As a lifelong England supporter it is with a heavy heart that I write this.
Being an England fan over the last 46 years has certainly been a roller coaster of a ride. The highs of Italy ‘90 and Euro ‘96 were mirrored by the lows of the 1970s and USA ‘94 qualifying competition.
I first remember following England during World Cup ‘70 in Mexico and following a successful group stage we progressed to the quarter final and a meeting with West Germany. Being 2-0 up mid-way through the second half, we could have expected to hold on. Unfortunately not, conceding 2 goals in 15 minutes and a further goal in extra time, we were out. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this would be the story of my life supporting the England Football Team. Promising so much, but delivering so little.
This disaster on 14th June 1970 was followed by a whole decade in the wilderness.
Euro ’72 again saw us comfortably qualify from our group, but lose to West Germany again in the play off, for what was a much small tournament than is now the case.
World Cup ’74 qualifying was a particularly low point (even considering that I hadn’t seen many highs yet) as we failed to get out of a group with Poland and Wales. Who can forget the “clown” Tomaszewski in the Poland goal? Interestingly, Poland eventually got knocked out by West Germany.
Euro ’76 qualifying and we couldn’t get out of the group again thanks to two draws with Portugal, finally losing out to Czechoslovakia, who eventually won the trophy beating West Germany on penalties in the final. Who can forget the cheeky final penalty by Antonin Panenka.
World Cup ’78 qualifying was, to be honest, a tough group with Italy. Despite beating them in the last game, we failed to qualify on goal difference. Italy went on to reach the semi-finals.
The 1980s and England are BACK! Euro ‘80 was the first qualifying campaign we had been successful in since 1962, having been hosts in 1966 and holders in 1970, we didn’t have to go through the qualification process. With an easy qualification to Euro ’80, hopes were high again. But alas, we failed to qualify for the semi-finals, losing out behind Belgium and Italy at the group stage.
A close qualifying group for World Cup ’82 but at least we qualified behind Hungary thanks to beating them in the last game. In the finals, three wins out of three got us out of the group. Hopes were high again. Unfortunately, two scoreless draws with West Germany and hosts Spain saw us eliminated and West Germany progress to the semi-finals.
The Euro ’84 qualification group was another low, finishing second to Denmark by a single point after losing to them at home and only getting a 0-0 at home to Greece. Both of these nations would be surprise winners of the tournament over the next 20 years.
Having made hard work of a relatively easy qualification for World Cup ’86, we progressed through the group stage by the narrowest of margins following an opening game defeat to Portugal. The second round was an easy victory over Paraguay, our first win in the knockout stage since 1966. Then the infamous hand of god by Maradonna in the quarter final and we were out!
Having qualified comfortably for Euro ’88, I was again expecting good things, but another very low point was reached as three straight defeats meant we finished bottom of the group behind the Soviet Union and the Netherlands (both of whom would ultimately contest the final) and the Republic of Ireland.
When you’re down, the only way is up. Unbeaten in the Qualification for World Cup ’90, we qualified second behind Sweden. In our group, all the games were drawn except our last win over Egypt which meant we qualified as winners and progressed to a second round meeting with Belgium. A last minute extra time goal by David Platt and we were through to the quarter-finals where we met Cameroon. We certainly went through the mill on that day. We were 1-0 up at half time, no problem you’d think. Then 20 minutes into the second half, we were behind. With less than 10 minutes to go, a lifeline and a Gary Lineker penalty gets us level. Another penalty in extra time and we were through to the semi-finals and West Germany again. Following a 1-1 draw and extra time, England’s first ever penalty shoot-out. Success by Lineker, Peter Beardsley and Platt made it 3-3 after three penalties each. Then the wheels came off. Stuart Pearce and Gary Waddle booked themselves into England’s Hall of Shame (and a Pizza advert) by being saved and missing and we were out. At least we came home with heads held high. A penalty shoot-out defeat is no disgrace (well it wasn’t in 1990).
After coming so close in 1990, hopes were high yet again for Euro ’92 and this continued through an unbeaten qualification campaign. However, draws with Denmark (who actually failed to qualify, but replaced Yugoslavia and then amazingly won the trophy) and France and defeat to Sweden saw us bottom of the group and on an early plane home.
The Qualification for World Cup ’94 pitched us against Norway and the Netherlands (who both progressed). In our final game against San Marino, we needed a big win and Poland to beat the Netherlands. Not a good start as we conceded after NINE SECONDS! As it turned out, the Netherlands won, so we failed to qualify anyway.
Euro ’96 and football comes home. Fortunately, we qualified as hosts. A mediocre draw against Switzerland followed by victories against Scotland and the Netherlands (probably one of the best games I’ve seen England play) got us through to the quarter-finals and a tie against “a pre-winning everything” Spain. It finished 0-0 (this was the first match under the Golden Goal rule) and so our second ever penalty shoot-out. Successful kicks by Alan Shearer, Platt, Pearce and Paul Gascoigne and we were through to another semi-final showdown with Germany. After 90 minutes the game finished 1-1. In extra time, we were so close to a golden goal. Darren Anderton hit a post and Gascoigne was a stud’s length from meeting Shearer’s cross, but it all came down to penalties again. Shearer, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Terry Sheringham were all successful but Gareth Southgate failed and joined Pearce and Waddle in the pizza adverts. Again, heads could at least be held high in defeat.
Qualification for World Cup ’98 and we topped the group ahead of Italy, so we must have been one of the favourites to do well. However, due to a late goal conceded against Romania, we were second in the group and ended up in the wrong half of the draw (this would come to be repeated many times in the years to come). With a route to the final via Argentina, the Netherlands and Brazil instead of Croatia, Germany and France it was going to be tough. Against Argentina in the second round, we went 0-1 down then 2-1 up in the first 15 minutes and back to 2-2 just before half time. With no more goals in the second half or extra time, penalties again! Shearer scored, Paul Ince was saved, Paul Merson and Michael Owen scored and it was 3-3 after four penalties each. Then David Batty was saved and we were out again on penalties. This was getting beyond a joke now.
Euro 2000 qualification was dominated by Sweden who ran away with the group, we finished second, just ahead of Poland on goal difference and entered the play offs. Drawn against Scotland we won the away first leg 2-0. In the second leg we went 0-1 down in the first half, but managed to hold on and qualify 2-1 on aggregate. In the group stage, despite a long-awaited victory of Germany, we had already lost to Portugal (having lead 2-0) and then lost to Romania, having lead 2-1 at half time and with a minute to go were heading through with a 2-2 draw, only to give away a needless penalty, lose the game and be on our way home.
Qualification for World Cup ’02 was very close and we just pipped Germany to automatic qualification, mainly thanks to that famous 5-1 win in Munich. A draw with Sweden, another long-awaiting win, this time against Argentina and a nervy draw with Nigeria, saw us progress as runners up into the second round. Victory against Nigeria would have given us an easier route to the semi-finals (Senegal and Turkey rather than Denmark and Brazil). An emphatic win against Denmark and we were then to play Brazil in the quarter-final. 1-0 up mid-way through the first half, we lost a goal right on half time and then from out on the touchline Ronaldinho caught David Seaman off his line and we were out again!
For Euro ’04 we had another unbeaten qualification and hopes were high again (will we ever learn). An opening game defeat to France having been ahead going into injury time was a big blow, but victories against Switzerland and Croatia helped us qualify. However, had we held on against France we again would have been in a better position to progress via Greece (who ultimately won the trophy) and the Czech Republic. As it was we faced hosts Portugal and the Netherlands or Sweden on route to a possible final. Against Portugal in the quarter-final, we led for 80 minutes, but couldn’t hold on. A goal each in extra time and it finished 2-2. On to the now dreaded penalties. With David Beckham failing with the first, we were playing catch up. Fortunately successful kicks from Owen, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Owen Hargreaves and we were in sudden death. Ashley Cole converted but Darius Vassel was saved and to add insult to injury, it was the keeper Ricardo who then scored the winning penalty.
A strong qualifying campaign for World Cup ’06 in a relatively easy group was the least we could expect and we were one of the eight seeded teams so could expect a relatively easy group stage. Two wins and draw and we win the group and progress to the second round to meet Ecuador. A narrow 1-0 victory and the quarter-finals beckoned. Portugal again! With Wayne Rooney being sent off and that infamous Ronaldo wink with half an hour to play, holding on to a 0-0 was the best we could do, so it came to penalties again. With Lampard saved before Hargreaves scored, it stood at 1-1 after two penalties each. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were both saved and we failed in yet another penalty shoot-out.
Qualification for Euro ’08 was the next low. Finishing third behind Croatia and Russia, we got that summer off. Had we held on 2-2 for the last 15 minutes at home to Croatia in the last game, we would have qualified, but we lost our bottle yet again.
Qualification for World Cup ’10 enabled us to get an early revenge on Croatia as we easily won the group, only losing points in a defeat to Ukraine who also qualified as runners up. However, another disappointing group stage with draws against the United States and Algeria (their only point) and a narrow victory over Slovenia and we were runners up. Wrong half of the draw again? Potential route to the final being Germany, Argentina and Spain instead of Ghana, Uruguay and the Netherlands. With Lampard’s goal not being given, which ultimately lead to goal-line technology being introduced, and a poor performance anyway we were well beaten 1-4.
Another unbeaten qualification for Euro ’12 and we secured automatic qualification by winning the group. A creditable draw with France and a victory over Sweden where we had been ahead, then behind and then ahead again and a final win against Ukraine and we won the group. A quarter-final against Italy finished goalless. Penalties again! Gerrard and Rooney put us 2-1 up after two penalties each. Then Ashley Young hit the bar and Cole was saved so we lost 2-4. This was the seventh penalty shoot-out England has been involved in, and we’ve lost six of them.
World Cup ’14 and we qualify with yet another unbeaten qualification campaign, finishing top of the group ahead of Ukraine (again). Defeats to Italy and Uruguay and only a draw against Costa Rica (who surprisingly won the group) and we finished bottom of the group. This was another disappointing tournament in which we failed to deliver.
And so on to Euro ’16. With our best ever qualification, a 100% campaign of ten wins out of ten and guess what – Hopes were high! Leading against Russia going into injury time, we failed to hang on and ended up drawing the game (this was Russia’s only point in the group). A narrow win against Wales and we were back on track. Resting players (why?) for the final game and we couldn’t break down Slovakia, so finished runners up in the group. Wrong half of the draw again? With Germany, Italy, Spain and France in our half! Playing Iceland in the second round, however, we had drawn the weakest of the qualifiers. What was needed was an early goal to open them up and force them forward, so would allow space behind their defence. This was probably the worst game I have had the displeasure of watching England in. There were no ideas, no strategy, no passion, no skill, no team spirit, no playing for the flag or supporters. Despite getting the early goal we wanted, this was the most inept performance I have witnessed by the national team, leaving their supporters totally humiliated. We couldn’t hold the lead for more than 34 seconds (only San Marino have taken less time to score against us). Eventually losing 1-2, the squad and manager returned home in disgrace.
Although this is probably the lowest of the lows, World Cup ’18 qualification is only two months away and ever the optimists, England fans will be hopeful of future success. What is now a dagger through the heart is that England have been trying to achieve some success for the last 50 years, then Wales come along at their first attempt and have proved how easy it really can be. With a squad, mainly made up from clubs from the Championship, lower ranked Premier League teams, Scotland and even League One, all built around one player, they show the commitment, bravery and lust for success that England fans can only dream about from their squad of overpaid prima-donna superstars.
Although I respect the achievements of Wales, I can’t find it in my heart to follow the rest of this country’s media supporters and switch my allegiance to them for the rest of the tournament.
As England look forward to the next qualification competition, I reluctantly resign my support of the England National Football Team. I will start to follow England in the International Shin Kicking Championships. This seems a sport where competitors don’t fall over like they’ve been shot by a sniper every time an opponent touches them and in which England are current World Champions. I may also have time to follow England in the World Scrabble Championships, again reigning World Champions who have a better knowledge of strategy than any England football manager has shown since Sir Alf Ramsey.
I do wish you success and good fortune for the future. Who knows, a win against Slovakia on 4th September and I may be tempted back.
Yours in disappointment, dejection and depression
Ken Wood - Ambler since August 2015. Life long Watford fan