Nostalgia remembers the Manchester footballers who played for England in four decades of World Cup finals from 1950 to 1986

The first World Cup since World War II did not go well for Manchester United fullback John Aston and England.

The national side were dumped out of the 1950 competition in Brazil after losing 1-0 to the United States in one of the biggest upsets in football history.

Aston, father of United’s European Cup winner John Aston, and his team-mates slumped distraught on the pitch at Belo Horizonte as the final whistle ended their torment.

The scale of the defeat resonates even now. England were known at the time as ‘the kings of football’.

They had beaten Italy 4-0 and thrashed Portugal 10-0 in Lisbon just before the World Cup. In contrast, the USA had lost to Italy 7-1, Norway 11-0 and Northern Ireland 5-0.

United’s Tommy Taylor scores for England against Brazil in a 4-2 friendly win at Wembley, May 1956

United’s Tommy Taylor scores for England against Brazil in a 4-2 friendly win at Wembley, May 1956

Not surprisingly, books were written about the defeat. There was even a film made of the debacle called The Game of Their Lives. It doesn’t make good viewing for England fans!

England were determined to make amends when they travelled to Switzerland for the 1954 finals. Three local players were in the squad – United attacker Tommy Taylor, Bolton’s legendary centre forward Nat Lofthouse and United defender Roger Byrne.

Bobby Charlton, second left, and Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse, far right, in training with their England team-mates, October 1958

England team members to play Russia stand together during a training session at White Hart Lane before the game.
They are: Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright, Johnny Haynes, Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse.
21st October 1958.

England started well by winning their group but went out 4-2 to Uruguay in the quarter finals. Lofthouse scored in the 16th minute but it was not enough to stem the Uruguay tide.

Tragically, it was to be the last World Cup for Taylor and Byrne who lost their lives in the Munich air disaster in February 1958.

United forward John Connelly scores England’s first in the 2-0 World Cup qualifier win at Wembley, October 1961

United forward John Connelly scores England’s first in the 2-0 World Cup qualifier win at Wembley, October 1961

Four months later, one 21-year-old Munich survivor joined the World Cup squad in Sweden – intent on doing his best for his fallen team-mates.

It was the very start of his international career, but he went on to become one of the greatest players England has ever seen.

The young lion was Bobby Charlton.

City’s Francis Lee on the ball in the 3-2 quarter final defeat to West Germany in Mexico, June 1970

City’s Francis Lee on the ball in the 3-2 quarter final defeat to West Germany in Mexico, June 1970

He was joined by Bolton defender Tommy Banks as England prepared to battle their way out of a tough group including Brazil, the Soviet Union and Austria.

Unfortunately England went out of the competition after losing the group play-off 1-0 to the Soviet Union.

Charlton was back in action at the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile.

England started brightly by coming second in a group which included Argentina and Hungary. Charlton scored in England’s 3-1 victory over Argentina in Rancagua.

But the team’s progress was brought to an abrupt halt by losing 3-1 to eventual winners Brazil in the Quarter finals.

West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer pursues City’s Colin Bell in England’s 3-2 quarter final defeat, June 1970

West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer pursues City’s Colin Bell in England’s 3-2 quarter final defeat, June 1970

Three United players made the squad for the 1966 World Cup in England – Charlton, defender Nobby Stiles and forward John Connelly.

Little did the trio know when they opened the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay that they would climb to the very pinnacle of English football achievement.

Argentina were overcome 1-0 in an intensely physical quarter final and then Charlton scored twice in the 2-1 semi-final victory over Portugal.

City forward Trevor Francis beats Alan Hansen in England’s 1-0 victory over Scotland in the Centenary International, May 1982

City forward Trevor Francis beats Alan Hansen in England’s 1-0 victory over Scotland in the Centenary International, May 1982

Then it was the drama of the final against West Germany at Wembley – and the sheer, unadulterated joy of winning the World Cup by four goals to two in extra time.

Stiles, no front teeth and socks rolled down, did his famous victory dance; Charlton was emotionally overcome. Bobby Moore, majestic in defence, lifted the Jules Rimet trophy high above his team-mates. Will the like ever be seen again?

Charlton and Stiles were back at the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 along with United team-mate goalkeeper Alex Stepney. But this time they were joined by two City legends – Francis Lee and Colin Bell.

Much was expected of England. They were the holders and they had a strong squad.

England finished second in their group after losing 1-0 to eventual winners Brazil and beating Romania and Czechoslovakia.

Goalie trio! City’s Joe Corrigan, centre, with England colleagues Peter Shilton, left, and Ray Clemence, June 1980

Goalie trio! City’s Joe Corrigan, centre, with England colleagues Peter Shilton, left, and Ray Clemence, June 1980

Then came the 3-2 quarter final defeat to West Germany with ‘keeper Gordon Banks struck down with food poisoning.

England’s next appearance in the World Cup finals came in Spain in 1982. The Manchester contingent was winger Steve Coppell and midfielders Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins from United along with forward Trevor Francis and ‘keeper Joe Corrigan from City.

Robson scored in the first minute in England’s opening 3-1 victory over France. He added a second in the 67th minute.

Francis scored in the following 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia and again in the 1-0 victory against Kuwait. But England failed to get through the next qualifying group which included West Germany and Spain.

United duo Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins line up with Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking at the England team hotel in Spain, June 1982

United duo Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins line up with Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking at the England team hotel in Spain, June 1982

Finally, it was back to Mexico in 1986 with Robson and United ‘keeper Gary Bailey included in the squad.

England went out to overall winners Argentina 2-1 in a quarter final which included the infamous ‘hand of god’ incident.

Diego Maradona blatantly punched the ball past England ‘keeper Peter Shilton, but the goal was allowed to stand by Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser and Bulgarian linesman Bogdan Dochev.

After the match, each blamed the other for the foul being missed. Nasser said he was waiting for a signal from his linesman; Dochev said FIFA rules at the time prevented linesmen discussing decisions with referees.

Either way, England were on their way home.

It’s ours! United players Nobby Stiles, far left, and Bobby Charlton, far right, celebrate winning the World Cup, July 1966

It’s ours! United players Nobby Stiles, far left, and Bobby Charlton, far right, celebrate winning the World Cup, July 1966