Brian Viner: Friendly fire and history leave Eriksson struggling to find grace under pressure

Whatever happened to 8-0 and 9-0 England victories?
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The Independent Football

Apart from that, I can't think of anything remotely humorous about the Austrian football team, and I don't suppose Sven Goran Eriksson can, either, although there is always the chance that he might end up laughing all the way to the bank should England lose at Old Trafford this afternoon, or against Poland next week. For he will surely be sacked, and instantly become five times richer than Croesus rather than just twice as rich, as the Football Association pays off his contract.

On the other hand, if England falter in either of these two games, then Eriksson might even do the honourable thing and resign, as some say he should have done after the humiliating defeat by Northern Ireland. If he does not, then his boss, Brian Barwick, should consider launching an appeal for a quid each from eight million fans, which might just about cover his FA pay-off.

But what if England win both comfortably? Will Eriksson's reputation, which began to slide following the defeat by Brazil in the 2002 World Cup and has gathered impressive downward momentum since, be restored? I doubt it. There will be a collective hurrumph of "I should bloody well think so too", because Eriksson has reached that stage at which all England coaches arrive sooner or later, of being damned when his team does badly, and damned, if only with faint praise, when it does well.

As for the historical portents, they are not especially encouraging. A flick through an old Football Yearbook reveals that England have played back-to-back internationals against Austria and Poland before, in the autumn of 1973, and that the second match was the catastrophic 1-1 draw that confirmed England's shattering failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in, coincidentally, West Germany.

On a more cheerful note, the match at Wembley against Austria finished in a 7-0 home win, the most comprehensive victory over a non-British team since the 8-0 demolition of Mexico in 1961, which itself came scarcely six months after a 9-0 thumping of Luxembourg. Whatever happened to 8-0 and 9-0 England victories, incidentally? They appear to have gone the way of Spangles, Demis Roussos LPs and white dog dirt, relics of a bygone age. These days, with players and coaching staff all repeating that familiar mantra about there being no such thing as an easy international match, England tend to come home from World Cup qualifiers against tiny nation states in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains with, at best, a hard-earned 2-1 win, having been 0-1 at half-time.

Anyway, for those of you who reached adolescence in the 1970s, as I did, and for whom names such as Trevor Whymark (last heard of driving a lorry for a Suffolk chicken farmer, should you doubt for a second it is better to be a top-class footballer now than it was then) exert an almost romantic tug of nostalgia, here is the team that played Austria on 26 September 1973: Shilton, Madeley, Hughes, Bell, McFarland, Hunter, Currie, Channon, Chivers, Clarke, Peters. The scorers - I write this with a wistful sigh - were Channon 2, Clarke 2, Chivers, Currie and Bell.

The match was a friendly, I should add, yet not a single player was substituted. The substitution laws were different then, but even so, it seems that Alf Ramsey knew what Eriksson appears not to, that the job of friendlies is to establish a settled, confident team, not to dish out caps like sweets at a pantomime.

Still, it wasn't as if a settled side helped Ramsey much. Against Poland three weeks later the same 11 players could not find a way to score even one past the Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski in open play. Despite a corner count of 26-2 in England's favour - which is as unimaginable in a modern-day international as those 8-0 and 9-0 scorelines - Allan Clarke was the only scorer, from the penalty spot. Brian Clough's famous pre-match dismissal of Tomaszewski as a clown was as seductive a temptress of fate as the England cricket captain Tony Greig's comment, less than three years later, that he intended to make the mighty West Indies grovel.

To return to the Austria match, it was noteworthy also because Ramsey made the momentous decision beforehand to drop Bobby Moore. When I say it was momentous, Big Ben stopped chiming and the ravens left the Tower of London. But the great man's replacement, Norman Hunter, did well enough against Austria to secure his place against Poland. Alas, it was Hunter's cock-up which led to Poland's fateful goal.

Ramsey was sacked soon afterwards, and the England football team fell into a decline that was arguably not arrested until Bobby Robson's team reached the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup, and just as arguably has not been fully arrested yet. You could say that it all began with back-to-back fixtures against Austria and Poland, and the dropping of an accomplished central defender.

But no pressure, Sven, no pressure.

Who I like this week...

Colin Montgomerie and Andy Murray. However the footballers perform today, Scotland can be proud of its improbable double act, Monty and Murray. One won in St Andrews last weekend, proving he is a long way from the end of the road; the other lost in Bangkok, but proved the road ahead is paved with gold. They are almost 25 years apart in age, and wizards in different sports, but kindred spirits. They can both be bad-tempered and downright objectionable; they can both be disarmingly witty and charming. And they are both prepared to open up: Monty in an emotional sense, pouring his heart out about his broken marriage; Murray in a physical sense, vomiting on court at the US Open. The youngster showed further lack of inhibition by complaining at this week's tournament in Mons of a sore right buttock. That is a complaint we haven't yet heard from Monty.

And who I don't

The Brazilian footballers at Real Madrid, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Julio Baptista, who between them have scored six out of seven of Real's goals in recent wins over Alaves and Mallorca, have celebrated, along with Robinho, by pretending to be cockroaches, lying on their backs and wiggling their arms and legs in the air. They also have a frog and a horse goal celebration, and it has even started to irritate some of their team-mates. Ivan Helguera kicked Roberto Carlos after one of his animal impressions last Sunday, and rightly so. "Artistic" goal celebrations are among the curses of modern football, and the Premiership is not immune: Robert Earnshaw of West Brom likes to impersonate a toreador, then mimes someone firing a sub-machine gun. A somewhat greater Welsh goalscorer, John Charles, must be turning, with dignity, in his grave.