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International Eagles: Kenny Sansom's England in the Eighties

18 June 2018

Throughout the World Cup, we will be looking back at the international careers of ex-Eagles. With England kicking off their campaign today, we hear Kenny Sansom’s verdict on the four international tournaments he featured in during the 1980s.

No-one is better placed to talk about England’s eventful Eighties than Kenny Sansom, as no-one donned the Three Lions more times in that decade than the left-back. Cap number one of his career came when he was at Palace in 1979, and the following year he was named in England’s Euro 80 squad –the only time an Eagle has represented England at a major finals.

Euro 1980

England exited at the group stage after drawing with Belgium, losing to Italy and beating Spain, despite boasting a squad with 19 European Cup winner’s medals.  

“I remember the buzz I felt when we were all handed our identity badges -“ that’s when you realised you were part of something. The fact that the finals were in Italy made it even bigger for me as I felt Italian football was the best in the world.

“When we played them, we came out in our Admiral tracksuits, who were among the leading kit makers at the time. Then the Italians, fantastically suntanned, appeared in these incredible ice-blue silk tracksuits and Ray-Bans - we felt like we were 1-0 down already.

“We were handicapped by missing out on tournaments after Mexico in 1970. The Germans and the Italians had been there and done it over the years, and that was reflected in their performances."

World Cup 1982

England started on fire thanks to Bryan Robson’s 27-second opener against France. However they were eliminated in the second group stage after a goalless draw against Spain, relying on unfit star men Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking when a goal would have sent them into the semi-final.

“Every footballer who gets to a World Cup for the first time says that it's the stuff of dreams, but you have to be there to know how thrilling it is. It gives you such a buzz. All the best players are there, men you don't normally come up against, posing different problems from league matches. It's like nothing else a player ever comes across.

“[Robson’s goal] came from a throw-in that I was supposed to take. Instead, Steve Coppell picked up the ball and when Terry Butcher flicked it on there was Robbo, bingo, a goal. Afterwards we learned what we had already guessed, that it was the quickest in the history of the World Cup.

“It seemed to be taking a long time for [Keegan and Brooking] to get over their injuries and things didn't look good when Kevin flew to Germany for treatment. Against Spain we just couldn't score. If only Gary Lineker had come along a bit sooner.”

World Cup 1986

England reached the quarter-finals where they faced Argentina in front of 115,000 fans at the Azteca Stadium, but Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal and wonderful solo effort controversially knocked Bobby Robson’s men out.

“My mother hated Maradona. She is up somewhere else now but probably still wants to punch him. My dad left when I was a kid so my mum was the one who made me a footballer. I nearly packed it in at 13 because the travelling back from training was so lonely. She was the one who came to meet me.

“Can you imagine if she'd seen me win the World Cup? And she might have done without Maradona. I think Gary Lineker has forgiven him but to me he's still a nasty little git. He cheated and got away with it. I wouldn't speak to him if I met him. I'd rather not be in his company.

“Post-match, the anger was absolutely amazing. I think their kitman brought in some Argentinean shirts to swap. I had never heard Ray Wilkins swear before, but he went potty.”

Euro 88

The Three Lions fell to a 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland in their opening game thanks to an error from Sansom. After losing to Holland, the left-back’s 86th and final cap came in a loss to the USSR.

“It was a bloody nightmare. It was a case of national disaster and personal disaster, England were quite rightly criticised and so was I. I didn’t have a particularly good tournament – full stop. The rest of the team weren’t much better.

“The first of our three games was against the Republic of Ireland. Our rhythm was thrown off course by nippy Irish players such as Liverpool’s John Aldridge and Sheffield Wednesday’s Tony Galvin. As for me – well my game was just horrendous. It was actually the game that was the hail the demise of my career.

“The Irish began pumping long balls forward and it was from one of these that they were to earn a goal – unfortunately I was the one to set it up.

“The ball landed in a dangerous area and when Mark Wright and Gary Stevens both failed to get rid of it, I ran in and tried to rescue the situation. But I bloody miskicked it and it flew into the air, and a sideways header by Aldridge allowed Ray Houghton to loop the ball over Peter Shilton and into the net.”

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