Paying the penalty: Part 3 – The failed Panenka and dreams of the all-time record
This is the final in our three-part ‘Paying the Penalty’ series. It’s a strange truth that most of the penalties we remember, those seemingly played on endless highlight reels every two years, were missed. This one, unlike many others, is not memorable for the consequence of the team failing to progress in major tournament football, but for an agonising near-miss; a personal failure to make it into the history books.
The failed Panenka and dreams of the all-time record
England 1-1 Brazil – Wembley Stadium, 17 May 1992
It didn’t seem such a big thing OTD in 1992 when Gary Lineker missed this penalty v Brazil. He had the whole of Euro ’92 to catch up and then pass Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record. pic.twitter.com/gZlFRjqomR
— Mark Leech (@Len_Scap) May 17, 2018
1992 was a turbulent year in the career of Gary Lineker, memorable for all the wrong reasons. Sitting at 46 international goals at the turn of the year, Lineker looked a certainty to reach 50 goals to finally break Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record. Things didn’t work out as expected though – it was a sorry tale which included, uncharacteristically, some fluffed chances and an awfully-taken penalty.
Lineker has long been a national treasure, held closely to the nation’s bosom since the mid-1980s. This was many moons before the inane Daniel-son-type-grinning, the crisp-munching, Torie-bashing leftist hero we know and love today. His ‘jug ears’ schtick was a keen exercise in finely-tuned public relations. We grew to care about him, obviously more than we care that the man’s ears stick out ever-so-slightly more than the national average.
His good-natured and affable personality appealed to the masses, although he claims that the nationwide popularity didn’t truly start until after his Golden Boot achievement at World Cup 1986. He was polite, well-mannered and trustworthy in tournament football, and very rarely lost his cool when it mattered, which is what made his final matches for England all the more surprising.
Just before Christmas in 1991, Lineker announced his move to Japanese club Grampus Eight the following season, a sentence which still sounds ridiculous to this day. The 1992 European Championships would be his final matches for England, with the all-time goalscoring record well within his grasp. The tide turned quickly though. Starting in February 1992, Graham Taylor dropped Lineker from the line-up for several international friendly matches, the Spurs striker losing his place to a young Alan Shearer. These were the first cracks in Lineker’s relationship with Graham Taylor, which would continue for years to come.
Despite his reduced minutes on the pitch, Lineker scored in tight encounters against France and the USSR in the early months of 1992. Against the latter, Lineker failed to convert an open chance late in the match, Merlin sticker-book legend Dimitri Kharine proving too difficult to beat. The record would have to wait. It was a matter of time, most of the nation thought. Taylor, somewhat unapologetically, said, ‘I want it out of the way as soon as possible.’ Lineker was resting on 48 international goals, with several chances in the summer ahead to equal Charlton’s record.
One goal shy of the record, an international friendly at home to Brazil was the perfect chance to make history. Little did he realise at the time, it was his last ever appearance at Wembley. With eleven minutes on the clock, Lineker himself was brought down in the box. He attempted to chip the goalkeeper in a Panenka fashion. His feign worked – foxing Carlos in Brazil’s goal – but his execution let him down. The ball floated pitifully into the goalkeeper’s arms and the chance was gone. The match finished 1-1. David Platt was the only Englishman on the scoresheet.
Rather than backing his player, Taylor went on the offensive, ‘It’s almost as if Gary is a national institution who cannot be touched. You could argue that we played Brazil with 10 men – but you’re not allowed to.’ Ostracising his star striker seemed both unfair and unproductive, especially with Euro ’92 rapidly approaching. Lineker dismissed his manager’s criticism after the match and explained his logic for the penalty, ‘I saw the goalkeeper commit himself early and tried to lift the ball over him… but I scuffed up some grass as I shot and couldn’t get any height.’
For the England camp, Euro ’92 in Sweden was an unmitigated disaster. With only 8 teams in the tournament, England finished bottom of Group A, with only one point and one goal scored. Key players John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne both missed the tournament through injury, and proved to be great losses. 1992 was the last major tournament where victories gained only two points, meaning the matches were cagey and largely uneventful in front of goal. For Lineker, as well as his strike partner Shearer, chances were few and far between and England played out two goalless draws in the opening matches.
In the final match against host-nation Sweden, with the score at 1-1 and both teams chasing a winner, Lineker was hauled off in place of Alan Smith. Barry Davies famously said in commentary, ‘If England don’t make it to the semi-finals, what an unhappy end we are witnessing to Gary Lineker’s England career.’ And so it proved to be, as Sweden scored with a fizzing effort from Thomas Brolin to send the Three Lions crashing out.
There was to be no fairytale ending for Lineker, nor indeed for Taylor. After failing to qualify for the World Cup two years later, he was unceremoniously sacked and, somewhat harshly, mocked in almost all quarters of the press. Ongoing speculation of a feud between the two men has since been firmly squashed. After Taylor sadly passed away in January 2018, Lineker paid tribute to ‘an outstanding manager, lover of football and a thoroughly decent man.’
Injuries to key players and a squad in need of an overhaul ultimately led to Taylor’s demise, culminating in a disastrous World Cup qualification campaign. His apparent harsh treatment of Lineker, the nation’s beloved son, certainly didn’t help. Still, I bet Lineker wishes he’d just put his laces through it against Brazil, don’t you?
‘Paying the Penalty’ series…