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World Cup Memories: Mariner recalls his 1982 World Cup agony
AS Kevin Keegan knelt disconsolately on the turf at the Bernabeu, Paul Mariner reached down and tried to boost his team-mate’s spirits.
For England fans, it was the most famous moment of the 1982 World Cup.
Keegan, the star of the team, finally making his first appearance at the tournament as a substitute after injury.
In the dying minutes against the hosts Spain, the chance to put England into the semi finals fell his way. His diving header sailed wide of the post.
“I picked him up and just said to him, ‘Come on, we’ll get another chance’,” Mariner remembers.
“You have to think like that as a player.
“Kevin was someone I really looked up to. He’s one of the greatest guys you could wish to meet and he had helped me unbelievably with England.”
As it happened, they never did get another chance.
The game finished 0-0 – just as their previous game in the second group stage had done, against West Germany.
The format was scrapped four years later, but England were out.
“It was a strange format, we only conceded one goal in the whole World Cup and never lost a game,” Mariner says.
“Leaving the pitch at the end of that Spain game, we knew we were out and it was so disappointing.
“We were in a group with West Germany, which is always a tough game, and we played Spain at the Bernabeu in Madrid, which wasn’t going to be easy either. It’s like trying to beat England at Wembley.
“It was frustrating, we just couldn’t score in either game.
“The team spirit we had was fantastic, but the problem was that Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan were both struggling with injury.
“Kevin was flying back to Germany for treatment on his back problem. It was all hush-hush but obviously as players we knew what was going on.
“He was European footballer of the year around that time so if you take him out it makes a big difference.
“It’s like if you take Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Portugal team.”
For Mariner, though, the 1982 World Cup also offers plenty of happy memories – even before England got to Spain.
The forward who started his career in non-league at Chorley scored the goal that took England to the World Cup.
That came in their final qualifier against Hungary, as they recovered from an infamous defeat in Norway when Maggie Thatcher, Lady Diana and Lord Beaverbrook took a hell of a beating – according to the local commentator at least.
“You can still find the clips on YouTube of that Norway game and we can laugh about it now!” Mariner said.
“But not at the time, it was a really bad result.
“The last qualifying game was against Hungary in front of 100,000 at Wembley.
“Trevor Brooking had a shot that he scuffed. It was going wide and I just stuck a leg out and diverted it in with my foot into the net. It was amazing to qualify.”
Mariner started every game at the World Cup, scoring once and having a hand in two more goals.
It was a campaign that had got off to the best possible start. To this day, Bryan Robson’s goal after only 27 seconds in the opening game against France remains England’s fastest World Cup strike.
“Everyone knew what we would do apart from France,” Mariner says.
“It was a long throw. We used it a lot and I would go to the near post with Terry Butcher, while Bryan Robson would go to the far post for the flick-on.
“It was absolutely boiling in that first game in Bilbao and we were trying to play our English style, high intensity football. France were a really good side who made the semi finals that year, but we ground them down and won 3-1.
“For the third goal the ball came to me inside the box and I just stuck it away.
“I’d scored in the five games in the lead-up to the World Cup so I think that goal means myself Wayne Rooney and Jimmy Greaves hold the record for scoring in consecutive games for England.
“But I was just so tired that I didn’t really celebrate.”
England would emerge from the first group phase with nine points out of nine, after wins over Czechoslovakia and Kuwait.”
Mariner had made his England debut in 1977 and travelled with the squad for a tour of South America – meant to be in preparation for the World Cup in Argentina a year later.
“We went on tour to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay but we didn’t qualify to go back for the World Cup,” he says. “We played at the Boca Juniors stadium in Buenos Aires and the Maracana in Rio.
“It was hot in Brazil but every place England go in the World Cup is too hot for them.
“I didn’t play, I was sub, but just to be there to experience it was incredible.”