Don Revie’s reign as England manager started in spectacular fashion as the Three Lions ushered in a new era in the country’s history with a comprehensive victory over the side perceived to be their biggest rivals in qualification for the 1976 European Championships.
Following the disappointment of missing out on World Cup qualification and the dismissal of World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey, it was on a wave of optimism that England began life under Revie. The former Leeds boss was the undoubted number one candidate to replace Ramsey but he was not the preferred choice of many. The uncompromising nature of football played by his Leeds United side was not universally liked and his involvement in a commercial deal with Admiral to produce the new England strip had not been well received with objections to a sponsors logo being plastered all over the national strip offending traditionalists.
Qualification for the 1976 European Championship saw the sides drawn into eight groups of four nations, with England facing the prospect of seeing off Portugal and Cyprus as well as their opening opponents, Czechoslavakia. For his first selection, Revie in the main stuck to those who had represented England in the previous 12 months, with Gerry Francis of QPR the only new cap in the starting line up. He went back to his old club to select Norman Hunter at the heart of the defence, and brought in Paul Madeley to play at left back in place of Alec Lindsay. Emlyn Hughes shifter to right back and captained the side
The start of the Revie’s reign was the focal point of BBC Sportsnight on the 30th October with Barry Davies in the commentary box, with the side coming out to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory, which Davies pointed out was what Revie wanted “as the theme song for English football.” As well as the new strip and music to come out to, the players also adopted a tradition brought in by Revie at Leeds, with the players lining up in the centre circle and waving to all four sides of the ground.
The draw with Poland seemed to be weighing heavily on everyone’s mind, particularly Davies, and England’s start did little to lift the memory of the cataclysmic draw 12 months earlier, as the early breakthrough they were looking for failed to materialise. Colin Bell and Mick Channon were at the heart of all England’s early attacking play. Bell’s driving runs from midfield were causing the Czech’s all sorts of problems and his cross was flicked on by Kevin Keegan into the path of Channon who diverted the ball just wide. Bell then tried his luck from 20 yards forcing Ivo Viktor in the Czech goal into a fine full length save.
Channon had been part of the side which battered on the door against Poland without breaking it down and he was having little luck on this night either. Debutant Francis was the next player to create a chance for the Southampton striker who could only find the side netting with his shot from the edge of the area. Moments later he wasted another gilt edged chance, heading over when totally unmarked from 8 yards out after Frank Worthington picked him out wonderfully.
That night against Poland the home side had been susceptible on the break and were almost caught out again by Czechoslavakia’s first real attack when Marian Masny clipped the top of Ray Clemence’s crossbar with a dip from 30 yards out.
However it was all England and they must have been believing the footballing gods were against them as once again their opponents seemed to be leading a charmed life. A corner from the left was headed against the post by Worthington, the ball falling to Channon with the goal gaping, however he fell over the ball and allowed Czechoslavakia to clear the ball away to the consternation of Davies who cried out in anguish “Again, memories of Poland.” The half time whistle blew again at Wembley with the game goalless.
The second half saw a slight delay to proceedings as referee Michael Kitabdjin, who would shoot to infamy at the end of the season in the European Cup Final (more of which in a future blog) stopped the game to allow a long haired lout finish his casual jog across the field. Somehow he had been allowed on the field “notice with bottle in hand” noted Davies, without a single steward or policeman anywhere in sight.
Maybe he thought he could add some much needed pep to the England attack as the crowd, who had been so optimistic before kick off, lapsed into a chorus of “All we are saying is give us a goal” as the Three Lions failed to make the breakthrough. Whilst the intruder didn’t spark the home side, Don Revie’s first use of substitutes did prove to be the turning point.
With England looking a little short in wide areas, Revie decided to throw on David Thomas, the QPR winger, replacing the ineffective Worthington just past the hour mark. It took just ten minutes to make an impact. With his socks rolled round his ankles, Thomas delighted in taking on the fullbacks, and immediately caused a huge problem for the Czechs. After winning a free kick on the right, he took it quickly, picking out Channon who was once again unmarked in the middle of he goal eight yards out. This time he made no mistake and powered the header home to put England ahead, provoking Davies to recognize “the delight and relief on both player and crowd.”
Eight minutes later England doubled their lead with a goal which Davies described as a “beauty.” Channon rampaged through the centre of the park before threading a ball through to Bell. The Manchester City midfielder met the ball at full stretch on the edge of the box to divert it past Viktor into the net.
In the 83rd minute the match was won. Again Channon was the creator, this time racing down the left before swinging a cross into the area where Bell met the ball with a towering header for his second and England’s third. The crowd were ecstatic with Davies asking the audience at home to “listen to the applause for Bell and for England.”
It was a priceless win for England, not only taking two points off the side that were likely to be their closest challengers in the group but also to give the national team a much needed boost. But in their moment of glory, Barry Davies sounded a warning when he said that “what happened in the last 26 minutes will blur from the memory the problems of earlier on.” That lack of a real cutting edge would not only hamper England’s qualification prospects it would drain the confidence of the England boss, and lead to a host of changes in the games ahead. Don Revie’s first game as England manager had been a triumph, but things would get rocky very quickly.