I have earlier football memories than the 1982 World Cup but they are mostly sepia-tinged snapshots. My dad getting into the car following a Wrexham defeat and saying ‘We won’t be watching that bloody lot again’; Ricky Villa dancing through despairing City legs; seeing the Spurs and QPR teams walk out at Wembley whilst slurping on a soda-stream at my mate’s house. The World Cup of that summer however I can recall vividly; every detail glows with nostalgia like a favourite childhood holiday. That July, for the very first time, my memory burst into technicolour.
From Narey’s wonderstrike against the Brazilians to Tardelli’s primal scream I remember it all but most vibrant of all is the recollection of Bryan Robson’s early opener versus the French. Only 27 seconds in and he won a gold watch for it. There is no need to Google those two facts; they are etched into my consciousness.
That England team from the early eighties has been largely forgotten about, sandwiched in between the bleak seventies failures and Bobby Robson’s nearly men who garner most of our retrospective attention for two very different reasons symbolising failure and hope respectively. Yet the team Ron Greenwood moulded and took to Spain can rightfully be considered as one of the best this nation has produced post-war. Just look at the goalkeeping options – both Shilton and Clemance were at the peak of their powers and any side in the world would have been safe in their hands. They were backed up by the imposing figure of Joe Corrigan who was desperately unlucky to be around in the golden age of English number ones. Big Joe was certainly too good to play third fiddle yet fate decreed that was his international calling.
At right back take your pick from Mick Mills, Phil Neal and Viv Anderson. It shows the measure of captain Mills’ leadership qualities and reliability that he nudged out European Cup winners from the previous two years. Completing an impressive back-line was Terry Butcher, Phil Thompson and Kenny Samson.
A quick word on Mariner: nobody understood the cool-as-fuck beauty of the Admiral kit more than he.
The midfield is an array of legends and present-day Sky pundits. Their names trip off the tongue and require no laudatory accompanying prose – Brooking, Robson, Wilkins, Hoddle, McDermott, Coppell and, err, Graham Rix.
Up front Trevor Francis, Britain’s first million pound player, was an artful foil for the superstar who was intent on capping an extraordinary career by winning us the World Cup, Kevin ‘the perm’ Keegan.
These two had able back-up in the form of Paul Mariner, a prolific goal-grabber who, due to largely playing for unfashionable clubs, never quite gets the credit he deserves.
A quick word on Mariner: nobody understood the cool-as-fuck beauty of the Admiral kit more than he. With his shirt always out over tight shorts and his socks rolled down, sporting a mullet carbon-dated to that era, he just got it.
There was, as ever, high expectation for this group of players but the pre-tournament optimism was considerably dented by two devastating injuries in the run-up. Brooking and Keegan were England’s two best players yet both looked like missing out. With all the debate raging now about whether Rooney should go to next year’s Euros while being ineligible for the first three games it illustrates just how much the three lions relied on this duo that Greenwood still elected to take both knowing they would miss at least the group stage. In the event they were absent for the first four games and only came on together for the latter part of the crucial decider against the hosts, the game that would ultimately seal England’s fate.
Even without their two prized assets however England sailed through Group 4, beating France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait in relatively easy fashion. Missing his two players of genuine class Greenwood cleverly concentrated all his attentions on his team’s strengths. England hustled and bustled and played at a high tempo despite the blazing sunshine. Never did they resort to route one – and there was some great stuff played by Wilkins and Francis in particular – but the spirit was very much of the bulldog variety.
It was 82’s ‘what if’ moment. If King Kev had only connected properly – perm and all.
Back then the Second Round stage consisted of four groups of three teams each, with only the winners of each group making the semi-finals. England were thrown into a formidable trio that included West Germany and Spain. After a third world war of attrition against the old foe, grinding out a 0-0 draw, both England and the hosts required a win to progress further in the competition. What resulted was one of the most thrilling goalless stalemates there is ever likely to be as each side threw everything they had against the other. With just minutes remaining a cross was floated over to Keegan – his long-awaited first World Cup only minutes old – with the keeper stranded. It was 82’s ‘what if’ moment. If King Kev had only connected properly – perm and all – then who knows what could have become of this fantastic side. It would have been France again in the semis, a team already vanquished in style in the opening game. Certainly Battiston would still have some teeth in this sliding doors scenario and not have been stretched off from a vicious assault from Harold Scumacher. Shilts would never do such a thing. He’d still be waddling towards him, in no-mans land, and been chipped instead.
So it was that England flew home undefeated from five games yet out of the tournament. Shortly after Ron Greenwood stepped down and was replaced by Bobby Robson who promptly retired Keegan and started from scratch. In his first few years as national gaffer there were blunders aplenty and when his new-look side failed to qualify for Euro 84 he offered his resignation. The FA declined it.
Looking back now I don’t wish to over-estimate the lads of 82 though they definitely deserve to be regarded alongside the 90 version as one of cruelly unfulfilled promise and greatness. They should also, and will in my mind at least, forever be thought of in bright technicolour.