13/11/1985 London England 0-0
Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, John O’Neill, Alan McDonald, David McCreery, Norman Whiteside, Ian Stewart (Nigel Worthington), Jimmy Quinn, Sammy McIlroy, Steve Penney (Gerry Armstrong)
England completed their qualifying campaign unbeaten – the only European team to do so – but that was not good enough for most of their fans in the stadium. They were jeered off after a poor performance, which was a little harsh given that they had already qualified and had considerably less to play for than their opponents. In particular, the remarkable Jennings at times kept England out single-handedly. It was a stunning performance from a 40-year old who had retired from first-team football a year earlier, and was spending his time playing for Tottenham reserves. His appearance here was doubly momentous. It made him the world’s most-capped goalkeeper, and equalled the 65-year old record of legendary Welshman Billy Meredith of 20 appearances against England. Jennings’s first had come back in 1964.
Due to a general lack of urgency from England, Jennings had only one real test in the first half, but passed it with flying colours with a superb save from Hoddle’s long-range curling effort, which was heading right for the top corner. Dixon had a torrid time at the spearhead of England’s attack, putting one header embarrassingly wide from close range when unmarked. Northern Ireland came to Wembley needing a point to qualify for the finals themselves. Despite understandably concentrating on defence, they broke out a couple of times; Quinn put their best chance wide.
With two minutes left came England’s greatest chance. Dixon looped a header goalwards from Stevens’s cross. It looked to be going in, but Jennings, despite being put under pressure by Fenwick, got those huge hands to the ball one more time and flicked it over the bar. Romania won 3-1 in Turkey, but it was all in vain thanks to Jennings’s heroics. Outrageously, Romania made impassioned accusations that England had deliberately allowed their neighbours to gain the draw that saw the Romanians eliminated. Clearly, that was not true, and anyway, England had taken three points off the Irish, and only two off Romania. The Romanians failed to qualify because they lost home and away to Northern Ireland, so they could hardly blame England.
“The Wembley game was played on a cold and freezing night yet there must have been between 15,000 and 20,000 of our supporters in the stadium. They sang and cheered through the whole 90 minutes. They are wonderful people and on behalf of all the players I want to extend our best thanks. Their presence inspired us through to Mexico and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of them out at the World Cup Finals.”
“I knew so much rested on a result … the financial well-being of our Association for the next few years. I normally can handle pressure, but that night I had to take two headache tablets before the game. I usually take them at the end. It was great to get that result, but I felt we truly deserved it. The lads were in the right frame of mind and how it pleased is all, from players to officials – to those wonderful fans on the terraces.”
“You see I’m very superstitious about the clothes I wear on match days, if we win or draw I always wear whatever clothes I had on that day to the next game. As it happened, when I made my Irish debut in Rumania, I was wearing a yellow cardigan, white shirt, yellow tie, black and white speckled trousers and black shoes. So when we won in Bucharest, I decided not to change a wining outfit – and that’s exactly what I wore to Wembley. They [teammates] recognised it from Rumania and they nearly had a whip round for me. They thought I only had one set of clothes to my name!”
Alan on his infamous “If anyone thinks that was a fix, they can come and see me…. and I’ll tell them it wasn’t a fix ‘cos we bloody earned that and anyone that says different is a joke” quote:
“I meant every word of it, and I have no regrets about saying it. The adrenalin was still flowing at the time and it really hurt to hear those chants. Someone had to say what I did.”