Society is simply not as we know it, and it’s leaving football fans in an awkward sort of limbo. If we could consume sport aggressively while in lockdown, we certainly would. But the precise reason we’re stuck indoors requires sportspeople to do just the same, of course.
What better time to scroll back through the rich history of the England national football team, then. 5 Forgotten England Games is back with its sixth issue. Maybe you were at one of these later games. Maybe you remember watching on telly. Or perhaps you want to work out how many of the five fixtures you even knew had happened. Well they did happen, and here’s how proceedings panned out…
England 0-0 Netherlands, 2005, Friendly
Besides a big win in August 2004 over the Ukraine, the aftermath of Euro 2004 for England was somewhat of a hangover. Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side had made a very average start to 2006 World Cup qualifying, and then lost to Spain in a November friendly.
2005 started in February for England, where they would host the Netherlands at Villa Park. The Dutch had reached the semi-finals of the European Championships of the year before — a stage further than England had managed to get.
England at home in red versus Holland in white and black was to provide quite an atypical spectacle. Much of the bedrock that formed the so unaptly named ‘Golden Generation’ were present for the Three Lions. Fringe names like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jamie Carragher were also in, joined by an even more peripheral player in Manchester United’s Wes Brown.
A 23-year-old Wright-Phillips was the thorn in the Dutch side throughout and was put into great positions by David Beckham and Gary Neville from either side in the first half. With sharper shooting, he could have had England 2-0 up in the first 45, although Dirk Kuyt could also have had his side ahead, striking the post from 20 yards out when he too should have scored.
Had Beckham been an inch or two taller, he’d have headed home Steven Gerrard’s mouth-watering cross in the second half. So often an in-swinger from a player ‘on the wrong wing’ can cause the defence a heap of problems. This one certainly seemed to.
The Netherlands thought they’d won the tie when Romeo Castelen volleyed home emphatically from a long, hopeful ball. But having pulled Ashley Cole back to do so, he perhaps expected the referee to indeed rule it out.
It had been a tough watch for many of the fans, as England tried to get to grips with an experimental 4-3-3 system — pretty revolutionary in those primitive times… England and the Netherlands drew 0-0.
England would drop the system, play 4-4-2, and crash out on penalties to Portugal again a year later.
Spain 1-2 England, 1980, European Championships
It’s the first time in the series that a fully-fledged tournament match makes it in, but it’s a curious anomaly that a Euros victory over such serious opponents as Spain has gone down with quite so little recognition.
The 1970s were dark days for English football; Kevin Keegan must have been ecstatic at the thought of belatedly leading his country into a major finals a decade after they’d last been at one. At Euro 1980 though, things again went much worse than expected.
Ron Greenwood’s side had drawn to Belgium and lost to Italy. That scraped point against the Belgians was keeping England lingering just about alive in the tournament. Against Spain in their final game, a clear two-goal victory was required. Greenwood shuffled his pack, expecting to face a Spain team that would defend deep and push forward on the break. Spain were the clear outsiders of the group — they’d need to beat England heavily to have any chance of progressing.
Would a team featuring Ray Wilkins, Glenn Hoddle, Trevor Brooking and Keegan be able to get the better of an inexperienced Spanish team?
At the Stadio San Paolo, where England would knock Cameroon out of Italia ’90 a decade later, the Three Lions deservedly broke the deadlock early on. Wilkins’ knock down from a hoicked free kick fell kindly for Brooking, who came steaming in to slam home.
Early on in a highly eventful second period, Spain were denied an equaliser by a goal-line block, before they earned a penalty. Athletic Bilbao’s Dani made no mistake. Level at 1-1. England would have to start all over again.
Things didn’t quite work out like that though, as Spain earned another spot-kick just minutes later. Dani scored again but was ordered to retake it. Ray Clemence caught the second attempt. He’d kept England level, just about.
England went ahead again on 61 minutes, when Terry McDermott volleyed sweetly from a corner sent to the edge of the box. Goalkeeper Luis Arconada parried well, but only into the path of Tony Woodcock. The FC Köln forward tucked home. It was 2-1 to the better side, but both sides were going out.
And both did go out. England had beaten Spain on the way to doing so, though — something that feels more momentous than the way it seems to have been remembered… or not remembered.
England 2-0 Lithuania, 2017, World Cup qualifier
With Gareth Southgate confirmed permanently in November 2016 following four unbeaten games as interim manager, his first test fully under the new title was a tough trip to Germany and then a home qualifier against Lithuania.
England had lost to the Germans thanks to a Lukas Podolski stunner on what he knew, England knew, almost everyone knew was to be his final international. It almost became a testimonial. The important result — the one actually worth some points — came four days later against the Baltic minnows.
All the news was centred around a recall for Jermain Defoe — uncapped since 2013. He started the match following prolific form for Sunderland: on their way down from the Premier League to the Championship, but not without putting up a dogged fight. He started up front for the Three Lions. Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford were consigned to the bench.
The match started on time, but England didn’t. Their creativity was distinctly lacking in the early exchanges — Lithuania pleasantly surprised by quite how easy it was to keep the young stars that Southgate had inherited from Roy Hodgson at bay. England eventually found rhythm, coming close when Adam Lallana’s lovely slipped ball allowed Defoe, sharp, sprightly, to shoot against the goalkeeper. 0-0.
Only a minute later, that new invention had bought England the lead. Ryan Bertrand’s pass into Raheem Sterling on the left wing offered no real promise for England, but the Jamaican-born speedster went around static defenders like they weren’t there, crossing to the predatory Defoe to pounce accordingly with a clean side-foot.
Southgate’s side were wavering as the halfway point beckoned and were nearly pegged back when Vykintas Slivka headed over Joe Hart and towards an empty net. The attacker, owned at the time by the mighty Juventus of Italy, was only denied the equaliser by John Stones, back on the line to hook clear.
Soon after the restart, Sterling had somehow failed to convert from a Bertrand cross that was simply begging to be tucked away. The defender tracking him did just enough, and Sterling ended up in a heap on the floor as the ball trickled into the arms of goalkeeper Ernestas Šetkus.
Once Slivka had forced an easy save from Hart and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a much better save from Šetkus, the Three Lions scored again. Kyle Walker played into the feet of Adam Lallana at the edge of a crowded area — at that time in the game and indeed his England career, Lallana was so often the orchestrator of the best things the team did.
Lallana snapped a sharp ball into Vardy first time, and the substitute, just about onside, passed the ball over the keeper’s trailing legs to double the lead. There was just enough time for the two substitutes to combine as Rashford flighted a lovely ball forward for Vardy to miss by quite a way. It didn’t matter in the slightest though; England had, just about convincingly, seen off the visitors.
Yugoslavia 5-0 England, 1958, Friendly
Following the culmination of the 1957/58 British Home Championships, England faced three friendly internationals before travelling to Sweden for the World Cup finals.
First came a 2-1 Wembley win over Portugal in which Bobby Charlton scored both goals. All of those details would align again eight years later, although this time in a World Cup semi-final. Next for England came a trip to Belgrade to face a formidable yet widely undiscovered Yugoslavia side.
58,000 were absolutely packed into the Partizan Stadium to watch two sides that would both compete at the upcoming World Cup. Ultimately, Yugoslavia would go a stage further than England, only losing to a solitary West Germany goal in the quarter-finals.
Johnny Haynes and Tom Finney were England’s more d names on the day, club legends of Fulham and Preston North End respectively. The Three Lions disgraced themselves on the day, losing 5-0. And yet the result was perhaps understandable — the Munich air disaster was only three months old and it clearly affesome of England’s starting stock.
Amongst those off-colour was a young Charlton, only playing his third international. He played badly in the circumstances.
The Yugoslavs were clinical on the counter and had certainly found a winning formula playing that way. The score was only 1-0 at the break, but four unanswered strikes in the second half condemned England to one of their biggest ever defeats. Indeed, they’ve never lost by more in a game they couldn’t muster a goal in. Aleksandar Petaković helped himself to a hat-trick, converting the second, third and fourth goals.
Yugoslavia beat England 5-0 on a day best left forgotten.
Wales 1-3 England, 1890, British Home Championships
England’s 39th international was a trip to The Racecourse at Wrexham, where Wales beckoned in the Three Lions’ first tie of the 1890 British Home Championships. Scotland and England would share the spoils for the second time, but in this, England’s first, match, Wales were the opponents.
The Dragons had already shown they weren’t just making up the numbers, with a 5-2 win over Ireland on the opening day. The wheels were about to well and truly fall off for the Welsh though.
Oxford University’s Edmund Currey scored a brace, his only strikes for his country, but not before William Lewis had taken advantage of the harsh wind that blew throughout the match to put Wales one up at the interval.
Once Currey had scored twice to put England suitably in charge of the affair, prolific Nottingham Forest forward Tinsley Lindley took himself on an impressive run to goal, finding England’s third. Besides being England’s top scorer until eight years later and also holding the titles of Dr and OBE, Lindley was one of the nation’s best amateurs and, despite scoring 14 goals for England, never wore football boots.
It was a strange old world, although not quite that strange. One suspects England would see off Wales if the two faced off in the not-too-distant future. The Three Lions came away with a 3-1 win on this particular match-up in 1890.