If you're an England supporter, and despite the best efforts of the likes of Eriksson,
McClaren and Barwick, some of us still are, then you will be used to disappointment.
In fact, you will have a PhD in it. England are simply masters at falling short. This
article celebrates, if that is the right word, 10 of the worst experiences of being English
and interested in football. Interestingly we haven't included anything from between 1953
and 1981, a period which covers the 1970s. This decade was probably the worst ever for the
national team yet our failures to qualify for either the 1974 or 1978 World Cups never
produced anything as lamentable as this lot. Additionally we haven't added anything from the
Steve McClaren era. It's still too fresh. Too sore. When an updated version of this appears
(or a 20) we will correct this glaring omission.
Sadly there are many others which we could have included but didn't. Two in particular stand
out as 'nights we failed to qualify for the World Cup'. In 1973 a home draw with Poland ended
our hopes and Sir Alf's job, but we absolutely battered a team who were to come third in West
Germany. If Brian Clough's goalkeeping "clown" Jan Tomaszewski needs any introduction then
you're on the wrong website.
Twenty years later a hapless Graham Taylor was ruefully re-writing the rules on English grammar
as Holland defeated us 2-0 in Rotterdam. Yet he was the victim of possibly the worst ever
decision to hamper an England manager when Ronald Koeman wasn't sent off after rugby tackling
the clean through David Platt. Minutes later he chipped a twice taken free kick into David
Seaman's net and that was that. For that reason it doesn't get in. Anyhow, see number 4 for
Taylor's lowest ebb.
No.1 1950 - USA 1 England 0 - Belo Horizonte
Thank the lord we weren't alive in 1950. A horribly ill-prepared England arrived in Brazil
with huge expectations of bringing this previously derided trophy home to football's motherland.
To say it didn't go to plan is something of an understatement. Despite a squad filled with
post-war giants of the game, many of them were rested for this match after an opening victory
against Chile. However, the team for the match against the part timers from the States still
included the likes of Finney, Mortensen and Ramsey. The Americans were so sure of defeat that
there Scottish coach, Bill Jeffrey, allowed them to stay up until the early hours the previous
night. They were the usual group of butchers, bakers, cowboys and Indians and they humiliated
England with a goal from Bert Gaetjens. With morale shot England subsequently lost to Spain
and were home after the first round. A tournament that made Germany 2006 look like a roaring
No.2 1981 - Norway 2 England 1 - Oslo
The infamous defeat in September 1981 should have signalled the end of our chances of reaching
Spain. It was England's third defeat in qualifying, the only time that has ever happened.
However, Romania were unable to take advantage of England's ineptitude and Ron Greenwood's
side scraped through. That night in Oslo was a truly awful affair. Robson gave England the
lead only for the then hopeless Norwegians to strike back with goals from Albertsen & Thoresen.
People often refer to the famous Norwegian radio commentary after the game but few remember it
was a direct lift from Bryon Butler a year earlier after England had beaten Norway 4-0 at
Wembley. "Captain Amundsen! The Heroes of Telemark! Aha! In a few years when you're famous.
Your boys took a helluva beating! Can you hear me? Stig Inge Bjornbye! Can you hear me...?"
No.3 1953 - England 3 Hungary 6 & Hungary 7 England 1 - Wembley / Budapest
Yes, that was one of the greatest teams of all time beating us twice. But by an aggregate
of 13-4! Utter humiliation for a team that, despite the Brazilian nightmare still had an
arrogant belief in their own superiority. Not after May 1953 they didn't. The great Billy
Wright commented that England were taught a footballing lesson by Puskas, Kocsis, Hidegkuti
et al and he was right. Hungary played football from out of space compared to England's
lumbering, dated approach (tactics were beyond them). It was our first ever defeat on home
soil by a non-British side and if proof that it wasn't a fluke was needed (it wasn't), they
outplayed England even more comprehensively in Budapest the following December.
No.4 1993 Norway 2 England 0 - Oslo
The crowing moment of incompetence during Graham Taylor's reign came not in Holland, months
later which consigned England's players to their armchairs for the 1994 USA World Cup. Nor was
it the defeat by Sweden in 1992 which placed his team in the ejector seat from the European
Championships. No, it was defeat in Norway (which effectively set up the Holland defeat), so
complete, so shambolic that it has to make the top 10 despite the fact that it wasn't a massive
shock at the time. In the build up to the match Taylor was hugely concerned about the aerial
threat of the giant forward Jostein Flo. He deployed three centre halves to cope with this only
to find his plans disintegrating when the Norwegian started wide on the right. The ensuing
defensive chaos resulted in goals for Leonhardsen and Bohinen either side of half time. The
match was memorably chronicled in Channel 4's documentary about the doomed qualifying campaign.
No.5 1988 - Saudi Arabia 1 England 1 - Riyadh
With the disastrous European Championships in West Germany still very fresh in the memory,
Bobby Robson took his side to Riyadh for the sort of friendly that the FA, thankfully, don't
seem to sanction anymore. It was November, there was no point to it (apart from football
politics), and Robson's side was ravaged with top players pulling out. Additionally,
England's qualifying campaign for the 1990 World Cup had got off to an inauspicious start
with a goalless draw at home to the perennial obstacle that is Sweden. Robson gave a debut
to three starters, Sheffield Wednesday's right back, Mel Sterland (his only cap), and the
Arsenal duo Michael Thomas and David Seaman. Though many established stars didn't play
Lineker, Robson, Beardsley, Waddle and Pearce did, so victory was regarded as a formality by
the press and probably the England party. A horrible shock arrived in the 15th minute in
the form of Abdullah Mohammed's opener. Though a 2nd half equaliser from Adams enabled a
draw it was a terrible, insipid performance and an awful result. The Daily Mirror provided
us with a classic tabloid headline that summed up the mood of the time
"IN THE NAME OF ALLAH - GO!"
No.6 2006 - Germany World Cup
Golden generation or golden shower? You decide. A monstrously over hyped England set off for
Germany on a wave of expectation. Yet beneath the bluster there were pretty obvious caveats
to English success. Eriksson was appearing increasingly disaffected by the job, and the
farcical nature of his forced departure seemed to dampen his enthusiasm. The selection of
Walcott, one of two healthy strikers, seemed to encapsulate his demob happy mentality.
The midfield blend had never been adequately settled and Rooney was injured. A bizarre
attempt to recruit Scolari had been spurned and it was only that collective madness unique to
England on the eve of major tournaments, which kept many believing we could win it. After a
narrow, anaemic victory over Paraguay, England managed to turn things around against
Trinidad with an anaemic, narrow victory. Inept defending ensured a draw against Sweden, but
as group winners England were in the knockout stages. Another utterly uninspired 1-0 win saw
off Ecuador and ensured that England were arguably the worst team to make the quarter finals
since the disgusting Argentina team of 1990. Appropriately, we were knocked out after our
best performance by a country mile. Inevitably it was on penalties and, as per usual, there
was a refereeing controversy. An unfit Wayne Rooney was sent off after tangling with
Carvalho's nether regions and being goaded by Ronaldo. At least the tabloids had a scapegoat.
Overall, it was a miserable experience. The players were either injured, knackered,
not good enough, or all 3. Only the WAGS did us proud.
No.7 1999 - England 0 Scotland 1
The last match between the Auld Enemies at the old stadium. And as we would do to the
Germans the following year, we gifted our rivals victory with a display that was
ineffectiveness mixed with incompetence and applied solidly to ineptitude. Another common
denominator? England were coached in both matches by Kevin Keegan. This one might appear
harsh as a 2-0 victory at Hampden in the first leg of this European Championship play off
match, had clinched qualification for Euro 2000. But the sheer, pitiful nature of this
performance gets it into the top 10. It's not fair to pick on one individual but since when
has this website been fair? Jamie Redknapp's efforts in the graveyard slot of left midfield
summed up a terrible evening for Keegan's men.
No.8 1988 - Germany European Championships
A disastrous campaign, arguably England's worst of modern times. After a sensational qualifying
campaign, capped with a magnificent 4-1 win in Yugoslavia, England were one of the favourites
for the tournament. However, Bobby Robson had lost his defensive linchpin, Terry Butcher, to
injury and Gary Lineker was suffering with a virus (which turned out to be hepatitis). In the
opening game a clearly off colour Lineker missed a sequence of chances before Ray Houghton
scored a famous winner for the Irish. In England's second match against Holland things began
well with a brave effort from Bryan Robson. But eventually the Dutch, who had also lost their
first game, woke up. In particular, Marco van Basten pulled out one of the great centre
forward performances with a magnificent hat trick to consign England's hopes to the dustbin.
With the team already knocked out the Soviets treated Robson's lame ducks with contempt before
easing up to coast to a 3-1 victory. There is no doubt that an England manager presiding over
such a fiasco today would be sacked forthwith. However, despite the pressure that did exist,
the FA kept faith with the Geordie. It would be too trite to suggest that they were proved
right by our success in Italy. Their desire to remove Robson prior to the 1990 World Cup
allowed him to negotiate a contract with PSV. Amid stories concerning his private life in the
build up to the tournament, Robson announced his resignation. It was a typically tawdry episode
presided over by the FA.
No.9 2005 - Northern Ireland 1 England 0 - Belfast
Not the first time the Irish had beaten us by any means, but compared to their fine sides of
the 1980s, this was a journeyman outfit ranked 116th in the world. Still, it didn't matter on
a blustery night in Belfast as they outfought and then outplayed a woeful England. 1-0 was
scarcely adequate to describe the gulf between the two sides. David Healy scored the goal to
send the Windsor Park crowd into utter delirium. Eriksson had changed from his favoured 4-4-2
to a 4-5-1 with Rooney on the left and Beckham in a deep lying central midfield position
which came to be called the quarterback position. It didn't work. Beckham might have well been
in America already and with Rooney playing like a bear with a sore head this was not a happy
night. Still it was largely forgotten outside Ulster as Eriksson guided the team to Germany
with victories in the remaining two qualifiers but the aura of implacability about the man
was beginning to erode.
No.10 2000 - England 0 Germany 1 - Wembley
The last ever game at Wembley. It lashed it down and the old place looked as miserable and
tired as it probably ever had done. England served up a performance to match the general mood.
This also came on the back of a dismal European Championships in the Low Countries. A first
competitive victory over the Germans since 1966 was overshadowed by defeats against Portugal
and Romania and a subsequent group exit. Kevin Keegan's tactical master-stroke to lift spirits
was to play Gareth Southgate in midfield. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. The Germans began
as though happy with a point, but scored with their first strike on goal on 13 minutes.
Scholes gave away a free kick, which was lashed home by Hamann past a badly constructed wall
and Seaman's late, despairing lunge. With 77 minutes remaining England struggled in the rain
and the goal never looked like coming. Afterwards, in an honourable move, Keegan resigned,
citing his inability to coax more out of either himself or his players. It led to the
appointment of a certain Swede and surely a path to redemption...