Wednesday, September 06, 2006

England In The 70's: Part 4

A Chance of Glory

When Ron Greenwood was appointed temporary manager of the England football team on August 17th 1977, the nation was under no illusions about his chances of reaching the 1978 World Cup Finals. They were small to the point of being barely existent.

His predecessor, Don Revie, had endured months of growing pressure following England’s World Cup qualifying defeat away to Italy in November 1976 and decided to leave his post during the summer of 1977, much to everyone’s surprise. Greenwood therefore knew his side had to beat Luxembourg away and Italy at home, not to mention hope for a win by the former over the latter in the final group game, to qualify for Argentina ’78.

To his credit, Ron Greenwood took care of his side of the bargain by steering England to a 2-0 win over the Italians at Wembley. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, a partnership that would go on to perform well for England as a double-act, both got on the scoresheet that night in November 1977, but any optimism gained there and then was to last just two-and-a-half weeks. In early December, Italy beat Luxembourg 3-0 and subsequently qualified for the World Cup Finals. Level on points with England, Italy’s record was better only by the three goals they’d scored in the last game.

No-one really expected Ron Greenwood to achieve the impossible after Revie’s exit, but the win against Italy gave the nation hope that England were starting to turn a corner under his leadership. The Football Association were inclined to agree, and by the time England played their next match - a friendly at home to West Germany in February 1978 - they’d given Greenwood the job permanently.

The winning mentality

It proved to be a worthwhile decision. In the summer of 1978, England swept through the Home International Championship with three wins out of three. Greenwood quickly settled on a mixture of players from Revie’s era as well as a few new players who were starting to emerge at club level. Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton continued to battle for a starting place in goal while in defence Phil Neal, Mick Mills and Dave Watson became regular choices. In midfield, Greenwood favoured the likes of Steve Coppell, Trevor Francis and Trevor Brooking, while up front the inimitable Kevin Keegan could always be relied upon to score goals regularly.

In the Autumn of 1978, Greenwood embarked on his first major competition since taking over the England manager’s role - qualification for the newly-expanded European Championship finals in Italy in 1980. Things got off to an exciting start as England beat Denmark 4-3 in Copenhagen, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan - now a Hamburg SV player.

The second match, a 1-1 draw away to the Republic of Ireland, saw England’s only dropped points of the whole campaign, but it didn’t dampen the spirits for long. Into 1979, Greenwood’s men beat Northern Ireland 4-0 at home, then two wins and a draw helped them retain the Home International Championship during May. Come June of 1979, England were on an unbeaten run of 14 games and though it came to an end in a 4-3 friendly defeat to Austria, it once again proved to be a mere blip in the strengthening fortunes of Ron Greenwood’s England team.

Before the curtain fell on 1979 and indeed the entire decade, further European Championship qualifying wins were secured against Denmark, Northern Ireland and Bulgaria before the final match against the Republic of Ireland in February 1980 confirmed England’s first involvement in a major competition for ten years.

Full circle

The 1970’s had thereby ended as optimistically as they’d begun. England were no longer world champions - far from it, seemingly - but they were about to enter the limelight again as one of the best teams in Europe. Yet at a time when football in England was booming like never before, it’s strange to note how the national team failed to deliver when it really mattered.

The pool of talent available to Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie and Ron Greenwood was of a particularly high quality throughout, but for some reason the England manager of the day always seemed hard pushed to find the right combination of players that could bring the biggest success. Looking at the statistics, England won only 56% of its matches during the 1970’s and were losing around one game in every five. For a team with such high expectations, it simply wasn’t what the fans had come to expect.

Fortunately the appointment of Ron Greenwood provided a light at the end of the tunnel. England reached the 1980 European Championships and followed that with qualification for the 1982 World Cup. Though some may say England under-performed at both, it was at least an improvement on what had gone before and laid the foundations for greater success in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s.

And so the book is closed on a chapter of England’s footballing history that few people these days even dare to reflect on. It’s said that every country falls from grace from time to time and the 1970’s was just such a time for England, but the bitter-sweet memories remain. No more do we see the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon and Emlyn Hughes walking out onto the pitch at Wembley, but the efforts they made to keep England at the top of the world game, albeit in vein, remain to this very day.

3 comments:

Kedge said...

16th May 1978 and England were playing Northern Ireland at Wembley in the Britsh Championship (sometimes know as the Home Internationals). I was living and working in Cheltenham and my employers sent myself and a colleague to a VM course at IBM in Sudbury. The nearest hotel we could find was the Eurocrest (now the Hilton) by Wembley Stadium. We arrived at the hotel about 8 o'clock in the evening, booked in and went to the restuarant for some solid sustenence. The Maitre'd looked puzzled as we entered and waited to be seated. "This resturant is fully booked" says he. "But it's almost empty" say I looking around. There were 2 other people in there. "Sorry" say MR Bossy, "But its booked up because of the England game". "So what is one expected to do" I respond in my best upperclass voice. "Dunno mate" is the retort as he shows that he can do accents just as well as me "Everywhere is closed tonight in case there's trouble. You could try the nightclub in the basement. There do Chicken in the Basket" and with that he turned on his heels and walked away, us two oiks dismissed from his memory.

So Steve and I went looking for the nightspot. The String of Pearls I think it was. Sure enough they had Chicken in the Basket or Gammon and Chips.

As you can imagine, two young gentlemen, on the loose in the big city, with their employer footing the bill, had no intention whatsoever of taking advantage of the facilities offered by this luxurious establishment. Like heck we didn't.

The entertainment was a Welsh singer, Iris Williams, and a commedian who's name I can't remember as he made such a profound impression on me. All I can say is he "died" on that stage. The old story of the hecklers being funnier that the act was true in this instance.

Anyway, more important things needed our attention. Alcohol. And lots of it. Bearing in mind we had to be at IBM for this course at 9 in the morning, 2 o'clock sees us being ushered, very unsteadily, out of the nightspot and back into the hotel proper. Rat-arsed does'nt do it justice.

There we are in the lobby of the hotel, looking for the lifts. The 1st one is full, a bloke who latter turns out to be Phil Thompson and a slack armful of young ladies. And he doesn't look like he wants our company either.

At that moment an employee of the hotel (night porter) passes through our line of sight. What we notice is he's carrying a tray of drinks. "Nightcap?" we think out loud. "Follow that waiter" and off we go down the corridor and into a packed lounge. Finding some space against a conveniently solid wall, we prop ourselves into a roughly verticle position and look around. To our right on a couch are 2 young (well about our own age) guys, so Steve asks where we get the drinks from. "That guy in the armchair" says one of them "He's dealing with the orders". We look to our left and sure enough, sitting in a large armchair, with a young lady perched on each arm, is a chap who seems to have an air of authority. So, pushing myself off the wall, I make my way as carefully as possible and utter the immortal words "Excuse me John! Do we order the drinks here?"
Suprisingly enough (although at the time it seemed normal) he asks what we want and I tell him, and make my way back to Steve and the safety of the wall. The guys on the couch have almost fallen on the floor with laughter, but what could possibly be unusual about that? Normal behaviour really.

About half an hour later, the waiter having been rushing back and forth with trays of drinks, but not ours it seems, I manage to grab him. "Where's our drinks?" I ask. "You haven't ordered any" he says. "yes I have" I confirm, "I ordered them with him" and point to the chap in the armchair.
"Thats no good" say the waiter "Thats Ray Clemence"

"Get away (or words to that effect. Thats not Ray Clemence"

Just at that moment a door behind the armchair opens and a face appears. The most striking feature of this new face is the little goatie beard on the end of an elongated chin. The face speaks to the gut in the armchair and says "Ray! Have you seen where Ron's gone?" "No Jim! Haven't seen him for a while" replies Mr Armchair.

"Oh Gosh (or something similar)" say I. "That's Jimmy Hill. That must be Ray Clemence then"
"Opps!(or words to that effect)" say Steve, "We'd better make like shepherds and get the flock out of here".
And we leave as casually as possible, retaining all our dignity. And the blokes on the couch are having another roll on the floor.

We finally made it to the course at 11 o'clock complete with hangovers. But at least I can honestly say "I have met the Great Ray Clemence".

Chris said...

Lol! Blimey, talk about a tall tale!

Well what can I say - Phil Thompson, Ray Clemence AND Jimmy Hall all on the same night... you just don't get that happening to you in this day and age!

Great story, Kedge! Just as well you didn't end up speaking to Phil Thompson and Jimmy Hill. They might have ended up talking so much about tactical virtuosity that you'd have ended up having an early night!

Smart said...

Quality post Kedge - your best yet!

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