Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Where were you in ’82?

By remembering ‘Ron’s Twenty Two’, Gary Jordan’s book makes for a perfect read for another World Cup year...

Where was I in the summer of ’82? I was at school. More precisely, in the June of that year I was in the final throes of the fifth form and sitting the last of my O-level exams before getting to enjoy an extended school holiday ahead of a further two years’ education. It’s a period in time that has been brought back to life by a new book, Out of the Shadows: The Story of the 1982 England World Cup Team by Gary Jordan.

The story provides the perfect preparation for another World Cup year, not least in the fact that it sets you up nicely for the ultimate disappointment that comes with being an England fan. Out of the Shadows actually begins further back than the Spain World Cup, with the fall-out from England’s previous tournament failure in Mexico ‘70. It then charts the national team’s progress through twelve barren years, focussing in particular on fortunes under the stewardship of Ron Greenwood, appointed to the post in 1977. Although painful reading at times – in particular the travails of the Don Revie era – the book evokes memories of some magical times spent watching the big games on my cousin’s colour telly next door (we only had black and white in our house). Among these were: ‘The Clown’ Tomaszewski denying England at Wembley in 1973, the rousing 5-1 drubbing of Scotland in 1975, a comeback win against Italy on a baseball field in New York in 1976 and the ultimately-to-no-avail 2-0 victory over the Italians at Wembley the following year, which formed part of the unsuccessful 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign. When watching on the television was impractical – such as for the midweek afternoon game in Rome in October ’76 that would ultimately cost England their place in Argentina – other methods were employed; in this case the transistor radio that Martin Wilson smuggled into our class at Easington Primary School and continued to feed us details from over the course of the game.

Jordan’s book also details the first England fixture I attended in person. That came courtesy of a school trip to Wembley in November 1978 when reigning European champions Czechoslovakia were the visitors for a prestigious friendly. Steve Coppell scored the game’s only goal, capitalising on the keeper’s error from a Tony Currie cross, after Viv Anderson had created the space. And it was Anderson who occupied most of the pre-match headlines, with the 22-year-old Nottingham Forest full-back becoming the first black player to win a full England cap. The other two things remembered from the night are (a) it was bloody freezing and (b) on the way home some of our older lads got into a scuffle with Mansfield Town fans at a Service station. It was a sign of things to come...

Fast forward four years and that shy, retiring second-year pupil had become a slightly less shy, retiring sixteen-year-old, weaned over the previous twelve months on Hull City games and rockabilly music. 1981/82 had been a dramatic season to follow The Tigers home and away, with City experiencing their first ever taste of life in the Football League basement and also becoming the first club to call in the Official Receiver. Thankfully, they survived the latter and indeed briefly mounted what would have been a remarkable tilt at the play-offs. This eventually fizzled out but with summer approaching, Don Robinson was announced as the club’s new Chairman. The Tigers had been saved from extinction.

In addition to my City commitments, weekends were taken up pursuing a love of vintage rock ‘n’ roll music. This had first been forged when watching Matchbox perform “Rockabilly Rebel” on the so-called ’Two Tone Top of the Pops’ in November 1979. The arrival of The Stray Cats the following year had made the music more “credible” in the eyes of the media and a couple of gigs by upcoming British bands at The Goodfellowship on Cott Road brought me into contact with the hip young hepcats of the local rocking scene. It was a shortlived phenomenon though and by the time I got to see one of those Goodfellowship bands (The Jets) again, in May 1982, the scene was on its knees. Unlike The Tigers, the Hull hepcats were in danger of dying out! The evidence was overwhelming. Despite a couple of Top Thirty hits themselves and in spite of having as support act Coast To Coast (recorders of Top Five smash “(Do) The Hucklebuck”) Hull City Hall was barely a third-full. But even allowing for the attendees somewhat rattling around inside, the gig still proved enjoyable and was seen by me as being the perfect start to an extra long summer, one for which the main event was still to come. I'll let Not All Ticket take up the story...

With my penchant for the look and style of yesteryear, I didn’t really fit the standard image of the 1980s football fan. Whether it be the recently-arrived Casuals (‘trendies’), the few remaining shaven-head bovver boys, the leather-clad rockers who I travelled with to away games or your standard run-of-the-mill ‘scarfers’, it was fair to say I stood out from the crowd – though not perhaps in the way I particularly wanted to! Indeed, looking back to those early days of football fandom I don’t recall seeing many fellow flat-tops on the terraces, either among the City support or that of our opponents. On one of the few occasions I did come into contact with a like-minded soul – in the form of a Sheffield United fan who I clocked from the other side of the fencing at the back of The Kempton in October 1983 – it was refreshing to note that we allowed ourselves a nod and a knowing smile (our shared musical affinity obviously transcending club rivalry).

By the time of that second Sheff United visit, I’d moved on from the donkey-jacketed ‘Rockabilly Rebel’ who had successfully avoided the Blades on Anlaby Road two years earlier. Those Goodfellowship nights and first sight of the local ‘in-crowd’ had prompted a subtle change in my appearance, which had by early 1982 taken on more of the hepcat look. It was a look honed by regular trips to some of the more alternative boutiques in Hull. Beasley’s in Trinity Market Square became the store of choice for genuine US zippers, college jackets, vintage 501s and bowling or Hawaiian shirts, all at affordable prices. Changes or Furmans in the city centre were good places for footwear, as was The End (later to become X Clothes) on George Street, which also became a destination for peg/zoot suits and smarter shirts. Mail order items were procured from the Harrow-based ‘All-American Boy’ outlet. To complete the look, after trying a range of barbers (including the one in the Station that asked if “Sir” wanted anything for the weekend) I settled on Paragon Arcade. The younger of the two barbers in there sported a neat quiff so I knew I was on safe ground. 
As a sixteen-year-old with few interests outside my football and music, the state of the nation I lived in was of little concern. Events such as unemployment topping the three million mark, the collapse of Laker Airways, the DeLorean Car factory “doing a City” by going into receivership, and the Miners forcing concessions out of a Government desperate to avoid another damaging strike hardly resonated. They were things for Dad to have an opinion on, one that he would usually share with us whether we showed any interest or not. But during that spring came news headlines that finally did grab my attention; and it was all down to ‘Johnny Foreigner’.

On 19 March 1982, Argentine forces occupied the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Within a month they had raised their national flag in Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. The response involved what many saw as the last great imperial venture mounted by the British Government. It was the type of military operation not previously seen in my lifetime. I could just about remember the deployment of Royal Navy ships during the 'Cod Wars' of the 1970s and anti-terrorist ops against the IRA were almost a fixture of the daily news bulletins. But this was in another league altogether and it fixated me in the same way that the Iranian Embassy siege had a year or so earlier. I'd been born into a family with a strong Forces pedigree. Both my paternal grandad and great-grandad had made careers out of the Army, between them seeing active service in the Boer War and both World Wars, while Grandad Douglas was a Royal Navy stoker during the Second World War, dying of illness in December 1944 aged 46. Dad himself had been an RAF volunteer in the early 1950s and he followed this up with a spell in the Royal Observer Corps on his return to Civvy Street. This saw him based at the nearby RAF Holmpton radar station, which helped bring the Cold War threat of nuclear attack much closer to home than any amount of Protect And Survive booklets could hope to do. Weaned as a kid on war films, Commando comics and 'Dad's Army', the Falklands War was Boys Own stuff to me and many of my mates. We found ourselves swept along on a wave of patriotism and jingoism, one that was almost feverishly whipped up by the tabloids. Headlines such as "Stick it up your Junta" and "Gotcha", coupled with that image of the soldier yomping across the barren frozen landscape, Union flag fluttering from his radio aerial, couldn't fail to stir the so-called Bulldog spirit.

The Falklands War lasted 74 days before General Menendez's surrender on 14 June confirmed the end of hostilities and the return of the Islands to British sovereignty. British losses amounted to 255 military personnel and three Islanders, while the Argentines suffered 649 casualties. Mrs Thatcher said the victory had "put the Great back into Britain". Rightly or wrongly, most people in the country appeared to agree with her. There was a patriotic fervour across the land of the sort previously confined to the Royal Wedding, Botham's Ashes and 'Chariots of Fire'. Britons were encouraged to feel good about themselves again. With three of the Home Nations represented at the summer's World Cup, the hope was that there would be plenty more opportunities for doing so...

16 June 1982 
FIFA World Cup Finals Group 4:
England 3 France 1
Easington Methodist Chapel steps (sort of) – no ticket

Just days after the successful conclusion of one British expedition, "Ron's Twenty-Two" (plus the teams of Scotland and Northern Ireland) began a very different type of campaign involving the citizens of another Spanish-speaking nation. Thankfully, none of the teams was expected to face Argentina - at least until the latter stages. Another blessing for England in particular was their base in Bilbao, in the Basque region "among friendly people" as manager Ron Greenwood described them. And the team could certainly do with some friends. The heightened tension caused by the Falklands conflict, allied to the reputation of England's 10,000-strong travelling support prompted a massive security operation on the part of the hosts. In fact there was even talk at Government level of pulling the British teams out of the competition due to the associated risks. Thankfully, such a move wasn't deemed necessary. 

Having been too young for Mexico, the 1982 World Cup was the first involving England that I got to watch. As such it would prove the first time I truly experienced the now familiar cycle of hope, despair and recriminations that is involved when watching the Three Lions at a major tournament - even from afar. Ridiculously I'd mistaken the good news emanating from the South Atlantic for some sort of sign that this was to be England's year. Despite a rollercoaster of a qualifying campaign that had included defeats in Switzerland and, memorably, Norway ("Maggie Thatcher...your boys took one hell of a beating!") England came into the tournament as one of the form teams and on the back of a six-game winning run. Thus, with the naive optimism of youth, I believed the lyrics of the team's official World Cup song: "This time, more than any other time, we'll find a way...we'll get it right!"

And intitially they did. 

Despite being weighted down by their ill-designed Admiral shirts in the sweltering afternoon heat of the San Mames Stadium, England got off to a flyer. Bryan Robson latched on to Terry Butcher's flick from a Coppell throw-in to give them the lead after just 27 seconds of their opening group game against France. Gerard Soler levelled matters before half-time but a second half Robson header and Paul Mariner's fifth goal in successive internationals completed a 3-1 win. England had got it right. Ron's twenty-two were on their way.

Routine wins against Czechoslovakia and Kuwait ensured England headed into the ridiculous round-robin second phase as group winners. But in a sign of things to come, our optimism would prove misplaced. Due to freak results elsewhere - West Germany's defeat to Algeria, Northern Ireland's win over Spain and most notoriously the so-called "Second Anschluss" affair between the Germans and Austrians in Gijon - Greenwood's side were now placed in a "group of death". Hampered by injuries that restricted Trevor Brooking and talisman Kevin Keegan to just 26 minutes' football apiece, England failed to beat either of their opponents, drawing both games 0-0. They returned home early, albeit undefeated and with the team's reputation enhanced. It was the kind of anti-climax I have become well accustomed to over the past three decades.

Had I known then how things would pan out, I’d perhaps have acted differently on the afternoon of that opening game in Bilbao. The tea-time kick-off had implications for my attempts to get home from school, get changed and deliver thirty-odd copies of the Hull Daily Mail in time. My itinerary allowed no scope for loitering, which wasn’t usually a problem on a Wednesday. What I hadn’t accounted for on this particular Wednesday was that two of the best looking girls in fifth form would just happen to be out on a bike ride along my paper round route. 

With the clock ticking to kick-off time, I came away from the Tower House on Seaside Road having shoved my last issue through a typically stiff letter-box and I was eager to race home for the game. Instead, I was greeted by the two aforementioned young lovelies sat taking a breather on the steps of the nearby Methodist chapel. They asked me what I was doing and – more importantly – whether I’d like to stop “for a chat”. A chat? These were two girls who I could never recall having wanted to chat to me about anything. What was so different now; surely my luminous green Hull Daily Mail bag wasn’t that big a draw?! My mind was racing. I couldn’t believe my luck. And of course, the old Piscean traits soon came to the fore. Within seconds I had my own interpretation of what stopping for a chat might entail and it didn’t involve much talking. This was my chance for some real fun in the sun... Thankfully, before I embarrassed myself, reality kicked-in. I looked at my watch and suddenly remembered where my real loyalties lay. “Errrr, I-I can’t, errr, England are on. See ya!” And with that I was gone. I had a World Cup to win.

Even though I missed that opening goal, the win over France and England’s subsequent serene progress through Group 4 was enough to convince me that I’d made the right decision. My loyalty to the cause would be rewarded. It was only after Brooking and Keegan had passed up crucial chances in the stalemate against Spain that my mind wandered back to those Chapel steps. As they do with every passing failure at World Cups and Euros. As every major tournament comes and goes I’m left wondering why I invest so much emotion in this seemingly lost cause; emotion that could surely be put to better use elsewhere. Wistfully, I also reflect on that decision I made on that Wednesday afternoon back in the summer of 1982. Given my time again, I’d almost certainly opt for that chat and catch highlights of the game later. Only those two voluptuous young ladies know whether my doing so would have been as big a letdown as another England World Cup failure.

That 1982 disappointment has been replicated numerous times in the 36 years since Brooking and Keegan bid farewell to the World stage. Genuine highs have been few and far between, Italia 90 and Euro 96 the obvious ones, but despite such a barren run that hope of seeing England triumph again remains embedded in me and rises to the fore whenever another tournament draw takes place. To actually attend a World Cup or European Championships is something I'm still yet to do. Indeed, that 1978 trip to Wembley has not been replicated many times since. I was there for the 1-1 draw with Brazil that heralded the "opening" of the newly all-seated Stadium in May 1992, as well as the "last match played under Wembley's Twin Towers", the defeat by Germany on 7 October 2000 that led to Kevin Keegan's resignation as manager. My only other viewing of the England team amounted to the first half of the Rous Cup game against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1985 - my "enjoyment" of proceedings on the pitch being curtailed when the Police decided to eject all England fans at half-time!

Looking back, it may well have been that experience in Glasgow that put paid to any genuine thoughts of travelling anywhere with England. I certainly never seriously looked into going to Italia 90 or France eight years later, the two tournaments that my domestic arrangements (i.e. being single) would have allowed scope for. Instead, as with that first World Cup in Spain and every tournament since, I followed events either at home or in the pub. However, unlike that 1982 competition, the only nagging feelings of "what if" that I've been left with afterwards, have related solely to the football. At least this summer, that will all change. Because this time - in Russia - we'll get it right...   

Picture of Don Robinson courtesy of Amber Nectar
Picture of rockabillies courtesy of Adrian Sensicle ('Rockin' London in the 1980s')

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