Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 22 August 2006

England In The 70's: Part 2

It was the summer of 1973 and England's chances of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup Finals had been rocked by a 2-0 defeat away to Poland. Sir Alf Ramsey had just four months in which to prepare for the final match of the campaign, this time at home to Poland. England would have to win or face the prospect of an embarassing and unthinkable failure.

By way of preparation, the England team embarked on a short tour of Europe to distract themselves from their now growing problems. Even that didn't go according to plan. After scraping through 2-1 against the Soviet Union in Moscow (thanks largely to an own-goal by the home side), England then lost to Italy for the first time ever in a 2-1 defeat in Turin. Not even Bobby Moore’s record-breaking 107th cap for England could ease the mounting pressure.

And so to the final showdown. In September 1973, Poland had beaten Wales 3-0 which meant the re-match between England and the Poles would decide who booked their World Cup Finals place the following year. Poland were in the commanding position of only needing a draw, but for England only a win would do.

In one of the most famous matches of England’s footballing history, Poland faced a long and arduous onslaught from Sir Alf Ramsey’s men. Goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, non-conformist in his technique, stopped shot after shot from England’s attack-minded line-up with the only let-up coming in the form of a goal against the run of play for Poland after 57 minutes.

England now needed two goals in the last half-hour of the match, but it wasn’t long before the first one arrived. The continual wave of pressure from the home team was rewarded with a penalty six minutes later which Allan Clarke put away to equalise, but no amount of fury and fire could bring England the second goal they so desperately wanted. When the referee blew his whistle to signify the end of the match, England were left to face the reality of failing to qualify for a World Cup Finals for the first time in their history.

Sir Alf Ramsey soldiered on for two more matches - one of which saw another friendly defeat to Italy (this time on home soil) before the FA decided enough was enough. On April 19th 1974, it announced the end of Sir Alf Ramsey’s 11-year reign as the manager of England’s football team and the hunt for a replacement was soon underway.

All change

While a permanent successor to Ramsey was being found, the Football Association appointed a temporary manager in the form of Joe Mercer, then in charge of Coventry City.

Mercer took control of the England team for seven matches and successfully kept things ticking over while the rumours grew over who was to become the new England boss. The press reported the emergence of two clear favourites to get the job: one was Brian Clough, the other was Don Revie.

Clough had guided Derby County to the 1972 League Championship and the semi-finals of the European Cup the following year, but his outspokenness was something the FA weren't comfortable with. So it was then that on July 4th 1974, the Football Association made their announcement. The new England manager was the man whose team was pipped to the 1972 League title by Clough - Leeds United’s Don Revie.

Revie was thrown straight into the thick of it as his new side began their qualification for the 1976 European Championships. They began well, winning three out of their first four games and there was even time for a 2-0 friendly win over West Germany at Wembley. The Home Championship followed next and Revie’s England breezed through that too.

What’s interesting to note is Revie’s approach to team selection during his first year in charge. There were a handful of players who had undoubted quality and were already regarded as regulars - Kevin Keegan, Gerry Francis, Ray Clemence to name but three - but the other positions were filled by a variety of players who, in nostalgic terms, barely even appear on the radar.

Take a look at Revie’s England side for the match against Wales in 1975:

Ray Clemence; Steve Whitworth; Ian Gillard; Colin Viljoen; Dave Watson; Colin Todd; Mick Channon; Alan Ball; David Johnson; Gerry Francis; Dave Thomas. Sub: Brian Little

Steve Whitworth was a Leicester City right-back whose England career began and ended in 1975, before losing his place to Phil Neal. Ian Gillard was a full back with Queens Park Rangers who’s tenure in the England side was even shorter, running to just three games. As for Colin Viljoen, he was a South African-born midfielder who was Ipswich Town’s Player of the Year in 1975. He played just twice for England.

All three players are typical of the lengths Revie went to in order to find the right mix for his team, and yet they, together with the bigger names on his team sheet, seemed to be achieving some success despite the constant changes.

All that came to end, though, when England travelled to Bratislava for a key European Championship qualifier against Czechoslovakia in October 1975. As in 1973, England were unwittingly running into a team that would eventually hit form in the not-too-distant future. An early goal by Mick Channon gave England hope but the home side fought back to win 2-1, leaving Revie’s side in a precarious position.

England had one game left, away to Portugal. If they could win that, it would mean Czechoslovakia would have to win both of their remaining matches. They, too, would have to play the already eliminated Portuguese away from home before their campaign ended with a trip to Cyprus.

The record books show that in November 19th 1975, England could only draw 1-1 against Portugal, and yet again it was Mick Channon whose name ended up on the scoresheet. That opened the door for the Czechs who now needed only two points to win the group, and unsurprisingly they got them after a 1-1 draw with Portugal and a 3-0 win away to Cyprus.

Don Revie’s honeymoon period was well and truly over, and it would now take a huge effort to get the support of the public back on his side. England had gone nearly ten years without a win in a major competition and Revie was starting to feel the pressure.

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