England Friendly Matches
England Friendly Matches Played: 329
Friendly matches: a valuable opportunity for managers to try out new players and systems or a waste of time that cause disruption and that clubs can ill afford? England Caps looks back in time at the history of friendlies, and it doesn't necessarily mean a friendly atmosphere, simply a match that is not part of a competitive tournament.
Today the England match schedule is crowded with competitive matches, what with the World Cup, the European Cup, and the qualification processes for them. But England didn’t start playing in the World Cup until 1950, and the European Cup didn’t exist until 1960.
Dawn of TimeOnce upon a time, back in the 1870’s to be exact; there were only two international teams, so England and Scotland simply played each other once a year, alternating home and away. Although not designated as such at the time, these were effectively friendlies as there was no other form of match possible. Then Wales (1879) and Ireland (1882) joined in.
The British ChampionshipThe first inter-nation competition in the world came from the logical step of creating a round-robin tournament combining the four existing national sides, to form the British Championship, more commonly known as the Home Championship. So friendlies ceased to exist again, until 1908, when England played their first internationals against sides outside that Home Championship, on a summer tour of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia.
Summer HolidayThis successful experiment was repeated the following year, but then didn’t happen again until after World War I. As more European national teams were formed, the scope for friendlies increased, and the England tour at the end of the League season became an annual event until stopped by the outbreak of World War II.
Football had appeared at the Olympic Games off and on, but from an English point of view they were irrelevant as their best team could not compete, being professionals. The World Cup, first held in 1930, was designed to deliver a championship for national teams of professional players, but disagreements with FIFA over payments to amateurs kept the home nations out of FIFA, and hence out of the World Cup.
Friendlies as World ChampionshipsThis marks the period when friendlies really came into their own. Isolated with their own ‘World Cup’ in the form of the Home Championship, England could claim to be the true world champions simply by inviting the World Cup winners to Wembley and beating them in a friendly.
Battle of HighburyThat exact situation caused probably the least friendly ever. It occurred a few months after the 1934 World Cup, when the FA invited the newly crowned World Cup winners, Italy, to London, for a match that would be known as the ‘Battle of Highbury’. In the opening minutes an Italian player was stretchered off after a collision with England and arsenal centre-forward Ted Drake. Drake swore afterward that there was no malice in the challenge but at the time the ten remaining Italians tore into the English, resulting in two black eyes for Drake, a broken arm for Eric Brooke and a broken nose for captain Eddie Hapgood. England eventually won 3-2 but it was a close call.
True TestsThe Home Championship was still the most important competition for England, so without competing in the World Cup, friendlies became the only way they could test themselves against other opposition. Full first-team squads were deployed for friendlies and they were as competitive as any Home Championship match. Equally, other teams wanted to play England, as they were still very highly regarded on the international scene.
Magnificent MagyarsThen in 1953 came the blow that many in English football had to be expecting, the first home defeat by a side from outside the British Isles. The 3-6 defeat by the Hungarians, fronting by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, did untold damage to the English psyche and demonstrated that they were behind in so many ways, not just skill and tactics, but approach, attitude and even kit! This was a truly meaningful friendly.
RamseyBy that time the sides from the United Kingdom had rejoined with FIFA. England competed in the World Cup of 1950, and as the 1966 World Cup approached, Sir Alf Ramsey began to use friendlies as they are used today. The most notable occasion was the 2-0 defeat of Spain in 1965 as Ramsey tested his ‘wingless wonders’ format for the first time to incredible effectiveness.
The European Cup, which England competed in for the first time in 1964, was a much smaller affair, being played in a knockout format with home and away legs, and just the top four sides coming together for a tournament. This left more time for friendlies and for the Home Championship, and so friendlies kept their value as opportunities to try out new ideas and young players.