England Caps : 59
Goals : 9
Player : 1986 - 1996
Peter Beardsley had his fair share of false starts to his career but his reputation as a real footballing thinker was second to none during the Eighties. Although nominally a striker and he did score some incredible goals, he was always more than that, a prolific provider for his strike partners at both club and international level.
Three Key Physical SkillsAdded to his quick-wittedness and ability to surprise were three key physical skills. These were superb close control that enabled him to dribble past defenders and run the ball into the net, slide-rule accurate long, incisive chipped passes, sometimes to a team-mate but just as often to the back of the net, and a ferocious and accurate shot with both feet.
Beardsley forced his way into the England team in 1986 after an impressive season with Newcastle in their return to the top tier (then the First Division) and made his debut in a friendly against Egypt in January. He scored his first goal in a 3-0 friendly victory against Mexico, in the run-up to the World Cup that they would be hosting a few weeks later. England manager Bobby Robson was trying all sorts of partnerships in the run-up to the Cup, with Gary Lineker, Mark Hateley, Kerry Dixon and Chris Waddle all in the mix with Beardsley.
World Cup 1986Robson’s experimentation was still going on as the group stages opened and Beardsley didn’t start until the match that was to change everything, the 3-0 win against Poland that saw England qualify for the second round. Putting Lineker up front rather than the taller Hateley and playing without recognised wingers, the team found freedom and a fluid playing style that saw Beardsley and Lineker combining to dramatic effect. In the second round Beardsley scored and helped Lineker to two others to defeat Paraguay and set up the infamous quarter-final with Argentina.
After Maradona’s two sensational goals (for different reasons, of course) had England on the back foot, Beardsley was instrumental in the fight-back, worrying the Argentines in midfield, and spraying passes out to John Barnes, a late substitute, whose crosses led to one goal and then so nearly an equaliser. But it was not to be.
Euro 88In the run up to the disappointing Euro 88 tournament, Beardsley scored one of his best England goals in a Rous Cup match against Scotland, throwing the defence into disarray by feinting to receive a throw-in, which Barnes retrieved and returned to Beardsley as he span and chipped the Scottish keeper. He also had, statistically speaking, his best performance in an England shirt, scoring four in a 7-0 demolition of... er... Aylesbury United. Yes, in a match not recognised by the FA, Robson organised a warm-up match against the Buckinghamshire side as a morale booster.
It didn’t work; although England had stormed the qualification process for the tournament, Beardsley was knackered after a long and successful Liverpool season (he had joined them in July 1987), and Lineker was under par, later being diagnosed as suffering from hepatitis. England were sent home after lacklustre performances led to them losing all their group games.
In the preparations for the 1990 World Cup Robson tried other partnerships up front but although Lineker and Beardsley remained first choice, Robson showed that he was prepared to change the team to suit the opposition. This was sometimes less successful than he thought it might be, and for Beardsley it meant that he was restricted to substitute appearances as Robson opted for a direct approach to ensure qualification from the group stages. It all began to come together when the team moved to a 4-3 in the later stages but Beardsley still didn’t play a major role until the epic semi-final against West Germany, when Robson decided that experience was required to play alongside the wayward emerging talent that was Paul Gascoigne.
Beardsley kept things cool, sitting behind Lineker and linking with a midfield of Gazza, Chris Waddle and David Platt to stifle an excellent West German midfield led by the legendary Lothar Matteus. After extra-time the score of 1-1 meant penalties, and Beardsley followed Lineker to dispatch his penalty. But Stuart Pearce’s was saved and Chris Waddle blazed over the bar to end the Italian experience.
The Era of Graham TaylorUnsurprisingly, an England squad led by Graham Taylor, Robson’s successor after Italia 90, had little use for the creative and ball-playing talents of Peter Beardsley even though he scored another belter after coming on as a sub against Poland in a Euro 92 qualifier. Running onto a ball from Lee Dixon, Beardsley spotted a gap at the near post and sent a smooth 25-yard drive neatly into it. Even so, Taylor ignored him and that seemed the end until three years later when Terry Venables called him up in the run-up to Euro 96. Beardsley gained ten more caps but, by then 35 years old, narrowly missed the England squad for the tournament itself as Venables plumbed for Teddy Sheringham and Nick Barmby instead.
Class, Class, ClassTo criticise Beardsley for not scoring enough goals (he scored nine for England during his 59 caps) completely misses the point, it was his self-less creation of opportunities for others that made him such a valuable asset. Beardsley was always about partnerships, at club level with Keegan at Newcastle, then Andy Cole during his second stint there, and John Barnes and John Aldridge at Liverpool. And then, of course, with Lineker for England.
Lineker repeatedly claimed that Beardsley was the best partner he’d ever played with, and always took pains to point out Beardsley’s contributions to his own performances. When Beardsley did score, it was often because he didn’t seem to differentiate between shooting and passing, a shot at goal was simply the final pass in a move, and so many of his goals were chips, lobs and curled shots that were simply out of reach of the keeper.
That Beardsley had a run of three years without an England game when he was in his prime says everything about the stewardship of England under Graham Taylor.