European history lesson produces nothing; by way of home comfort

This is a tournament which has not been kind to those who will fly the flag for Britain this year, says Clive White
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Membership of the Common Market was not the only thing that the British had vetoed by the French in 1963. The England football team's belated attempt to qualify for the European Championship finals was also given short shrift that year by Les Bleus, who defeated Alf Ramsey's first selection 5-2 in Paris. Although they have qualified as often as not, the English have never felt at home in this tournament - until now, of course.

In a Nations' Cup, as it used to be called, the best they can point to is third in 1968, when the country was at the peak of its footballing powers. Indeed, it is 16 years since they won a match in the finals, courtesy of a Tony Woodcock goal against Spain in Naples. As for Scotland, the least said about their efforts the better, until 1992.

The competition has also seen a few international careers fail to go the full distance. In 1972 - coincidentally against West Germany - the withdrawal of Geoff Hurst, the hat-trick hero of 1966, marked the end of an era. Twenty years on it was the turn of another legendary goalscorer, Gary Lineker, to be hauled off, in the Swedish finals, just one goal short of equalling Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals. Billy Bremner found himself one cap short of Denis Law's Scottish record of 55 when he found himself not so much as substituted as suspended - for life - over alleged misconduct in a Copenhagen night-club in 1975.

Typically, the parochial English had declined to enter the inaugural event in 1960, as did, more surprisingly, Scotland. After Ramsey's abortive start, England finally qualified for the 1968 finals via the Home Championship as aggregate winners over two consecutive seasons.

Victory, home and away, over Spain took them to the semi-finals in Italy only to go out against Yugoslavia, when Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off in a full international. The consolation prize was third place, which they took with a 2-0 win over the USSR.

Germany's 3-1 victory at Wembley in 1972 in a quarter-final first leg confirmed their arrival as the new force of football. With Bobby Charlton now retired, England's midfield of Alan Ball, Colin Bell and Martin Peters were no match for the likes of Beckenbauer, Netzer and Hoeness.

Four years later England again had the misfortune to encounter the eventual winners - Czechoslovakia - in the qualifying competition, but at least they managed a 3-0 win over them at Wembley.

English hopes were high for the first of the eight-team tournaments, in Italy in 1980. After failing to qualify for three major finals, Ron Greenwood led England to a comprehensive qualification with seven wins and a draw. But again they disappointed in the finals, finishing third of four in their group, behind Belgium and Italy.

The next time they ran into the improving Danes - an Allan Simonsen penalty at Wembley did for Bobby Robson's team. The Germany finals in 1988 saw England hit a new low, losing all three games. Once again, England had flattered to deceive, having finished the qualifiers with a 19-1 goal aggregate.

Finally, in 1992, Scotland reached their first finals and immediately distinguished themselves, matching the Germans for much of their first group game, and holding the Dutch for 76 minutes before beating the Commonwealth of Independent States. England only scrambled into the finals with 13 minutes to spare, thanks to a volleyed equaliser from Lineker.

After a goalless start against Denmark, the eventual winners, their hopes of qualification for the knock-out stages foundered on another blank scoreline when, not for the first time, the French stood in their way.

Comments