The 1988 England European Championship squad in their pale blue third shirt
1988. Bobby Robson was in his sixth year as England manager and he had finally got the blend right and had a settled team. His captain and namesake Bryan Robson ‘Captain Marvel’ was his best player and with Peter Shilton widely regarded as one of the World’s best goalkeepers and with the flair of Chris Waddle, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker, the 1988 England squad was regarded by the press and Robson himself as the best Three Lions squad since 1970.
The England manager had a tough start. He took over in 1982 after Ron Greenwood’s side was eliminated from the World Cup undefeated in the Quarter Final group stage. In his first game at Wembley, World Cup Finalists West Germany inflicted a 2-1 defeat, thanks to a double from Karl Heinz Rummenigge. In Robson’s first full season 1982/83 England had won the British Championship after a 2-0 win over Scotland at Wembley.
June 1983: The England team that defeated Scotland 2-0 at Wembley
The main task however, was to qualify for Euro 1984 in France. England were drawn in group 3 alongside Greece, Hungary, minnows Luxembourg and the emerging Denmark. Few people saw any problems and the group winners would qualify for the European Championship Finals.
England had enjoyed comfortable wins in Greece and 9-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley, when Luther Blissett became the first black player to score for England and net a hat trick. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s father also scored in the rout. On the 30th March 1983 Greece visited Wembley with many people expecting England to rattle in a hatful of goals. However the Greeks had other ideas. England playing in their red away kit against their white shirted opponents just could not break down a stubborn defence. Boos rang out at full time, and that 0-0 draw at Wembley would prove to be a huge setback.
Denmark were flying, led by elegant sweeper Morten Olsen, with Liverpool bound Jan Molby and exciting Ajax winger Jesper Olsen (later to join Manchester United) complementing the deadly strike duo Michael Laudrup, who had rejected Liverpool for Juventus and Preben Elkijaer. On the 21st September 1983 Denmark came to Wembley. Bobby Robson knew that the winners would seal a place at Euro 84 but in the worst display under him, the Danes ran out comfortable 1-0 winners thanks to former Charlton Athletic forward Alan Simonsen’s penalty. England had won five and drawn two of their eight qualifiers, and they finished on twelve points, one behind the Danes. They had scored twenty three goals and conceded only three. That 1-0 defeat was incredibly the only defeat Bobby Robson ever suffered in qualification, as England were undefeated in 1986 World Cup, Euro 1988 and Italia’90 qualifying.
1983/84 was a miserable season for Bobby Robson. Defeats by Wales and the USSR at Wembley, where he was booed at spat at as he walked to the dressing room looked like spelling the end of the road for him. England had drawn the last ever British Championship clash with Scotland 1-1 at Hampden Park, giving Northern Ireland the title. An end of season tour to South and North America then took place, with many people expecting a thrashing by Brazil in Rio proving to be Bobby Robson’s last game in charge. However a young England side rallied to produce a famous victory, thanks to Watford winger John Barnes sensational solo goal. England beat an inexperienced Brazil team 2-0, lost by the same score line against South American Champions Uruguay, followed by a goal less draw in Chile. The tour was completed with a 5-0 win over the U.S, notable for a stunning Gary Lineker strike and a Glenn Hoddle saved penalty.
1984 John Barnes celebrates giving England the lead in Rio
England qualified comfortably for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, ahead of Northern Ireland, Romania, Finland and Turkey. After a poor start with a 1-0 defeat to Portugal and a 0-0 draw with African Champions Morocco, in which captain Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder and Ray Wilkins was sent off, England thrashed Poland 3-0 with a Gary Lineker hat trick. They followed that up with another 3-0 win over Paraguay before facing Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the Quarter Final. In a memorable game Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal was followed by arguably the greatest ever World Cup goal, as he waltzed past the entire England defence before beating Peter Shilton. A late Lineker header was not enough, though that goal in the 2-1 defeat was enough to give the Leicester City striker the World Cup golden boot.
1986 England team that lost to Argentina in Mexico
Bobby Robson was determined to qualify for Euro 88 and believed he had a team strong enough to take on Europe’s best. England qualified impressively unbeaten ahead of a strong Yugoslavia team, with an impressive 4-1 win in Belgrade sealing their place in the Finals. England had scored nineteen goals and conceded just one in qualifying. His squad had real strength in depth. In 1987/88 John Barnes was a sensation and he swept all before him for Liverpool, culminating in him being named 1988 Footballer of the year. He was on the scoresheet in an 8-0 rout of Turkey in October 1987, and the front three of Barnes, team mate Peter Beardsley, alongside Barcelona’s Gary Lineker was as good as any in Europe. England were joint favourites to win Euro 88 along with hosts West Germany.
England had arrived at the Finals in good form. They had defeated Scotland in May and won the Rous Cup at Wembley. Their only defeat was a 3-1 loss against West Germany in September 1987 and in March 1988 they had drawn 2-2 against a powerful Dutch team in a friendly at Wembley. Bobby Robson’s squad is pictured above. England were drawn against Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland, in their first ever tournament (only a victory by Scotland in Bulgaria saw them through), the USSR and dark horses Holland.
1988 England line up to face the Republic of Ireland in their opening game of Euro 88
On the 12th June 1988 England faced Ireland in Stuttgart. They were expected to win comfortably against their inexperienced opponents. However the Irish players were quietly confident and with players like Liverpool trio Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan and John Aldridge amongst their ranks, they hoped to cause an upset. After just six minutes Ray Houghton’s header gave the Republic the lead, following a mix up in the England defence. They lead 1-0 at the break but the second half brought and English onslaught. With substitute Glenn Hoddle pulling the strings it seemed only a matter of time before England drew level. Gary Lineker missed three gilt edged chances and with Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner in inspired form Ireland held on for a famous 1-0 victory.
The knives were out for Bobby Robson. He knew that only a victory in their next game against Holland would keep English hopes alive. The Dutch also went into the game needing victory after they had lost 1-0 to the Soviet Union.
1988 England line up to face Holland in their second match
On the 15th of June 1988 Peter Shilton won his 100th cap. England started the game on the front foot and were unlucky not to go ahead. Glenn Hoddle curled a free kick against the inside of the Dutch post and Gary Lineker hit the post from a narrow angle. Just before half time AC Milan striker Marco Van Basten turned Tony Adams before firing past Shilton. He almost added a second before half time but full back Gary Stevens cleared off the line after he had rounded Shilton. In the second half captain Bryan Robson equalised but in the closing stages the match ran away from England. Van Basten struck twice more and his hat trick gave Holland a famous 3-1 victory. England had played well in both games but some bad luck and poor finishing meant they would finish bottom of their group. A dead rubber final game saw the USSR beat England 3-1 and the press and media called for Bobby Robson’s head. He wrote later that he offered his resignation to the FA and he expected Nottingham Forest manager Bryan Clough to replace him. However he stayed on and lead England into the 1990 World Cup. How did England fare in his last tournament as manager? find out in a later blogpost.