Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 6 September 2006

England In The 70's: Part 4

A Chance of Glory

When Ron Greenwood was appointed temporary manager of the England football team on August 17th 1977, the nation was under no illusions about his chances of reaching the 1978 World Cup Finals. They were small to the point of being barely existent.

His predecessor, Don Revie, had endured months of growing pressure following England’s World Cup qualifying defeat away to Italy in November 1976 and decided to leave his post during the summer of 1977, much to everyone’s surprise. Greenwood therefore knew his side had to beat Luxembourg away and Italy at home, not to mention hope for a win by the former over the latter in the final group game, to qualify for Argentina ’78.

To his credit, Ron Greenwood took care of his side of the bargain by steering England to a 2-0 win over the Italians at Wembley. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, a partnership that would go on to perform well for England as a double-act, both got on the scoresheet that night in November 1977, but any optimism gained there and then was to last just two-and-a-half weeks. In early December, Italy beat Luxembourg 3-0 and subsequently qualified for the World Cup Finals. Level on points with England, Italy’s record was better only by the three goals they’d scored in the last game.

No-one really expected Ron Greenwood to achieve the impossible after Revie’s exit, but the win against Italy gave the nation hope that England were starting to turn a corner under his leadership. The Football Association were inclined to agree, and by the time England played their next match - a friendly at home to West Germany in February 1978 - they’d given Greenwood the job permanently.

The winning mentality

It proved to be a worthwhile decision. In the summer of 1978, England swept through the Home International Championship with three wins out of three. Greenwood quickly settled on a mixture of players from Revie’s era as well as a few new players who were starting to emerge at club level. Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton continued to battle for a starting place in goal while in defence Phil Neal, Mick Mills and Dave Watson became regular choices. In midfield, Greenwood favoured the likes of Steve Coppell, Trevor Francis and Trevor Brooking, while up front the inimitable Kevin Keegan could always be relied upon to score goals regularly.

In the Autumn of 1978, Greenwood embarked on his first major competition since taking over the England manager’s role - qualification for the newly-expanded European Championship finals in Italy in 1980. Things got off to an exciting start as England beat Denmark 4-3 in Copenhagen, two goals coming from Kevin Keegan - now a Hamburg SV player.

The second match, a 1-1 draw away to the Republic of Ireland, saw England’s only dropped points of the whole campaign, but it didn’t dampen the spirits for long. Into 1979, Greenwood’s men beat Northern Ireland 4-0 at home, then two wins and a draw helped them retain the Home International Championship during May. Come June of 1979, England were on an unbeaten run of 14 games and though it came to an end in a 4-3 friendly defeat to Austria, it once again proved to be a mere blip in the strengthening fortunes of Ron Greenwood’s England team.

Before the curtain fell on 1979 and indeed the entire decade, further European Championship qualifying wins were secured against Denmark, Northern Ireland and Bulgaria before the final match against the Republic of Ireland in February 1980 confirmed England’s first involvement in a major competition for ten years.

Full circle

The 1970’s had thereby ended as optimistically as they’d begun. England were no longer world champions - far from it, seemingly - but they were about to enter the limelight again as one of the best teams in Europe. Yet at a time when football in England was booming like never before, it’s strange to note how the national team failed to deliver when it really mattered.

The pool of talent available to Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie and Ron Greenwood was of a particularly high quality throughout, but for some reason the England manager of the day always seemed hard pushed to find the right combination of players that could bring the biggest success. Looking at the statistics, England won only 56% of its matches during the 1970’s and were losing around one game in every five. For a team with such high expectations, it simply wasn’t what the fans had come to expect.

Fortunately the appointment of Ron Greenwood provided a light at the end of the tunnel. England reached the 1980 European Championships and followed that with qualification for the 1982 World Cup. Though some may say England under-performed at both, it was at least an improvement on what had gone before and laid the foundations for greater success in the late-1980’s and early-1990’s.

And so the book is closed on a chapter of England’s footballing history that few people these days even dare to reflect on. It’s said that every country falls from grace from time to time and the 1970’s was just such a time for England, but the bitter-sweet memories remain. No more do we see the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mick Channon and Emlyn Hughes walking out onto the pitch at Wembley, but the efforts they made to keep England at the top of the world game, albeit in vein, remain to this very day.

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