As the man who guided England to their greatest footballing triumph in 1966, Sir Alf Ramsey would have envisaged his departure as manager of the national football team in slightly more glorious circumstances. However after having failed to shepherd England to qualification for the 1974 World Cup, and his determination to carry on as manager, despite the clamour for his removal, Sir Alf bowed out after this tepid goalless draw in a friendly international.
Portugal, as a nation, was on the verge of revolution. For England, it was the football that was revolting. Sir Alf did name six debutants in what turned out to be his final selection, but this was not down to giving a chance to the next generation of players, but more to do with the archaic and fractious relationship the national team had with the Football authorities at home. On a night with domestic cup commitments, the England squad was ravaged by withdrawals as club most definitely came before country.
There was so little interest in the fixture, that even the television companies saw it as the least attractive offering available to show that night. With the archaic restrictions on the televising of football, the BBC and ITV chose to show the cup action taking place. Coupled with the match kicking off at 9.45pm, there was no coverage of Ramsey’s swansong.
The fiasco surrounding the squad and the withdrawals from it was an enormous irritation to Ramsey who, in a portent of the arguments which would be espoused by future England managers to come, fired a broadside at the footballing authorities, saying: “There is only one thing to do – punish the clubs concerned. If a player does not report for an international match or a training session, he should not be permitted to play for his club on the following Saturday.”
Ramsey was missing players from Liverpool and Leeds for the trip to Lisbon. Debuts were given to Phil Parkes (his only cap), Mike Pejic, Martin Dobson, Dave Watson, Stan Bowles and Trevor Brooking. Martin Peters was the only one of Ramsey’s World Cup winners to start, although Alan Ball did come on as a second half substitute.
The game was a drab affair with the failings of the team for all to see. For the third game in a row England dominated in possession and territory, but lacked a real cutting edge. Mick Channon hit a post in the first half but there were no other clear cut openings of note.
The bullet wouldn’t be instant for Ramsey, it would be four more weeks before he was formally sacked, but the match signalled the end of the most successful period in the history of the English national team. His sides won 69 of the 113 matches played under his tutelage, losing just 17. After such a glorious past, England were about to enter a bleak, and at first uncertain future.