England’s hopes of returning to the grand stage in World football took a huge blow after a bizarre and brutal few days in Bratislava. The weather, referees and bad fortune conspired to hinder England’s hopes of qualification for the 1976 European Championship Finals and left Don Revie once again cursing his luck.
Once again, Revie made a host of changes to the side and went back to two of his most trusted lieutenants from his Leeds United days in arguably the most crucial match of his tenure as England manager so far. Paul Madeley and Allan Clarke came into the team. Madeley was renowned for his ability to slot into any position on the field and replaced Steve Whitworth at right back whilst Clarke replaced David Johnson up front. Other changes saw Ian Gillard replace Kevin Beattie at left back, Roy McFarland lining up alongside club mate Colin Todd at centre half and Malcolm Macdonald coming in to play the battering ram to Clarke’s rapier. This saw Kevin Keegan drop a little deeper with Tony Currie the man to miss out.
The match kicked off as scheduled on Wednesday 29th October but in very poor conditions, with thick fog covering the stadium. England started well and Malcolm Macdonald had a goal ruled out after 9 minutes for a contentious offside decision. Just minutes later the referee had seen, or more appropriately was unable to see enough and the match was abandoned and the decision was made to replay the game the following afternoon. BBC showed highlights of the game that night in a special programme with David Coleman on duty.
England again made a positive start when the game got underway again and took the lead on 26 minutes. Mick Channon was the scorer, finishing with a clever lob over the Czechoslovakian keeper Ivo Viktor. The home side were unbeaten since losing to England at Wembley the previous year and they were not about to let that record end here. They intended to win the game by hook or by crook.
What followed was a display that caused Revie to comment after the game that the “provocation that I have seen in this game (was) worse than Argentina against England on 1966.” The Czechoslovakian’s kicked, punched and harassed the England team all over the pitch whilst haranguing the Italian referee Alberto Michelotti at every opportunity. Despite the shameful scenes on the pitch, the only red card produced was to the Czechoslovakian substitute goalkeeper, Alexander Vencel, who was sent off for arguing.
England were undone by goals coming in 2 minutes either side of the half time break. The equaliser came from Zdenek Nehoda on 44 minutes who nodded in a corner past Clemence. Then two minutes into the second half a fine move by the home side was finished off by Dusan Gallis who supplied a fine diving header to win the game.
Apart from that three minute spell England dominated the match but were distracted from their play by the constant fouling that the Czechoslovakian’s resorted to. Unfortunately England were drawn into a kicking match and the game drifted away from them.
The result left England on top of the group, but only by a point and having played a game more. It was a bitterly disappointing end to a promising run of form for Don Revie’s team and left England in need of assistance from the groups minnows if they were to have any realistic chance of qualification.