Having long snubbed the global tournament, England entered the competition for the first time and soon set about teaching those pesky foreigners a thing or two. They began their campaign with victory over Chile but were then shocked 1-0 by the part-timers of America before losing their final group game against Spain by the same score. That was the beginning of a realisation that England had fallen behind tactically and their manager, Walter Winterbottom, began reforming the country’s coaching structure. However, Winterbottom did not have power to pick his team, which was selected by a one-man committee consisting of Arthur Drewry, whose decision to omit Stanley Matthews for the match against USA came to be seen as costly hubris. It was not so costly to Drewry, who five years later was appointed head of Fifa.
Led again by Winterbottom, England went into this tournament less sure of themselves, with the infamous Wembley defeat by Hungary in 1953 confirming that they had plenty of catching up to do. So there was joy when England made it out of their group thanks to a victory over Switzerland and a draw with Belgium. They were outclassed in the quarter-finals, where they were beaten 4-2 defeat by Uruguay, but returned home to praise for the improvements Winterbottom had overseen.
Winterbottom took charge of his third tournament – though the team was still picked by committee – and England battled their way to three draws in the group before losing a play-off with the USSR. Most of the criticism was directed at the selectors, over whom Winterbottom now had some influence – hence the manager was also rebuked for the decision to leave out Bobby Charlton, whose performances seemed unaffected by the Munich air disaster.
England made it out of their group on goal average after a win, a draw and a defeat and then produced their finest performance of the campaign in the next round – but that was not enough to avoid a 3-1 defeat by the eventual winners, Brazil. Winterbottom resigned that year and successfully convinced the FA that the next manager should have sole authority for picking the team.
England won the World Cup on home soil and Alf Ramsey said: “It has taken English football 100 years to realise that football can be played differently from the way it was when it was originated, but we have now caught up.” Ramsey was later knighted, as was Geoff Hurst, scorer of a hat-trick in the final, though he had to wait until 1998 for his honour.
The holders finished second in the group behind Brazil to set up a knockout match with West Germany, who gained revenge for their defeat in the 1966 final by recovering from 2-0 to beat England 3-2 after extra time. Ramsey’s side were criticised for their caution throughout the tournament, but the most obvious scapegoat was the Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who made a costly error after being fielded as a late replacement when Gordon Banks fell victim to food poisoning. Ramsey stayed on, but was sacked when England failed to qualify for the 1974 tournament.
England made a semi-successful return after a 12-year absence, exiting in the second-round group stages without losing a match. Though they had struggled to qualify, Ron Greenwood’s side impressed when winning all three of their first group games and were then held to goalless draws by Spain and West Germany. Most of the blame was put on the lack of fitness of key players, Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking and Bryan Robson. Greenwood, who had been talked out of resigning when the team looked unlikely to make the finals, decided to step down after the tournament. Two days later Bobby Robson was appointed as his replacement.
After making a drab start – losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco – England recovered and Gary Linker’s goals fired them to the quarter-final, where they were ousted by Argentina, the ingenuity of Diego Maradona and “divine” intervention: England had a handy scapegoat.
Robson, barracked by the press since England’s dismal showing at the 1988 European Championships, announced before the tournament that he would not renew his contract and would instead take charge of PSV Eindhoven. This was decried as nigh-on treasonous by some in the media but the manager’s popularity soared when his team reached the semi-finals before losing to West Germany on penalties, amid Gazza’s tears and misses by Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle. The squad returned to a heroes’ reception. Graham Taylor took over the manager’s reigns but failed to qualify for the next World Cup and resigned, leading to Terry Venables’s appointment for two years.
Defeat to Romania did not stop the team, now led by Glenn Hoddle, from emerging from their group and the 18-year-old Michael Owen shot himself into the nation’s hearts in the next round with a dashing goal against Argentina. David Beckham, on the other hand, returned as public enemy No1 after his kick at Diego Simeone earned him a red card, leaving England to play on with 10 men before Argentina won on penalties following misses by Paul Ince and David Batty. After Hoddle made a controversial interview in January 1999, the FA sacked the manager, replacing him with Kevin Keegan. He lasted three years before resigning in the Wembley toilets following defeat to Germany.
Under the management of a foreign manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, for the first time, England emerged from a difficult group but lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals. David Seaman earned entry into the national hall of shame after being beaten by Ronaldinho from long-range and Gareth Southgate rued Eriksson’s inability to motivate the troops, lamenting that at half-time in the match with Brazil: “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan Smith.”
Eriksson announced that January that he would be stepping down after the finals. England plodded their way to the quarters, where they were beaten in a shootout by Portugal. Wayne Rooney was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho and England scored one of four penalties in the shootout, but the immediate focus of much of the blame for the defeat was Cristiano Ronaldo – whose crime was to wink after Rooney was dismissed.
The highly-decorated Italian manager Fabio Capello was hired to give England’s so-called golden generation the technician they deserved. At least that was the plan. As it turned out, the players performed abysmally in South Africa, with the blame variously placed on Capello’s joyless approach, the players’ preciousness and cluelessness, Rob Green’s slippery fingers in the draw with the USA and the non-existence of goalline technology to overrule the referee’s decision not to award Frank Lampard a potentially pivotal goal in the 4-1 second-round defeat by Germany. Despite calls for his departure, Tthe FA announced Capello would see out his contract until after Euro 2012. However, the Italian quit just four months before the tournament following the national body’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy over the Anton Ferdinand racism affair. He was replaced by Roy Hodgson.
No one seriously expected Hodgson’s men to win the tournament, but failure even to make it out of the group following defeats to Italy and Uruguay meant England were going home at the first hurdle for the first time since 1958. Hodgson, who has two years left on his contract, insisted he would not resign and the FA said it would not sack him. Whatever happens, England should at least qualify for Euro 2016 as the tournament finals in France will be the first one with 24 teams rather than 16.