The Home International championship was always seen as the end of the domestic season. The competition involved the 4 Home Nations competing against each other on a round robin basis, with the tournament climaxing with the clash between the Auld Enemy – England and Scotland.
The 1972 tournament saw Northern Ireland forced to play all their games away from home. This was due to the start of the troubles which would plague the province for the next 30 years. The Irish were only scheduled to play one game at home that season, but their clash with Scotland was moved to Hampden Park, giving the Scots home advantage for all three games.
England kicked off their campaign against the Welsh at Ninian Park Cardiff. Wales had finished bottom of the table the previous season and had failed to score a single goal. The two sides were also drawn together in World Cup qualifying, so this game would prove to be a useful exercise in preparation for the games to come.
The TV Coverage was shared between the two channels, with ITV showing delayed coverage and the BBC showing 30 minutes of highlights that evening. It is the BBC’s transmission which was used by ESPN Classic for their “Dead Good Match” series and it’s their coverage that I own.
Sir Alf Ramsey, despite the lack of threat posed by the Welsh, stuck by his policy of playing two midfield enforcers, Norman Hunter and Peter Storey, a move which was again roundly criticised by the press and pundits. The only experimentation was up front, with Rodney Marsh keeping his place and lining up alongside a debutant in Malcolm Macdonald, described by commentator Barry Davies as being “keen as mustard.”
The pitch in Cardiff resembled a farmer’s field, the bare muddy surface cutting up immediately. Despite the negative line up, England were on the front foot form the off, with Hunter going close with a long range effort. Midway through the first half, England took the lead. Emlyn Hughes burst forward from his left back slot, and continued his run to be in the perfect position to tap home after Gary Sprake in the Welsh goal palmed Colin Bell’s effort into his path.
England’s dominance, despite their negative line up was such that Barry Davies commented that Wales were “taking a bit of a hammering” as the midfield hard-men were “just not giving the Welsh time to play.”
When they did create a half-chance though, the home side almost snatched an equaliser, a long ball finding its way to Wyn Davies, his knock down falling to John Toshack whose shot forced Gordon Banks into a scrambling save. There was still time in the opening half for some classic Seventies foul play, Mike England blatantly body-checking Marsh, a foul so bad it even picked up a yellow card in those days! At the whistle Davies stated that “England go in at half-time with every reason to be pleased with themselves … the Welsh simply haven’t been good enough in midfield to supply the bullets for the big men up-front.”
The ammunition was supplied early in the second half, Wyn Davies rising above Banks to head goal wards, only to be denied by Bobby Moore, who blocked the ball on the line with his thigh. That though was a rare moment of danger for England. Alan Ball wasted an opportunity with men over, and then it was Wales’s turn to clear off the line after Gary Sprake flapped at a corner. Rodney Marsh was denied a goal by an offside flag, and in that “maverick” style of the time, embraced the ref after the decision, rather than the berating the official would get today.
Marsh wasn’t to be denied for long though, and doubled England’s lead with a “beautiful goal.” A ball forward was headed by Macdonald into the path of the Manchester City frontman who despatched the ball past Sprake with a sweet volley.
Moments later it was 3-0 as England broke down the right and Colin Bell scored to give the score a more realistic look based on the balance of play. The home side huffed and puffed but were unable to break their goal scoring drought, the one time they did get the ball into the net, Ron Davies being flagged offside.
At the final whistle, the England players allowed themselves a smile, the result a relief after the hammering they had taken following the two games against West Germany, a fact not lost on Davies who noted that this was “a far more positive performance” but did note that they were facing “a side who quite frankly were outclassed.”
The day’s other game saw Scotland beat Northern Ireland 2-0 through late goals by Denis Law and Peter Lorimer.