As England begin a new era under a new coach and a new captain, let's take a look back at an often overlooked era in the history of the national team which also began full of hope and optimism but ultimately ended in failure. This is the story of the England football team in the 1970's.
Part 1: Out with the old, in with the new
As the decade began, England were world champions and rightly proud of only having lost one game in the previous thirteen. Confidence in the team was high and the only note of disappointment was the defeat to Yugoslavia which saw them eliminated from the 1968 European Championship semi-finals.
By the time England strode out onto the Wembley pitch to play the Netherlands on January 14th 1970, the national team was already showing signs of a gradual transition. Many of the 1966 World Cup winning line-up was still there, but one or two new faces were now starting to appear regularly. They were the new stars of the English First Division, namely Norman Hunter, Francis Lee and Colin Bell.
All three fitted into Sir Alf Ramsey’s new agenda - to put together a squad of players that could retain the World Cup that June. When the tournament started in Mexico only half of the old guard from 1966 remained, and the entire defence had been rebuilt from scratch. It was now up to Keith Newton, Brian Labone, Terry Cooper and Alan Mullery to protect Gordon Banks from the onslaught that was waiting for them in the heat of Guadalajara.
England did better in their first round group than they had in the equivalent round four years earlier, even allowing for a 1-0 defeat to Brazil. Yet it was to be in the next round that England’s changing team would be dethroned as old adversaries West Germany came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 after extra time in the quarter-final.
World Champions no more
It was the end of an era. Bobby Charlton retired and in came a few new names as Sir Alf began the long rebuilding process towards the 1972 European Championships. Peter Shilton got his first chance between the posts as deputy for Gordon Banks, a young Emlyn Hughes established his place in defence and Leeds United’s new goalscoring sensation Allan Clarke also pulled on an England shirt for the new campaign.
After their exit from the 1970 World Cup, England went back on another long unbeaten run that lasted for 10 games over 20 months. Sadly and somewhat ironically, the run came to an end in the first leg of the 1972 European Championship quarter-final against West Germany. England had been beaten 3-1 at Wembley and there was no way back for them as they struggled to a 0-0 draw in West Berlin.
Suddenly England were failing to achieve success when it really mattered. The FA decided that change might soon be required at managerial level, but they were prepared to give Sir Alf Ramsey just one more chance to find glory again. He was charged with guiding England to victory in the 1974 World Cup Finals.
Last throw of the dice
Before England could think about that, they were already struggling to overcome teams nearer to home. The 1972 British Home Championship match against Northern Ireland was the first time England didn’t field a single player from the 1966 World Cup Final, in fact the England team was looking barely recognisable at all.
England’s front line that day featured Malcolm Macdonald, Tony Currie and Rodney Marsh while at the back Larry Lloyd and Peter Storey were on show. The game ended in victory for the visitors: Northern Ireland winning 1-0 thanks to a goal by future Arsenal manager Terry Neill.
The following match against Scotland saw the return of Bobby Moore, Alan Ball and Gordon Banks to the side and England immediately got back to winning ways, going on to share top spot in the competition with the Scots.
Things were looking up once again. With an unhappy 1972 out of the way, England coasted through the first half of 1973 with a renewed feeling of confidence, winning their Home Championship matches and going unbeaten over two World Cup qualifying matches against Wales. The side looked settled and optimism was high, but around the corner out of view, the Poles were waiting to derail England’s hopes once again.
Alf Ramsey’s men travelled to Chorzow in what seemed like a no-fuss trip to pick up two more World Cup qualifying points on the road to West Germany. Poland had already lost to the Welsh in Cardiff, so England’s task seemed like a mere formality. Unfortunately for them, nothing went to plan.
Alan Ball became only the second man to get sent off for his country and the Poles showed that they had their own agenda for reaching the World Cup with the nucleus of a side that would go on to be one of the best in the Finals a year later. Two goals for the hosts - including an own goal by Bobby Moore - were enough to put Poland firmly in the driving seat.
England's chances of reaching West Germany in 1974 now looked distinctly uncertain, but there was still time to put things right...