5 February 2012

England v USSR (Match-Day Programme, 1984)

We're delighted to bring you our very first guest post courtesy of Rob Langham, a member of the team behind the brilliant blogsite The Two Unfortunates. Here, Rob takes us back 28 years to an international game he attended at Wembley and the match-day programme that accompanied it...

The programme for England’s international against the USSR, a match that took place on 2 June 1984, is a fascinating time capsule, not least due to the advertising strategies of the time - more of which later.

Unbeknownst to all of us at the time, the Soviet Union only had another seven years to run. Mikhail Gorbachev was still a year away from assuming office and our relationship with the USSR was filtered through the prism of the late Cold War period - tit for tat Olympic boycotts and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s video for Two Tribes perhaps the most memorable manifestations of international relations.

That was a polyglot Soviet side. Having performed solidly at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, they, like England, had failed to reach that Summer’s European Championships in France. Far from Russian-dominated, the various republics of the union were well represented with captain Aleksandr Chivadze and Tengiz Sulakvelidze representing Georgia, Sergei Aleinikov and Sergei Stukachov hailing from Belarus and Kazakhstan respectively, and the Armenian Khoren Oganesyan acting as the XI’s primary creative force.

All of that was to be swept away two years later of course - as incoming manager Valeriy Lobanovskiy made a better fist of what Ron Greenwood had tried to do with Liverpool players for England the previous decade by jettisoning much of the existing squad (including Oganesyan - dropped for developing a ‘star complex’) and packing the team with the Ukrainians of Dynamo Kyiv.

But for now, it was an effective and unspectacular unit that cantered to a 2-0 victory against an England led by Bobby Robson.

In his programme notes, Robson opined about the lack of availability of players on a consistent basis and it was a weakened team that eventually took the field here - Mike Duxbury’s horrendous error allowing for the first goal and provoking a chorus of boos in a sparsely populated Wembley.

The old guard - Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Trevor Francis was supplemented by a number of newcomers with perhaps the most significant being Gary Lineker - appearing in the squad for the first time in the 1-0 defeat to Wales that Spring.

But the number of unlikely names betrays a team in transition after the failure to overcome Denmark in European Championship qualifying. Former NASL man Steve Hunt, David Armstrong, Mike Hazard and John Gregory all made it to Bisham Abbey.

The most intriguing of the inclusions was winger Mark Chamberlain, Dad of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a man who performed spiritedly on the afternoon - overshadowing the man on the opposite flank, John Barnes (the latter was to have the last laugh a few days later when he scored after a mazy run against Brazil).



There was also a Watford inflection to things - as reigning European under-21 Champions, Robson had seen fit to promote a number of that set up to the full team and Nigel Callaghan was one to benefit. Add to that Luther Blissett, at the time a Milan player but forged at Vicarage Road nonetheless.

But the theme didn’t end there. In a year that saw the Hertfordshire club reach an FA Cup Final, the programme advertised ‘The Summer of 84 Concert’ for later that month, with chairman Elton John headlining, supported by Nik Kershaw, Paul Young, Kool & The Gang and Wang Chung plus DJ appearances from Steve Wright and Simon Bates among others. Dull and dreary England’s 2-0 defeat may have been but presumably considerably less horrific than the entertainment offered by that shower.

Elsewhere in the publicity sections, the prospect of gridiron action involving the Tampa Bay Bandits and Philadelphia Stars was offered (no, I haven’t heard of them either) and a typically oblique Benson and Hedges adorned the back page - MIDDLE TAR.

Our thanks go to Rob for that wonderful trip down memory lane, and don't forget you can catch more of Rob's writing (together with that of many other fine folk) at www.thetwounfortunates.com. We also urge you to follow TheTwoUnfortunates on Twitter, too.

If you'd like to contribute an article of your own, please do so - simply contact @COakleyFtbl or @sofa_soccer on Twitter or leave us a comment on one of our blog posts and let us know all the details. Cheers!

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