#FlashbackFriday - Euro '80: England Return to an International Finals, but fail to set the Euros alight

The European Football Championship finals of 1980, held in Italy, would be the first in which eight sides would qualify for instead of the previous four.  The finals would now also last for eleven days instead of just four and contain fourteen matches instead of four.  It would also be the first in which the host nation would automatically qualify.  The extended number of qualifiers would give hope to an England side whose run of failing to qualify for major international tournaments had by 1978 stretched to four, with the whole of the 1970s becoming something of a lost decade for the English national side.

England – now under the management of former West Ham boss Ron Greenwood, after Don Revie’s resignation to manage the UAE a year earlier - found themselves drawn alongside fellow home nation side Northern Ireland and their near neighbours from across the border, Eire.  Other sides in the group included Bulgaria and Denmark. The Irish kicked off the qualification group in late May 1978 with a trip to Copenhagen to play the Danish.  Eire held a 3-1 lead going into the last ten minutes when goals from Benny Nielsen and Soren Larby gave the Danes a 3-3 draw.  Four months later, Northern Ireland visited Dublin where they played out a 0-0 draw with Eire.  That same day, England visited Copenhagen to play the Danish and took a two goal lead within twenty five minutes with two goals from Kevin Keegan.


Within five minutes however, the Danes had pegged England back to two each with a penalty from Barcelona’s Allan Simonsen and a goal from Ajax’s Frank Arnesen.  Just after half time, Everton’s Bob Latchford put England back in the lead again and five minutes from time Phil Neal restored a two goal cushion.  Per Ronfeld gave the Danes a third goal which made a nervy last few minutes for the English, who hung on for a 4-3 win.

Next up for England a month later would be a trip to Dublin to face Eire.  Bob Latchford gave England the lead, however Derby County’s Gerry Daly pulled one back for the Irish for a 1-1 draw at Dublin’s Landsdowne Road.

That same day, the Danes would visit north of the border to play Northern Ireland at Belfast’s Windsor Park, with the Ulstermen triumphant with a 2-1 win secured by a Trevor Anderson goal in the last five minutes.

Northern Ireland went on to a 2-0 win away in Bulgaria the following month, while the following February they visited Wembley to play England with both sides boasting an unbeaten record.  The English however ran out 4-0 winners over Northern Ireland with goals for Kevin Keegan, Dave Watson and two for Bob Latchford. 

The following May, Eire managed a 2-0 victory over Denmark with goals from Gerry Daly and Don Givens, while that same day Northern Ireland managed a 2-0 win over Bulgaria.

A week later, Bulgaria inflicted a 0-1 defeat on Eire.  One month later however Bulgaria faced the English in Sofia, with England running out 3-0 winners with goals from Kevin Keegan, Dave Watson and Peter Barnes.

That same day in Copenhagen, the inconsistent Danes managed a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland with goals from Allan Simonsen and a hat-trick for Preben Elkjaer. 

Three months later however, the Danes would lose 1-0 at Wembley to England with a goal from Kevin Keegan.  One month later, England hammered Northern Ireland 5-1 away at Belfast’s Windsor Park with two goals apiece for Trevor Francis and Tony Woodcock and an own goal from Manchester United’s Jimmy Nicholl, which finally secured England’s qualification for major tournament for the first time since the Mexico ’70 World Cup a decade prior.  On the same day, Eire managed a 3-0 win over Bulgaria at Dublin’s Landsdowne Road.

Northern Ireland however finished their Euro ’80 qualification campaign with a 1-0 win over Eire at Windsor Park with a goal from Tottenham Hotspur’s Gerry Armstrong.

Twenty four hours later, England managed a 2-0 win over Bulgaria with goals for Dave Watson and a debut goal for Glenn Hoddle of Spurs.

The following February, England completed their fixtures with a 2-0 win over Eire at Wembley with two goals for Kevin Keegan, which meant that England finished six points clear of second place Northern Ireland at the top of the group under a two for a win system, securing fifteen points out of a possible sixteen with some degree of optimism ahead of Euro ’80 for Ron Greenwood’s men.

There were no such joy for the other home nations in qualifying for Euro ’80 however.  A rare triumph for Scotland was a 4-0 win away to Norway in Oslo in June 1979, with goals for Joe Jordan, Kenny Dalglish, John Robertson and Gordon McQueen.

The Scots however finished fourth in their qualifying group behind Austria in second place (to whom they lost 2-3 in Vienna in September 1978).

the group was topped by Belgium, who left Hampden Park in December 1979 inflicting a 1-3 defeat on the Scots (note here in this video that Scotland actually have their names on the backs of their shirts, something which predates the English Premiership’s use of such gimmicks by nearly a decade and a half!).  Scotland however managed to finish the qualifying campaign in March 1980 with an emphatic 4-1 win over Portugal at Hampden Park.   

There would be no joy either for the Welsh.  Despite opening with a 7-0 win over Malta in October 1978 and four goals for Chester City’s Ian Edwards (in whose shadow Ian Rush had been living in at the time!), followed by a 1-0 win over Turkey a month later, their campaign would be hindered by two defeats to a formidable West Germany side. 

At Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, Wales suffered a 0-2 home defeat in May 1979, followed by a 1-5 hammering in Cologne the following October.  A 0-1 defeat to Turkey in Izmir one month on meant that the Welsh would have to make do with a third place finish.

The group of death in the Euro ’80 qualifiers had been Group 4, which contained 1974 and 1978 World Cup runners up Holland, third place finishers in both World Cups – Poland, as well East Germany.  Holland went into their away fixture with the Poles in May 1979 with a one hundred percent record, while Poland suffered 1-2 defeat in East Germany just a fortnight prior. 

Holland however suffered a 0-2 defeat in Chorzow with future Juventus star Zbigniew Boniek on target for the Poles

Poland went into the return fixture in Amsterdam on the back of a 1-1 home draw with the East Germans a month earlier.  Poland took the lead after just four minutes, a Huub Stevens equaliser however spared the blushes of the World Cup runners up. 

Holland pulled off a 1-1 draw, which completed Poland’s fixtures and left them top of the group and a point clear of Holland and an East German side also vying for the top spot, however put them in a position where qualification was mathematically impossible. 

East Germany, who went into their final fixture with the Dutch in November 1979 on the back of a 5-2 win over Switzerland in East Berlin, had a vastly inferior goal difference to the Dutch, which meant that only a win would see them through to the finals.  The Dutch in contrast only needed to avoid defeat, as their goal difference would be superior to that of Poland in the event of finishing on equal points.  After thirty three minutes of the match in Leipzig, the Dutch found themselves two goals down to the East Germans. They were however given hope ahead of half time, when a header from Frans Thijssen of Ipswich Town found the net.  Two further Dutch goals for Kees Kist and Willy Van Der Kerkhof gave Holland a 3-2 win over the East Germans, which secured their passage to the finals in Italy the following June.    

The remaining qualifiers for Euro ’80 included reigning European Champions Czechoslovakia who pipped an emerging French side to the top of the group by just one point, with a 2-0 win over the French in Bratislava in April 1979. 

A 2-1 victory for the French in the return fixture in Paris’s Parc De Princes stadium the following November wasn’t enough to prevent the Czechs progressing to the finals. 

The final place in Euro ’80 went to Greece who would make their debut appearance in a European Championship finals, in a tight group in which only two points separated them from bottom side USSR.  Greece secured their passage to the finals with a 1-0 win over the USSR in September 1979.

The new group phase of the European Championship Finals would be on a round robin basis, where only the group winners would progress to the final and the two sides finishing second competed for the third and fourth place play off (which may sound weird, but the World Cups of 1974 and 1978 actually followed something of a similar format).  Ironically, the Euro ‘80 finals kicked off from where Euro ’76 left off with a repeat of the 1976 Final, as Czechoslovakia met West Germany in Rome’s Olympic Stadium in Group A.  On this occasion however, the West Germans came out on top with a 1-0 win secured by a goal from Karl Heinze Rummenigge.

Later that same day, Holland secured a 1-0 win over Greece in Naples with a goal from Kees Kist. 

Also in Naples three days later, the Dutch went on to meet their West German rivals, who built up a three goal lead by just after the hour with a hat-trick from Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Klaus Allofs (which alone made him the tournament’s top scorer).  In the last ten minutes, Holland pulled two goals back from Johnny Rep and Willy Van Der Kerkhof, but West Germany ultimately went on to a 3-2 victory to secure their passage to the final.  

That same day, Czechoslovakia beat Greece 3-1 in what was practically an empty Olympic Stadium in Rome.

In what was effectively the play-off for the third place play-off between Holland and Czechoslovakia ended in a 1-1 draw.

And finally, the last fixture in Group A between West Germany and Greece – effectively meaningless under the format which UEFA followed for these finals – ended in a 0-0 draw.

The opening fixture of Group B would be England’s first game in a major tournament finals for ten years against Belgium in Turin.  The fallout from this game however would most probably have reminded the rest of the world as to why, despite the fact that Ron Greenwood’s side boasted nineteen European Cup winners’ medals between them, the English probably hadn’t been missed during this lost decade.  On the pitch, Ray Wilkins gave England the lead with an excellent chip though Jan Ceulemans equalised for Belgium within three minutes.  Almost immediately following Belgium scoring, violence broke out behind the England goal.  This led to the Italian Police firing tear gas in order to control the crowd, which ended up wafting onto the pitch and holding up play for five minutes ahead of half time.


England keeper Ray Clemence later described to Four Four Two magazine that: ‘a horrible feeling came over me and I couldn’t see anything. Then I realised there was a problem behind me’.  The interruption disrupted the rhythm of both sides and with no further scoring, the game ended in a 1-1 draw.

What happened on the pitch however would not be the major taking point, as UEFA hit England with an £8,000 fine as well as causing great embarrassment to incumbent British PM Margaret Thatcher who had been in Italy at the time, attending an EEC summit in Venice.  England manager Ron Greenwood had strong words for the hooligans, stating that: ‘we are ashamed of people like this…we have done everything to create the right impression here, then these bastards let you down’.

Both England and Belgium however remained in contention, as on the same day over in Milan’s San Siro Stadium Italy and Spain played out a 0-0 draw (though the Spanish actually outplayed the host nation). 

Three days later, England’s fixture with Italy became a must win game, due to the Belgians beating Spain 2-1 in Milan within an hour of England and Italy taking to the pitch. 

The task was made all the more bigger for England by the fact that the Italians hadn’t lost a fixture on home soil for over a decade.  Italy themselves had a problem of their own with the local ‘ultras’, which left the local authorities in Turin dreading the match ahead.


The Mayor of Turin, Diego Novelli, even threatened the match with cancellation and insisted on the banning of alcohol sales prior to the game.  Fighting had briefly broken out between the two sets of fans around an hour and a half before kick-off, but was quickly resolved by the police.  In the event, a goal from Marco Tardelli eleven minutes from time eliminated England from the competition with a 0-1 defeat. 

Three days later in Naples, further proof that UEFA hadn’t thought the tournament format through was shown by the fact that England and Spain were effectively playing off for the right to play off for the third and fourth place spot (effectively playing off for the right to play off for the Footballing equivalent of a world’s tallest midget competition).

Unsurprisingly, only 14,440 of the English, Spanish and neutral Neapolitan Football fans bothered to turn out for such a non-event.  West Ham’s Trevor Brooking gave England a first half lead, though Spain equalised with a goal from Dani from the penalty spot a few minutes into the second half.  Just past the hour however, a superb volley from Tony Woodcock of German side 1FC Koln put England ahead and with no further scoring finished the tournament with a 2-1 victory.

England’s ‘progression’ to the third and fourth place play off however depended on an Italian defeat to Belgium in the final group fixture in Rome’s Olympic Stadium (which was now effectively a Semi Final).  The two sides however played out a 0-0 draw, meaning that Belgium progressed to the final by one point and the Italians took the runners up spot from England by a goal difference of +1.

Three days on, Italy met Czechoslovakia in Naples for the Third and fourth place play off which finished 1-1 after extra time and resulted in what became a marathon penalty shoot-out which Czechoslovakia won 9-8 (the Czechs converting all nine of their penalties), with Fulvio Collovatti missing the decisive sudden death penalty for the Italians. 

Twenty four hours later, West Germany went on to meet Belgium in the Final of Euro ’80.  Horst Hrubesch gave the West Germans the lead after ten minutes, Belgium though equalised from the penalty spot converted by René Vandereycken of Club Brugge after seventy five minutes.  West Germany however took the European Championship title with a header Horst Hrubesch two minutes from time to give the West Germans a 2-1 win.

Despite the expansion of the tournament, Euro ’80 turned out to be something of a damp squib with an average attendance of just 24,676 a match (the attendance of just 4726 for Greece v Czechoslovakia filled only 7% of the capacity of Rome’s Olympic Stadium).  The eight team format though would be retained for Euro ’84 in France, but with the group winners and runners up progressing to the semi-finals, which consequently brought a far more entertaining tournament as a result.