Football: England at the World Cup: 1982 Spain - A flying start but a frustrating finish

In 1982 England played in their first World Cup for 12 years but their return to the top ended in disappointment. Ken Jones reports
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GROUP 4

England 3 France 1

England 2 Czechoslovakia 0

England 1 Kuwait 0

GROUP B

England 0 West Germany 0

England 0 Spain 0

SEMI-FINALS

Italy 2 Poland 0

West Germany 3 France 3

(W Germany won 5-4 on pens)

FINAL

Italy 3 W Germany 1

TOWARDS the end of Sir Alf Ramsey's momentous reign, Brian Clough declared that no sympathy could be held out for the England manager if he was incapable of producing a consistently successful team from a pool of more than 2,000 professional players at work in the Football League.

It was a typically glib and, probably, mischievous notion which ignored the fact that the League supplied men to national teams of the four home countries as well as the Republic of Ireland. An hour with the Rothmans Football Yearbook was enough to expose Clough's assertion.

Concentrating for obvious reasons on the First Division, you first had to rule out the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish - from both sides of the border - and the players from outside these islands who had started to infiltrate the game in England. Further culling eliminated former internationals who had waned, failed candidates and, the largest group, those clearly not up to standard. By my reckoning, 35 genuine contenders survived. "Three more than I make it," Ramsey said.

Ramsey's figure of 33 would come to haunt his successor, Don Revie. Appointed the England manager (Joe Mercer held the fort briefly) in June 1974 after the feted hero of 1966, he was dumped for failing to qualify for that summer's World Cup finals. Revie's biggest mistake was to overlook the difficulty implicit in Ramsey's assessment. Barely a year after taking the job, Revie's optimism had already given way to serious misgivings. England had done well enough on the field - four wins in five matches, including three that carried qualifying points for the 1976 European Championship - but he had come across a dearth of influential talent.

"I hadn't realised how important it had been at Leeds to have players from the other home countries," he said. "We had internationals in every position but half of them weren't English. After only a few months with the England team I sensed that I'd walked into trouble."

Revie, in fact, had been alerted to the problem by Les Cocker, who had left Leeds to work alongside him. When a part-timer on Ramsey's staff, Cocker realised that players with ability to handle international football were not coming forward. "Les warned me about it when I asked him to join me," Revie said, "but I thought he was being unnecessarily pessimistic. As a club manager you sometimes lose sight of the wider picture. But it wasn't long before I knew that we weren't good enough."

When England were nudged out of a place in the European Championship finals, Revie knew how difficult it would be to qualify for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, especially when they were drawn in a qualifying group with Italy. A 2-0 loss in Rome in November 1976 filled Revie with gloom. "We weren't in the same league,' he confided.

By the summer of 1977, England's absence from the World Cup finals looked like running to at least 12 years. Missing from England's match in Brazil, the first of three on a summer tour, Revie returned from clandestine negotiations to seek an assurance from the FA that Bobby Robson had not been lined up as his replacement. When this was not forthcoming, Revie took a decision that scandalised English football and branded him as a traitor. He walked out.

In an effort to restore dignity, the FA turned to Ron Greenwood, who should have been appointed in the first place. One of English football's best brains, Greenwood, by then in late middle-age, was approaching the end of his career at West Ham, unhappy with the role of consultant.

A 2-0 defeat of Italy at Wembley, when their only chance of reaching Argentina was victory by six or seven goals, meant that England would miss another World Cup.

Three years later England found themselves up against it again following a defeat in Switzerland. They were rescued by a 3-1 victory against Hungary in Budapest, where Trevor Brooking, one of Greenwood's students at West Ham, scored a glorious goal which meant that England went through to the 1982 finals.

Greenwood felt that he had a chance. He had the respect of senior players in the squad and a number of talented youngsters, including the Arsenal left-back, Kenny Sansom, and Manchester United's dynamic midfielder, Bryan Robson.

Sansom first came to Greenwood's attention in an outstanding Crystal Palace youth team and he was thrilled to be called on for the finals in Spain. "Every footballer who gets to a World Cup for the first time says that it's the stuff of dreams, but you have to be there to know how thrilling it is," Sansom said recently. "It gives you such a buzz. All the best players are there, men you don't normally come up against, posing different problems from League matches. It's like nothing else a player ever comes across."

England started well, defeating France 3-1 in Bilbao, their first goal coming from Bryan Robson after less than 30 seconds - "From a throw-in that I was supposed to take," Sansom said. "Instead, Steve Coppell picked up the ball and when Terry Butcher flicked it on there was Robbo, bingo, a goal. Afterwards we learned what we had already guessed, that it was the quickest in the history of the World Cup."

England topped their group with further victories over Czechoslovakia and Kuwait, but Brooking and Kevin Keegan were still missing because of niggling injuries. "It seemed to be taking a long time for them to get over them and things didn't look good when Kevin flew to Germany for treatment," Sansom added.

A 0-0 draw with West Germany in Madrid meant that England needed to beat Spain, while scoring at least two goals, to qualify for the semi-finals. With 27 minutes left the game was goalless and Greenwood sent on Brooking and Keegan as substitutes. Immediately, Brooking should have scored but shot straight at the Spanish goalkeeper. Shortly afterwards, Keegan headed wide. "No excuses, I should have scored," Keegan said. England were out and Greenwood was on his way into retirement.

"We just couldn't score," Sansom said. "If only Gary Lineker had come along a bit sooner."

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