England approach the end of their World Cup qualifying campaign knowing they need to win against both Montenegro and Poland to guarantee their progression to the finals in Brazil next summer.
To fail to reach the 2014 World Cup will be seen as a disaster for the country that gave the sport to the world, and, worryingly for Roy Hodgson, the portents are not good for England managers who have suffered similar disappointment in the past.
As England prepare for what will surely be a nervy conclusion to their qualifying campaign, we look back at the five times they failed to make a major finals and left a nation gutted.
(Failures to reach Euro 1964, 1972 and 1976 have been excluded as the finals featured only four teams)
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World Cup 1974: 'Clown' has last laugh at Wembley
In a soundbite that deserves pride of place with ‘You’ll never win anything with kids’ in the punditry prediction hall of shame, Brian Clough unwisely choice to label Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown” before a crucial World Cup qualifier at Wembley in October 1973, while his long-time assist Peter Taylor described the visiting side as “donkeys”. Both men were proved wrong as England failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time, their previous absences resulting from a failure to enter.
Having lost in Chrozow, England had to beat Poland to reach the finals in West Germany but Tomaszewski was in inspired form, making a succession of saves to silence Wembley. Poland went ahead through Jan Domarski and while Allan Clarke responded from the penalty spot, it was not enough. England, of course, face Poland at Wembley on Friday in their final qualifier…
What happened next? Alf Ramsey, the only man to win the World Cup with England, was sacked a few months after the draw at Wembley. "It was the most devastating half-hour of my life," Ramsey later said of his sacking. "I stood in a room almost full of staring committee men. It was just like I was on trial. I thought I was going to be hanged."
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World Cup 1978: Italy eliminate England
England - now under the control of Don Revie, whose uncompromising brand of football had brought him extensive success at Leeds United – had won every single game in qualifying for the 1978 World Cup aside from a defeat in Rome and also enjoyed a 2-0 win over Italy in their final qualifier, doing nearly everything in their power to reach the finals in Argentina. However, the Azzurri’s subsequent victory over Luxembourg ensured they qualified in England’s place. Hardly a disaster, but still, the end result was England missing out on football’s biggest party.
What happened next? Revie, who had also failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships, had already clashed with the FA on numerous occasions and permanently and dramatically cut his ties with English football when revealing in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror that he had quit his post in order to take over as United Arab Emirates manager. The papers found out before the FA, which tried to ban Revie for 10 years for bringing the game into disrepute.
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Euro 1984: Danes dash England hopes
When England were drawn with Hungary, Greece, Denmark and Luxembourg in their qualifying campaign for Euro 1984, the Daily Express ran with the headline: ‘England on easy street.’ However, new manager Bobby Robson, taking over from Ron Greenwood, ran into difficulties against a country in Denmark that was beginning to embark on a long ascent to the top of the European game.
Having drawn 2-2 in Copenhagen, and been held to a 0-0 draw at home to Greece, England hosted Denmark at Wembley in September 1983 desperate for a victory to give them control of the group. It was not to be. Allan Simonsen, later of Charlton, scored the only goal of the game and though England won their final two qualifiers, the damage was done: the ‘Danish Dynamite’ team reached the Euros, where they reached the semi-finals.
What happened next? After suffering what would be his only defeat in 28 qualifying matches as England manager, Robson offered to resign so Clough could take over the national side, but the FA kept faith with him and he eventually led the country to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup.
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World Cup 1994: 'Do I not like that'
England’s failure to reach the 1994 World Cup finals is infamously committed to celluloid, ‘An Impossible Job’ documenting the downfall of Graham Taylor during a defeat to Netherlands on October 13, 1993. Taylor’s touchline fury – and quotability, with lines such as “Do I not like that” and “Can we not knock it?” – made this sporting failure into a national drama that is permanently singed on the English consciousness.
Having overseen a poor Euro 92 campaign, Taylor had run into trouble again in qualifying for World Cup 94 in the US, but despite some underwhelming results England were a point above the Dutch with two games remaining, meaning they only needed a draw from their trip to Rotterdam. On the hour mark, though, things went horribly wrong: Ronald Koeman somehow escaped a red card for a professional foul on David Platt and then scored within two minutes himself. A 7-1 win in the final qualifier against San Marino proved useless when Netherlands defeated Poland.
What happened next? "The referee's got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that won't you?" Taylor told the linesman in Rotterdam, and he was basically right. After three years in charge of the national side, Taylor resigned. The pain of that night has never been forgotten by a man cruelly branded ‘Turnip’ by the press.
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Euro 2008: Carson's clanger against Croatia
It was the night the heavens opened at Wembley, and Steve McClaren’s world came crashing down around him. Hoping bullishly to grasp the moment of destiny in front of him, McClaren took the shock decision ahead of the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier to drop No. 1 Paul Robinson and replace him with the uncapped Scott Carson. But as rain drenched the Wembley turf, and McClaren infamously cowered under an umbrella, Carson disastrously allowed a long-range effort from Niko Kranjcar to escape his grasp after only eight minutes, and was then beaten by Ivica Olic.
Though England pulled two goals back through Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch, Mladen Petric struck a winner with 13 minutes left. The 3-2 reversal, coupled with Russia’s 1-0 win over Andorra, meant England missed out on the finals in Austria and Switzerland, and the long walk back to Wembley Park tube proved a long one for England supporters, the pervasive rain seeping into every pore on a night when English football weeped.
What happened next? After just 18 games in charge, McClaren became only the second coach after Don Revie to leave the job without taking charge of a major tournament, describing his sacking as “the saddest day in my career”. The sight of him sat sullenly under an umbrella will be the defining image of his time in football – and the ‘wally with the brolly’ tag will likely be impossible to shift.