Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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A Tale of Two Countries - Part One
The last twelve months have been a time of
anniversaries and reflection in Britain. While the
country at the moment is stable and seems to be at
peace with itself, we have been reminded time and
again of just how different it was only twenty years
Then Britain was full of social and political unrest -
a civil war raged in Northern Ireland, workers fought
against industry and the government as unemployment
reached 15%, all the major cities burned after the
worst riots seen for centuries and then the country
went to war with Argentina over a tiny, rocky outcrop
in the middle of the South Atlantic called the
Falklands/Malvinas. Even when the Pope made his first
(and only) visit to Britain, inspiring millions and
ending centuries of conflict between the Anglican and
Roman Catholic churches, it had only a limited impact
on society. At times, the country seemed to be
falling apart at the seams - huge events like the
Royal Weddings gave a false impression abroad, but
people at home knew differently.
Right in the middle of all this came the 1982 World
Cup in Spain. In today's world of never ending
nostalgia this event almost singularly is ignored and
lies forgotten. It certainly does not deserve to be.
It marked the end of one era of English football and
started another one that ended in Torino eight years
later with England right back at the top of the world.
It began with few expecting much, but ended with many
wondering just how England had managed to return home
undefeated, yet without the trophy. There is quite a
tale to tell here.
England had spent the 1970s stumbling from one failure
to another. In 1970 they had travelled to Mexico as
World Champions, and came as close to beating Pelé's
magical Brazilians as anyone ever could. Then they
lost to West Germany in two massively important,
belief sapping games. First Alf Ramsey's team were
knocked out of the World Cup by Gerd Müller. Although
this loss hurt, most fans saw it as a one off, and
pointed to Gordon Banks missing the game and Bobby
Charlton being strangely substituted. It would not
happen again was the image Ramsey and the English
press put across. It did, two years later.
This time it happened at Wembley. Inspired by Günter
Netzer, the Germans ran England ragged and knocked
Ramsey's team out of the European Championships.
With English confidence now at an all time low, Poland
came to Wembley and eliminated England from the 1974
World Cup - in 1973! Alf Ramsey was sacked and
replaced by Don Revie, the most successful English
club manager of his age. But instead of creating a
new era of success the squad stagnated, weighed down
by its huge size and constant chopping and changing.
Revie jumped ship before the end of the 1978
qualifiers, leaving for sunnier Arabian climes.
England lost out to Italy on goal difference, and
missed out on the World Cup for a second consecutive
time only twelve years after winning it.
In 1980 England finally qualified for another
tournament, this time for the European Championship in
Italy. This was no new dawn, and again England
failed, beaten by the Italians, held by Belgium and
only able to beat Spain in the meaningless final
All the more strangely, while this was happening
English clubs absolutely dominated European club
competitions. From 1977 to 1982 an English club won
the European Cup every year (Liverpool three times,
Nottingham Forest twice and Aston Villa once), and
going back earlier, both Leeds and Derby County had
reached the very final stages before being narrowly
beaten. It seemed to be that whoever won the English
league would win the European Cup the next year.
Similarly, English clubs were regularly reaching the
finals of the UEFA and European Cup Winners' Cups.
Kevin Keegan, England's captain and best player, was
twice voted European Footballer of the Year. It
should have been a period of great success. Instead
(and by a very long way) it was the worst period in
England's long international history.
So by the time the qualifiers for the 1982 World Cup
came around few Englishmen expected much. England had
been drawn into a tough, but winnable group along with
Norway, Romania, Switzerland and Hungary, and started
badly. After an easy home victory against Norway,
England lost to Romania and Switzerland. Still in
with a chance of qualification thanks to a great
victory in the Nepstadion over Hungary, England
travelled to Norway expecting to get the two points
Instead, in one of the biggest shocks in England's
history, Norway won 2:1. England has seemingly thrown
away any chance of making it to Spain with their sixth
loss in the last ten internationals. To make matters
worse, the Norwegian commentator had rounded off a
night of ecstasy for the Scandinavians by exclaiming
'Admiral Lord Nelson… Winston Churchill… Maggie
Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher… Your boys took a hell of a
beating' - a commentary that was repeated many times
in England over the next few weeks, much to the
chagrin of the players and manager Ron Greenwood.
Just when all seemed lost, Romania were beaten at home
by Switzerland. England were thrown a huge lifeline.
For the first time the World Cup was to include 24
teams. Therefore Europe would have 13
representatives, with both the group winners and
runners' up going to Spain. England could no longer
win their group, but could finish second if they beat
The whole first division football programme was
suspended for the first time since 1946 in the week
before the match. 92 000 expectant Englishmen packed
Wembley to its night time capacity, while millions
more watched at home, and Hungary never stood a
chance. England dominated the match like they had
not done for years. There was only one goal, Paul
Mariner - a big, clumsy target man - stabbing home the
ball after a free kick. But Hungary could not even
get a shot on goal in return, and England were able to
coast back to the World Cup finals.
The nation was relieved, but it was not too excited or
expectant. After all, even Ron Greenwood admitted
that England had sneaked into the tournament by the
backdoor, and barely deserved to be there. Greenwood
had also decided that he could no longer offer much to
England. Several times during his five years in
charge he had almost resigned, and at least once he
had to be talked out of quitting on the spot following
another bad performance. The press pulled his teams
apart, accusing him of being out of touch and too
reliant on old stagers like Kevin Keegan. Giving in
to the pressure he hired Don Howe to organise his
defence and announced his intention to retire
following the finals. The press assumed this was an
acceptance of failure even before the finals and while
there was some comfort from being drawn in another
winnable group, no one expected England to do well.
Almost unnoticed, England then went on a thirteen
match unbeaten run - including nine victories - and
only conceding three goals throughout the whole
process. That was to take them to the brink of
victory at the World Cup. But there was too much
going on at home for anyone to notice the wins
Even as England had been qualifying, Britain's inner
cities had been erupting into huge riots. Millions of
workers were sacked as the economy crumbled. Then as
the football season was reaching its climax, Argentina
invaded a tiny British colony, the Falkland Islands,
and British pride took another major blow. Almost to
escape the mayhem at home, 25 000 young English men
travelled to Northern Spain to watch England in Group
4 of the World Cup. But even while this exodus was
taking place few knew if it would be worthwhile.
English participation was called into question by the
government - how could England play football in the
same competition as Argentina while hundreds of
British and Argentinean soldiers were dying in the
Thankfully this bloody, unnecessary conflict came to a
much needed end on June 14 - one day after Argentina
had opened the tournament by losing to Belgium, and
just two days before England started against France.
So England were free to compete, or at least try to
put up a creditable showing.
As the thousands of English fans arrived on board car
ferries in Bilbao few knew how their team would do
against the French. Not much was expected of France,
although they had been so attractive to watch in
Argentina four years before. In qualifying they had
eliminated Holland, but they had only squeezed past
the Republic of Ireland on goal difference. But then
again, England had hardly set the world alight in
their qualifiers had they?
In the build up to the match all the talk back in
England was of who Greenwood would play up front
instead of the injured Keegan and just how he would
replace the equally injured Trevor Brooking in the
centre of midfield. In Spain itself, most England
fans worried simply about where they were going to
sleep, and how they were going to pay for their
tickets. So badly had the organising committee
distributed the tickets the only people who seemed to
have any were the ubiquitous touts. Thousands of
English fans bought these, and ended up in the French
section. Running battles on the terraces started
straight away, with the police regularly baton
charging anyone who got in their way. As well as
running through their usual repertoire of chants about
the Second World War, Argentina and Northern Ireland,
many English fans had started to pick up the Basque
nationalist songs and flags so popular in Pais Vasco
but utterly hated in Castillan Spain. This made them
even less popular with the Spanish police, and that
mixed with huge amounts of cheap alcohol and hot sun
meant for trouble wherever England went. Today that
type of trouble would be magnified and reported in all
its shocking depth, but in 1982 it was almost
With the front pages back home still dominated by the
Falklands, this vicious violence was barely mentioned.
Thousands of English fans returned home with injuries
- black eyes, broken noses and arms, stab wounds - and
some were even hospitalised as neo-fascist Spanish
youth groups attacked any English fan they could find
once they were away from the relative safety of the
Basque country. The attitude of the Spanish police
was to attack first and to round up any England fans
unlucky enough to be in a small group. Once England
got to Madrid for the second stage the trouble was to
get even worse. But for now the worst was contained
by the most unexpected of English performances.
England outclassed France so thoroughly in Bilbao that
few commentators gave the French much chance of
getting out of the group, let alone having any chance
of winning the tournament. England scored through
Bryan Robson after only 27 seconds, officially the
second fastest goal in World Cup history, a fast,
well-controlled volley following a long throw and
flick-on. England were rampant, and as the fans
stopped fighting just long enough to celebrate, they
ran out 3:1 winners. Only in the few minutes before
and after Alain Giresse scored for France did England
look troubled. Michel Platini hardly had a touch in
midfield, crowded out by Robson and Butch Wilkins.
Even Paul Mariner, retaining his place alongside
Trevor Francis, looked international class, adding a
third goal to Robson's two.
It was the finest away performance by an English team
since Guadalajara and Brazil twelve years before.
Indeed, many went so far as to say it was the finest
performance England had produced since 1966. The team
was on a massive high. As their fans drank Bilbao
dry, Greenwood tinkered with his team. Still without
Brooking and Keegan, he now lost much of Robson's
mobility to a groin injury - how often was that going
to happen in the future! Still, the Czechs were
bypassed comfortably with Mariner and Francis giving
England a 2:0 victory. England were the first
European side to qualify for the second stage, and so
far only Brazil had looked as good.
The football was starting to overtake war and unrest
as the main news story back in England, and many fans
in Spain were linking British success in the Falklands
to English victories in Spain. The nation back at
home was being told to rejoice in victory by
Thatcher's jingoistic right-wing government and
England's victories in Spain were just what she needed
to boost her campaign. Even a poor performance
against Kuwait was brushed over. Without Robson's
movement, England could only win 1:0 (again thanks to
Francis) but they looked weaker this time. True, some
of the squad players were used in this game, and
Keegan and Brooking were still unavailable, but cracks
were appearing - no matter how small they were.
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