England didn’t really set the World on fire with their full internationals during the 70’s, but the U.18’s was a totally different story. Champions in four Euro’s, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975. So how could everything go so wrong when you initially had the best youth players in the World.
England, as we all know, missed the 1974 and 1978 World Cup and again it might have to do with an omen that we might have overlooked. The game and the top division in England were during the 70’s very much influenced by players from Scotland, Wales and N Ireland and many of them made it difficult for young English players to get through at the bigger clubs and vanish into the “little leagues”.
Trevor Francis shined in the first of those tournaments and with his breakthrough at Birmingham City at the age of 16, Sir Alf Ramsey never gave him the chance and he had to wait until 1977 before getting a chance in the England team, ironically Sir Alf was to become Trevor’s manager at St. Andrews a few months later.
The team of the 1971 final, winning 3-0, included players that later would become good professionals, but never got a taste of full international football. In goal was Ron Tilsed, young and talented, playing for Arsenal at the time, but he moved down the ladder to Portsmouth and later Hereford United, before emigrating to Australia. He is still “down-under” out and about coaching young up and coming goalkeepers.
All of the players that played in the 1971 final had fine journeys in the game, with the goalscorers in the, Peter Eastoe (2) and John Ayris both known for their long careers in the game. But both never progressed to the full England set up.
The central defender Mike Dillon vanished from English football at a very young age, leaving Tottenham Hotspur after only 24 league games and instead playing alongside Pele and Johan Cruyff. He moved to New York Cosmos and later Washington Diplomates and spend most of his footballing career in the NASL.
Other players in the team was Mick McGuire, Bobby Parker, Steve Daley, Martyn Busby, Don Shanks and Alan Dugdale. Daley never got a full cap, but once was England’s most expensive player when signed by Manchester City. He also spent a number of years in the NASL with Seattle Sounders.
Bobby Parker did vanish a bit in the English game. He captained the team at occasions, and seen as a massive talent at the time, but maybe a lost one as he left Coventry and joined Carlisle. He then turns up again in the top flight in the 1974/75 season and goes top of the table early on. Nice to see the former Nou Camp finalist at Carlisle.
A year later England again played their way to the final and defeated West Germany at the Nou Camp in Barcelona in front of 20.000. Phil Thompson and Steve Cammack scored the goals with again Trevor Francis playing with great influence. Gordon Milne was in charge of the team. Kevin Beattie had made his way into the team as well, the young Ipswich defender was seen as a massive talent. But with his injuries seldom played to his very best level as an England player.
Steve Cammack was with Sheffield United at the time and played a number of games in the top flight of English football, but his career never took off and he worked his way through a number of clubs at lower tiers of football representing Chesterfield (twice), Scunthorpe and Lincoln, and seen as a proven and respected goalscorer at those levels.
Players such as Ray Wilkins and Bryan Robson was introduced and both were in the U.18 team when England again won the tournament in 1975. Ray Wilkins was a year later called up by Don Revie and made his debut v. Italy. Bryan Robson had to wait another five years before his made his full debut under the management of Ron Greenwood. Robson played in the heart of defense in 1975, but as we all know starred in midfielder during his senior career.
Other players in the team of 75 was Alan Curbishley and Glenn Hoddle. There was also a tricky winger among those players a certain Peter Barnes, the next in line of those great talents to make his debut for the full England team. Barnes was strangely the better player in his younger years with Manchester City. Strangely Malcolm Allison decided to sell, and Barnes became a journey man in football, struggling with injuries, and he never experienced the thrill of playing in the World Cup, but at his best one fantastic player in his trade and position.
Other players in that set up were Tommy Langley, John Trewick, Mark Nightingale, Keith Bertschin, Dale Roberts, Steve Wicks, goalkeeper John Middleton, John Sparrow and Paul Bielby and Ian Smith. A number of them played a great amount of games in the top flight, but never shined at full international level.
It might have been a different story if the players had got a better chance and an easier path into the first teams at the major clubs, who knows if Steve Wicks, Keith Bertschin and Alan Curbisley could have shined at even higher levels.
Ron Greenwood managed to build a “winning mentality” with England and with the next World Cup’s in 1982, 1986 and 1990, you managed to build teams tournament by tournament with Hoddle, Wilkins and Robson in those set up’s and later being able to bring teams forward building on those previous experiences.
Often you see players who have been part of “great moments” and “knowing how to win titles” turn up again in the most strange circumstances and being part of teams and winning formulas were they tend to do those very important jobs and not always being the players grabbing all the headlines, but they tend to know the jobs and how it should be done to “win” those titles.
As we have seen so many times, when a team or a club, suddenly rise to a certain level you might be surprised how many of those teams that have a few players in there that has seen “winning” before. The mentality of those individuals are something you need to search for when building a team, and the best managers will search and find, but it can take a bit of time, but history will probably repeat itself.
England did win the title back in 1966, but since then the teams have not had that “full injection” while managers might have missed out on those players that you really need in there to get to that final hurdle.
England do have a number of players with that experience at the moment, and they are around in football, some far from “the stars” and others “waiting in the wings”. England won the World Cup with their U.17’s in 2017 and to be part of such a set up makes you very special as you have seen it all, gong all the way.
England also have another group of players with that experience, those winning the U.20 World Cup in that very same year. They are all out and about, interesting to see how they progress, with Bournemouth players Dominic Solanke and Lewis Cook both been given a single cap but hardly at this moment players certain to be called up.