Events distort the memory. It is in our nature to accentuate things we remember in order for them to fit the right narrative. It’s the reason so many England fans would put Paul Gascoigne’s name down in an all-time best England XI every day of the week. We remember Italia 90 Gazza. We remember Euro 96 Gazza. We were at our most England then.
By the same token, we remember and exaggerate the bad times just as much.
Here are ten villains whose antics England fans simply cannot forget. Their impact on the history of the England team has just been too damaging.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo had just enjoyed his first season at Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United when Euro 2004 arrived. But those in Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side could already see this skinny showman was going to be quite a player. But he found himself facing a formidable opponent, adept at controlling his raw talents — Ashley Cole.
Still, he scored in the shootout as England went out and Portugal reached the semis.
Two years later, it was England versus Portugal in the quarter-finals again. World Cup 2006 came to a premature end for Ronaldo’s United teammate Wayne Rooney, with his temperament called into question not for the last time. Surrounding and barking at the referee, Ronaldo reacted to the red card by winking proudly towards the dugout.
He scored his penalty as England went out again. Many England fans still haven’t forgiven the majestic great. Somehow, you don’t feel he’ll be too bothered about that.
9. Andreas Möller
Unsurprisingly in this nostalgic piece, Paul Gascoigne is back on the agenda. Terry Venables’ Three Lions had played so impressively well against Germany in their Euro 96 semi-final. The penalty shootout had been a textbook showing from both sides so far. Up walked Gareth Southgate, exuding little confidence. And then back he shuffled, exuding even less.
Möller smashed in the winning spot-kick, and immediately jogged off arrogantly, mimicking the celebration that Gascoigne had given when he had scored his penalty. It was unsporting, it was unimaginative, it was unnecessary, and it was unbelievably painful to watch.
8. Gerd Müller
From a Möller to a Müller, Gerd Müller is the greatest forward Germany has ever produced. He hadn’t made his West Germany debut in 1966, when his nation lost the World Cup final to England at Wembley. By the time the next edition of the tournament came around, Müller scored the winning goal against England to ensure his side had come from 2-0 down to knock the defending champions out of the World Cup in Mexico.
England would have to wait until Euro 1972 to seek revenge. But the two sides met before the finals had even started. Only one of West Germany and England could reach the competition, as they faced off in a tense two-legged play-off tie. The winners? West Germany. The scorer of the goal that clinched it for them? Gerd Müller.
West Germany won the tournament.
7. Joe Gaetjens
While England have never played against the Caribbean island of Haiti, the man in seventh place was born and grew up there.
Joe Gaetjens was a teenager studying accounting at Columbia University in the late 1940s. The promising young striker had concluded he wouldn’t earn enough money in professional football, so he settled for a scholarship at Columbia University, paid for by the Haitian government. It’s alright for some.
Having already played twice for Haiti, Gaetjens was selected to represent the United States at the impending 1950 World Cup. Gaetjens scored the only goal of the game — indeed the only of his international career for either country — as the amateur American side produced an almighty shock by beating England at the Three Lions’ first World Cup.
A number of newspapers back home in Britain thought the full-time result had been filed with an incorrect score. Some assumed England had won 10-1 and printed that result in the following day’s paper.
The Haitian pioneer would assure you they hadn’t. His USA side had won — a result which to this day rivals the Iceland match of 2016 as the worst night in the England team’s history. Gaetjens never represented the States again, but made one more appearance for Haiti. A quite compelling story, albeit one England were well and truly on the wrong side of.
6. Antonio Rattín
This is a one-club man who played over 350 league matches for Boca Juniors. Yet he’s best remembered for a single match played between Argentina and England at the 1966 World Cup. Always an uncompromising defensive midfielder, his actions were rather more offensive in this particular match. ‘Offensive’ in every possible meaning of the word.
Midway through, the German referee sent him off for verbal abuse, despite not speaking Spanish himself.
Rattín was so livid he refused to leave the pitch. When he finally did, he was escorted off by two policemen, sat on the Queen’s red carpet, and scrunched up a British flag into a ball. Argentina’s captain had hardly covered himself in glory on the pitch either, consistently fouling the Three Lions’ most dangerous players. England progressed to the semi-finals, but the incident had not been forgotten.
The England-Argentina rivalry was born.
5. Ronald Koeman
Graham Taylor’s England made their qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup in the United States look at times a more difficult job than it really ought to have been. He was beginning to feel the pressure. It was beginning to feel like an impossible job.
The Three Lions had been two up on the Dutch when they’d met at Wembley, only for Peter van Vossen’s late penalty to steal the visitors a 2-2 draw.
In England’s penultimate qualifier, they faced each other again. After the break, Ronald Koeman took down David Platt when he was going through one-on-one with the goalkeeper. A free kick was given to England just outside the area, but Koeman was somehow not given his marching orders.
Tony Dorigo missed the free kick. Koeman scored one of his own at the other end. Dennis Bergkamp added an unanswered second. The Netherlands won a highly contentious match 2-0. They and Norway reached the World Cup finals. England didn’t. The ultrafine margins of football.
4. Jan Tomaszewski
Brian Clough called him ‘a clown’. But, for one night only, Jan Tomaszewski successfully tricked the crowd into thinking he was the greatest goalkeeper in the world. It’s just unfortunate that the clown’s greatest ever performance came in a critical 1974 World Cup qualifier that England had no choice but to win.
The goalkeeper put in a man-of-the-match display, somehow denying England what would on any other day have been a comfortable Wembley win for the home side.
Tomaszewski and Poland reached the finals with the 1-1 draw, while England didn’t. Alf Ramsey, England’s 1966 World Cup-winning manager, was sacked, while the Polish keeper saved a then-record two penalties at the finals in West Germany and helped his nation to a third-place finish at the tournament.
3. Jorge Larrionda
Jorge Larrionda never made his international debut for Uruguay. In fact, he never made it past the amateur leagues in his city of birth, Montevideo.
However, he added to England’s controversial history at the World Cup when he disallowed Frank Lampard’s totally legitimate equaliser against an admittedly awesome young Germany side at South Africa 2010. Fabio Capello’s players, in the end, put in a dire performance in this edition of the age-old rivalry, losing 4-1 and crashing out at the round of 16 stage.
Had the Uruguayan official or either of his two assistants spotted the ball landing well over the line, England may have gone on to win. That’s probably fanciful thinking, but the point is: Larrionda denied the Three Lions a certain goal, a vital equaliser, and Frank Lampard his only ever World Cup goal.
In true Tomaszewski style, Ricardo was a consistently good, but never world class, goalkeeper. In another heart-breaking chapter of a script you simply couldn’t make up, he sent England home from two consecutive major tournaments.
Wayne Rooney was catching the world’s attention at Euro 2004, as he inspired a truly special England team to the quarter-finals. But a 2-2 draw with hosts Portugal ended in cruel fashion.
Ricardo decided to face Darius Vassell barehanded with the spot kicks poised at 5-5. Somehow, this ludicrous move paid off. The goalkeeper saved well from Vassell, who wouldn’t have even been on the pitch had Rooney not broken his foot earlier in the game. Ricardo himself scored the winning penalty. The gloves were off.
Nothing had changed two years later, with Ricardo this time inexcusably able to save three of England’s kicks from 12 yards. Cristiano Ronaldo slotted the winner away. He’d done his winking. Now he, Ricardo and Portugal just jumped for joy.
England had allowed Ricardo to be the hero again. They’d handed him his career highlights on a silver platter… twice.
1. Diego Maradona
Oh, Diego Armando, where do we even start with you? No footballer has ever reached a level comparable to the peak that Diego Armando Maradona reached in the summer of 1986. Luckily for him and Argentina, that just so happened to coincide with the World Cup’s second trip to Mexico.
“There is no debate about that goal,” said the legendary BBC commentator Barry Davies as Maradona scored his and Argentina’s second to dump England out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage. There was no debate whatsoever.
His first, need you be reminded, required no debate either. It had been punched into the net by the greatest player on earth. Clear as day. He was so effortlessly good that he didn’t need to do it, but he felt he did. He wanted to win that tournament no matter what. And, eventually, he did — often without the need for his inferior teammates.
In 2006, Gary Lineker travelled to his house to question him about The Hand of God. Peter Shilton still can’t post anything on Twitter without getting pummelled about it. But neither did anything wrong.
I decided not to mention the one match that most haunts Shilton in his record-breakingly long career when I interviewed him back in November. Unsurprisingly, he took the conversation there himself. “Maradona cheated against us.”
He certainly did. The crème de la crème of England scandals.
Photos 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 11: Getty Images. Photo 4: Tomikoshi Photography. Photo 5: Athleta Mazagine. Photo 6: The Versed. Photo 8: Press Association. Photo 10: Sportskeeda.