England in Friendly
The very first international match,
featuring England away to Scotland on 30 November 1872, was a friendly.
Friendly internationals preceded the first tournament matches, those of the
British or Home
International Championship, by more than 11 years. As of 8 October
2020, England had played
390 friendly matches. More than a third of England's total matches
have been friendlies, although, with the increase in tournament matches over
the past few decades, that percentage is constantly diminishing.
Friendly matches are those which
are not part of a tournament or cup competition.
They are commonly contrasted with "competitive" matches, and the implication
is that they are not competitive. But friendlies are competitive in the
sense that both teams are trying to win the match or at least supposed
to be trying to win under FIFA's fair play rule. Indeed, many of
England's friendly matches have been distinctly unfriendly and have been
hard-fought affairs, as competitive as any tournament match. Through the
greater part of the team's history, England met teams from outside the British
Isles only in friendly matches, and considerable prestige was at stake.
Some of England's most famous victories and defeats have come in friendly
matches. For these reasons, we have titled this section of our website
"England in Friendly Competition."
Because of the rather narrow
popular concept of "competitive matches," it is also common to designate
as a "friendly" any match which is not part of one of the major
tournaments in which England have taken part -
(also known as the Home International Championship),
the European Championship (formerly known as the European Nations'
But we also exclude from the "friendly" category certain minor
tournament or cup matches which, although not part of one of the major
tournaments, nevertheless present a distinctly competitive element
missing from friendly matches.
Thus, unlike some other works
on the national side's history, we do not label as "friendly" any match
played in a minor tournament or any stand-alone match played for a cup
that England contested on a regular basis.
However, we do label as "friendly" stand-alone cup games which England
played on a one-off basis.
Those games are more akin to friendly matches in which the winning team
just happened to be awarded a trophy than they are to competitive
tournament or cup matches.
Thus, for example, we have
classed as minor tournament/cup matches rather than friendly matches all
those which England played for the
Cup because, although it involved only a single match against
Scotland the first two times it was contested, England competed for that
cup regularly from 1985 to 1989.
But we have classed as a friendly, for example, England's match
against South Africa on 22 May 2003 because, although the International
Launch Trophy commemorating the launch of South Africa's bid to host
World Cup 2010 was awarded to England for their 2-1 victory, the match
was a one-off affair and in substance merely a friendly in which the
winning team was awarded a cup.
Friendly Match History
The first 19 matches England
played, from the scoreless away draw against Scotland on 30 November
1872 to the 3-2 home loss to Scotland on 10 March 1883, were friendlies.
No tournament existed until the British or Home International
Championship was [retrospectively] established in the 1883-84 season. The next 75 matches England played, from the 8-1 away win
against Ireland on 23 February 1884 to the 1-1 draw with Scotland on 4
April 1908, were all part of the annual British Championship tournament.
England resumed playing friendlies
only on the first Continental tour at the end of the 1907-08 season when they
met foreign opposition for the first time in two matches against Austria
followed by single games against Hungary and Bohemia. At the end of the
1908-09 season came another tour with two friendly matches against Hungary
followed by one in Austria. But England had no further encounters with
foreign sides until after World War I, and a string of 21 consecutive British
Championship matches followed. The next friendly match did not come
until the end of the 1920-21 season, when England met Belgium in Brussels.
Beginning with the 1922-23 season, friendly matches became a regular feature
of the England programme. In only one season since then--1971-72, when
England played five European Championship preliminary and three British
Championship matches--have they failed to play a single friendly match.
Because England did not enter the
World Cup until its fourth edition in 1950, they played foreign sides only in
friendly matches for the greater part of their history. Their first
tournament match against a foreign team came at the World Cup 1950 finals in
Brazil. As late as 1956, England had played only six tournament matches
of any kind against foreign opposition--against Chile, the U.S.A. and Spain at
the World Cup 1950 final tournament and against Belgium, Switzerland and
Uruguay at the World Cup 1954 final tournament--because British Championship
matches served as qualifying matches for the first two World Cup tournaments
they entered, those of 1950 and 1954. But for these six matches, all
England's matches against foreign sides had been friendlies.
Until the mid-20th Century,
then, friendly matches against foreign sides were the only means of
gauging England's standing in the world game. They were also the
only way in which England gained exposure to technical and tactical
advancements developed abroad. That is not to say England learnt
much from meeting foreign opposition; the prevailing attitude until well
into the 1950s was that England had nothing to learn from foreign
footballers and that nothing was to be gained from coaching and tactical
Some Famous Friendlies
Partly because of the
self-imposed isolation which kept England from World Cup participation,
some of the most famous matches in England's
history have been friendlies. Among the most memorable
Spain 4 England 3, Estádio
Metropolitano, Madrid, 15 May 1929 - England's first defeat by a foreign side.
England 7 Spain 1, Arsenal Stadium,
Highbury, 9 December 1931 - England gained revenge at home for their
first loss to a foreign team.
England 4 Austria 3, Stamford Bridge, Fulham, 7 December 1932 - England beat, but just barely and
with luck, the "Wunderteam," which had the better part of the play and showed
why they were regarded as Europe's best.
England 3 Italy 2, Arsenal
Stadium, Highbury, 14 November 1934 - England edged the
newly-crowned World Cup 1834 champions in a thoroughly ill-tempered
affair still remembered as the "Battle of Highbury."
Germany 3 England 6, Olympiastadion, Berlin, 14 May 1938 - After giving the Nazi salute in pre-match ceremonies,
England trounced the Nazis' pride and joy before several Third Reich big-wigs.
Portugal 0 England 10, Estadio Nacional, Lisbon, 25 May 1947 - Everything fell together for England's
post-war forward line, with Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney playing together
for the first time, on either wing.
Italy 0 England 4, Stadio Communale,
Turin, 16 May 1948 - The World Cup holders from 1938 were humbled by England's
England 0 Republic of Ireland 2,
Goodison Park, Walton, Liverpool, 21 September 1949 - England had begun to lose some
of the stars from their first post-war team and suffered their first home
defeat by a team from outside the United Kingdom.
England 2 Argentina 1, Empire
Stadium, Wembley, 9 May 1951 - England's first meeting with the team that was
to become one of its main rivals in the first visit of a South American
national side to England.
Austria 2 England 3, Praterstadion,
Vienna, 25 May 1952 - Nat Lofthouse's "Lion of Vienna" heroics inspired
England to victory over the team regarded as Europe's finest, although Hungary
were about to displace them as No. 1.
England 3 Hungary 6, Empire
Stadium, Wembley, 25 November 1953 - England were humiliated in their first
defeat at Wembley by a foreign side.
Hungary 7 England 1, Népstadion,
Budapest, 23 May 1954 - England endured their record defeat in the return
match as Hungary demonstrated their Wembley performance was not a one-off.
England 4 Brazil 2, Empire Stadium,
Wembley, 9 May 1956 - England served notice that they were regrouping in their
first meeting with the South American side.
Spain 0 England 2, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, 8 December 1965 - Manager Alf Ramsey tried out his wingless
wonders formation to critical acclaim.
Brazil 0 England 2,
Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, Rio de Janeiro, 10 June 1984 - England's only victory against the
masters in Brazil, featuring John Barnes' very Brazilian goal.
Spain 2 England 4 - Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, 18 February 1987 - Gary Lineker scored four as
England showed they were one of the top teams in Europe, but they still
managed to flop the following year in the European Championship.
England 2 France 0 - National Stadium, Wembley, 17
November 2015 - Four days after the Paris atrocities, a meaningless friendly
took on huge significance as Football reunited the world.
Friendlies Under Fire
Friendly matches are now under
threat. The national team has always had difficulties in gaining club
cooperation, but clubs have become much less willing to relinquish their
players for friendly matches over the past decade as the growing number of
matches in European club competitions added to fixture congestion and as the
monetary value and wages of the players increased astronomically. The
clubs, as well as their supporters, have become increasingly critical of
"meaningless friendly" has become a catchphrase.
Friendly matches, however, are far
from meaningless; they continue to carry great value for the national side.
They serve as practice or warm-up matches for important tournament encounters.
They allow players from many different club sides the opportunity to become
used to playing together, and since football is a team game, that is
essential. They also serve as a risk-free way of experimenting with new
players, new formations and new styles of play. They give newer players
the opportunity to gain international experience, which is important because
the international game is so different from the English domestic game and the
quality of the opposition is often much higher. And, in an age when
depth in the squad is important, they allow players who are not regulars in
the England first eleven to gain playing time at international level.
Nonetheless, England are unlikely to play as many friendlies in the future as they have in the past,
with the inception of the UEFA Nations League competition.
Increasingly, England have
left open dates set aside on FIFA's international calendar when they could
have played friendly matches. Sometimes
have remained idle when most European national sides have played, even in
the critical period before important international tournaments.