Following the disappointment of failing to qualify for the European Championships, England were still optimistic of making the 1974 World Cup, particularly after being drawn with Wales and Poland in the qualification group.
England’s first friendly saw them take on Yugoslavia at Wembley Stadium. The two sided last meeting had been 4 years earlier in the semi-finals of the 1968 European Nations Cup; a match the Yugoslavs had won 1-0.
England’s preparation was thrown into chaos by the fixture clashing with replays of League Cup ties. Given the apathy with which the tournament is held today, along with the co-ordinated football calendar, it’s a situation which is hard to behold these days. The pre-eminence of domestic football over the international game seemed to be a running battle, and one which would cause problems for years to come.
England therefore went into the game with four new caps. Their back four boasted 100 caps between them, however skipper Bobby Moore had 97 of them. The full back positions were filled by debutants Mick Mills and Frank Lampard, with Moore’s central defensive partner the fantastic named Jeff Blockley, who had just joined Arsenal from Coventry City. Only Mills would go on to have a long international career, with Lampard only earning one more cap 8 years later and Blockley never playing for England again. The rest of the side was also inexperienced with only Moore, Alan Ball and Colin Bell boasting more than 10 caps.
The match was covered by BBC who showed highlights on their Sportsnight programme, and it’s that coverage which I have following a broadcast of it by ESPN Classic in 2007.
On a slippy pitch the Yugoslav’s immediately attacked England new full backs, a host of dangerous runs being made down the flanks. From one of these Dragoslav Stepanovic got to the bye line, pulling back for Franjo Vladic, Yugoslavia’s debutant, shooting straight at Peter Shilton.
England’s other debutant was Mick Channon and he came close to giving England the lead with an over hit ball into the box forcing goalkeeper Enver Maric to back pedal and tip over the bar. Channon was instrumental in England taking the lead just before half-time. Chasing a ball down the left he was challenged by the keeper near the corner flag, who had dashed out to try to cut out the ball. Avoiding his challenge his pass into the box was a poor one, but three Yugoslav defenders converged on the loose ball and they all left it to each other. Alan Ball capitalised and slid to the side of the recovering keeper to Joe Royle who smashed an effort into the roof of the net from 6 yards out for his first international goal.
England went into the break with the lead, but the sides were level within five minutes of the start of the second period. A deep cross to the back post by Petr Krivokuca was headed back across goal to Vladic, who completely unmarked headed past Shilton from the edge of the six yard box.
England did have a goal chalked off, Ball’s volley from 12 yards disallowed as Rodney Marsh was stood in an offside position. Yugoslavia did look the more threatening, with skipper Dragan Dlajic twice going close with chips, the second of which came off the crossbar.
England hung on for the draw, avoiding a third consecutive Wembley defeat and David Coleman commentating seemed to think that Sir Alf Ramsey would have been pleased with the result: “No one can complain about this England performance. A team riddled with problems because of League Cup replays, the squad nothing like the side that Sir Alf Ramsey visualised in the first place, but he must feel very happy with the way they played tonight.”