It was more like Dog and Duck than Three Lions! Thirty years on from Euro 92, the inside story of England’s SHAMBOLIC campaign in Sweden under Graham Taylor
- Denmark opened their Euro ’92 campaign with a 0-0 draw against England
- John Jensen came closest to breaking the deadlock but failed to find the net
- Injuries forced John Barnes and Gary Stevens to withdraw from the England side
- As a result, former Arsenal striker Alan Smith was called up for the Three Lions
From its pub football opening sequence and disappearing players to the fallen hero and a sour taste of root vegetable to finish, Euro 92 seldom evokes warm and cosy memories.
It was brief and joyless for most England supporters, like a drug designed to quell nostalgia.
Over in Denmark, of course, they have a different perspective. The summer of 1992 was their finest and they turned the magical script into a feature film in 2015.
Denmark (above) won the European Championship final in 1992 after beating Germany
Over here, 30 years on, those named in Graham Taylor’s squad still wrestle with conflicting emotions, from the great honour of selection, to the unforgiving margins of failure and the vitriol unleashed by newspapers at war with the manager.
‘It turned into a tournament to forget but I was proud to be there representing my country,’ says former Arsenal striker Alan Smith, who missed out on Italia 90 when the squad was trimmed from 26 players to 22.
Stalwarts such as Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson and Terry Butcher had retired, and Paul Gascoigne had not played since his self-inflicted knee injury in the 1991 FA Cup final.
Taylor had phased out Chris Waddle, despite his brilliant form at Marseille, and Peter Beardsley and opted against Ian Wright, top scorer in English football that season, while injuries ruled out right backs Rob Jones, Lee Dixon and Gary Stevens.
Dixon twisted an ankle running in the woods to keep fit. Stevens was hurt in Finland, the final warm-up friendly and a bonding trip designed to boost morale, with contests for players in cycling, swimming and orienteering.
Denmark were big underdogs vs the Dutch in the semi but had already beaten England
Denmark (above) opened their Euro ’92 campaign with a 0-0 draw against England
There were no TVs, it hardly got dark and players given a one-hour phone card found there was only one phone and always a queue to use it. Most of the players retreated to their rooms and played cards.
John Barnes tore an achilles tendon in the 2-1 win in Helsinki and it turned out Mark Wright, who played the entire game, aggravated an old injury as well, but the message did not get through to the manager until the squad reassembled at a Heathrow hotel a few days later.
‘Graham Taylor didn’t seem to be aware he wasn’t available,’ recalls Smith. ‘He was doing a head count and it was, ‘Where’s Mark Wright?’ Someone explained to the gaffer he was still up in Liverpool.’
Wright’s withdrawal came so late that England were unable to promote Tony Adams, so they embarked with 19 players rather than 20, the limit for the European Championship in those days.
‘More like the Dog and Duck than the Three Lions,’ noted Smith in his book Heads Up, published in 2018.
For those on the plane, however, it was a moment to cherish and for Andy Sinton of Queens Park Rangers, the end of a surreal whirlwind that began when his wife Linda went into labour during England’s friendly against Brazil at Wembley.
ENGLAND VS DENMARK EURO 92 MATCH FACTS
Denmark: Schmeichel; Andersen, Christofte, Lars Olsen (c), Kent Nielsen, Sivebæk; Laudrup, Jensen, Vilfort; Povlsen, ChristensenSubstitutes: Mølby, Elstrup, Piechnik, Larsen, Frank, Krogh, Christiansen, Peter Nielsen, BruunCoach: Richard Møller Nielsen
England: Woods; Pearce, Walker, Keown, Curle (Daley 62); Merson (Webb 71), Palmer, Platt, Steven; Smith, Lineker (c)Substitutes: Clough, Sinton, Martyn, Dorigo, Batty, ShearerCoach: Graham Taylor
Referee: John Blankenstein (Netherlands)
‘I saw her after the game,’ Sinton tells Sportsmail. ‘She said something was happening but we were three weeks from the due date and I thought it was a false alarm. We were going back to the hotel and had a meeting at 11am the next day to tell us who was in the squad, so I told her to go home and I’d see her the next day.’
When the phone in his hotel room rang early in the morning, Linda explained it was definitely not a false alarm.
‘I knocked on Graham Taylor’s door at half eight and he answered it in his pyjamas,’ says Sinton. ‘I told him my wife was in labour and I was sorry but I had to go home.’
Taylor beckoned him in and broke the news that he was not in the squad. Barnes was in it instead. ‘He carried on talking but I wasn’t listening after that,’ says Sinton. ‘I sat in the taxi and cried my eyes out for 20 minutes. My big dream of representing my country in a major tournament snatched away. I got home to find my wife pacing the drive. She just said, ‘Get me to the hospital’.’
Within a couple of hours, tears of despair were tears of joy for a proud parent and Sinton was cradling Daniel in his arms. A fortnight later, England beat Finland and Barnes was injured.
‘Graham came on TV after the game and said, ‘Andy, if you’re watching, make sure your passport’s in date and get your boots’. That was how I got to Euro 92. It was all very weird but the biggest honour ever to be in the England squad for a major tournament. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as we wanted.’
Left back Tony Dorigo did not fancy a switch to the right against Denmark, so Taylor asked versatile Manchester City centre half Keith Curle to step in.
‘I’d strived for so long to be in the England environment,’ says Curle. ‘My first call-up was a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. We spent 23 hours travelling, went to the hotel, went training and, on the first day, I broke my jaw during a small-sided game.
‘David Batty elbowed me — and he was on my team! Graham Taylor said he’d get me home as soon as it was rewired and safe to travel but I said I wasn’t going home.
England (above) were missing some of their key players due to various injuries and some players were returning to squad with very few minutes under their belts
‘I wanted to stay and be involved. I spent a week with my jaw wired up, unable to do anything, and joined in training for the last six days against all medical advice.’
One year on, he answered Taylor’s call in Malmo against Denmark, late additions to Euro 92 with Yugoslavia forced out by the conflict in the Balkans.
‘There’s no finer moment than singing the national anthem before a major tournament,’ says Curle.
‘I didn’t have nerves but just before we went out Graham Taylor had done his speech and (assistant) Lawrie McMenemy said, ‘Remember lads, there’s millions of fans behind you’. That’s when the enormity set in.’
It ended goalless and was Curle’s third and final cap. For the second match, against France, Taylor opted for a back three with Carlton Palmer sweeping behind Martin Keown and Des Walker, who were detailed to mark Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona.
The plan worked in as much as the French did not score. Unfortunately, nor did England in a game best remembered for Basile Boli’s headbutt on Stuart Pearce as they jostled at a corner.
Pearce responded by crashing a free-kick against a post and dismissed the incident as a ‘clash of heads’. Boli sent a fax to the England hotel to say thanks.
‘This was my first international tournament and looking around I didn’t feel we had a lot of experience in the dressing room,’ said Keown, of Everton at the time.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Paul Gascoigne had not played since his self-inflicted knee injury in the 1991 FA Cup final (above)
‘The pressure was on us and there were not too many who had played in a major tournament. Losing John Barnes was critical. He was the flair player Graham Taylor trusted the most. They were together at Watford.’
England had to beat hosts Sweden to reach the semi-finals. This time, Leeds midfielder Batty was at right back.
A few players unwound at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Stockholm after the France game but even those born to run like Sheffield Wednesday’s Palmer were low on gas. Others played on despite nursing injuries.
‘We were out on our feet,’ says Palmer. ‘I was one of the fittest players in the league and had nothing in my legs going into that game, maybe 20 minutes. Sweden weren’t a better side.
‘Denmark went on to win it so we couldn’t have been bad because we drew with them, a fair result. We played well against France and deserved to win.
‘But it goes down as a failure and you can’t argue if you don’t get out of the group. I gave everything and had a great time with a great group of lads, but football can be cruel sometimes.’
The enduring image of England’s tournament is Gary Lineker tossing the captain’s armband towards Palmer when substituted in the 62nd minute against Sweden. Level at 1-1 and with a goal needed, it was a bold change by Taylor.
Lineker had not scored for six games but did have 48 goals in 80 international appearances, one short of Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s top scorer at the time.
John Barnes was ruled out injured after picking up an injury ahead of the tournament
As a result, former Arsenal player Alan Smith was called up to the Three Lions squad
‘Sitting on the bench, I remember Graham getting increasingly irate with Gary for not holding the ball up, but when he told me to get warmed up I never thought I’d be going on to replace him,’ says Smith. ‘We needed a goal and I thought I’d be going on to team up again with my old Leicester strike partner.
‘When his number went up you don’t get the chance to think about it. You’re on and you want to do well but I didn’t have much of a say in things and Tomas Brolin got their winner.
‘Gary got a round of applause in the dressing room because we knew he was retiring. He didn’t say much, just ‘Thanks lads’. He was gutted. There was always a bit of a thing between him and Graham and it was a miserable way to finish.’
At half-time England were 1-0 up through David Platt’s goal and going through as group winners. At full time they were bottom of the group and going home, just a week after the first game.
Lineker’s international career was over and he was not alone. Smith, Curle, Tony Daley, Neil Webb and Trevor Steven — six of the 19 who travelled — did not play again.
‘No-one gave me a round of applause,’ quips Smith. ‘Nobody knew it was my last game. I certainly didn’t.’
Paul Ince, David White and David Bardsley made their debuts when England next played, against Spain in Santander, in September.
Smith recalls the moment Graham Taylor unaware that Mark Wright was unavailable to play
‘It was all over very quickly,’ says Keown. ‘I came home feeling embarrassed because we were bottom of the group, but when you look at what happened we didn’t do a lot wrong and with a bit more experience in the group we could have gone further.’
Although only Taylor’s second defeat in 24 games, the backlash was fierce.
Returning supporters stuck around at Luton Airport to shout abuse at the manager as England returned and the newspapers tore into him.
The Sun went from the headline ‘Swedes 2 Turnips 1’ to superimpose his face on to a root vegetable and give away turnip seeds to ‘grow your own England manager’ transforming Taylor, a thoroughly decent and likeable man who died in 2017, into a national joke.
This animosity provided an uneasy backdrop for many of those in the Euro 92 squad, especially those new to the England scene.
All of those who talked to Sportsmail referenced it in some way and problems worsened for Taylor during the failed qualification campaign for the 1994 World Cup, detailed by a documentary crew, as the media campaign to install Terry Venables in the job gathered force.
The defeat by Sweden marked the beginning of the end and the film they produced — An Impossible Job — was very different to the one they made in Denmark.
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