Re-Publishing historical football content digitally

Where England Went Wrong – World Cup Mexico 1970 / Where England Went Wrong – World Cup Mexico 1970

Where England Went Wrong – World Cup Mexico 1970

By on 21 June 2018

A couple of weeks ago Soccer Attic re-published an article from Football Monthly in February 1970 where Pat Collins previewed Alf Ramsey’s selection for his final 22 man squad for the Mexico 1970 World Cup. As a follow up to this, and to avoid having to do it when England do eventually go out of Russia 2018, today we’re re-publishing Collins’ post-mortem from the August 1970 issue where he analyses where England went wrong in Mexico.

If you read the article and think you’ve heard it all many times since; well you probably have. It’s not just the ‘if only’ message that England fans have had to endure countless times following major tournaments. It’s also, and perhaps the most interesting part of Collins’ piece, his analysis of England’s system and playing style that he felt was so inappropriate to the heat and intensity of Mexico. The same criticism of England’s 4-4-2 formation continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s but somehow we never learned. As usual the original article is in blue and the pages of the magazine can be read by scrolling the images shown.


England went wrong in their unsuccessful bid to retain the World Cup in Mexico by overinsuring against defeat with their too-rigid. 4-4-2 system.

They never won the luxury, nay, the necessity in such strength-sapping climatic conditions, to rest on their labours by means of building a good lead. And after an unconvincing passage to the quarter-finals, in which they scored only twice in three matches, they led 2-0 against West Germany, their extra-time victims in the 1966 final, only to find that this margin was not enough to ensure victory for the system.

Any system. however well-planned and well-rehearsed, is always vulnerable to the ever-present factor of human fallibility.

Bobby Charlton and Alf Ramsey Mexico 1970Now recall Sir Alf Ramsey’s terse summary in that low-ceilinged sweat box that was the interview room at Leon Stadium around three o’clock on Sunday, June 14. Consider the bitter disappointment, almost disbelief, in his voice as he glowered at the audience of journalists making it more an inquisition than an interview…

“No international team should lose a two-goal lead. Their first two goals werebad  defensive errors. I’ve never seen England give away goals like that.”

He said it as a man who had seen the planned destruction of the West Germans with only 20 minutes of that quarterfinal match left to run, only for the incredible to catch up with him and his team.

Accept that summary and you accept that the answer to where England went wrong lies in the faults of individuals. But that is not entirely the case.

Dwelling on what MIGHT and SHOULD have been, does not answer completely the question of why England failed. But the background of errors and bad luck serves as a handy guide to the fate which eventually overtook the defending champions.

England MIGHT have, SHOULD have, reached the semi-finals, fearing no one and with the strongest psychological advantages.

Against Brazil. in that titanic battle of football wits, England SHOULD have had counting for them that schoolboy miss by Jeff Astle, those headers by Martin Peters and Francis Lee. COULD have had Alan Ball’s shot an inch or so lower instead of smacking the bar . . . COULD have had him doing better with an earlier volley. COULD have had these and spread the fear of England’s football into themall .

Against West Germany that brave diving header from Geoff Hurst . . . the penalty England MIGHT have got when Colin Bell was chopped in those last gasping minutes . . .

England SHOULD not have made those mistakes Ramsey has etched into his mind. Letting Beckenbauer, of all players, get to such close range for his scoring shot . . the slowish reaction of Peter Bonetti’s dive for it . . . Seeler’s header without challenge—and he COULD have been ruled offside beforehand . . . the defensive panic over an old-style wing-to-wing move which let in Muller for his only kick of the game which proved to be the winner.

Sort that lot out on what should, could and should NOT have happened and we might well be wondering now who would be the latest of England’s footballers to go into the honours list for services rendered.

It seemed that England, and Ramsey, had been proved right by results until Franz Beckenbauer moved to the far edge of the penalty area.

“No international team should lose a two-goal lead. . .”

But England, having gained such a lead against the West Germans, were caught on the hop by their opponents’ comeback, made mistakes, and were stunned to find that for once they were not the stronger team at the finish.

England made hard work of beating the Rumanians. True they scored the goal in the end, but they had to play full out all the time, as they did against the Czechs.

Brazil? Who would be foolish enough to believe that you could go through 90 minutes without them scoring?

England did a magnificent job here, running themselves into the ground to do it. That was to be expected. But they are required by the very nature of their tactics to do this every time.

Even Ramsey himself wondered about it all when he admitted that his expectation of the midfield men being up to pack more attackers into a forward move was curbed by the physical efforts it entailed. There was never any danger of England winning any awards as the most attractive team in Mexico. The answer will be that they did not cross the world for any such reason.

But in the intense heat and playing at such altitude the normal insistence on grafting players which has brought such success was, as we feared, an impost that not all the players could shoulder.

Suggesting that all is wrong with a playing pattern which has brought so much success over these past four years would be nonsense. Following the England and Ramsey style to a great extent, English clubs have never been so successful against foreign opposition. But it certainly is not heresy to ask for change and variation.

Often out there, one sighed for the ball-holding type, especially on the flanks, to turn defenders round a few times, have them stop and start and taxed in the oven-like heat, and give them cause to wonder what next as team-mates took some sort of break.

Brazil had Jairzinho. His bonus was that he could shoot a bit. too. The West Germans had Loehr and a second-half surprise for us in Jurgen Grabowski. To a greater or lesser degree most of the regarded teams had the fellow who could plough something of a lone furrow when needed.

It is easy to pick a team when the responsibility is not yours, but the fact remains that Peter Thompson was on the sidelines, left out of the 22. He is the only player who could have filled the particular bill.

England’s faults are not glaring, but their slips are showing. As I have said here before. England are producing too many midfield men and their strength has, until now, overcome their predictability. England never changed the pattern enough. That’s where they went wrong.

Francis Lee from Charles Buchan

Francis Lee came so close

Charles Buchan August 1970 Cover

Martin Peters also had a great chance

Peter Thompson Liverpool and England

Peter Thompson – the vital missing player in Morris’s view

World Cup Merchandise from Soccer Attic Gift Shop

Click on the image to browse
England World Cup 1966 Gift MugWorld Cup 1966 gift mug