but has become the epitome of underachievement. England have only ever won one major trophy (World Cup 1966) despite much promise.
In 1872, England took part in the first ever international football match when they drew with Scotland. This game was played at a cricket ground in Partick and was watched by around 4000 people. Strangely, during the game England midfielder William Maynard swapped positions with the goalkeeper Robert Barker.
After the introduction of more nations into international football, the ‘Home Championship’ was set up in 1884 comprising of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This was to carry on for a hundred years until 1984 and would be used as a qualifying group for early World Cups.
Disagreements with FIFA
The entry of football into the Olympics in London saw a Great Britain team composed of players from the home nations take the gold medal in 1908 and 1912.However, after World War I, they did not take part in the next two. They also didn’t enter in 1928 over a payment dispute with FIFA and eventually withdrew from the association. Because of this, they weren’t invited to the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 or in Italy in 1934. When the World Cup in 1938 came around, Austria had to withdraw after being invaded by the Germans in the run up to the Second World War, therefore FIFA offered their place to England in an attempt to make them join again but the English FA refused.
It is always wondered how the team would have performed if they had entered these World Cups. During this period England had won quite a few titles in the Home Championship, possessed the most well-developed league and had a strong team composing of players such as Stanley Matthews, not to mention recording friendly victories over world champions Italy and Germany.
At last, in 1950, England were part of the first World Cup after winning the Home Championships to qualify. However, it was not to be a happy debut for the squad. Despite goals from Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion to win their first match against Chile, England lost 1-0 in a famous match against an American side that had lost seven games on the bounce. Back in England the result was described as being “beaten by the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck team.” Another loss to Spain meant that they went out at the first round.
England’s status as being one of the best teams in the world was put to the test in 1953 when they played Hungary in a two-legged match, who also had some of the world’s best players like Ferenc Puskás. England were humiliated, losing 6-3 at Wembley, the first time they had lost a home game against a non-British team in 52 years. In the replay, Hungary carried on where they left off, thumping England 7-1. This is still England’s worst ever loss.
England made it through their group to the 1954 quarter finals but were eliminated by Uruguay 4-2. In 1958, the whole of England was to be shocked when a plane carrying the Manchester United team crashed on its return from a European match. Regular England players such as Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards were killed in the ‘Munich Air Disaster’ and England’s squad for the 1958 World Cup was severely depleted. They were duly eliminated in the first round group stage by the USSR.
The 1962 World Cup team showed great potential courtesy of a young squad including players such as Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves. They were reasonably successful too, reaching the quarter finals and only losing to the eventual winners Brazil. However, the foundations had been set by Alf Ramsey and they were preparing themselves for what was to come in the next World Cup.
Football Comes Home
In 1966, England hosted the World Cup for the first time. There were almost major problems before the tournament even started when the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen. After a mass search, it was eventually found by a dog, Pickles, underneath a bush.
When the tournament did finally get underway, it started with a bit of an anticlimax. England drew their first game 0-0 with Uruguay and the fans booed the hosts off the pitch. The second match against Mexico was looking to end the same way until Bobby Charlton scored a long range goal and a Roger Hunt tap-in won them the game 2-0. Two more goals from Hunt against France sent England top of their group and through to the quarter finals against Argentina.
Before the knock-out stages, England were dealt a blow when Jimmy Greaves injured his shin and was ruled out, so Ramsey gave a World Cup debut to Geoff Hurst. Instant reward follow, as a solitary goal from Hurst won the game for England. In a heated match, Argentina’s captain Antonio Rattin was sent off and Alf Ramsey was so disgusted with the Argentinians play that he would not allow his team to swap shirts after the match and labelled the opposition as “animals.”
Next, England took on Eusebio’s Portugal in the semi-final. In a tight match, England took the lead after thirty minutes, with Bobby Charlton slotting the ball home after the Portuguese goalkeeper had made a save. Geoff Hurst then laid the ball off Charlton to score the second goal. Eusebio responded with his eighth of the tournament from the penalty spot after Jack Charlton handballed on the line. Despite Portuguese pressure, England held out and progressed to a final against rivals West Germany.
98,000 fans packed into Wembley on July 30th 1966 to witness the greatest game in the history of English football. Bobby Moore led his team out to an immense noise and it was Martin Peters who had the first chance, his long range shot being saved by the German goalkeeper. Despite the bright start, it was West Germany who took the lead after Ray Wilson failed to clear a cross and Helmut Haller slotted the ball across Gordon Banks into the net.
In response, Geoff Hurst equalised with a free header past Hans Tilkowski from a Bobby Moore free-kick which caught out the German defence. The omens looked good from then on as, just before half-time, Gordon Banks made a terrific save from a long-ranged effort courtesy of German captain Uwe Seeler.
England then took the lead with just under 20 minutes left in normal time, as Alan Ball’s corner fell to Hurst on the edge of the area and his shot was deflected up in the air onto the in-running Martin Peters who smashed the ball home. Unfortunately, in the last minute of normal time, Ben Cohen’s foul gave a free-kick to the Germans in which everybody was in England’s penalty area. Lothar Emmerich drilled the ball in and a goal-mouth scramble ensued until Wolfgang Weber scored in the last minute. England players, especially Banks, complained that Karl-Heinz Schellinger had handballed it in the area but a goal was given and the game went into extra-time.
A great run and shot from Alan Ball forced a good save from the goalkeeper early on and resulted in a corner from which Bobby Charlton hit the post. England were piling on the pressure and it eventually paid off. Alan Ball chased a pass into the corner and his cross was well controlled by Geoff Hurst who turned and shot past Tilkowski onto the underside of the crossbar and the ball bounced down, either on or over the line. The referee was not sure and consulted with his Russian linesman, Tofik Bakhramov, who allowed the goal. This goal has been hotly disputed ever since and special studies have been taken out to determine whether it really was a goal or not. Another controversial part is that in an interview with Bakhramov, he only mentioned the word "Stalingrad" when asked how he knew that it was a goal. This could mean that he gave the goal out of revenge for the ‘Battle Of Stalingrad’ during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The debate rages on to this day but there was plenty to come in the game itself.
West Germany put pressure on the England defence in search of another late equaliser but they held firm and, in the dying seconds of extra-time, Geoff Hurst counter-attacked and smashed the ball high into the net to win the match 4-2 whilst fans were invading the pitch. The goal, spectacular in its own right, was only amplified by Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous words, “They think it’s all over, it is now!”
With this goal, Geoff Hurst became (and still is) the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. More importantly, England had won the trophy in front of an estimated television audience of over 32 million people and a crowd of nearly 100,000.
World Champions and 1970
In the 1966-67 season, England were beaten for the first time in two years and the first time since the World Cup by Scotland in the Home Championship. This prompted a mass pitch invasion from the Scots, who proclaimed themselves as ‘Unofficial World Champions’.
England nevertheless moved to the 1970 World Cup as one of the favourites with a squad that was possibly stronger than in 1966 courtesy of individuals like Colin Bell. England strolled through to the quarter finals with two 1-0 wins but faced a very strong Brazil team consisting of players such as Pélé and Jairzinho. The latter’s goal won the match for Brazil but the game is just as much remembered for a save from Gordon Banks. Pélé’s downward header was goal-bound until Banks clambered backwards to brilliantly scoop the ball over the bar. The performance from England was all the more impressive considering that Brazil team would go on to win the final 4-1 and be named as the best World Cup winning team of all time.
England themselves played West Germany in the quarter finals in a repeat of the 1966 final. Goals from Alan Mullery and Martin Peters put England 2-0 after 50 minutes but a mistake from goalkeeper Peter Bonetti (who had replaced the ill Gordon Banks) allowed the opposition to get back in the match and an extra-time goal from Gerd Müller knocked England out.
In qualifying for the 1974, a loss in Poland meant that England had to beat the Poles in the return at Wembley. Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski made a string of wonderful saves to stop England from scoring and Poland took the lead. England scored a penalty later on but were unable to get the decisive winner, thus failing to qualify for the tournament. Alf Ramsey was eventually sacked after 11 years in charge by the FA.
Another poor qualification campaign meant that England missed out on the 1978 World Cup as well. New manager Ron Greenwood replaced Don Revie and, despite struggling, England stumbled through to Spain in 1982. An attacking team with players such as Bryan Robson and Glen Hoddle won all three group games and progressed to the second group. After drawing 0-0 with West Germany, England had to beat hosts Spain. In a drab game, Kevin Keegan missed a vital header towards the end of the match and they were eliminated, despite being unbeaten.
The Robson era, the Hand of God and Italia 90
Bobby Robson became the new manager and brought a younger squad with the likes of Gary Lineker and John Barnes. They reached the quarter finals thanks to goals from Lineker, who became top-scorer in the competition and faced Diego Maradona’s Argentina. The diminutive forward gave Argentina the lead with a controversial goal where he jumped and ‘punched’ the ball into the goal. Just a few minutes later though, Maradona sublimely beat five players on a 50-yard run and scored what is considered the “Goal Of The Century”. Lineker scored a consolation but England couldn’t find an equaliser and were eliminated.
England found a new star player, Paul Gascoigne, for their attempt at the World Cup in 1990 and played well, beating Belgium and Cameroon to face West Germany in the semi-final. After a deflected free-kick gave West Germany the lead, Lineker equalised and the game went into penalties. A famous image of this match was when Gascoigne received a yellow card which would have ruled him out of the final and proceeded to cry. The start of a cruel penalty trend that would haunt England sent them out after misses from Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle.
Euro 96 and the years of decline
Under new boss, Graham Taylor, England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 in the USA and he was replaced by Terry Venables, ready for Euro ’96, which would be held in England.
Wins over Scotland, including a penalty save from David Seaman and a great goal from Gascoigne which famously left Colin Hendry on his backside, and a famous 4-1 rout of the Netherlands saw England progress to the quarter finals. A goalless draw against Spain meant England would have to take part in another penalty shoot-out. This time, thanks to saves from David Seaman, England won, with Stuart Pearce redeeming himself after missing in 1990. England took an early lead through Alan Shearer against the now reformed Germany in the semi-final but an equaliser meant that it would be penalties again. This time, defender Gareth Southgate’s penalty was saved and they went out.
In 1998, another set of new players including Michael Owen and David Beckham sent England into a second round match against rivals Argentina. After a wonder-goal from Owen and an Alan Shearer penalty, the game was level at 2-2. Just after half-time, David Beckham was fouled and whilst on the floor tapped the Argentine Diego Simeone, who somewhat exaggerated the contact and brought about Beckham’s sending off. After a goal from Sol Campbell was controversially disallowed, the game went into penalties, which England lost again.
A poor performance in Euro 2000 saw the end of Kevin Keegan’s short era as head coach and the arrival of England’s first foreign manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson. He made an immediate impact, masterminding a 5-1 thrashing of Germany in Münich and a last minute David Beckham free-kick against Greece saw England qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
In a repeat of the 1998 match, England played Argentina in the group stage and David Beckham exorcised his demons by scoring the winning penalty. In the quarter finals, they faced Brazil and took the lead through Michael Owen before a goal from Rivaldo and a freak free-kick from Ronaldinho eliminated them. Brazil would go on to win the tournament.
Yet another new star, Wayne Rooney, arrived on the international scene in Euro 2004 by scoring four goals in three games but his injury in the Quarter final against Portugal coincided with England’s elimination. Sol Campbell had another goal disallowed and England lost, as always, on penalties, with Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo scoring the winning penalty.
In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, England had a plethora of talent including Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard. This was dubbed as the ‘Golden Generation’ of English football and they were tipped to win the trophy. Despite never impressing in the group matches, they won the group and beat Ecuador 3-0 to reach the quarter finals, again against Portugal. As always with England, the game contained major controversy, this time when Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho.
After 2006, Eriksson stood down and the role was taken over by his assistant Steve McClaren. McClaren wasn’t the FA.’s first choice after being publicly turned down at the last minute by Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. McClaren’s reign initially started well with wins over Greece and Andorra but poor performances and defeats in Croatia, aided by a mistake from Paul Robinson, and Russia meant that England had to draw against Croatia in the new Wembley stadium to reach Euro 2008. Errors from replacement goalkeeper Scott Carson and a lacklustre performance meant that they lost 3-2 and didn’t qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years. McLaren was promptly sacked.