When Gary Lineker boarded his flight to Madrid in February 1987 he was already an established Catalan hero, with a hat-trick for Barcelona against Real Madrid in the Nou Camp the previous month. When he returned with his clubmates four days later he had gone one better, with four goals for England against Spain in one night.
The story of Lineker's performance in the 4-2 win against Spain 24 years ago was, as he remembers now, one of those nights when "everything fell nicely for me". But as with the hat-trick against Real Madrid, all four goals for England were classic Lineker finishes: the split-second reaction that got him ahead of defenders, and the unerring finish.
Of course, the Spain team of 1987 was nothing like the Spain side that England will face at Wembley tomorrow, but they were a decent side and, as Lineker told i yesterday, the game was played in an era when friendlies were taken a lot more seriously. "Spain had threatened for a while at Mexico '86 when Emilio Butragueno scored four goals in one game against Denmark," Lineker said.
"Spain had good players in that team, the likes of Gallego, Carrasco, Julio Alberto and Victor. It's fair to say that it was nothing compared to the kind of team that they have now but that did not detract from the sense of achievement we felt at going to Madrid and winning."
At the time, Terry Venables was in charge of Barcelona and, while the manager spoke good Spanish, Lineker says, he had also taught some players a bit of his native Dagenham English. "At the end of the game, Zubi [Andoni Zubizarreta] came into the England dressing room, walked over to me and said in a perfect Cockney accent 'Facking hell', which was very funny at the time. It was a memorable evening for me, especially scoring four against so many of my Barcelona team-mates. Less than three weeks before I had scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid. It was a bit of a golden time for me."
It is striking that Lineker remembers Spanish football very differently to how it is regarded now, as the very height of sophistication. "When I was in Spain it was, in many ways, quite an aggressive style of football," he said. "They decided they needed to change. They invested heavily, Barcelona in particular, and now they have seen the rewards.
"We have always been aggressive but in Spain they had the same thing. The tackle on Diego Maradona by Andoni Goicoechea [in 1983, which broke the Argentine's ankle] was a big moment in Spanish football.
"The day after the four goals the headline in the Catalan sports newspaper Sport was 'Catalan player scores four' so there was that attitude towards the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry. The fact it is dominated by Barcelona players now shows it has moved on."Reuse content