Despite the mood of pessimism and decline which hung over the English game during the mid-1980s, the FA formulated a bid for England to host the Euro ’88 finals.  The English had hosted the World Cup twenty two years earlier, but had never previously hosted a European Championship Finals.  Unfortunately for the FA, though they were considered favourites to host the tournament, they couldn’t have picked a worse time to have lobbied UEFA for the right to host an international championship.  The decision on who to host the tournament was to be announced on 14th March 1985.  Ten days prior, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge played host to Sunderland in the Second leg of the League Cup Semi Final.

Amidst a climate of wider unrest (the Miner’s Strike had concluded just a day earlier), Sunderland’s second goal led to a wide scale pitch invasion and riot by the angry Chelsea mob.  Two days ahead of UEFA’s announcement came more trouble in the form of Millwall’s visit to Luton Town’s Kennilworth Road in the FA Cup Quarter Final.  Again, another riot from the Millwall fans held up play for over twenty minutes, all of which had been captured by the cameras of BBC’s ‘Sportsnight’.  When the results of the bid for Euro ’88 were announced England failed to receive any votes, with West Germany seeing off a joint Scandinavian bid of Norway, Sweden and Denmark to win the right to host the tournament. 

For English football, things would get worse over the three months that followed with fifty six fans killed in a fire at Bradford as a discarded cigarette ignited with accumulated rubbish underneath a wooden stand.  Just eighteen days later, English football would suffer another hammer blow in the shape of the Heysel disaster which led to the banning of all English clubs from European competition. England however would still remain within international competition, reaching the Quarter Finals of the Mexico ’86 World Cup and in the Euro ’88 qualifying rounds would be drawn against Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland and Turkey. 

England’s qualification kicked off in October 1986 against Northern Ireland at Wembley.  For the Ulstermen, this would be their first competitive game since the retirement of Pat Jennings after two decades as the custodian of the Northern Irish goal.  Making his debut replacing big Pat was Phillip Hughes of Bury Town.  On the night England ran out 3-0 winners with goals from Chris Waddle and two for Gary Lineker.

England’s biggest challenge came from Yugoslavia, whom they met at Wembley a month later.  Spurs’s Gary Mabbutt put England a goal up after twenty minutes by getting his head to a corner from team mate Glenn Hoddle.  The English added a second on the hour with a goal from Viv Anderson, who after a renaissance season under George Graham at Arsenal had won his England number two shirt back from Everton’s Gary Stevens.  England ran out 2-0 winners on the night.

That same day meanwhile, Northern Ireland played out a 0-0 draw with Turkey in Izmir.

Six months later, England visited Belfast’s Windsor Park to take on Northern Ireland.  The English sealed both points with a 2-0 win secured by goals from Spurs players Steve Hodge and Chris Waddle. 

A surprising point dropped for England however would be a 0-0 draw with Turkey in Izmir at the end of that same month, particularly with regard to the fact that when England met the Turks in qualifying for the Mexico ’86 World Cup they had an aggregate score of 13-0 in their favour.

Yugoslavia closed the gap on England to three points with a game in hand after a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast. 

The return fixture back in Sarajevo in October saw Yugoslavia run out 3-0 winners over Northern Ireland.  That same evening however, England – wearing a brand new kit - hammered Turkey 8-0 with goals for Bryan Robson, Peter Beardsley, a debut goal for Neil Webb, two goals for John Barnes and a hat-trick for Gary Lineker.  Just over twenty four hours on from England whirlwind performance saw the nation hit by a hurricane which BBC Weatherman Michael Fish failed to forecast.

Equally, one month later few people felt England’s trip to Belgrade to meet Yugoslavia would have been a straight forward affair.  The first half however saw a shock and awe performance from the three lions, with Peter Beardsley putting England a goal up after three minutes after pouncing on defensive dithering by the Yugoslavs.  On seventeen minutes, more defensive mishaps from the Yugoslavs saw an indirect free-kick awarded to England in the penalty box, which John Barnes put away after skipper Bryan Robson touched the ball into his direction.

 

Captain marvel put England three up just three minutes later and on twenty five minutes the English were four goals to the good with a header from Tony Adams, with his first international goal.  With ten minutes to go, Katanec pulled one back for the Yugoslavs, however England took both points with an impressive 4-1 away win which left many within the country fairly optimistic for England’s chances in West Germany the following summer. 

Though England’s qualification would be secured, there would be two further matches in Group four.  Later that same day, Northern Ireland beat Turkey 1-0 at Windsor Park with a goal from Swindon’s Jimmy Quinn in front of just 3,931.  A week before Christmas 1987, Turkey played out their final fixture against Yugoslavia in Izmir for which just 4,657 people turned out.  Yugoslavia took a three goal after fifty four minutes, however the Turks pulled two back in a 2-3 defeat.

Joining England in West Germany the following summer would be Eire (now under the management of England World Cup winning hero Jack Charlton), who against the odds secured their first qualification to a major tournament despite being drawn in a group which included three Mexico ’86 World Cup qualifiers in Bulgaria, Belgium and Scotland, as well as perennial whipping boys Luxembourg.  Their campaign opened with a trip to the Heysel Stadium to meet Belgium in October 1986, the home side took the lead with a goal from Standard Liege forward Nico Claesen who on the back of this and performances at the Mexico ’86 World Cup earned a transfer to Spurs a month later.  Four minutes later, Eire equalised with a goal from Man United’s Frank Stapleton.  Anderlecht’s Enzo Scifo put the Belgians back in the lead with twenty minutes to go, before former Arsenal legend Liam Brady (then plying his trade in Italy with Ascoli), to give Eire a 2-2 draw.

On the same day, Scotland drew 0-0 with Bulgaria at Hampden Park.

One month on, Scotland visited Landsdowne Road to play Eire and played out another goalless draw before finally getting off the mark with a 3-0 win over Luxembourg at Hampden Park.

On that same evening, Eire’s hopes for qualification also suffered a blow with a 1-2 loss to Bulgaria in Sofia. 

At the end of the month, Eire also played out a 0-0 draw with Belgium at Landsdowne Road. 

The Irish then secured four points with a 2-0 away win over Luxembourg at the end of May and again in the return fixture the following September with a 2-1 win at Landsdowne Road. 

The biggest boost for Eire’s qualification hopes however came in October with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria at Landsdowne Road with goals for the Man United pair of Paul McGrath and Kevin Moran, which concluded their fixtures. 

The Irish in turn were handed a huge favour by a Scotland side unable to qualify themselves.  Later that day at Hampden Park, goals for Ally McCoist of Rangers and Celtic’s Paul McStay gave the Scots a 2-0 win over Belgium.

One month on in Sofia, Bulgaria required just a point against Scotland to secure qualification from the group and were on course to do so, until four minutes from time when Gary Mackay popped up to give the Scots a surprise 1-0 win to secure qualification for Eire. 

Just ahead of Christmas 1987, the final fixture of the group would be something of an irrelevance with Scotland drawing 0-0 away in Luxembourg. 

The Welsh would also run close in Group six, with a side that included exceptional quality from Merseyside’s big two such as Neville Southall and Kevin Ratcliffe from Everton and Ian Rush from Liverpool, as well as Mark Hughes then lining up alongside Gary Lineker at Barcelona.  The Welsh kicked off their fixtures in September 1986 with an away trip to Helsinki to play Finland.  The Fins took the lead on eleven minutes, however Neil Slatter of Oxford United equalised to secure a point for the Welsh in a 1-1 draw

Their next game would be the return fixture with Finland the following April, at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground with a 4-0 win secured by goals from Ian Rush, Glyn Hodges of Wimbledon, David Phillips of Coventry City and Port Vale’s Andy Jones.

At the end of the month, Czechoslovakia came to Wrexham to meet the Welsh.  The Czechs took the lead with a goal from Ivo Knoflíček, with eight minutes to go however a Juventus bound Ian Rush equalized for a 1-1 draw.

Next up for Wales had been the visit to Cardiff’s Ninian Park of favourites for qualification – Denmark.  On nineteen minutes, Mark Hughes pounced on a rebound from an Ian Rush header that hit the post to put the Welsh a goal up.  The Welsh hung on to take the points with a 1-0 win that put the Welsh top of the group with two games left to play.

The following month saw Wales head to Copenhagen for the return fixture with the Danish.  Welsh qualification hopes however were put in peril with a 0-1 defeat as a result of a goal from Preben Elkjaer.

The Welsh therefore required to win away against Czechoslovakia in Prague, however crashed to a  0-2 defeat with a cracker of an opening goal from Ivo Knoflíček and a second from Michal Bilek, meaning that the Danes progressed to the Finals. One side effect of this game however is that the performance of Czechoslovakian goal scorer Ivo Knoflíček caught the eye of controversial Czech born Derby County chairman Robert Maxwell.

He and Slavia Prague team mate Lubos Kubik were tapped up by Maxwell to come west and play for Derby, however the communist regime at the time didn’t permit Czech players to move abroad until after the age of thirty and both players were still in their twenties.  The pair therefore defected while on tour with Slavia Prague in West Germany during the summer of 1988 and fled to Belgium.  By the following January both arrived in England where they were announced by Maxwell as new signings for Derby County, however the move fell through when FIFA refused to sanction the deal as well as after allegations in a Sunday newspaper that there had been underhand business involved with signing the pair, which included forged documents. 

 

By the time Slavia Prague agreed to allow the pair to move on, Knoflíček had moved instead to Hamburg and his team mate Kubik to Fiorentina by which time the pair were finally allowed back to Prague to visit their families for the first time in a year.  After the velvet revolution of November 1989 in which the Czech communist regime collapsed, the pair were allowed back in the country to represent the national side and competed for Czechoslovakia in the Italia ’90 World Cup. 

Meanwhile, back to Euro ’88 qualification, Holland also begun to see a resurgence after failing to qualify for the previous three international tournaments.  The Dutch kicked off their qualification rounds with a 1-0 win away to Hungary in Budapest with a goal from Marco Van Basten laid on by a pass from Ruud Gullit in October 1986. 

One month on however, the Dutch would drop a point at home to Poland with a 0-0 draw, though ahead of Christmas 1986 would secure two points with a 2-0 away win over Cyprus.

At the end of March 1987, the Dutch fell a goal behind at home to Greece however secured a point with an equaliser from Marco Van Basten just ahead of the hour with a 1-1 draw. 

One month on, the Dutch sealed a 2-0 win over Hungary in Rotterdam with goals for Ruud Gullit and former Ipswich Town and Man United star Arnold Muhren.

The following October came a crunch tie away in Poland.  The Poles however sealed a 2-0 win with two goals for Ruud Gullit

Two weeks on, Holland played host to Cyprus in Rotterdam in a game which could have sealed Dutch qualification.  The game however was marred by crowd violence and with the Dutch a goal up @01.25 a homemade smoke bomb hidden inside a tennis ball had been thrown at the Cyprus penalty area, which exploded and injured the Cypriot goalkeeper Andreas Charitou, who had to be substituted.  The Cypriots left the field in protest and refused to continue playing, however after much pressure from the Dutch players, Luxembourg referee Roger Philippi decided the game could continue.  Holland subsequently ran out 8-0 winners, however the crowd disturbances lead to the result being annulled by UEFA and awarding a 3-0 victory to Cyprus, which effectively opened the door to Greece to qualify from the group

The Dutch appealed the decision, despite the risk of exclusion for doing so, with Dr. Greep stating that Charitou was not actually injured, which resulted in the match being replayed in Amsterdam behind closed doors in front of an official attendance of 300 people.  The Dutch secured a 4-0 win with goals from Ronald Koeman and a hat-trick for Johnny Bosman. 

The Greeks were unhappy that UEFA’s original decision to award the game to Cyprus, accusing UEFA of wanting a Dutch presence at the Euro ’88 finals to increase attendances and moved the final fixture against the Dutch a week prior to Christmas 1988 to a tiny stadium on the Island of Rhodes and selecting a weaker side.  In the event Holland won 3-0.

The Euro ’88 Finals however would lack the presence of the reigning champions France, who despite finishing third in the Mexico ’86 World Cup Finals faced a late eighties decline after the retirement of Michel Platini, winning just one game in the Euro ’88 qualifying phase.  After a 0-0 draw in the opening fixture away to Iceland, the French would suffer a 0-2 defeat to the USSR in the Parc De Princes in October 1986, with goals for Igor Belanov and Vasyl Rats. 

There would be further embarrassment for the French in the shape of a 0-2 away defeat to Norway.

French elimination would be sealed with a 1-1 draw with the USSR in Moscow in September 1987.

The final two qualification spots would be sealed by Spain and Italy.  The Spaniards qualified one point ahead of second place Romania, aided by a 3-2 away win over Austria in April 1987.

Italy finished three points clear of Sweden with a 3-2 win over Switzerland in Milan’s San Siro in November 1986 and a 3-0 win over Portugal in the same stadium in December 1987.   

In the finals, England would be drawn in Group Two against Eire, the USSR and Holland.  In the run up to the tournament, England would meet the Dutch in a friendly at Wembley in March and didn’t put in a bad performance.  Gary Lineker gave England the lead on thirteen minutes, though the Dutch equalised when Tony Adams put the ball into his own net under pressure from Ruud Gullit. 

 

The Dutch went ahead on twenty five minutes with a superb header from Johnny Bosman - a player tipped for stardom at the upcoming championships before losing his place to Marco Van Basten (his surname now more famous for the legal case brought by his Belgian namesake Jean Marc Bosman which fundamentally changed Football’s contractual laws on a Europe-wide basis). 

 

On the hour however, Tony Adams would make amends for his earlier own goal by equalising with a header from a Trevor Steven free kick one minute after Ruud Gullit had been substituted by Dutch boss Rinus Michels.  The match finishing in a 2-2 draw.

England’s run up to Euro ’88 also included a friendly against non-league side Aylesbury, dressing room footage of which can be seen here (below).  England won the friendly by an 8-0 margin.  England’s embarrassment at Euro ’88 however started early after teaming up with Stock Aitken and Waterman to record their official song ‘We’re Going All The Way’, seen here on performing the tune on the chat show of the late Terry Wogan. 

In the other group, hosts West Germany would be drawn against Italy, Spain and Denmark.  The opening game kicked off in Dusseldorf between the West Germans and Italy, and was refereed by Englishman Keith Hackett.

Seven minutes into the second half, the scoring would be opened by future Man City manager Roberto Mancini who put the Italians a goal up, scoring his first goal in fourteen internationals.  Within three minutes however, West Germany equalise with a free kick from Bayern Munich’s Andreas Brehme, who would transfer to Inter Milan of Serie A over the summer.  The opening game ending in a 1-1 draw.

The following day, Denmark met Spain in Hanover, with Michel giving the Spaniards the lead after five minutes.  Michael Laudrup, who had failed to score for his club side Juventus throughout 1987/88, equalised for Denmark on twenty four minutes.  Spain were then awarded a penalty, however Danish goalkeeper Troels Rasmussen saved from Michel.

 

By sixty seven minutes Spain had gone 3-1 up with goals from the Real Madrid pair Emilio Butragueno and a free kick Rafael Gordilo. Flemming Povlsen pulled one back for Denmark but couldn’t prevent the Danes suffering a 2-3 defeat.

Despite his penalty save, Troels Rasmussen was considered at fault for two of Spain’s goals and consequently found himself displaced by his twenty five year old understudy – Brondby’s Peter Schmeichel.  The Danes however would face a premature exit from Euro ’88 after suffering a 0-2 defeat to their West German hosts three days later with Jurgen Klinsmann and Olaf Thorn on target for West Germany. 

Later that same day, a goal for Gianluca Vialli gave the Italians a 1-0 win over Spain in Frankfurt. 

The following Friday, Spain and West Germany would effectively play off for the right to progress to the Semi Final with the West Germans one point ahead.  Two goals for AS Roma’s Rudi Voller secured their passage to the last four with a 2-0 win. 

Joining them in the Semi Final would be Italy, who beat Denmark 2-0 with goals from Alessandro Altobelli and Luigi De Agostini.

Meanwhile in Group Two, England and Eire’s build up to Euro ’88 would be covered here in an ITV preview ahead of the tournament.  Ahead of the tournament, England would lose both Stuart Pearce and Terry Butcher to injury.  Forty eight hours on from the opening game of Euro ’88 would be England’s opening fixture with Eire in Stuttgart.

After just six minutes, Eire took the lead after a Ray Houghton goal which resulted from a Kenny Sansom error.  England’s star of the Mexico ’86 World Cup – Barcelona’s Gary Lineker – missed a hat-full of chances during the game and despite having their fair share of opportunities to draw level, the English crashed to a 0-1 defeat. 

The other game in Group Two played later that day saw the USSR beat Holland 1-0 with a goal from Dinamo Kiev’s Vasyl Rats struck from the edge of the box.

The meeting between England and Holland in Dusseldorf three days later therefore became a must win game for both sides.  The game however would be a landmark for England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who – eighteen years on from his debut against East Germany – reached a century of England caps.

Ahead of the game, there had been trouble in Dusseldorf involving England hooligans clashing with their Dutch and German counterparts.  In the match itself, it’s often forgotten that for large parts of it England didn’t play too badly and a recalled Glenn Hoddle went close by hitting the post from a free kick, as did an out of sorts Gary Lineker pouncing on a mixed up between PSV Eindhoven team mates Ronald Koeman and former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Hans Van Breukelin.  Ahead of the first half, Marco Van Basten – brought into the side to replace Johnny Bosman – picked up a superb cross from Ruud Gullit with the outside of his boot, before turning Tony Adams to put the Dutch a goal up.

Eight minutes into the second half, England captain Bryan Robson played a superb one-two with Gary Lineker before careering his way through the Dutch defence to put England level.  Sadly for England however, in the last ten minutes the Dutch were a different class and Marco Van Basten would add two further goals to bag his hat-trick in a 1-3 defeat for England. 

The faint hopes of the English remaining in the tournament rested on the USSR beating Eire in Hanover.  The Irish however went a goal up with a sublime volley from Liverpool’s Ronnie Whelan on the end of a long throw in.  The Soviets however drew level with sixteen minutes to go with a goal from Oleh Protasov, the match ending in a 1-1 draw.

In the post-mortem which sprung up after England’s exit many surmised whether England’s failure emanated from being exiled from European club football for the last three years.  Another possibly was an out of form Gary Lineker who actually turned out to be in the early stages of coming down with hepatits.  Lineker stated in an interview with ‘Four Four Two’ magazine that: ‘I went into the tournament feeling a bit weary; I played the first game against Ireland and was nowhere near sharp. In the second game against the Netherlands I felt lethargic again, then after the game I sat down and just couldn’t get up. We only had a couple of days before the third match against the Soviet Union, and in training the day before, I could barely lift my legs. We were already out of the tournament and I know Don Howe and Bobby Robson thought I was just trying to get out of the game – they all but said as much’.

Lineker however was selected for England’s final qualifier against the USSR in Frankfurt.  England went a goal behind after three minutes with Sergei Aleinikov on target for the Soviets, however pulled level on sixteen minutes with a goal from Tony Adams, under fire back home for his failure to deal with Marco Van Basten in the previous game.  Two further goals however from Alexei Mykhaylychenko and Viktor Pasulko gave England their record equalling third straight loss with a 1-3 defeat and officially their worst showing at a major tournament to date.

On the back of failure to qualify for Euro ’84 and just two wins in five games at Mexico ’86, manager Bobby Robson was under fire with the press back home.  There was also friction between Robson and his star striker Lineker, who stated with regard to the defeat to the USSR that: ‘I’d never played in a game where I was so certain I shouldn’t be on the pitch. I was in a dreadful state. The next morning at the hotel I picked up one of the English papers and saw Bobby Robson having a pop at the players ‘not wanting to play’. I threw the paper at him! I went to hospital as soon as I got back home and ended up staying there for two weeks. I lost a stone-and-a-half. About three days in, Bobby Robson came to visit me and apologise. That was the measure of the man’.

England’s third group game against the USSR also has the dubious distinction of being the only England game at a major international tournament that British television had failed to cover live, since the introduction of the Telstar Satellite in 1962 made live trans-Atlantic broadcasting possible.  BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ – who held the rights to the game – instead opted to show Eire’s head to head with Holland in Gelsenkirchen for a place in the Semi Finals, as the final group games were played simultaneously.  The Irish were on course to qualify for the last four until eight minutes from time, when PSV Eindhoven forward Wim Keift put the Dutch ahead, securing a 1-0 victory and Holland’s passage to the Semi Final to meet their West German hosts in Hamburg.

For Dutch boss Rinus Michels, who had been in charge of the National side for their 1974 World Cup Final clash in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, it was an opportunity to finally enact revenge.  In England, there has always been a John Cleese-style  ‘Don’t Mention the War’ attitude to the Germans, however for the Dutch who were occupied by the Germans in World War Two it was a more bitter affair, as shown by seventies Dutch midfielder Willem van Hanegem’s comment about the that 1974 Final, stating that: ‘I didn't give a damn about the score, 1-0 was enough, as long as we could humiliate them. I hate them. They murdered my family. My father, my brother and several family members. Each time I faced Germany, I was angst-filled’.

 

None of this was lost on the West Germans, with Karl Heinz-Rummenigge once quoted in saying with regard to the rivalry that: ‘I think it's a true shame and pity that they regard football as an outlet for their hatred from the Second World War’.  At that point the Dutch had only beaten West Germany once since the war, in a friendly international in March 1956.  The Dutch had never beaten West Germany in a competitive game and since 1974 had met West Germany in the Group phase of the 1978 World Cup scraping a 2-2 draw, as well as suffering a 2-3 defeat in Euro ’80.  Here again, the West Germans were awarded a penalty ten minutes into the second half, after Jurgen Klinsmann went down after an innocuous challenge from Frank Rijkaard  

Lothar Matthaus converted the penalty to put the West Germans a goal up. 

 

With sixteen minutes to go, the Dutch were also awarded what looked like a dubious penalty, with Jurgen Kohler penalised for a foul on Marco Van Basten.  The Dutch pulled level with Ronald Koeman converting the penalty.  With two minutes left on the clock, Marco Van Basten popped up to put the Dutch ahead securing their passage to the final with a 2-1 win.   

Amidst the celebrations came a symbol of the Dutch animosity toward the Germans.  On swapping his shirt with West Germany’s Olaf Thon, Ronald Koeman made the gesture to the Dutch crowd of wiping his backside with Thon’s shirt. Regardless of this, the Dutch had finally got a monkey off their back and were to return to the scene of their greatest disappointment fourteen years prior – Munich’s Olympic Stadium.  In the final, the Dutch would meet the USSR after their 2-0 victory over Italy in Stuttgart. 

Despite suffering an opening match defeat to the USSR, the Dutch ‘Orange Army’ outnumbered their Soviet counterparts to effectively make it a ‘home’ fixture.  Thirteen minutes prior to half time, the Dutch took the lead with a Ruud Gullit header.  Nine minutes into the second half came the goal of the tournament – Marco Van Basten’s fifth of the tournament and easily the best with a superb volley to secure a 2-0 win for the Dutch.

Incredibly, given the talent that has turned out in Orange over the last fifty years, this was Holland’s first – and so far only – major international tournament victory.  Also, incredibly Euro ’88 would be the only ever instance of a major international tournament finishing without a single sending-off or goalless draw, neither did any of the three matches in the knockout stage go to extra time or penalties.  This would also be the last European Championship Finals before the end of the cold war and the fall of the iron curtain.  As will be seen next week, by the time of the next Finals in Sweden four years later, the map of the eastern half of Europe would be considerably re-drawn in a manner not seen since the end of the First World War, eventually bringing with it an increased number of competing sides in the qualifying phase.