England completed their East European Tour with a trip to Belgrade to take on Yugoslavia, another side heading off to West Germany and the World Cup. The fixture was an ideal warm-up for the Yugoslav’s who would be facing Scotland in the final game of the opening group stage.
Once again the build up to the game was far from smooth, although this time the problems were much worse than the players having to bunk up together as they had in Sofia. Esteemed Guardian journalist David Lacey was on the trip and he recalled the incident in a piece for the Guardian in 2009. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/may/21/seven-deadly-sins-football-sloth-keegan-belgrade)
Due to a mix up by the England travel agents the players arrived at Belgrade airport an hour earlier than expected, so there was no Yugoslav delegation to meet them on their arrival. This led to the players, who were in their “civvies” rather than in formal team dress, to be left to their own devices whilst collecting their luggage. As is the case with a group of young men left to bide their time for an hour, some “horseplay” ensued which resulted in Alec Lindsay taking a walk on the baggage carousel. At the back of the party was Kevin Keegan, lagging behind laden down with souvenirs from Sofia, who decided to take a seat on the edge of the conveyor belt.
Unfortunately he was picked out by the security guards as a troublemaker and was dragged away, where in the words of Lacey “he was forced to kneel “like a prisoner of war” while being punched, clubbed and kicked. He was then charged with sexually assaulting a stewardess, assaulting a security guard, disturbing the peace and causing an obstruction.”
The charges of sexual assault were particularly hard to fathom as Keegan had been asleep for the entire flight, but once Ted Croker, the Secretary of the FA, intervened all the charges were dropped and the party moved on to their hotel, with the game going ahead as planned.
The match was played in front of a crowd of around 90,000 with highlights being shown that night by ITV, Brian Moore on duty as the commentator. Once again I have been unable to source any footage of the match.
The England side, once again unchanged by Joe Mercer, were obviously fired up after the fiasco at the airport and took an early lead through Mick Channon. Yugoslavia, who would go on to qualify for the second stage of the World Cup, hit back with an equaliser midway through the first half from Iljan Petkovic.
A defensive mix up handed Yugoslavia the lead five minutes into the second half, Branko Oblac scoring the goal. Keegan though had the last laugh, grabbing a deserved equaliser 15 minutes from time to maintain the sides unbeaten record on the tour.
It was the end of an era for England. Mercer’s reign as caretaker manager was over, as was the wearing of the classic white shirt which the side had worn for the past ten years. The next time the Three Lions would take the field it would be under a new manager in Don Revie, and into a new commercial world, with an Admiral kit which would enrage the traditionalists. The new era would not bring new success, as England’s football team was about to enter the darkest and least successful period in its history.