[OC] Sun, Becks and Suspicious Players – 20 years of hope, failure and the downright outrageous of the English national team – Part 1
First off, it wouldn't be an England post by an Englishman without mentioning the fact that we won the bloody World Cup once. Yes it was over 50 years ago, yes it was hosted in England and yes the FA managed to rig the fixtures so England played all their games at Wembley, but so what. We've got more World Cup's than Holland, Russia and Burkina Faso put together, it doesn't matter if most of us weren't alive to see it we will still brag about it. Since then we've come close…once, during a tournament where Gary Lineker literally did a shit on the pitch in what was clearly some sort of foreshadowing of future England performances.
After the utter shambles of not qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the land of freedom, football came home in 1996 only for us to be knocked out on penalties in the semi final again by those pesky Germans, deja vu. Plucky, honest centre back and future England managerial legend Gareth Southgate missed before Andreas Moller scored the winner and celebrated like a gigantic tosspot. Surely England's luck would turn at some point, right?
1998 World Cup
Glenn Hoddle took the reigns after Terry Venables' departure as England manager. In a story not too dissimilar to quite recent events, Venables was accused of paying the former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough a £58,750 “bung” to arrange the transfer of Teddy Sheringham to Spurs, although the police dropped the inquiry. The decision to hire Hoddle after the tournament in England had already been announced before Euro 96 had even started.
England's qualification group for the tournament included Poland (a historically tricky foe) and Italy (bloody good). Despite losing to Italy at home, Hoddle's men called on their true English bulldog spirit and a 0-0 draw in Rome in our last qualifying match meant England finished top of the group and were going to France. Even better, England played in the Tournoi de France, a friendly tournament with Brazil, France and Italy in the summer before the World Cup and only went and bloody won it! Maybe England were actually good, maybe this was our year.
England got knocked out in the second round on penalties by Argentina.
In a game of highs and lows, 18 year old Michael Owen scored one of the best England goals ever before David Beckham gave Diego Simeone a good old kicking and got sent off. The whole nation turned on young Becks, The Mirror's front page title was "10 heroic lions, 1 stupid boy." He received death threats and bullets in the post, maybe he'd never play for England again…
The drama wasn't over though, Glenn Hoddle lost the England job the following year after an interview he conducted with The Sunday Times in which he stated disabled people were paying for sins in a previous life, yeah seriously.
2000 European Championship
England needed a hero, a man who could deliver exciting football, a man who would "luv it," a man who knew how to cross the street and most importantly a man who didn't think disabled people were paying for sins in a previous life. That man was Kevin Keegan, King Kev. A lackluster qualifying campaign meant England were powerless as Poland met Sweden in the last round of games, Poland needed just a point away to the already qualified Sweden to overtake England for the play off spot but thankfully for us the Swedes won 2-0. England had a second chance! Out of the 9 second placed teams England had the second worst record, only ahead of Slovenia on goal difference. In true Hollywood fashion, England were drawn against Scotland in the play-offs.
The Three Lions travelled up to Hampden Park where a ginger haired prince scored twice and despite the odds, he was English. Taking a 2-0 lead back to Wembley, England managed 0 shots on target in the return leg but somehow managed to crawl over the line and keep the Scots down to just one goal. 2-1 on aggregate, England were going to Holland!…and Belgium. Maybe our luck really was turning?
England however were handed a tough group, Portugal, Romania and those bloody Germans. After barely just qualifying there wasn't much reason for hope, then 18 minutes into our opening fixture against Portugal, England were 2-0 up! But it's the hope that kills you. Figo decided to belt one in and by the hour mark England were 3-2 down, our first game ended as a loss and next up was Germany, brilliant.
But if there's one thing England are good at since 1996, it's beating Germany when ultimately it didn't matter. Remember that lad David Beckham? He whipped one in for Shearer to head home and England were back in the tournament!
Going into our last group game, Portugal had 6 points, England 3 points, Germany 1 point and our last opponents Romania also had 1 point. We just needed a win and as it turned out even a draw would've done for England as already qualified Portugal battered Germany 3-0 (putting our result into perspective) and England were on course to achieve exactly that. The score was 2-2 in the 89th minute, all England had to do was hold on and keep the Romanian's at bay but Phil Neville had other ideas. He inexplicably brought down Moldovan, Romania scored the penalty and England were sent packing. England just couldn't keep away from the drama.
2002 World Cup
Keegan, for some reason, kept his job following that campaign and England kicked off qualifying for the first World Cup in Asia against….Germany. But it was fine! We had just beaten Germany on neutral ground surely we could beat them at Wembley? To add further significance this was to be the last game played at the old Wembley before it was redeveloped. A golden opportunity to put one over on our old international rivals.
England lost 1-0. An absolute pea roller from about 78 yards out somehow went in catching Seaman out, lets hope he doesn't do that again. Straight after the game Kevin Keegan announced his resignation as manager inside a toilet cubicle, before confirming it to the press in the post match interview stressing that he wasn't good enough. I mean, I don't want to use that word drama again…
England needed a fresh start and opted for their first foreign manager ever by hiring Sven-Goran Eriksson. He had incredible pedigree and wasn't particularly good looking so you wouldn't expect him to be involved in any off field romances or anything like that, certainly not. Sexy Sven managed to turn things around in qualifying, most notably gifting many England fans the greatest night they had witnessed following The Three Lions, a 5-1 demolition of Germany in Munich.
Before the game England were 6 points behind Germany with a game in hand so a result was paramount. England had never won a competitive game in Germany before and the Germans had only ever lost one world cup qualifier (out of 61!). With history stacked against them, Michael Owen scored a hat trick, a song was released and lots of new baby boys were named Sven.
The job wasn't finished though, and England needed only a draw against lowly Greece (who had never even won a major tournament, pfft) to qualify top of the group. But as is tradition, England were en route to bottle it. Greece scored in the first half before Teddy Sheringham equalised with literally his first touch of the game from a David Beckham free kick. Just a minute later Greece took the lead again and it wasn't until the 93rd minute when that "1 stupid boy" David Beckham scored a stunning free kick taking England to the World Cup. The boy the nation hated transformed himself into a hero.
An incredible way to qualify, maybe Sven had turned this team around! Keegan was holding them back, Sven was the man. On the pitch we were great and we hardly heard anything from him off it…
Just 2 months before the World Cup started it was revealed Sven had an affair with tv star Ulrika Jonsson. The two most famous Swedes in England since ABBA had joined forces to put extra unnecessary media coverage around the England team before a major tournament (where we were actually set to play Sweden). Oh sexy Sven. Furthermore the nations newest hero David Beckham broke his metatarsal (a bone the country would become familiar with) and was considered extremely doubtful for the tournament. England just couldn't seem to catch a break (no pun intended).
England managed to stumble through their group, drawing with Sweden and Nigeria but beating Argentina 1-0 thanks to that man Becks, exorcising his demons from 4 years earlier and further cementing his hero status. All whilst not fully fit! After brushing aside Denmark, our golden generation was set to face the almighty Brazil.
This was the real test, the nation believed we had world class players. A squad that was stronger than England had seen for years and now they had to prove it against Brazil in the quarter final of the World Cup, and England only bloody went and scored first! Michael Owen capitalising on a mistake by Lucio to put us ahead. But then in stepped this bucktoothed Brazilian who sounded like a Brazilian regen, Ronaldinho. He danced through the midfield to set up Rivaldo and then he overhit a cross, somehow Seaman couldn't get to it and England once again were on their way out of a major competition in bizarre circumstances. Despite the fact Ronaldinho was sent off before the hour mark, England could not get a goal back.
Surely the Golden Generation would win something soon? Surely our luck would turn at some point? These players were too good to not win something…
Next time on Sun, Becks and Suspicious Players – More sex scandals! More metatarsals! And an umbrella.