Somewhere in my parents sparse collection of family photos, there’s a snap of me aged 6 in our back garden, in that most traditional of football poses; arms folded, one foot resting assuredly on a ball, sternly but proudly staring at the camera. I’d just been given my first England kit and I wanted this moment captured for posterity; a milestone in my young career.
I can still remember it vividly; the summer sun shining in my eyes, reflecting off my lustrous mop of dark hair (sadly all gone these days). That iconic, brilliant-white shirt with those blue and red flashes adorning the collarbones, the three lions on the chest. Spain 1982; my first World Cup.
England, stirred by patriotic sentiment, went to the tournament amid the backdrop of the Falklands War (the conflict ended on Day 2 of the finals). Yet, despite our club sides dominating European club football throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, the national squad continuously failed to live up to expectation.
But, we told ourselves, as we always do, that 1982 was going to be different. Nevermind Brazil, France, West Germany and Argentina (who had some kid called Maradona).
Ron Greenwood’s men departed this sceptered isle to the strains of ‘Viva España’ with high hopes and thousands of holiday hooligans in tow.
England, playing in their first FIFA World cup finals for 12 years, had, on paper at least, a 22-man squad capable of making a bold bid for glory. We had the likes of Peter Shilton, Phil Neal and Trevor Francis in the prime of their careers. The emerging talents of Bryan Robson, Kenny Sansom and Glenn Hoddle complimented the old stagers Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan, for whom this was the last chance saloon on the international stage. There were the boys from Bobby Robson’s excellent Ipswich team; Mick Mills and Paul Mariner. And there was…erm…Steve Foster.
Things started brightly. First up in England’s base city of Bilbao was the Group 4 heavyweight clash with our friendly French cousins; Anglo-Saxon brawn meets Gallic panache. Both teams, sporting their second choice colours, had barely had time to muddy their boots before Manchester United star Robson arrived in late in the box in trademark fashion. Just 27 seconds in and England were on their way to a famous 3-1 win over France – Platini, Giresse, Tigana and the rest – who would come agonisingly close to reaching the final but for lady luck to turn her back on them in the semi final against West Germany. A promising beginning to the campaign for former West Ham boss Greenwood.
Next up came the tricky tie with Czechoslovakia which England safely negotiated thanks to an own goal and a strike by Britain’s first million pound player, Francis.
The final group game should have been a cakewalk against the minnows of Kuwait. However, the tiny Gulf state had already taken a point from the Czechs and they duly put up stiff resistance, only going down to another goal by Manchester City’s Francis. Three games, three wins, six points – these were the days of two points for a win – and passage had safely been negotiated for the next round robin stage.
From the initial 24 qualifiers, 12 proceeded to a second group stage of three nations per group. Only the team who headed their pool would advance to the semis. England caught a pearler; European Champions and perennial favourites West Germany, and the hosts, Spain.
With the cautious nature of international football, a win in either of those fixtures would almost certainly have guaranteed a spot in the last four of the World Cup, and for the first time since 1970 and the ill-fated defence of the Jules Rimet trophy, England would have been within touching distance of a second success.
The Germans provided the first test and England once again swapped the white, stylish Admiral-branded home shirt for its red alternative; perhaps a positive omen in respect of the relevance to 1966.
Sadly, the game, and the outcome did not replicate that glorious day 16 years earlier. No goals, very few opportunities, stalemate. The Germans then proceeded to defeat the Spanish 2-1, leaving England’s fate squarely in their own hands; beat Spain by two clear goals and it would be a case of encore une fois with the French in the semi-final.
The hosts effectively had nothing to play for except national pride; the loss to West Germany had ended their hopes of progressing in what had been a topsy-turvy tournament for them. However, in the cauldron of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and in front of 75,000 home fans, they were unlikely to give England an easy ride.
Both teams had their chances, with the English in particular pressing for those all-important two goals, but as the match passed the hour mark and with frustration growing, Greenwood turned to his trusted stalwarts on the bench. In a last throw of the dice, Brooking and Keegan replaced Graham Rix and Tony Woodcock as the men in white strived to breakdown the Spanish rearguard.
The substitutions had the desired effect as England pressed on; Brooking brought a great save from Luis Arconada and Terry Butcher thundered a long-range drive just wide. At the other end, Shilton kept his team in it with a superb reaction save.
With time ebbing away, former European Footballer of the Year Keegan was presented with the golden opportunity he longed for after good work by Robson down the left. ‘Mighty Mouse’ leapt to meet the cross just six yards from goal, just like he had on countless occasions for club and country. Sadly, the outcome did not match so many previous Keegan attempts on goal as his header flashed past the far post, and with that miss went England’s World Cup dreams. The image of Keegan knelt on the turf, beating his fists against his thighs in frustration remains the lasting image of England’s 1982 World Cup campaign. So near, yet so far.
The England fans won’t have been too upset with their World Cup adventure. They had three weeks on the Costas to perfect their T-shirt sun burn and drink copious amounts of sangria. And of course, we got that iconic England shirt to evoke the memories of that glorious summer.
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