Okay, this will probably be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written. If you don’t REALLY like football, probably give this one a miss eh?
Thing is, I have a show to right, pretty urgently, but I don’t feel like I can do it until I get this shit out of my mind and onto the page. I’ve also been in a hotel in Glasgow on my own for a couple of days so might as well get it out now.
Right, here’s the thing. England got to the semi-final of the World Cup in 1990 with a team where the creative hub of that team was made up of people from the Northeast of England (Gascoigne, Waddle, Beardsley... Steven from the bench, Robson, the captain, had he not been injured early on.).
It is my contention that a team from the Northeast of England (For the purpose of this I’m counting it as players from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham) would have been a better team than England shorn of players from that region.
Lee, I hear you ask, you aren’t going to run through what the entire squad (22 men at the time) would look like if the Northeast of England had taken a team to the 1990 World Cup are you?
I bloody am you know!
BOBBY ROBSON Well, Bobby Robson, who managed England in 1990 is from County Durham, we’ll have him please. Brian Clough was often touted as the man that the press wanted Robson should be replaced by, he almost qualifies but was born just over the border in Middlesbrough. He may have got the England job with Robson unavailable but was past his peak by then. GOALKEEPERS:
STEPHEN PEARS The only position where England clearly have the advantage although Shilton was, in reality, was past his best at this point. We’d mostly struggle with strength in depth though, as the drop off after Pears is huge. Pears was a great keeper though and must surely have been at least in contention for an England place in ‘90. Probably Middlesbrough’s greatest keeper, he was called into the England squad in ‘92 and would be an excellent number one.
MARK PRUDHOE Went on to be Stoke number one but at this point was first choice for Darlington. A decent goalkeeper but would have been a huge step down from Pears.
PETER GUTHRIE A big step down again, had been third choice at Spurs but now at Barnet. I think I remember him playing for a Hong Kong Select XI against England just before Euro ‘96.
Also in contention: Slim pickings this... BARRY RICHARDSON has made news recently forplaying in the football league at 46, he’d only played 6 league games at this point. SIMON SMITH played 500+ games for Gateshead. EDDIE EDGAR (David’s Dad) played once for Newcatle in the late 70s and seemed to still be playing in Canada but details are sketchy. KEVIN CARR had been Newcastle’s first choice in the early 80s but was at Blyth Spartans by this point.
BARRY VENISON We are short of left backs but Venison could play anywhere across the back four so could play there with no problems. At Liverpool at this point, he was used to pressure and used to success. Captained both Newcastle and Sunderland, he played for England, as a midfielder, in 94 near the end of his career.
NEIL McDONALD Mostly a midfielder, he nevertheless played a lot of his career at right back, including regularly for his club at the time, Everton, for whom he played in the 1989 FA Cup Final.
BRIAN LAWS First choice right back for Nottingham Forest, which was more impressive then than it is now, Laws was a very experienced top flight defender who would push McDonald for the right back berth and also deputise at left back. He’s often thought of as Forest’s 2nd best ever right back, behind Viv Anderson.
Also in contention: Bolton’s PHIL BROWN was also hugely experienced but mostly in the lower divisions, he probably peaked a few years after this. BRIAN TINNION could have been the specialist left back, indeed, he’d been called up for England Under 21s while in this position while at Newcastle, but now played mostly in midfield.
STEVE BRUCE Bruce is often referred to as the best player never to play for England. Already a huge figure at Manchester United, he perhaps lacked a little pace but was a great leader and scored a surprising amount of goals. Had he been in the England squad for Italia '90, it certainly wouldn’t have seemed odd.
TERRY FENWICK An England reglar during Mexico '86, Fenwick was probably not quite the player he was by 1990 but would still probably have been the first choice partner for Bruce, his experience would have been vital.
ANDY LINIGHAN Was set to leave Norwich in a big money transfer to Arsenal, for whom, after a settling in period, he had a lot of success. It’s not difficult to imagine him superceding Fenwick in the back four.
JOHN DREYER Playing for what was, at the time, a very good Luton Town team, Dreyer probably just about shades the final defensive spot due to his top flight experience and his versatility. Could function as fourth choice centre back, second choice left back and play in midfield if needed.
Also in contention: Lots of strong contenders here, COLIN COOPER went onto play for England and is probably the closest to threatening Dreyer’s place. KEVIN SCOTT was one of the highlights of a poor Newcastle team and would soon be named captain. DAVID LINIGHAN was an important player for Ipswich but was in his brothers shadow, PETER HADDOCK was a key player for promoted Leeds but had a lot of injury problems that stopped him being as good as it seemed how would be. NEIL ASPIN was a key player for Port Vale’s best ever team but was perhaps not quite to this level. RICHARD ORD was in the Sunderland squad but wouldn’t become highly regarded for a few years yet.
BRYAN ROBSON England’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ was perhaps the top British player of the 80s. He was injured early in Italia ‘90 but, of course, that wouldn’t have been known during selection, he’d have gone into the tournament as the undisputed choice as captain.
PAUL GASCOIGNE Arguably the star of the 1990 World Cup. He’s Gazza, he was bloody brilliant.
KEVIN RICHARDSON Went on to play for England as a veteran in 94, he’d have a big role in this team after Robson’s injury. He was good enough too, a key player in the Arsenal midfield who won the league a year earlier.
GORDON COWANS. Another England player, another with a bit of flair and a great eye for a pass. He was close to making the 1990 England squad and played his last game for England before the year was out, when he was, rather oddly, selected ahead of Gascoigne.
Also in contention: NICK PICKERING played for England as a teenager and is probably next in line, he peaked young though and wasn’t an automatic choice for Derby by this point. KEVIN DILLON had been highly thought of at Reading but was only okay for Newcastle. GORDON ARMSTRONG and BRIAN ATKINSON, Armstrong especially, would have had a decent chance of jumping ahead of both in the running. IAN BOGIE was talented but never became quite the player people hoped for. GAVIN PEACOCK, who qualifies due to his Dad being from Jarrow, would have done a good job but probably didn’t have the profile to be considered quite yet. LEE CLARK wasn’t quite ready...
TREVOR STEVEN Regularly appeared as a substitute for England in 1990 when a change away from the 5-3-2 formation was required or when the aging Terry Butcher tired. A fantastic right sided midfielder who would be an automatic choice in this team.
CHRIS WADDLE European cup winner with Marseille, Chris Waddle was a football genius. He’d start on the left wing for this team, but you’d be happy for him to go wherever he wanted really.
ANDY SINTON A big favourite for QPR, the left winger played for England between 1991 and 1993, preferred to Waddle, which was a pretty terrible decision. As a reserve for Waddle, or someone to bring on if you wanted Waddle to play more centrally though? He’s a good choice.
BRIAN MARWOOD The most at risk of not making the squad out of the midfielders, partially because he plays the same position as Sinton but mostly because there’s a good chance the Arsenal man may well have been injured. He’d been a key man during their run to the league title the year before but hardly played the season before the World Cup.
Also in contention: If Marwood was injured, PAUL STEPHENSON and GARY OWERS were the most likely replacements. Stephenson played in a good Millwall team and could play on the left or right and had a touch of class, Sunderland’s Owers was slightly more orthodox as a right midfielder and would have been a steady choice. BILLY ASKEW was a big threat for Hull but very poor at Newcastle. DAVID RUSH would have been an interesting wildcard, a gifted left winger or striker at Sunderland, he never quite fulifilled his potential but looked an exciting youngster at this point.
PETER BEARDSLEY Gary Lineker’s favourite strike partner and a key man in the England squad, a gifted and vibrant forward, one of the best Britain has produced.
NIGEL CLOUGH Not always thought of as a Northeasterner, Nigel was born in Sunderland during his dads time there. The idea of the graceful Clough linking with Beardsley (The man he would replace at Liverpool) is mouth watering. A regular goalscorer for Forest, Clough played for England without getting a run in the side. It feels likely that, if Beardsley had missed Italia 90 for some reason, Clough would have been the natural replacement.
MICK HARFORD Was named Luton Town’s favourite player, the old fashioned Harford was a powerful aggressive target man and regular goalscorer who also got England caps. If the Clough/Beardsley partnership was ever failing to pay dividends, chucking Big Mick on would definitely shake things up.
ALAN SHEARER Okay, he wasn’t yet the prolific goalscorer that would become the Premier Leagues top ever striker but he already had a hat trick against Arsenal to his name. Without the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to say whether Robson would have selected him, but the potential was clear.
Also in contention. Former England man ERIC GATES was having a resurgence at Sunderland but would have been more a back up for Beardsley and Clough, than a threat to Shearer or Harford, due to his preference for playing just off the front man. BOBBY DAVISON, a willing runner and regular goalscorer for Leeds, may have been the biggest threat to Shearer’s place, as odd as that seems now. JOE ALLON scored goals for Hartlepool to earn a move to Chelsea but, along with ANTH LORMOR was probably not good enough to be considered. TOMMY JOHNSON was already a big hit as a teenager at Notts County but would have been an incredibly surprising choice. STEVE HOWEY had debuted for Newcastle but was a poor striker rather than the accomplished centre half he’d become.
So, where would that leave the England squad?
The goalkeepers and defenders would have been the same, although they may have had to change to a 4-4-2 formation to try and cover for the weakening of the midfield.
As it stood, the midfield and forwards that went to Italy were: Webb, Robson, Barnes, McMahon, Hodge, Waddle, Steven, Beardsley, Platt, Gascoigne, Lineker, Beardsley and Bull.
Now, remove Beardsley, Steven, Gascoigne, Robson and Waddle from that list and there’s only Barnes (Inconsistent for England) to supply any magic for the ever reliable Lineker.
Presumably, the talented Rocastle would have come into the squad to replace Steven and, with Ian Wright injured, Alan Smith would have replaced Beardsley, changing the style of the team hugely. Le Tissier was never trusted by England but surely they would have needed his flair? Perhaps he’d replace Waddle. Super gifted as he was, he lacked the consistency that Waddle brought. Maybe the likes of Danny Wallace, Mike Phelan or Michael Thomas would have been considered.
All of the potential replacements are a huge step down.
So, the respective lineups would have been something like:
Parker Wright Butcher (c) Walker
Platt McMahon Barnes
McDonald Bruce Fenwick Venison
Steven Robson (c) (Or Richardson if injured) Gascoigne Waddle
In terms of attacking threat, I really don’t think there’s any question. England look stronger defensively but not by that much really.
If you’ve got to the end of this and enjoyed it, you’re weird. But also, come the Footbaaaall Show that I host with Gavin Webster on 23rd February http://www.thestand.co.uk/show/27377/the_footbaaaall_show