72 Classic: Lessons from Europe for English football

AT the start of 1971-72, England’s football fraternity was still clinging to the idea that the nation was a major power in the game. The 1970 World Cup defeat at the hands of West Germany was mostly seen as an aberration and partly attributable to the rustiness of poor old Peter Bonetti, the outstanding Chelsea goalkeeper. There was little suggestion that perhaps the English method was outdated and the product of a stubborn manager, although Sir Alf Ramsey was starting to lose friends among the media.

English clubs had won seven of 12 European competitions in four seasons, including Manchester United lifting the European Cup in 1968. As soon as the World Cup was over in 1970, Bobby Charlton and Bonetti said farewell to international football and Ramsey started to introduce new faces: Peter Shilton, Roy McFarland, Martin Chivers, Joe Royle, Colin Harvey, Peter Storey, Chris Lawler, Paul Madeley, Tommy Smith, Larry Lloyd and Tony Brown all won their first caps for England in 1970-71. England had a relatively easy European Championship group that included Malta, Switzerland and Greece. They made hard work of Malta in Valetta but beat them 5-0 at Wembley, and won 3-0 at home to Greece.

England were well placed to qualify for the quarter-final stage as they went into 1971-72. There was nothing to suggest that normal service could not be resumed, even though Ramsey stuck loyally to 1966 acolytes like Geoff Hurst, who  had his least effective season for his club, West Ham, in 1971-72.

Into Europe

Meanwhile, English clubs were having mixed fortunes in European competitions. Arsenal, who had won the “double” in 1970-71, were embarking on their first European Cup campaign and many people felt they were one of the favourites.  They had won their first European trophy in 1970, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Anderlecht in the two-legged final. On the way, they had beaten Ajax in the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate, a team that included the emerging Johan Cruyff and would win the Dutch league by 15 points and lose just one Eredivisie match. Bertie Mee, reflecting on the fact that Arsenal had brushed Ajax aside with relative ease, commented that the Dutch champions looked somewhat “amateur”. Mee’s comments were a little hasty, for Ajax, within a year, were European champions.

Arsenal had two relatively unchallenging rounds to start with, beating Norway’s Strømsgodset 7-1 on aggregate and Grasshopper Zurich 5-0. The quarter-final draw, which included no less than five previous winners, paired Arsenal with Ajax. Celtic, Feyenoord, Benfica and Inter Milan also possible opponents so it was no surprise that the last eight was tough.

Ajax had certainly moved forward since 1969-70 when the two teams met in the Fairs Cup. Although Rinus Michels, their innovative coach, had moved on and was replaced by Stefan Kovacs, Ajax were in their pomp and would win the “double” in the Netherlands and half of their team – Cruyff, Keizer, Hulshoff, Mühren and Neeskens – would feature in the European Footballer of the Year voting, a prize that Cruyff had won in 1971.

Ajax were rock star footballers, all flowing hair, beads and trendy attire. They were a team that reflected the times and they played a progressive brand of football that became known as “Total Football”.

Arsenal’s own style had not convinced the critics – “sorry lads, you’re bores” was one headline on the day they won the FA Cup final in May 1971 – and they had found it hard to defend the prizes they had won in 1970-71. Arsenal signed Alan Ball from Everton just before the halfway stage to add an extra dimension to the midfield, paying over £ 200,000 but he was unavailable for the European Cup.

Ajax won the first leg in Amsterdam by 2-1, Ray Kennedy putting Arsenal ahead after 15 minutes but Gerrie Mühren scoring twice (25 and 70 minutes). The away goal had given Arsenal a good chance of getting through – a 1-0 victory would be enough. However, Ajax were gifted an early goal at Highbury, an own goal by George Graham and that was enough to send the holders through. There was absolutely nothing “amateur” about Ajax this time. Brian Glanville, in his book, Champions of Europe, said Arsenal looked “clumsy and naïve” compared to the sleek Ajax side.

Out cheaply

London, as a result of the capital’s fine season in 1970-71, had three representatives in European competitions – Chelsea and Tottenham were also deeply involved. Chelsea were defending the European Cup-Winners’ Cup they had won in Greece in May 1971. The Blues had almost lost their manager, Dave Sexton, to Manchester United in the close season, but the bid to try and lure him north had been played down. Sexton was convinced his talented, but often inconsistent and ill-disciplined squad could win the title, but they were, essentially, a team for the big occasion rather than one that could grind-out results week-in, week-out.

They had started the 1971-72 season abysmally, with one or two players a little thick around the girth, suggesting two successive years of winning trophies had been well celebrated. Chelsea were gifted an easy tie to start their European campaign, Jeunesse Hautcharage of Luxembourg. This was a village team of steelworkers, hairdressers and butchers. There was player with one armand another with taped-on spectacles. Little wonder that over two legs, Chelsea won 21-0 with Peter Osgood, who had been placed on the transfer list by Sexton after the first two league games for a bad attitude and “not trying”, scoring eight over the two games.

Chelsea’s fans must have thought the path to the 1972 final was charmed when their heroes were drawn against Swedish part-timers, Atvidaberg. The first leg in Sweden demonstrated there would be no repeat of the previous round’s goal-fest and it ended 0-0. Sexton was confident of victory in the second leg, but Chelsea were still not playing well.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were wasteful and didn’t go ahead until the 46thminute through Alan Hudson. They had a golden chance to extend that lead on the hour, but John Hollins, normally so dependable, sent a penalty kick against a post. Five minutes later, Atvidaberg silenced the 28,000 crowd when the blond and athletic Roland Sandberg scored a shock equaliser. Despite the pressure, Chelsea couldn’t score and they went out on away goals. They were jeered by the fans and the players were just as stunned. It seemed to shake Chelsea out of their early season malaise, for they soon went on an impressive run and eventually reached Wembley again.

Liverpool were also in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, but they too, went out in the second round. They beat the Swiss side, Servette in round one but then came up against Bayern Munich, a team packed with players who would become household names in the years ahead – Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeneß, Paul Breitner and Gerd Müller. Liverpool were held at Anfield but then lost 3-1 in Munich, with Müller, Der Bomber, netting twice.

So both Arsenal and Liverpool were dismissed by two teams that would be representative of the era of Total Football and two years later, would form the backbone of two World Cup final teams.


In the UEFA Cup, England had a strong quartet: Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton. Leeds, after two seasons of heartache where they fought on all fronts and ended with very little, had won the last Fairs Cup in 1971. They won their first round first leg in Belgium, beating Lierse SK 2-0. In the second leg, they fielded a weakened side and came unstuck, losing 4-0 at Elland Road. Did Leeds decide to sacrifice the competition after running their squad into the ground over the past few years? They had another year of near-misses, winning the FA Cup but losing their chance of the league in the final, controversial game. Southampton also fell at the first hurdle at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.

Tottenham and Wolves, though, provided the first all-English European final in the UEFA Cup’s first season. Spurs enjoyed a roller-coaster ride to the final. Keflavik of Iceland were no problem, Spurs winning through to the tune of 15-1 on aggregate over the two legs. Then came Nantes of France, who gave Spurs two tough games and only went out 1-0 on aggregate, Peters scoring the only goal in the second leg at White Hart Lane.

Two bruising encounters with Romanians Rapid Bucharest followed, with Nicholson incensed after the second meeting that his team had been kicked and punched for 90 minutes. But Spurs won 5-0 on aggregate, so the last laugh was on them.

Another Romanian side, UT Arad, were next, with Spurs doing all the hard work in the first leg, winning 2-0 away and overall, 3-1 on aggregate. It set them up with a semi-final against Italians AC Milan. This was a severe test for Nicholson’s side. Perryman was the hero at White Hart Lane, scoring twice as Spurs beat the Serie A aristocrats 2-1. Mullery, who had been out on loan to Fulham to aid his recovery from a pelvic injury, came back to score at the San Siro in a 1-1 draw. The fires were burning on the terraces as Spurs hung on to claim a famous win.

Wolves, meanwhile, had worked their way through against some very decent teams. Académica de Coimbra and Den Haag were both beaten 7-1 on aggregate and “crack” East Germans Carl Zeiss Jena were disposed of by 4-0. Then came a memorable 3-2 aggregate victory against Juventus, a team that would win the Italian league in 1971-72.  Finally, Wolves overcame Hungary’s Ferencvaros. Their team included experience and the very experienced Derek Dougan, a player who always attracted attention.

If there was disappointment, it was because the final was between two English clubs – it just didn’t seem like a European final. The first leg at Molineux was won 2-1 by Spurs, which almost killed the tie. Chivers was on song, scoring both goals (his tally reached 44 in 1971-72). In the return, Mullery headed Spurs in front early on and David Wagstaffe levelled for Wolves, who then battered the home defence. Spurs held out and won their second piece of European silverware.

End of an era

On the international stage, England received another lesson from the West Germans in the quarter-finals of the European Championship. On April 29, 1972, Günter Netzer tore England apart, driving West Germany to a 3-1 win at Wembley in the first leg. During the game, the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder had brushed aside the English – one move saw him outpace Bobby Moore, dismiss Francis Lee like a ghost and side-step the usually agile Martin Peters. Sir Alf Ramsey had made a career-changing mistake in ignoring Netzer’s threat and power and had paid dearly for it. In the second leg, with England’s hopes all but gone, Ramsey fielded a team of “cloggers” to neutralise Netzer. The game ended 0-0, but England had avoided humiliation. For Ramsey, it was the beginning of the end.

While England had lost their World Cup crown in Mexico, there was an underlying feeling that the game at Wembley in 1972 was really closure of an era. The balance of power in Europe had shifted and the new darlings of the football media were the Dutch and Germans. In little under 18 months, another nail was hammered into the coffin when Poland knocked England out in the World Cup qualifying group. Then Ramsey was sacked and, in 1973-74, after a six year period in which English clubs had won nine European trophies, the sequence ended with Tottenham’s fans rioting in Rotterdam.

The question was whether England could learn from the free-flowing football of Ajax, who won their second successive European Cup and Bayern Munich and the West German national team, who were crowned European champions in the summer, playing superb and intelligent football. English clubs suddenly looked a bit stodgy and over-reliant on function over form. There would be some very difficult, and sometimes dark, days ahead for the country that gave the world association football.


Photos: PA

England 1970 – better than ’66?

WINNING TWO consecutive World Cups has only been achieved once, by the brilliant Brazil team that lifted the trophy in 1958 and 1962. But when England travelled to Mexico for the 1970 World Cup, there were genuine hopes that Sir Alf Ramsey’s side could retain the trophy won in 1966. Indeed, the more patriotic contingent in Fleet Street felt the 1970 squad was actually a stronger unit.

The prospect of playing in a Latin American country, with all the challenges that came with it, may have made the task daunting, but there was enough confidence to suggest the holders could be real contenders. Even so, Ramsey admitted it would be tough for England to retain their title, but equally, it would be hard to take it away from them.

Nobody in England really knew how good the current batch of Latin Americans were. There was little, if any, coverage of the international game other than the European Cup final, and people only got to be aware of South American football through rumour and heresay, unless a national team went on a European tour or a club side caused a stir in the World Club Championship.

Mexico had hosted the 1968 Olympic Games and there had been a lot of concerns about the altitude and high temperatures. The European nations would have problems in acclimatising, the scientists and medics said, and the South American teams and the hosts would have a distinct advantage. Brazil, in 1958, were the only country to have won the World Cup on another continent. That said, in the Mexico Olympics, Hungary won gold, Bulgaria silver and Spain and France went as far as the last eight.

England expected their players would lose between eight and 10 pounds in weight during a 90-minute game. In order to combat the draining effect of playing in searing heat,  they experimented with slow sodium capsules, which were supposed to replace the lost salts in their bodies. They also donned new Umbro aertex shirts that would be cooler than traditional football kits.

Staying power

England, since 1966, had largely maintained the core of their World Cup winning line-up. George Cohen and Ray Wilson, the full backs, had succumbed to injury and age, while Nobby Stiles had endured a disappointing post-66 career, partly due to the decline of his club Manchester United. Roger Hunt had retired from international duty in 1969. Jack Charlton, despite retaining his position in the England squad, was now a veteran and no longer first choice at centre half. Jimmy Greaves, the crestfallen striker who lost his place in England’s final XI, was last capped in 1967 at the age of 27.

Ramsey’s ‘66 side had very much been a team to fit a system, but the players that had emerged since were working for strong managerial and coaching figures such as Don Revie, Malcolm Allison and Bill Nicholson. The game had changed since 1966 and the ongoing debate over club versus country meant Ramsey’s men also belonged to employers with firm views on how the game should be played. Some were in very successful club teams that had played 60-odd games in a season.

English clubs became more European-savvy in the years after 1966. Leeds United, for example, had won the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup in 1968, just over 12 months after losing in the final of the same competition. This triggered off a three-year stretch of English success that included victories for Newcastle United (1969) and Arsenal (1970). Manchester United had won the European Cup in 1968 and neighbours City had secured the European Cup-Winners’ Cup (1970). The club game was looking very healthy, but people were generally unexcited by the national team, which was seen as efficient and lacking in charisma.

England’s Geoff Hurst in action against USSR in the 1968 Nations Cup play-off.

In fact, Ramsey was often accused of picking steady, solid players instead of character actors like Chelsea’s Peter Osgood and indeed, media favourite Jimmy Greaves. Some felt he was too loyal to the men who had won in 1966. Nevertheless, the players who were coming through, such as Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Terry Cooper, to name but three, were considered to be every bit as good as those that had helped England to glory. Those that remained from 1966 were getting older and 1970 would be their swansong in the World Cup. That group would have included Gordon Banks, Bobby and Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.

England’s performance in the 1968 European Championship (then the Nations Cup) ended disappointingly in Florence with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia, a team they were expected  to beat comfortably. They finished third in that tournament, beating the USSR 2-0 in the third/fourth play-off. From 1968-69, England were preparing for Mexico with friendly matches and the Home Internationals. They were held to frustrating draws with Romania and Bulgaria and then beat a poor French side 5-1 at Wembley. Some performances fell below expectations and not everyone was behind Ramsey and his mean.

The press never really gave them full credit for their achievements and often Ramsey’s tight-lipped response to questions and motionless poker face, would move reporters to be very critical. Nobody really saw the Ramsey way – “the wingless wonders” – as being attractive or acting as a standard bearer for the future of the game and hence, it took many years for full recognition to come the way of Ramsey and his team.

Coming together

Alan Ball against Scotland.

The Home Internationals saw England field the team that would take shape for Mexico and they won all three games, most impressively with a 4-1 demolition of a decent Scotland side at Wembley, with Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters scoring two apiece. The line-up, Gordon Banks in goal, Keith Newton and Terry Cooper at full back, Brian Labone and Bobby Moore in the centre of defence, a midfield of Alan Mullery, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Francis Lee and Geoff Hurst up front was soon seen as England’s optimal XI.

It was an ideal send-off for England on their diplomatic and fact-finding mission to Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil in the summer of 1969. England did well, drawing 0-0 in the magnificent Azteca Stadium, beating Uruguay in Montevideo and narrowly losing to a Brazil team that included six of the players who would become world champions in 1970. But England didn’t quite make as many friends and influence as many people as they had hoped and the Mexican public failed to warm to Ramsey and his team.

Little did England know at that point, but they would be drawn in the same group as Brazil as well as two difficult Eastern Europeans in Czechoslavakia and Romania. England came through the 1969-70 season but they had rarely shown their best form and one or two players had been off-song. Peters had moved from West Ham to Tottenham, largely because he was concerned about his own performances, the Leeds contingent (Cooper, Charlton, Norman Hunter and Allan Clarke) had endured a season of heartbreak, losing in the FA Cup final, finishing league runners-up and going all the way to the semi-finals of the European Cup.

On the other hand, there were some players who had enjoyed very successful seasons – Jeff Astle of West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea’s Peter Osgood had scored 48 league goals between them. Brian Labone, Alan Ball, Keith Newton and Tommy Wright had all been part of Everton’s league championship side. Of the 22 players who would form the final squad in Mexico, only Gordon Banks and Emlyn Hughes had not tasted success with their clubs. Compared to 1966, this squad had more experience of what it took to win medals.

Sir Alf Ramsey had been on a number of fact-finding missions ahead of the competition. Bobby Charlton, writing in Goal magazine, commented: “Sir Alf has spent so much time in Mexico these past three years that he knows it almost as well as his own garden in Ipswich.” A light-hearted take from England’s veteran midfielder, but the build-up suggested Ramsey was concerned about taking his champions to what he saw as a hostile environment.

England travelled to South America early and played a series of warm-up games, beating Colombia in Bogota (4-0) and Ecuador in Quito (2-0). The tour was soured by the accusations in Bogota that Bobby Moore had stolen a bracelet when visiting a store. Moore was arrested and eventually released but there was an underlying feeling this had all been designed to disrupt England’s preparations for the World Cup finals.

England remained one of the favourites to win the competition. Helmut Schön, West Germany’s manager, tipped them to retain their crown, while Mario Zagalo of Brazil felt his team, the Germans and England would be the main contenders.

Pele, Banks and Müller

Jairzinho scores the winner against England.

While the group game statistics will show that England won two of their three games, they had to grind-out both victories. Their opener was against a tough and determined Romania side who seemed content to foul the holders at every opportunity. England won 1-0 thanks a Geoff Hurst goal which was good enough to start the campaign, but this was quickly overshadowed by the way Brazil dismantled Czechoslavakia the following day.

On June 7, 1970, England met Brazil in a game that would, in many ways, see the baton passed from the 1966 winners to the 1970 champions. There have been many superlatives used to describe this fine example of modern football and there were some outstanding moments, not least the spectacular, impossible save by Gordon Banks from Pele’s header. England lost by a single goal, scored by Jairzinho, but played their best football of the tournament with Bobby Moore showing that Bogota had not affected his game and Terry Cooper outstanding at left back.

The same could not be said of their third group game against the Czechs. Ramsey made a number of changes, fielding Keith Newton, Jack Charlton, Colin Bell, Allan Clarke and Jeff Astle. In an unfamiliar sky blue kit, England put in their worst display for some time but won with a penalty from Clarke. It was enough to send them through to the quarter-finals, although the woodwork had to come to England’s rescue.

Had England really been convincing in the group matches? They rose to the occasion against Brazil, but one goal scored in open play in three games suggested they lacked the firepower and flair to win the competition. Brazil, of course, had captured the hearts of the football world with their exciting style and West Germany, with Gerd Müller scoring no less than seven goals in three games, had been tipped to go all the way. England had to face the Germans in the last eight and their form made them favourites to win in León.

England thought they would be at full strength, but another twist, one full of conspiracy theories, saw Gordon Banks, arguably the top goalkeeper in the world, confined to bed with food poisoning. Ramsey thought Banks would pull through, but he was weakened by the ailment and Peter Bonetti replaced him. Bonetti had just had an outstanding season for Chelsea and in his previous six games for England had conceded just one goal, but he had played only 90 minutes since the FA Cup final replay.

England were outstanding for an hour and were 2-0 ahead thanks to goals from Alan Mullery (31 mins) and Martin Peters (49 mins). Sadly, Bonetti was considered at fault for England’s capitulation, starting with a 68thminute strike from Franz Beckenbauer. Of the three goals that West Germany scored, the first was, realistically, the one that Bonetti should have stopped. Uwe Seeler’s back header that equalised in the 81stminute had a certain freakish quality about it, but it sent the game to extra time. England, who went into the following half hour without Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters, without looked ragged and it was almost inevitable that Gerd Müller, who had been largely anonymous for most of the game, should score the winner after 107 minutes.

England had been under terrible pressure in the second half as the Germans hit back. The media were clear about where the problem laid – England allowed their opponents in every game more chances as they created themselves. Nobody wanted to blame Bonetti, underlining the professionalism of the squad.

There was sense of shock afterwards, England had lost their crown to the country they had beaten in 1966. It was the beginning of the end of an era, especially for Ramsey. For four players, Bobby Charlton, Peter Bonetti, Keith Newton and Brian Labone, it proved to be their last international. Of the 1966 brigade, Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton were also at the end of their England careers.

Geoff Hurst and Gordon Banks were gone within two years, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters lasted a little longer and finally, Alan Ball of the World Cup winners finished on the international stage in 1974-75 aged 30. The 1970 lads from Ramsey’s ideal eleven, Francis Lee and Terry Cooper were no longer required after 1972 and 1974 respectively. For every member of the 1970 squad, the World Cup would never come their way again, for England didn’t qualify again until 1982.

Journalist Alan Hughes, clearly no advocate of Ramsey, tried to extract some consolation from England’s elimination: “Perhaps defeat will benefit English football in the long run. There is every chance that had we kept the World Cup, most of our league teams would have been playing the functional but unentertaining 4-4-2 and bored the fans to death.”

Back home

Making comparisons is hard, but the popular view that the 1970 team was better than 1966 is even more difficult to assess. It might be easier to say that the 1970 side had experience and was perhaps “better liked” by the media and therefore the narrative was the team was better because we say it is. But England failed to beat the two strong teams they met in Mexico ’70, unlike their predecessors who had disposed of three good teams – Argentina, Portugal and West Germany. There is a theory that there were more proficient teams in 1970 than there were in 1966.

Taking one man at a time, you could argue players such as Terry Cooper, Alan Mullery, Brian Labone and Francis Lee were just as good as those they replaced. You could also make a case that Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Alan Ball were more accomplished players in 1970. But as a unit, the 1966 team proved it could take on and beat the better opponents. Since 1966, the ability to dispose of really strong teams has somewhat eluded England and it may well have started with that World Cup. England’s two best games were both defeats in Mexico and for that reason, it is hard to agree with those that believe the 1970 team was a superior product. Bobby Charlton, who played in both teams, was asked some years later if the 1970 squad was better that 1966 and he opted for the side that won.

Certainly, by 1972, the 1970 team, if it had been better than 1966, should have been peaking in the Euros. It received another body blow, once more when coming up against the Germans, which really demonstrates that 1970 was really the end of something, rather than the start of something more promising.