Back by popular demand is 5 Forgotten England Games. This series looks at national team matches through the ages that may have gone slightly (or sometimes very far) under the radar. How many of these matches were you aware about? Did you watch any? Did you attend any? Here is Issue 4.
We begin near the end of Kevin Keegan’s admittedly brief tenure in charge of the national team. His side faced Brazil at the Old Wembley for their first match of Summer 2000. The season would ultimately end in a group-stage defeat at the European Championships, with victory over Germany not enough to paper over the cracks of defeats to Portugal and Romania.
Both of the Neville brothers were present at the back for England, while Alan Shearer and Michael Owen started as the strike-partnership in a conventional 4-4-2. Brazil started Cafu, Sylvinho and Rivaldo. Roberto Carlos was introduced from the bench in the second half.
The deadlock was broken on 38 minutes, when Gary Neville’s long throw fell nicely in a crowded box for David Beckham. The winger knocked the ball on for Shearer to slide it through. Michael Owen outsmarted the close attention of one Brazilian defender and then simply stuck the ball past a diving Dida and into the net for 1-0.
Brazil equalised in first half stoppage-time. It wasn’t a glorious counter-attack, nor a long-range cracker. Forward Franca of Sao Paulo headed down into the ground from a corner. It beat Gary Neville on the post and found its way in. The South Americans were level. Ray Parlour, Robbie Fowler, Kevin Phillips and Nick Barmby came on as subs for Keegan’s side, but the match ended 1-1. Both sides had created a lot of chances, but a draw had been the fairest outcome on a warm Saturday afternoon in May of the millennium year.
On a May Tuesday in 1978, England earned their second of three consecutive wins in the 1977-78 British Home Championships. The Three Lions had just finished a desperately disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign in which they’d failed to reach the second edition in a row. Scotland, by contrast, had reached the finals – but they finished third of four in this season’s Home Championships. England had already beaten Wales 3-1 in Cardiff and returned to Wembley for this tie with Northern Ireland.
England, across their 147-year existence, have quite often suffered in the face of an excellent display from the opposing goalkeeper. This match was one of those. Middlesbrough’s Jim Platt was in inspired form, and the score would have been much higher had he not been. The first period was rather tactical and was lacking in any real entertainment. Seconds before it ended, though, Ron Greenwood’s England took the lead. Dave Watson did well to head a poor corner back into the danger area. The ball bounced towards goalscoring full-back Phil Neal, who did just that. He took the ball down, and then volleyed precisely through a defender’s legs and into the far corner of Platt’s goal. Right before half-time, it was 1-0 to the home side at Wembley.
Northern Ireland found some extra gears in the second half, but it was England that came closest. Debutant Tony Woodcock twice stung the gloves of Platt, but he didn’t get that dream debut goal and neither did England ever double their lead.
On the day that Nottingham Forest’s current manager Martin O’Neill faced England as a player of Forest’s at the time, the match ended 1-0 to the soon-to-be-crowned Home Nations champions.
This match was not branded as a friendly but rather as a ceremonial match for the Italian FA’s then-50-year existence. The Italian side was mainly made up of players from the country’s best club at the time – Torino. The match was being played here also. Tragically, it was less than a year later that many of the Italian players that played here were killed in the 1949 Turin Plane Crash. The new, younger Italian team decided to travel to the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil by boat, finishing second in their group, but failing to progress to the latter stages.
The crash had of course not happened by the time of this Golden Jubilee match, and Italy were at full-strength – or, on paper they were at least. The match was certainly not as one-sided as the scoreline suggested, but England went on to claim their biggest ever win over the Italians. Frank Swift, an eventual victim of an entirely different fatal air crash (Munich in 1958), captained his country for the first time, while there was a debut for Derby County legend Jack Howe at full-back. He became England’s first ever player to wear contact lenses during a full international…
It was Blackpool’s very own fans’ favourite Stan Mortensen that gave the visitors the lead, and it was one of the finest strikes any England player has ever produced for his country. He bombed down the right wing, and then rifled in a bullet of a shot off of his right foot. The angle was incredibly tight, and the shot understandably caught goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo completely off guard. England were ahead after just three minutes. Tommy Lawton was then clinical enough to make it two – England led convincingly in Turin at the interval.
The visitors had to wait a while for their third, but then two goals came along at once. First, Preston North End legend Tom Finney volleyed home a wonderfully flighted Wilf Mannion pass, and then Finney was again on hand to finish, following great work from Mortensen and Manchester United winger Henry Cockburn. It was a truly ruthless victory from England, but the despair this caused the Italian side will have been inconsequential compared to during the aftermath of the plane crash a year later.
England first faced Belgium in 1921 and went on to play them eight times during the 1920s. This was meeting number three, and the only one of those eight the English failed to win.
The Three Lions were captained here by Graham Doggart, a footballer, business administrator, first-class cricketer and, of course, a magistrate. Doggart never played for England again, but did represent England Amateurs four times. Henri Larnoe scored the opener for Belgium inside seven minutes, before West Ham and England’s Bill Brown drew the visitors level with thirty-two gone. This was Brown’s solitary England cap, and he had made the most of it. Dutchman Johannes Mutters ordered the players to their dressing rooms with the half-time whistle. It was all to play for at 1-1 at the Bosuil Stadium in Antwerp.
England were again in trouble on 75 minutes, when Achille Schelstraete slotted a penalty past debutant goalkeeper Ted Hufton to put the Belgians 2-1 ahead. But an experienced goalscorer was on hand to equalise for England just five minutes later. Tommy Roberts, Preston’s second-highest scorer of all time, behind only Tom Finney, became England’s second debutant goalscorer with their second leveller.
The 40,000 fans present on this November afternoon were all able to go home content as the match ended all-square at 2-2. It was 31 years until England and Belgium reached another stalemate – this time in a World Cup finals match that somehow ended 4-4.
After this September 2013 qualifier, there were tough fixtures in Ukraine and then at home to Montenegro and Poland to come. Roy Hodgson’s men couldn’t afford a slip-up in this one – Montenegro were actually top of the group.
England did, and still do, have a torrid record of scoring early goals at Wembley. It very rarely happens (even when San Marino visit), but captain Steven Gerrard had his side ahead within 13 minutes in this one. Frank Lampard spotted his midfield compatriot sprinting towards the box and simply tucked the ball in front of his path. Gerrard followed through the ball with unerring technique; the rest of Wembley watched as it drifted along the surface as far into the corner as was possible. His first England goal in over three years had put Hodgson’s team on the right side of the scoreline, following their early ascendency.
England were back again in the 26th minute, trying to force a way past a disorientated Moldova. For a period of fifty seconds or so, the visitors were simply incapable of clearing their lines, and England had shot after cross after shot raining in. Eventually, the goalkeeper’s decisions to punch not catch reached one time too many, and the ball came out into the path of Rickie Lambert. The Southampton veteran had been the hero in England’s previous game, scoring the winner in a 3-2 thriller against Scotland. He simply stooped his head to make it two goals from two caps, here.
There was time for one more before the break. Gerrard was practically in central defence when he played a beautiful, cutting pass forward for Lambert. The goalscorer spotted Danny Welbeck busting a gut to reach the box. Lambert’s pass to Welbeck was Gerrard-esque. Welbeck’s superb first touch beat the goalkeeper, who was left stranded in no-man’s-land. He slid the ball into the empty net still mid-sprint, turning back to embrace his teammates. England had a commanding 3-0 lead at the interval.
The Welbeck-Lambert combination bore more fruit early after the restart. Lambert played in Welbeck with a penetrating pass in-behind. Welbeck simply dinked the ball over the hapless goalkeeper for his second.
The fourth finish had been scored on fifty minutes and, apart from a lively substitute appearance from in-form Everton youngster Ross Barkley, the tale had already been written. The match petered out – England were 4-0 home winners.
A fortunate and probably undeserved 0-0 draw in Ukraine a few days later set up October’s qualifiers as very tense Wembley affairs indeed. However, 4-1 and 2-0 wins over Montenegro and Poland, respectively, sent England on the plane to Brazil, where things went very wrong indeed…