International football tournaments are often a good barometer of which to judge the popularity of the game with the British public, such as the high water mark of the World Cup of ’66, Italia ’90 or Euro ’96. The polar opposite of those tournaments with the British public however must surely be Euro ’84, live coverage of which was almost entirely shunned by the BBC-ITV broadcasting duopoly of the time, despite the fact that quality of football on display at the finals tournament itself was pretty much exceptional. The fact of the matter is that not one home international side qualified for the tournament and in the days before the influx of foreign players to the top tier of English football, British broadcasters probably rightly felt that handing over so much limited broadcasting time to this tournament (especially in comparison today’s multi-channel world) would have been unjustifiable.
The image of Football in Britain in the mid-1980s was pretty much a world away from what we have come to expect over the last quarter of a century or so. Attendances at football matches had been consistently falling since the rise of living standards, leisure time and television from the early to mid-1950s onwards; hooliganism had increasingly dogged the game since the mid-sixties and viewing figures for Football coverage shows such as BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’ or ITV’s ‘The Big Match’ fell from a high of around twelve to thirteen million in the early seventies to around four to five million (reasonable viewing figures in today’s multi-media world, but exceptionally poor for Saturday night viewing back in the era of four TV channels).
In stark contrast, in the first half of the 1980s other sports were stealing much of Football’s thunder within the National consciousness such as England’s Botham-inspired Ashes triumph in 1981, Barry McGuigan’s World Featherweight title bouts, the rise of British Athletics stars such as Daley Thompson and Seb Coe’s head to head battles with first Steve Ovett and then Steve Cram, or the World Snooker Championship Final which by 1985 could pull in audiences in excess of eighteen million despite its post-midnight conclusion. English football’s on-pitch failings in comparison seemed to have generated much less interest with the British public.
Despite this, on hearing of England’s draw for the Qualifying rounds of Euro ’84 most of the British press seemed to have believed that England’s presence in the Finals in France would have been something of a foregone conclusion. On hearing that England were drawn against opposition such as Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Denmark, the Daily Express boasted: ‘England on easy street’. Such a stance however failed to take account that the latter side were a much improved outfit on the skilful but inconsistent team that England met during the qualifying rounds of Euro ’80 and were now under the management of German boss Sepp Pointek, appointed in 1979, who injected a degree of German efficiency into the side.
Rob Smyth and Lars Eriksen’s 2009 article for the Guardian titled: ‘The forgotten story of ... Danish Dynamite, the Denmark side of the mid-80s’, stated claimed that back in the late 70s, the Danish side: ‘did not take international football particularly seriously. They hung out at a Copenhagen nightclub that became known as "the clubhouse". Denmark were an international team in name, and a pub team in nature’. Ironically, in 1978 Danish brewer Carlsberg offered the Danish Football Association one million Kroner in sponsorship on the proviso that their international side set more professional standards. In what was Bobby Robson’s managerial debut for England in September 1982, England met Denmark in Copenhagen for the opening fixture of the Euro ’84 qualification process.
England took the lead with a goal from Trevor Francis after eight minutes, though were pegged back on sixty eight minutes with a penalty from Allan Hansen (obviously not that one!). Another goal from Trevor Francis put England back in the lead again with eight minutes to go, however a last minute equaliser from Ajax winger (and future Man United star) Jasper Olsen gave the Danes a 2-2 draw.
Next up for England in November of that year would be a trip to Thessaloniki for their away fixture with Greece. Goals for Liverpool’s Sammy Lee and Arsenal’s Tony Woodcock gave England a 3-0 win.
A week before Christmas of 1982 however would see the visit of Luxembourg at Wembley, which would effectively gift wrap two points for England. Only 33,980 bothered to turn out for the fixture, they however got their money’s worth in terms of goals with Luxembourg’s Marcel Bossi converting a Luther Blissett cross into his own net via his goalkeeper’s head. By half time, England were goals up with Steve Coppell, Tony Woodcock and Luther Blissett on the scoresheet. Blissett also added a fifth just past the hour, followed by further goals for Mark Chamberlain (father of Arsenal’s Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain), Blissett rounding off his hat-trick, Glenn Hoddle and the scoring rounded off by a cross from Phil Neal pushed into the net by the Luxembourg goalkeeper which gave England a 9-0 win – equalling the record set for a competitive England fixture against the same opposition twenty two years prior. Also setting the record for highest number of goal scorers in one England fixture (seven).
The following March however, England would drop a point with a 0-0 home draw with the Greeks, to which @01.40 the Wembley crowd would chant ‘what a load of rubbish’, affirmed as justified by BBC Sportsnight’s commentator John Motson with England leaving the field to a chorus of boos.
At the end of April 1983 came Hungary’s visit to Wembley exactly three decades on from when the ‘Magnificent Magyars’ taught England a footballing lesson with a humiliating 3-6 defeat. England’s class of ’83 however would sail through this fixture unscathed with a 2-0 win secured by goals from Trevor Francis and Peter Withe.
By June however, Denmark had seized pole position in Group 3 with a 3-1 win away in Hungary, while England were away in Australia playing a three game ‘test match’ down under.
The deficit would be compounded further after Denmark’s visit to Wembley in September 1983 (a rare instance of an international game shown live on ITV). England crashed to a 0-1 defeat resulting from a penalty converted by Allan Simonsen.
Denmark’s goal scorer was something of an oddity in that he had won the European Footballer of the Year Award while at Barcelona in 1977, yet when Barca signed Diego Maradona saw it as a personal insult to be forced to compete for one of two positions within the starting line-up then permitted for foreign players. Simonsen requested for his contract to be annulled and ended up spending three months of the 1982/83 season in the English second tier with Charlton Athletic, after turning down offers from Real Madrid and Spurs (though his wages nearly bankrupted the South East London club, which hastened his exit from The Valley).
Denmark’s Sepp Pointek said of Denmark’s win that: ‘England were afraid to attack us. I think it was good that Mr Robson watched us so many times in Denmark, he was a little frightened’. England however returned to winning ways three weeks later after a 3-0 away win over Hungary in Budapest with goals that included an excellent free kick from Glenn Hoddle, a long range strike from Sammy Lee and one from Ipswich Town’s Paul Mariner.
England were given hope at the end of October with Denmark crashing to 0-1 away defeat to Hungary with a goal from Sandor Kiss.
Denmark however secured their passage to France with a 2-0 away win over Greece in Athens, the final half an hour of which would be shown live on ITV ahead of the 5.45 news bulletin.
England’s final fixture in Luxembourg took place half an hour after Denmark sealed their place as group winners, with the English players knowing full well they would not be competing in the Euro ’84 Finals. They did however summon up the effort for a 4-0 win with goals from the Ipswich pair of Paul Mariner and Terry Butcher, as well as two from Man United and England captain Bryan Robson.
England’s failure however would be shared by the rest of the home nations. In Group 1, Scotland would start their campaign well with a 2-0 win over East Germany in October 1982. That would however turn out to be Scotland’s one and only victory from the campaign.
Two months on, they would crash to a 2-3 defeat in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium.
The Belgians went on to win the group, sealing qualification with a 1-1 draw with the Scots at Hampden in October.
Wales however would come much closer to qualification in Group 4, kicking off with a 1-0 win over Norway in September 1982 which was secured by a goal from Ian Rush.
Just ahead of Christmas 1982, Wales pulled back a 2-4 deficit to draw 4-4 away in Yugoslavia.
A 1-0 win over Bulgaria at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in late April 1983 put Wales top of the group.
The Welsh however failed to win their last three games, with a 0-0 draw with Norway in Oslo, a 0-1 away defeat to Bulgaria and a must win final game with Yugoslavia at Cardiff’s Ninian Park in December 1983.
Stoke City’s Robbie James put the Welsh ahead on fifty four minutes, however Yugoslavia equalized eight minutes from time for a 1-1 draw.
One week later, Yugoslavia were drawing two each in stoppage time with Wales looking likely to qualify, until a Ljubomir Radanović goal broke Welsh hearts and put Yugoslavia through with a 3-2 win.
Northern Ireland, on the back of their heroics of their Espana ’82 World Cup campaign were handed a tough draw against West Germany, Austria, Turkey and Albania, which kicked off with a 0-2 defeat in Vienna in October 1982. A month later came West Germany’s visit to Belfast’s Windsor Park, where Northern Ireland pulled off a shock 1-0 win with a goal from QPR’s Ian Stewart.
The Ulstermen however followed this up with a disappointing 0-0 draw away in Albania a week ahead of Christmas 1983, however Northern Ireland sealed four points with a 2-1 home win over Turkey the following March with goals from future Eire manager Martin O’Neill and John McClelland.
One month later defeating Albania 1-0 at Windsor Park with Ian Stewart again on the scoresheet.
The following September, Northern Ireland pulled off a 3-1 home win over Austria with goals from Billy Hamilton, Norman Whiteside and Martin O’Neill.
Northern Irish hopes of qualification however were dealt a serious blow with a 0-1 defeat to Turkey in Ankara one month on.
Northern Ireland went to their final fixture in Hamburg to meet the West Germans on equal points having played one game less, but with a vastly inferior goal difference. Incredibly, the Ulstermen pulled off an astonishing result by beating the West Germans 1-0 through a goal by eighteen year old Norman Whiteside.
Unfortunately, Northern Ireland required the improbable outcome of Albania beating West Germany away by six clear goals to progress to the Finals. In the event, West Germany won 2-1 to progress. South of the border, Eire found themselves in a group of death having to compete against Spain and Holland for the right to play in the finals of Euro ’84. In their opening fixture in Rotterdam in September 1982, the Irish crashed to a 1-2 defeat to the Dutch with Ruud Gullit on target for Holland.
A month later, the Irish pulled off a 2-0 win over Iceland at Landsdowne Road with goals from Frank Stapleton and Tony Grealish.
In November, the Irish faced the stiff test of a visit from Spain. Ashley Grimes put the Irish a goal up after just two minutes, the Spanish however were 3-1 up by the hour. The Irish however salvaged a point with two goals from Frank Stapleton to give them a 3-3 draw.
The first meeting between the big guns of Spain and Holland came in February in 1983 in Seville. Spain took the points with a 1-0 win secured by a penalty from Juan Antonio Senor.
At the end of March, Frank Stapleton secured three points for the Irish again with a 1-0 win over Malta.
One month on however Eire crashed to a 0-2 defeat to Spain in Zaragoza.
The following September, Ireland pulled off a 3-0 away win over Iceland leading into a crunch tie with the Dutch at Dublin’s Dalymount Park one month later.
The Irish took a two goal first half lead with goals from Gary Waddock and a Liam Brady penalty. The Dutch however pulled things around with two goals from Ruud Gullit and one from Ajax’s nineteen year old star Marco Van Basten to inflict a 2-3 defeat on the Irish.
The second head to head between the big two followed in November 1983, with Holland pulling off a 2-1 win over Spain in Rotterdam.
That same day, Eire pulled off an 8-0 hammering of Malta at Dalymount Park.
It turned out that Malta would hold the balance of power in Group 7 in terms of how many goals they would conceded in their two remaining games against Holland and Spain vying for pole position. One week before Christmas 1983, Holland pulled off a 5-0 win in Rotterdam which meant that for Spain to overhaul them and qualify for Euro ’84 they would need to win by the highly improbable score of eleven clear goals in Seville just four days later. The team had only managed to score twelve goals in their previous seven matches and Maltese goalkeeper John Bonello goaded the Spanish by claiming that: ‘Spain couldn't even score 11 goals against a team of children’. Incredibly however, victory by an eleven goal margin is exactly what occurred.
After two minutes, Juan Antonio Senor missed a penalty kick and it took Spain as long as fifteen minutes in to break the deadlock (Spain’s urgency to collect the ball to restart the game actually led to a goal mouth punch up). That goal however had been cancelled out with a Maltese equaliser on twenty four minutes from a cruel deflection. By half time, the Spanish had only gone in 3-1 up meaning that they had to pull out nine goals in the second half. With eleven minutes to go, the Spanish were within one goal of their target. The decisive goal came from Juan Antonio Senor, making up for the Real Zaragoza man’s earlier penalty miss. The Spanish going through to the finals of Euro ’84 on the back of an incredible 12-1 win.
The other two remaining qualification spots were taken by Portugal, who despite suffering a 0-5 away defeat to the USSR in April 1983 secured qualification with a 1-0 win in the return fixture in Lisbon six months later to pip the Soviets by one point.
The biggest surprise of the Euro ’84 qualification round however would surely be the capitulation of World Champions Italy, who secured just one win in their final fixture, including a failure to beat minnows Cyprus away with a 1-1 draw in Limassol and a 0-3 home defeat to Sweden in Naples in October 1983. Their place in the Euro ’84 finals would be taken by group winners Romania by a one point margin over runners up Sweden.
As stated at the beginning of this article, live British TV coverage of Euro ’84 was practically non-existent. In contrast, Irish broadcaster RTE did cover the championships in depth. However far from being a case of sour grapes from the Brits, as shown from an online article of mine dating back to 2012 titled ‘As Not Seen on TV’, England’s tour of South America (which was carried out at roughly the same time as Euro ’84) also got little in the way of live TV coverage. The tour took in England’s shock 2-0 win over Brazil in the Maracana, two days ahead of Euro ‘84’s opening fixture, where John Barnes danced his way through the Brazilian defence. Today, undoubtedly an England v Brazil fixture would be a top drawer ratings winner for the commercial network.
Back in 1984 however, as ITV only covered the second half of the match, that incredible moment in English football history hadn’t been witnessed by the British public live as ITV instead showed an episode of ‘Surprise Surprise’, hosted by the late Cilla Black. Even though back then the silky skills of Brazilian football were rarely seen outside of the World Cup once every four years, as well as the fact that England became the first side to defeat Brazil in the Maracana in over two decades, Football simply wasn’t in vogue back in the mid-eighties. British football fans who wanted to watch coverage of Euro ’84 simply had to make do with highlights (and quite a poor quality package of highlights at that).
As with all Finals coverage, the rights were shared equally between ITV and the BBC. ITV were allocated coverage of Group A and initially agreed to provide highlights of these games, but instead just merely showed a round up on ‘World of Sport’ - their Saturday sports magazine show equivalent to the BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ – at the end of the week. The opening fixture between France and England’s conquerors Denmark took place at the Parc De Princes. The Danes lost their star man Alan Simonsen to a broken leg just ahead of half time and the French were down to ten men after their captain Manuel Amoros was sent off for head-butting Denmark’s Jesper Olsen in retaliation for a late, but seemingly innocuous tackle.
Amoros would be handed a three match ban by UEFA and unable to participate in the Euro ’84 until the final, should the French reach that far. Captaining duties were taken over by Michel Platini who sealed the points for the French with a goal twelve minutes from time, giving France a 1-0 win
The following day, Belgium met Yugoslavia in Lens and ran out 2-0 winners.
The following Saturday, Belgium met France in Nantes. The French hammered Belgium 5-0 with goals for Alan Giresse, Luis Fernandez and a hat-trick for Michel Platini.
Later that same day in Lens, Denmark dished out a 5-0 drubbing to Yugoslavia with goals from Klaus Berggreen, Preben Elkjaer, John Lauridsen and two for Frank Arnesen (British viewers got to see highlights of both goal fests one week later on ITV’s ‘World of Sport’!).
Three days on, France met Yugoslavia in St. Etienne for the final game of the group phase. The Yugoslavs took the lead on twenty two minutes with a goal from Milos Sestic. On the hour, Michel Platini equalised for the French and bagged two further goals to secure a hat-trick for the second successive group fixture. Despite Dragan Stojkovic converting a penalty to pull one back for Yugoslavia, the French sealed the top spot in Group A with a 3-2 win.
The BBC held the rights for exclusive highlights to Group B fixtures and made better use of them than ITV. Despite this, the BBC’s highlights show was aired quite late in the evening. Group B’s opening fixture had been between West Germany and Portugal in Strasbourg. Unfortunately for British viewers, this fixture lacked the excitement of their Group A counterparts and the two sides played out a 0-0 draw.
Later that same day, Romania and Spain played out a 1-1 draw in St. Etienne.
Three days later in Lens, two goals for Rudi Voller got the West Germans off the mark with a 2-1 win over Romania.
Meanwhile over in Marseille, Portugal and Spain played out a 1-1 draw.
On 20th June 1984 therefore came the final round of games for Group B and, finally, a live game featured on British television.
Germany topped the group by two points over Portugal and Spain and needed just a draw against Spain at the Parc De Princes to qualify (the match shown live on the BBC). Spain on the other hand needed the win to ensure their place. In the other group fixture, played at the same time in Nantes, both Portugal and Romania also required a win to be sure of their passage. Spain missed a penalty on the stroke of half time and things in both matches were going the way of the Germans until the last ten minutes.
Over in Nantes, Portugal broke the deadlock in the eighty first minute with a goal from Benfica’s thirty five year old strike Nene, which secured a 1-0 win for the Portuguese.
In the Parc De Princes, Germany held on until the very last minute, when Maceda headed in a cross to secure a 1-0 win for Spain, which saw both sides from the Iberian Peninsula progress to the Semi Finals and the West Germans eliminated outside of a Final for only the second time in the previous seven major international tournaments (the other being the 1978 World Cup). For many of the French, they were delighted at West Germany’s exit due to the manner of their Semi Final exit in Espana ’82 (many other Frenchmen however were disappointed that their own side couldn’t personally dish out their revenge for the events of two years prior).
The Portuguese progressed to the Semi Finals in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, in what has been described by many observers as the game of the tournament. British viewers however once again had to make do with edited highlights of this game. The French took the lead through a goal from Jean-Francois Domergue on twenty four minutes, the Portuguese however took the game to extra time with an equaliser from Rui Jordao with sixteen minutes left. Eight minutes into extra time Jordao would be on target again to put Portugal 2-1 up with a superb volley.
The French however equalised with six minutes from time with Jean-Francois Domergue on target again. Five minutes later, with a minute left on the clock Jean Tigana went on a mazy run from forty yards out to the Portuguese goal line, to slot back to Michel Platini to bury it from six yards out to put the French ahead. France ran out 3-2 winners on the night, leading to an excitable John Motson to screech: ‘I’ve not seen a match like this in years!’
The other semi-final, involving Spain and Denmark, was also not short of excitement. Like the France-Portugal semi however, British TV viewers again would have to make do with edited highlights of this clash on the BBC.
The Danes took the lead on seven minutes with a goal from Soren Lerby, though Antonio Maceda equalised on sixty seven minutes. With no further scoring throughout the rest of normal time, or after extra time, the match finished in a 1-1 draw and hence a penalty shootout would decide who would meet the hosts in the final in the Parc Des Princes three days later. All five of Spain’s penalty takers converted, though Denmark’s Preben Elkjaer missed the decisive penalty to send the Spanish through to the final.
One legacy of the Danes’ Euro ’84 campaign however would be that Ajax pair Jan Molby and Jesper Olsen would head to the North West of England to Liverpool and Man United respectively.
Luckily for the World at large, UEFA had disposed of the World’s tallest midget competition of the third/fourth place play off and so it was straight to the final which British TV viewers luckily got to view the game live in its entirety on the BBC.
In the Final itself, it was Platini again who broke the deadlock with a free-kick which spilled through the hands of Spanish keeper Luis Arconada to put the French a goal up. This would be Platini’s ninth goal of the tournament, an incredible record over just five games. Manuel Amoros – sent off for a headbutt in the opening game - finally made a return to play, coming on as substitute for Patrick Battiston with seventeen minutes left to go. The French would be blighted by another red card however, after defender Yvon Le Roux committed a second bookable offence six minutes from time. The French however wrapped up matters with a second goal in the last minute from Bruno Bellone to secure a 2-0 victory (the only one of France’s fourteen goals over their five games in Euro ’84 which was scored by a forward).
In stark contrast to Euro ’80, the 1984 tournament turned out to be a fine footballing display and one, if we’re being honest, certainly didn’t miss the presence of England either on or off the field. Unfortunately, due to the short-sightedness of the nation’s broadcasters, the British public would miss out on what turned out to be a superb advert for the game. As will be seen tomorrow however, for English football things had to sink even further before matters had to improve. And Euro ’88 would sadly expose such failings on and off the field to the world at large.