England In The 70's: Part 3 We’ve been here once before…
It was time for Don Revie to get his England squad together and regroup for the 1978 World Cup qualifiers. Having missed out on the previous Finals in West Germany, it was time for Revie to prove that he could succeed where his predecessor, Sir Alf Ramsey, had failed.
But before the competition started, England travelled across the Atlantic to take part in a special tournament organised to celebrate the United States’ bicentennial. The Americans put together a team made up of star players from the North American Soccer League, and they would face England, Italy (who had also failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships) and Brazil.
England’s first match resulted in a 1-0 defeat to the South Americans who fielded the likes of Zico, Falcao and Rivelino. Somehow Trevor Cherry and Mick Doyle didn’t have the same sense of awesome reputation, but no matter. England’s second match against the Italians gave greater cause for hope despite Revie’s side going 2-0 down inside 20 minutes. Mick Channon came to England’s rescue again with two goals either side of a Phil Thompson effort to run out 3-2 winners.
The last game of the competition came against Team America who sported the likes of Pele and Bobby Moore in its ranks. The FA considered the fixture to be a ‘training match’ due to the multi-national aspect of the American side and to this day have never listed it as a full international, even though the Italians and Brazilians did. That aside, England strode out onto the pitch at the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, resplendent in pale yellow strip, and beat Team America 3-1 to finish the competition in second place behind Brazil.
And so to the World Cup qualifiers. England were drawn in Group 2 where they would face Luxembourg, Finland and yet again, Italy. They began with comfortable wins against Finland home and away before the first meeting against the Italians in Rome in November 1976. Italy boasted the likes of Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Marco Tardelli and Roberto Bettega while England lined up with Kevin Keegan and Stan Bowles up front with Trevor Brooking and Mick Channon playing just behind them.
Both England and Italy had made winning starts to their campaigns and it was vital for England that they didn’t lose in either of their matches against the Italians. Unfortunately for England, it wasn’t to be. Two goals, one from Giancarlo Antognoni, the other from Roberto Bettega, gave the Italians a vital 2-0 win.
As far as the rest of the qualifying campaign was concerned, England needed to win all of their remaining matches comprehensively and beat the Italians well in the return match at Wembley one year later in order to qualify for the Finals in Argentina.
Although all was not lost technically, the press felt that Don Revie was now living on borrowed time. They felt that the England manager would almost certainly lose his job after the Italy re-match in November 1977, and the pressure on Revie began to build up palpably with each passing week. Revie became convinced that the FA were also sharpening their knives, so he started making plans that would help him control his own fate, rather than let someone else do it.Inevitable conclusion
Meantime, Revie turned his attention to the 1977 Home International Championships, but this also added to England’s frustration and despair. Despite a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland in the first game, England looked decidedly average as they lost 1-0 at home to Wales and 2-1 at home to Scotland. England finished third in the competition as the Scottish fans tore up the Wembley pitch and broke up its goalposts.
It was the start of a six-game run without a win that included a three-match tour of South America during June of 1977. England drew all three of their games - 0-0 against Brazil and Uruguay and 1-1 against Argentina, a bad-tempered match which saw Trevor Cherry become only the third English player ever to be sent off.
As the tour ended, Don Revie was putting together the finishing touches to a dramatic announcement that would rock the English football world. Unbeknownst to the FA, the fans and the public at large, Don Revie had negotiated a new highly-paid contract with the United Arab Emirates which would allow him to leave his post and work for a huge some of money, tax-free.
Not only that, but Revie had reaped a further financial reward by selling his story exclusively to the Daily Mail who were the first to break the news on July 11th 1977. The FA didn’t receive Don Revie’s resignation letter until later that same morning, and they were understandably furious.
As for the Fleet Street hacks, they were only too pleased to brand Revie a traitor for leaving the national team in the lurch even though it was they that probably caused him to do so in the first place. It was certainly true that another factor in his struggle to get the right results was the injury to key players like Gerry Francis and Roy McFarland but the manner in which Revie engineered his own departure to great monetary benefit was enough to ensure sympathy for him was hardly anywhere to be found.
The FA responded promptly by charging Revie with bringing the game into disrepute. He refused to attend the hearing that followed, and when he finally did meet to discuss the matter, his objections to the charge were ignored. He was consequently banned from English football for ten years, a decision which Revie managed to reverse in the High Court some time later.
During his time in charge of the national side, Revie had won just 14 of the 29 games England played, so it was perhaps right for England to start the search for a new manager, but there were still matches due to be played, so once again the FA put a caretaker manager in place. This time, they chose West Ham United’s Ron Greenwood.
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