Not on the Ball: England’s Top Three World Cup Blunders

By Megan Murphy

With excitement for the World Cup 2018 building, I’ve been looking back to some of the most memorable moments from World Cups throughout the years. From England’s infamous victory in 1966, to their disastrous loss against West Germany in Italy 1990, Gale’s newspaper archives provide an invaluable tool for exploring these unforgettable (although sometimes we may wish they were) moments. I’ve featured my favourite three below…

1. Barking mad: England versus Bulgaria, 1962

During the 1962 knock out stages, the spotlight belonged to a mysterious stray dog that invaded the pitch as England played Bulgaria. It was reported in the Daily Telegraph that England’s centre forward, John Greaves, got down on to his hands and knees, persuade the dog to come to him, and then carried him to the touchline. The dog allegedly triggered the ‘loudest cheers of the game’, when it ‘held up play by racing through the Bulgarian defence’. The Daily Telegraph joked: ‘If only England forwards had been that successful!’ The Sunday Telegraph also used the situation to make light of England’s poor performance: ‘the most crushing summing-up I ever heard was by a resident Englishman, who, when asked what Greaves did against Brazil, reflectively replied: “He caught a stray dog”’.

“England’s list of 12 grounds in 1966.” Sunday Telegraph, 17 June 1962, p. 24. The Telegraph Historical Archive, Accessed 21 May 2018.

2. The World Cup Goes Missing

“World Cup stolen from exhibition.” Daily Telegraph, 21 Mar. 1966, p. 18. The Telegraph Historical Archive, Accessed 22 May 2018.
“World Cup stolen from exhibition.” Daily Telegraph, 21 Mar. 1966, p. 18. The Telegraph Historical Archive, Accessed 22 May 2018 

England’s hosting of the World Cup in 1966 got off to an extremely dramatic start, when the World Cup itself was stolen from an exhibition hall in Westminster. An article featured in the Daily Mail reported that the thief removed the handle of a door which gained him access to the room the Cup was held in, and then wrenched off the padlock which secured the Cup in a glass cabinet. Britain’s loss of the Cup ensued condemnation all over the world, with the president of the Finish Football Association stating he was ‘damned angry’, whilst Argentinian radio stations questioned ‘after surviving so many disasters how could the cup disappear from under the nose of Scotland Yard?’. To the nation’s relief, the Cup was found just a few days later by a black and white collie dog, ‘Pickles’ (pictured below), who sniffed out the trophy whilst on a walk with his owner, as reported by the Daily Mail. Of course, England then went on to win the World Cup that year – so it wasn’t all that bad!

“Pickles, the black-and-white mongrel who found the ….” Daily Telegraph, 30 Mar. 1966, p. 25. The Telegraph Historical Archive, Accessed 21 May 2018.

3. Gazza’s Tears

Sunday Times, 8 July 1990, p. 11. The Sunday Times Digital Archive, Accessed 21 May 2018.

The 1990 World Cup semi-finals ended in devastation when England’s chances of winning the Cup were shattered in a defeat against West Germany. The Sunday Times described the infamous loss as ‘the moment all England remembers’. However, images of Paul Gascoigne crying on the pitch also pervade memories of the historic semi-final. After Gazza had been awarded a yellow card during the game (meaning if England won, he would be unable to play in the Final), Bobby Robson – in an exclusive interview for the Daily Mail titled ‘My World Cup Diary’ – described how Gazza, tears streaming down his face, ‘ran about in his own purple mist’. Fellow team mate, Garry Lineker, warned Robson: ‘Watch him… watch Gazza… he’s gone’. Photographs of Gascoigne’s emotional response flooded the British press, whilst many headlines also made reference to his tears; for instance, ‘So near, but World Cup ends in a dressing room full of tears’ and ‘We laughed, he cried’.

Robson, Bobby. “So near, but World Cup ends in a dressing room of tears.” Daily Mail, 11 Oct. 1990, p. 60-61. Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1896-2004, Accessed 21 May 2018
“We Laughed, He Cried.” Financial Times, 22 Sept. 1990, p. XXII. The Financial Times Historical Archive, Accessed 21 May 2018.

About the Author

I’m a third year History student at the University of Liverpool, a Gale Student Ambassador, and a self-proclaimed Jane Austen fanatic. As a modern historian, my main research interests revolve around the development of Victorian cities – particularly the crime and deviance that took place within them. Outside of my studies, in the rare time I spend without my head in a nineteenth-century newspaper, I specialise in binge-watching Louis Theroux documentaries.