Gary Lineker. You remember him.
Fox in the box. One of the finest strikers this country has ever produced. Scorer of 329 goals for club and country. And what’s even more impressive is that you can’t remember any of them. You see, Lineker was the absolute master of scoring rubbish goals. Bucket loads of them. He’s one of the very few strikers whose highlights looked better on Ceefax.
At Mexico 86 the Everton striker stormed the world stage, scoring six times to grab the Golden Boot.
Here they are in all their glory.
Goal 1: Poland
Ahead of the match against Poland there was speculation that Lineker might not be in the starting eleven. He’d missed a hat-trick of chances in the defeat against Portugal and had the sort of game against Morocco when you wondered if he was on speaking terms with the ball.
With qualification – and his job – on the line, Bobby Robson has to make a change. His England side have always played with a target man up top, so Mark Hateley’s spot seems safe. Lineker’s five-game goalless streak makes him the prime candidate for the axe.
In the event, it’s Hateley who drops to the bench with Peter Beardsley drafted in to replace him. The Newcastle striker is one of the most intelligent players in English football. You wouldn’t think it to look at him. He wears the visage of a man who thinks an innuendo was an Italian suppository. But his inclusion would force England to play differently. Quicker. Sharper. And that might help Lineker find the precious few inches of space he needed to punish the Poles.
It doesn’t take long for the plan to work perfectly. In the blistering heat of Monterrey, England make a red-hot start. With nine minutes gone, Glenn Hoddle’s clearance finds Lineker, whose one-two with Beardsley leads England on a rapid counter-attack. The ball is worked wide to overlapping Everton full-back Gary Stevens, who drives the ball across the six-yard box where his team-mate is waiting.
Lineker’s movement is exquisite: forward, back, forward again – like a nervous squirrel crossing the M25. The Polish defender loses sight of him and England’s number 10 bursts in front to break the deadlock.
Goal 2: Poland
The second goal is one of England’s best goals of the Robson era – and one that vindicates his selection. Sansom plays the ball into Beardsley, whose magnificent first-time pass releases Steve Hodge. The Nottingham Forest midfielder gallops forward – in the days before the hefty cheque for Maradona’s shirt weighed him down considerably – and curls the ball beautifully between keeper and defender.
On this occasion, Lineker’s marker refuses to fall for the same trick twice. He watches the striker intently, waiting for that forward movement. He takes his eye momentarily off the cross. It’s a fatal mistake. This time Lineker has predicted the ball’s trajectory perfectly. He arrives right on cue to divert it into the net.
It’s marvellous football. In the space of just sixteen minutes, England’s tournament has completely transformed.
Goal 3: Poland
Lineker’s third is a victory for optimism. He’s spent his whole career loitering around the six-yard box, waiting for the others to make mistakes. This time it’s Poland’s keeper. A routine corner should be gobbled up by Mlynarczyk. Unfortunately, he has the same aversion to catching the ball as he does to vowels.
Still, when the ball drops it’s no easy finish. The England striker has a split-second to not only get a shot off, but to avoid the defenders on the line. With one swing of his left boot, he does both. Hat-trick secured. The Three Lions roar into the second phase.
Goal 4: Paraguay
Awaiting Bobby Robson’s men are a stubborn Paraguay side that is expected to use all of the dark arts to stamp out England’s newfound fire. The South Americans don’t disappoint. For 30 minutes they harangue the referee, waste time and disrupt any kind of attempt at association football.
The opening goal is the sort of schmozzle that the diabolical spectacle deserves. Hoddle’s ping into the box causes chaos. Kenny Sansom’s cutback restores order. Lineker’s almost apologetic toe pokes it over the line.
It’s another example of the master marksman’s instinct for being in the right place at the right time.
Goal 5: Paraguay
The South American defence can have no excuse for Lineker’s second. It is carbon copy of the opener against Poland. The ball worked across. An overlapping run. A ball into a danger area.
For some unknown reason, the Paraguayan centre halves have decided the defend the penalty area like it’s strewn with dog shit. They’re nowhere to be seen. Lineker’s movement has again afforded him acres of space – by this time you’d back him to lose his marker in a phone box – and he taps in his fifth goal in two games.
Goal 6: Argentina
With his side trailing to the hands and feet of the magnificent Maradona, Bobby Robson takes another gamble. He sends on John Barnes, arguably too late in the eyes of some observers, to see if the Watford wing wizard can help conjure an England comeback. Barnes makes an immediate impact. He dances past the defender and dinks a cross to the back post, where Lineker is waiting. The header is downward, past the despairing dive of Nery Pumpido, and for a brief moment England have hope.
Of course it wasn’t to be. Diego’s date with destiny meant that England were on their way home. But Gary Lineker had a Golden Boot to bring back to Blighty.
For another four years at least, he was the globe’s greatest goal hanger.
Written by Sid Lambert
SHOP the official England 1986 World Cup collection at 3Retro.com