FootballInternational Football

“Alf Ramsey – get rid”: Duncan Alexander’s unique take on England’s first 1000 games

November 14, 2019

YOU may have heard that England’s game tonight is their 1000th match. From the bleak November days of the early 1870s through to the, er, bleak November days of the late 2010s, the men representing the Three Lions have been turning up for games and scratching their deeds into the history books for a long old time. To go through all 999 would verge on madness, but here are a few that stand out like beacons.

Game 1: Scotland (a), Nov 30, 1872

Just like the first Premier League goal coming from a long throw, there’s something bleakly beautiful about England’s first ever game, and the first international football fixture in the history of the sport, ending 0-0. England would not experience another goalless draw until the arrival of the vacuum cleaner in the early 1900s, but fortunately for all of us, the 0-0 at Hamilton Crescent in 1872 did not suck the lifeblood from the nascent game.

Game 184: Austria (h), Dec 7, 1932

The 19th century gave all it had to the sport of football. They might not have provided penalties or goal nets from the get go, but they codified our dreams and we should be forever grateful. Game 184 for England was an entertaining 4-3 win against Austria at Stamford Bridge and it featured both David Jack and Billy Walker, the last two players born before 1900 to turn out for the national team. We now have a smattering of 21st century players in the England squad, and before too long the 20th century will go the way of the 19th. Time is inexorable. There is no escape.

Game 313: Denmark (a), May 15, 1957

Stanley Matthews’ final appearance for England, at the age of 42 years and 103 days, remains the oldest outing for any player in the nation’s history. He was older then than Eddie Howe is right now, yet Howe remains well outside of Gareth Southgate’s thinking for Euro 2020. Matthews’ international career, like Hamlet’s, ended in Denmark, but there was nothing rotten about it. One man picked out of ten thousand, Matthews remains the link between a hundred different generations.

Game 366: France (a), 27 Feb, 1963

Alf Ramsey’s first game and England only go and lose 5-2 to the lads across the channel. He remains the only manager in the nation’s history to lose his first game in charge. Get rid. Banter era manager.

Game 407: Argentina (h), July 23, 1966

There had to be one game from the summer of 1966 but let’s not go mainstream and choose the 77-shot final. Instead, the infamous meeting with Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final, which lives on in Alf Ramsey’s quote: “We have still to produce our best, and this is not possible until we meet the right sort of opponents, and that is a team that comes out to play football and not act as animals.”

Yet England were penalised nearly twice as often as the Argentines and their total of 35 fouls is the highest ever recorded in a World Cup game by a team who didn’t pick up a single caution. England were the animals all along. We’ve been duped. Nothing is real.

Game 720: Hungary (h), 18 May, 1996

A largely forgotten Euro 96 warm up game but it remains the last time England named as many as five players born in 1966 (aka that year) in an international (Rob Lee, David Platt, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham & Dennis Wise). That it came against Hungary, architects of the nation’s destruction at Wembley in 1953 only added to the weirdness. When the narrative lay lines come together, they really make a noise.

Game 859: Austria (a), 16 Nov, 2007

Despite the onslaught of variety and herbs, England remains a simple nation and, accordingly, Smith is the most common surname to have appeared for the national team. 20 men with that name have been capped, 11 more than any other suffix, yet no-one has done it since Alan Smith appeared as a late substitute in Vienna 12 years ago. This was the match that preceded the home defeat to Croatia, the last time England failed to qualify for a tournament. Different times.

Game 995: Switzerland (neutral), June 9, 2019

England become the first team to play a third/fourth place playoff in consecutive summers. Classic England. Pure England. We go again.