In their final group game at the 1998 World Cup in France, England needed a win to fully confirm their progress to the Round of 16. Defeat to Romania had knocked them; Colombia stood between England and the second round.
Darren Anderton and David Beckham had been fighting for a place in the team for months, but manager Glenn Hoddle managed to fit them both into the same system on the day. A crashing Anderton volley gave the Three Lions an early lead and nine minutes later, Beckham joined him on the score-sheet. England won the game, Anderton’s goal had been a memorable way to secure qualification from the group.
In total, Darren Anderton played 30 times for England between 1994 and 2001, scoring seven times. He also spent twelve years as a long-term servant to Tottenham Hotspur.
I caught up with him to discuss his long and successful England career. I also asked for his thoughts on how Gareth Southgate and the current England team seem to be fairing at the moment. Here is Talking England with Darren Anderton.
Can you pinpoint the time in your early career when it first started to feel like a genuine possibility that you might one day represent England?
Growing up, I always dreamt of playing for England but never believed it could happen. When I signed for Spurs I began to think “maybe one day”, but it wasn’t until I was away with England U21s in Toulon in 1993 [that it started to became a reality].
We were measured up for suits in case we would be needed for the senior team at the following year’s World Cup. Unfortunately we never made that World Cup, but I then believed that maybe one day it would happen.
You scored some lovely goals for your country; do the volleys against Sweden and then against Colombia in the World Cup go down as the two best? Which of them is your favourite, and why?
Without a doubt, these goals were two of my favourites in my [whole] career. The Sweden goal was a better goal because of it being a difficult technique to hit on the volley, as it was rising, and the fact it went in off both posts made it even more dramatic.
But the Colombia goal at the World Cup is my favourite because it was at a World Cup and a moment I had dreamt about my whole life. I couldn’t have hit it any sweeter and it flew into the top corner to put us 1-0 up.
“I couldn’t have hit it any sweeter”
You played a lot of tournament football for England, especially considering your often-lengthy periods out injured. How thankful are you that these injuries didn’t get in the way of starring at major tournaments?
I was very fortunate to go to both tournaments [Euro ’96 and France ’98] because I missed big chunks of [both] the seasons leading up to those tournaments because of injuries.
I did everything I could to be fit, which included seeking out my own treatment and rehab away from Spurs because I had lost faith with the medical team there. Luckily I made that decision, which enabled me to get fit for those tournaments.
Did you relish the challenge of regular managerial changes throughout your international career, or did you find it difficult and unsettling?
Managerial change is something that is a part of football and you just have to get on with it. It’s something you can’t do anything about, so you just have to prove yourself to the new manager.
Who was the best player you ever came up against whilst representing England? What made them so good?
Zinedine Zidane for France was quite simply amazing, a genius. He made the game look so simple.
Roberto Carlos as a full-back was the best I went up against. Incredible ability, he was so quick that if you beat him once then he’d be so quick to recover that you had to beat him again. And he was so good going forward that I felt like I ended up defending against him instead of the other way round!
It’s been a successful few years under Gareth Southgate; what state would you say the current England team is in, looking forward to Euro 2020?
I love what Gareth has done with the England team. They are playing the best football I’ve seen since Glenn Hoddle was in charge. Too many [England] teams since have played too directly instead of passing the ball. Gareth has created a team that plays great football, entertaining football and winning football. The future of the England team is in great hands.
It’s fascinating to hear from a figure so integral to England’s tournament adventures towards the back end of last century. Anderton was a very talented player, sadly hindered by regular injuries.
He won Le Tournoi with England in 1997, and it was a pleasure to speak with him about representing the Three Lions. Thanks go to him for becoming the most recent guest of the Talking England series.