Monday, 13 June 2016

1984: Wales v England (Football)

England meet Wales at the 2016 European Championships, with Welsh fans hoping for a first win over their rivals since May 1984.

"This is one game we are determined to win." Wales manager Mike England was honest in his assessment of the forthcoming fixture against England at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, the last ever Home International between the two teams in May 1984.

It was not hard to see why Mike England, Welsh players and officials were so motivated. The decision taken by the English and Scottish FAs to scrap the Home Championship understandably sat uncomfortably with the Welsh and Northern Irish.

"It was a slap in the face for us when England and Scotland decided to end the competition," England added. "Their decision was an insult. Being cast as England's poor relations has annoyed us." If English arrogance had irked the Welsh before the Wrexham encounter, then the words of England's stand-in skipper Ray Wilkins would not have helped much.

"England shouldn't lose to any of the home countries," Wilkins boldly proclaimed, after fielding questions about England's 4-1 humiliation at Wrexham in 1980. "We know Wales are seething about this fixture being scrapped and they'll be all out for a repeat. We must make sure it doesn't happen." Manager England certainly had fond memories of that victory - it was his first match in charge of Wales - and with Bobby Robson struggling to cobble together a team, the visitors were there for the taking.

Injuries and club commitments were hindering England's beleaguered manager. At one point, Robson had just twelve fit players remaining from his original twenty, with the likes of Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Viv Anderson, Graham Roberts, Paul Mariner, Trevor Francis and John Barnes absent.

Luther Blissett was forced to dash across from Milan, via London to pick up an old pair of boots from his parents' house - his boots were locked away in AC Milan's training ground - and Gary Lineker received his first call-up, although he admitted that he had to ask where the match was being played: "I knew that England were playing Wales, but I wasn't sure where."

England's inexperience made them particularly vulnerable. The back four only had 14 caps between them, with the midfield trio of David Armstrong, Sammy Lee and John Gregory sharing 19 caps, and Paul Walsh up front playing just his fifth international.

Southampton's Mark Wright made his debut, as would Terry Fenwick (as a substitute), and both would go on to win 45 and 20 caps respectively, yet such was the makeshift feel to the team, and the fall out from the subsequent defeat, that Alan Kennedy, Gregory, Walsh, and Armstrong never played again for England, and Lee would only feature once more.

The players did their best to give the impression that they had not played together very much before, with the press not slow in slamming the state of the team. "English international football touched a new low last night," wrote the Daily Mirror's Frank McGhee. "They have never looked worse than they did in this defeat by Wales at Wrexham." A debatable point perhaps, and since then future England teams have tried admirably to add possible entries to that particular competition, yet McGhee probably felt his comments were fully justified after the dismal display in Wrexham.

Wales never let an anxious and tentative England settle, something Robson admitted after the match, and such was the poor display by the visitors that they would only threaten Neville Southall once. Alvin Martin's header struck the cross bar, with debutant David Phillips then clearing the looping ball off the line. It would be another man earning his first cap that would prove to be the match winner.

Mark Hughes had been a doubt before the match, returning from Manchester United's recent trip to Turin with a blood virus. But after shaking off a temperature, the 21-year-old striker, who had yet to fully establish himself at club level, headed in the only goal of the match from an Alan Davies free kick. The marking would have given Alan Hansen kittens, Hughes allowed to dart in front of a static Mike Duxbury to nod past Peter Shilton.

Hughes would later have a goal disallowed, and Ian Rush and Gordon Davies also went close, as England failed to gain any momentum. In truth, it was a 1-0 thrashing. "One goal separated the two nations but the gulf represented the distance between Wrexham and London," wrote the Times' Stuart Jones. "The embarrassment suffered by England at the Racecourse Ground last night will stretch all the way to the headquarters of the FA, who with their Scottish counterparts have decided to fill their international fixture list from next season with 'superior' foreign opposition."

Naturally the victors were delighted to get one over a nation that had played a significant role in scrapping the Home Nations Championship. Elfed Ellis, the Welsh international committee chairman, stated that "England are the poor relations now", with the manager also referencing the decision by the English FA. "It was a marvellous performance which gave us great satisfaction. Once again we proved to everyone we are a football nation to be respected."

The reaction in England was not much better. "What a mess! Failed in Wales - who CAN we beat now?" trumpeted the Daily Express in a slightly disrespectful manner. After all, Wales had come a lot closer to qualifying for Euro 84, so it was not as if England had a divine right to turn up to Wrexham and win. "England plunged to new depths of humiliation last night....beaten, battered and bemused by a Welsh team of embarrassing superiority," Steve Curry complained. Was the defeat that much of a surprise?

It was slightly ironic that the final ever Home Nations Championship match saw Scotland draw with England, meaning that the two nations finished below their "smaller" neighbours. "We should not be ashamed to face up to the fact that our international income is an essential element in the FA's basic function of promoting the game across the whole spectrum of society," FA Secretary Ted Croker declared, trying his best to defend the unpopular decision. It fell upon deaf ears, even in England.

England and Wales have only met four times since May 2, 1984, and as at the time of writing, the win in Wrexham is Wales' last triumph over their neighbours. Should that change on June 16, 2016, then Roy Hodgson had better prepare himself for a few of the stinging words that came the way of Bobby Robson 32 years ago, during a turbulent time for England's under-fire boss.

1 comment:

  1. The 4-1 win in 1980 was also in Wrexham, not Swansea as the article suggests.