Category Archives: Sweden

Spectres of Graham: Euro 2012 and the trace of Sweden ’92

Yes, there was Italia 90 –

I have hazy memories. 7 years old, local youth club, Italy overcome Czechoslovakia. Do I have enough for more sweets?

England scruffy, Lineker bundled, Pearce disallowed, Wright nods in.

Faint recollections of Oman Biyik, Caniggia, Schillaci.

Platt’s goal v Belgium, Platt’s goal v Cameroon.

But I was definitely  in bed when Lineker put those penalties away.

The reality of the semi-final lost to a thousand replays and rememberings.

– but it was not really mine.

This roundabout poetic guff is a tool to explain that Euro 92 was my first proper tournament.

The sticker collecting was much more serious, developing my knowledge of the continental wheat and chaff. Italy joined Denmark in a bonus section at the back of the album in case the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States joined Yugoslavia in having their invitation withdrawn.

It was only later that Graham Taylor’s right back problem could be seen as my introduction to pre-tournament injury sagas.

Gary Stevens limps off v Finland to be replaced by the up and coming Keith Curle, a centre-back who would make such a hash of the full-back post in the first game of Sweden 92 that a young David Batty became No.2 in the second. Eventually, Graham Taylor introduced a sweeper system to do away with the nuisance in the third and final group match.

It’s funny what you recall.

1990 had Waddle, Gascoigne, Barnes; 1992 had Palmer, Daley, Sinton. However, at nine years of age it was unbridled support, no pub-based rants about the absence of Peter Beardsley from the passenger manifest of the FA’s charter flight from Luton.

The stultifying dullness of a nil nil draw with Denmark has seemingly expunged most details of England’s opener from my memory. A pre-Arsenal Jensen hit the post (an anticipation of his goal in the final, which gave no hint of his miserable Highbury goal-quest).

France follow. Cantona, Papin, Boli. Home from school. Pearce bleeds, spanks the bar. Nil nil.

It’s all on Sweden. We have to win. They have a new wonder, Brolin, talk of the playground.

Football training means I don’t get home til half-time. The lift home, full of hope: Platt has scored, it’s 1-0.

45 minutes later the tone is set for my England-supporting career. Equaliser, Brolin-Dahlin-Brolin-Brilliant, Alan Smith.

To bring this memoir to a head: with the gift of hindsight England’s preparations for Euro 2012 seem to reflect some of the principal themes of that doomed Swedish enterprise from long ago.

Even the tournament itself has its parallels. Sweden ’92 was the final incarnation of the 8-team, 2 group, straight-to-semis affair. Ukraine/Poland is the last hurrah of the 16-nation bill which so perfectly demonstrates Europe’s depth, offering room for a fairytale or two and only the odd uninspiring group game. (In 2012, Group A seems most likely to give rise to these – although the co-host set-up must take most of the blame for this).

France 2016 and Uefa’s 24-nation grope for broadcast cash promises little but dilution and group-stage humiliations for a tournament that did not need fixing.

Apologies for the tangent, back to England and the vicious 20-year cycle.

For Hodgson, see Taylor.

A manager who beams Englishness, only with a 40-watt bulb. Not an inspiration, but a proven achiever of everything save dizzying heights. A real FA man. Hodgson, schooled in dignified elimination with Switzerland and Finland, would perhaps not appreciate his tactical likening to Taylor, but I can’t help but feel that the same 4-4-2, the same slavish adherence to organisation, the same directness unites them.

And as for ’92 and all that, England once again find themselves shorn of talent. The limited pool has been exposed. Wilshere, Walker, Cahill, Lampard, Bent. They may not be Barnes and Gascoigne but all would be pushing for the first XI. At least they are denied to Hodgson, while Taylor chose to leave some of his more mercurial talent at home.

For the Ox, see Daley. Young pace men, impact wingers, untested. Daley would flop where Owen and Rooney would one day shine. Let us hope Oxlade-Chamberlain can bring some brio to the touch-line. With Downing and Milner for competition surely he will not go the way of Sven-era Walcott.

Roy’s fancy for Carroll doffs a cap to Taylor and Smudger too. Taylor took Shearer (albeit a pre-Blackburn incarnation) and didn’t use him when Lineker needed help. Hodgson must utilise Welbeck: his top-drawer finish against Belgium demands it, as Rooney serves his time for his Montenegrin impetuousness.

There’s a more superficial similarity, too. France and Sweden leer from the trapdoor of 1992’s group stage.

Last time a draw with the French left us needing to do too much against the underestimated hosts.

Now a draw against Laurent Blanc and his increasingly confident team, leaving us – realistically – needing to beat Sweden to escape the possibility of another host-nation banana skin in the final group game, seems as much as we dare hope for.

The one significant difference is that twenty years of frustration have finally matched expectations to reality.

The manager, the players, the fans, and the press do not come into the Euros still giddy from a World Cup semi-final and all those pills.

Rather, having had to swallow 2010 and a very different exit at the hands of the Germans gives Roy and his team the benefit of perspective – he’d still have a job if England get no further than Group D.

However, as a nine-year-old, a group stage exit hurt. Where was my night in Turin?

Posted by Gregg Morgan

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