As the World Cup quickly approaches, one must spare a thought for the poor England fan. Long suffering the slings and arrows of unreasonable expectations at home — and dashed hopes of trophies abroad — England is once again cast as a contender.
Our own Kevin Hoggard has been English all his life. And like so many Englishmen, he has stuck by his countrymen through the years — which comes with a feeling of loss and aching each time the Jules Rimet is handed out.
Here’s the first in his series of laments for the Three Lions.
I was born in 1969: three years too late to appreciate the greatest moment in English football history.
Being a Coventry City fan (thanks Dad), I have had little to celebrate. There’s just one glorious moment in 1987 that will live with me forever. But apart from that crazy FA Cup run, my eggs have been delicately placed in England’s basket of hope.
The World Cup is the one tournament that is truly magical. The European Championship is tougher to win — and has much better teams — but the World Cup is a bit special. It’s set in crazy locales. You see teams and players that you would never normally see. The fans are rabid with their vociferous support. It’s an experience not to be missed.
I have no recollection of the ‘74 or ‘78 World Cups and vague memories of ‘82 in Spain (Tardelli and his bulging eyes! Ooooo!)
My World Cup experience really starts in Mexico in ‘86. The one image that sticks with me is Sir Bobby Robson on his hotel balcony. We were two games into the group stages and it had not gone well. A 1-0 loss to Portugal in the opening game was followed by a match against Morocco. Morocco, FFS. It should have been easy, but we struggled to a 0-0 draw. We played dreadfully and the gravity of the situation seemed to be weighing on Bobby’s face, sinking his jowls into his hands, propped up on the balcony, looking over the Monterrey skyline with a look that would make Droopy look positively joyous.
So, with Poland coming up, the nation was in despair. It was ridiculous to think that we could do well. The papers, as ever, had built us up into this world-beating team. But the truth was our side was pretty dreadful. Shilton was solid if unspectacular in goal. Butcher, Fenwick, Sansom and Stevens were as limited in skill as any back four you are likely to see. In the middle we had the mercurial Bryan Robson — but he was on the tail end of his career. Alongside him, Ray Wilkins continued making sideways five-yard passes.
It was in the hands of two skillful players that we had put our hopes. But Waddle and Hoddle were too busy penning their soon-to-be moderately successful “Diamond Lights”. They seemed to forget that we needed them to perform on a bigger stage, and not on the one surrounded by screaming teenagers on Top of the Pops. Mark Hateley was up front — a man of such limited skill that he would make Emile Heskey look like Pele.
Robson persisted with that side for the first two games and we were woeful. But leaning over that balcony, he must have had a moment of inspiration. The gaffer relegated Hateley to the bench and brought in Peter Beardsley as replacement.
Beardsley looked like the love child of Ian Dowie and Dirk Kuyt. Surely only his mother could love him — but it transformed the side. For 75 magical minutes, his beauty emanated from his boots. Dancing this way and that, he provided the service to the clinical Gary Lineker and a partnership was born. Lineker walked off the pitch that day with a hat trick. In 25 first-half minutes, he’d ensured that our tenure at the World Cup would continue and a flicker of hope had entered my heart.
England were reborn. But we still faced a tricky tie against Paraguay. We were assured that the South Americans were skillful and — more importantly — would not be affected by the oppressive heat of that Mexican summer. But it was the boys in white who blazed through the match. Lineker and Beardsley combined for all three goals and Paraguay were dispatched with our second 3-0 result in a week. Hope was growing. We actually looked good. Could the papers be right?
Argentina was our next opponent. The Azteca stadium was full to capacity. Over 100,000 people screamed from the stands, waving flags and burritos. Maradona was about to become infamous and my years of heartbreak were about to begin.
Bobby stayed true to the side that had looked so impressive in the last two games. At the half, it was 0-0 and we were still in it. But as the heat started to take its toll, the little stocky-legged Maradona would take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Everybody rates his first goal as one of the greatest ever scored. I beg to differ. Picking the ball up just inside his own half, Maradona spun away from Peter Reid — who then jogged by his side for 30 yards. He didn’t sprint to catch up to him. He didn’t make a challenge. In fact, Reid looked like he was training the Argentine for a boxing match, cycling alongside him whilst shouting encouragement. Maradona then danced past Butcher. Well actually he didn’t. Butcher completely committed himself to the outside and made the weakest tackle this side of Michael Jackson’s surgically altered groin.
Reid then gave up the chase at the edge of the area, in need of a breather after his strenuous 30-yard jog. No worries. Somebody else will help out. It looked like Terry Fenwick would save the day. But then just outside the area, the right-back makes no challenge whatsoever. Nothing. “Take him down, Terry”, I thought. “It’s easy. I do it every week in the Sunday League.” Shilton then came out and sat down. Finally the first challenge is made by a returning Terry Butcher — but too little too late. Maradona slides the ball home.
So one of the greatest goals ever scored was achieved with two shoulder drops to bamboozle Butcher and Fenwick whilst being followed by Peter Reid, his tongue hanging out like a loyal dog trotting by the side of his master. Hmmm. Maybe I’m just bitter.
There’s no need to comment on the Hand of God. It was a travesty. How the officials didn’t spot it was beyond me. Maradona’s run to set up this goal was actually better than the first, in my opinion. He got lucky as our stellar defence played a one-two with him. What has always bemused me though is how a 5’4” dwarf can out-jump Peter Shilton. Jump Peter, for the love of the Hand of God, jump!
The game was now as good as dead. But Bobby wasn’t done. Waddle came on to replace Peter Reid –who needed to be let out of the stadium to “go hurry” as my pet-owning friends would say. Waddle failed to make an impact and, with the last throw of the dice, Robson gave John Barnes 15 minutes to show what he could do.
With a wilting Argentinean defence, Barnsey ripped through them. It was the sort of attacking intent that we had been missing the entire game. Within five minutes, Barnes beat two players and placed the ball on Lineker’s head. It was two-one and Lineker had notched his 6th goal of the tournament — earning him the Golden Shoe. Barnes continued to dance around the back of the defence. Many people don’t remember this, but with seconds remaining, Barnes skinned the defender — quicker than Hannibal Lecter in his prime –and whipped in an undefendable cross. Lineker ghosted in and the ball landed on his head mere yards out. I was up: GOAL!
But no! Somehow the man who would be top scorer at the tournament missed, I’m still not sure how. I’ve tried to find footage but typing in “Lineker miss Argentina 86” got me to “Miss Reef 2004 – Argentina”. After watching this video several times, I’ve decided this is how I’ll remember our ‘86 World Cup exit. Not the future Sir Bobby’s misery — not Lineker’s golden shoe — not Maradona’s wonder goal or Hand of God. No, the glistening brown bikini-clad girls from Argentina will now be my abiding memory.
Argentina would go onto win a cracking final 3-2 against Germany. We were knocked out by the champions — a scant consolation. But to be honest, once England are knocked out, I don’t give a flying you-know-what. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the Reef girls. Argentina aren’t the only ones knocking one out today.
What Kevin does in his spare time is none of our business. Next up from Kev: Who won the bloody war, anyway?