Wembley Stadium 23 May 1989 – England 0–2 Sweden
Old foes Sweden put one over on England AGAIN
Classic match report: The story of England women’s first football match at Wembley Stadium
In May 1989 England lost their first full match at Wembley Stadium to goals from Swedish greats Pia Sundhage (6) and Lena Videkull (58). The pesky Swedes had previously handed England their first ever defeat in 1975, beat them on penalties in the inaugural 1984 Euro Championship final and edged them out of the 1987 Euro semi-final 3–2 after extra-time.
This match marked the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Football Association (WFA) and was played as a curtain-raiser to the men’s Rous Cup game with Chile. It was the last edition of the Stanley Rous Cup, which had been mired in farce throughout its short history. Stanley Rous was an English former president of FIFA who hated women’s football and was eventually jettisoned for his sickening pro-Apartheid stance.
Three days earlier over 80,000 Scousers had descended on Wembley for the men’s FA Cup final. For the Tuesday night match with Chile, a record low of 15,628 turned out. Those who surmounted a tube strike to get there were subjected to what The Times called a “derisory joke” of a match. England’s understrength men drew 0–0 with Chile, who were only there because numerous other nations had snubbed the invite. An out-of-his-depth John Fashanu delivering a trademark elbow-smash to a hapless Chilean defender was the nadir of a truly grim spectacle.
The Swedish FA gave an attendance figure of 3,150 for the preceding women’s match, which made for an eerie atmosphere at the famous old venue. The women, though, served up much more entertaining fayre than their male counterparts. In warm sunshine beneath the twin towers, Sweden’s tough and experienced team, well drilled by pioneering female boss Gunilla Paijkull, soaked up English pressure and twice picked-off their opponents on the break.
Elisabeth Leidinge .1
Camilla Fors .2
Marie Karlsson .3
Anette Hansson .4
Eva Zeikfalvy .5
Åsa Persson .6
(c) Ingrid Johansson .7
Helén Johansson .8
Pia Sundhage .9
(n/u) Marina Persson.12
England’s defence had a makeshift look. Regular right-back Sue Law of Millwall Lionesses was still recovering from a shoulder operation. Solent’s Clare Lambert and Town & County’s Jackie Slack were named in the team published in the morning papers, but neither made the starting line-up. Instead Donny Belles’ Jo Broadhurst and Leasowe’s Jan Murray—both happier playing further forward—were drafted in as wing-backs. It was ‘Psycho’ Murray’s international debut.
Kerry Davis of Napoli and Jane Stanley of Filey led the line, with Linda Curl (Norwich) and Karen Walker (Donny Belles) later emerging from the bench. Leasowe midfielder Maz Harper and second-choice keeper Tracey Davidson, of Donny Belles, were also given substitute outings on Wembley’s hallowed turf.
Ballwinners Gillian Coultard, Jackie Sherrard (both Donny Belles) and captain Debbie Bampton (Millwall Lionesses) were tasked with keeping Sweden out. Friends of Fulham trio Marieanne Spacey, Brenda Sempare and Hope Powell provided the creative flair. At the time Sempare’s skill, vision and positional sense marked her out as one of Europe’s best midfielders. Spacey had jetted back from her loan spell at Finland’s HJK Helsinki to participate.
Goalie Terry Wiseman of Friends of Fulham won her 50th cap. She was beaten after only six minutes when Pia Sundhage scored with a looping header, just as she had in the 1984 final first-leg in Gothenburg.
The report by Times correspondent Andrew Longmore describes England’s “extraordinary profligacy in front of goal”. This was duly punished when deadly striker Lena Videkull lashed in a cross from Helén Johansson on 58 minutes. Helén’s twin sister Ingrid was the Swedish skipper.
Sue Lopez wrote in her book (1997) that the shambolic staging of this match enraged the Swedish FA and UEFA bigwig Lennart Johansson. Their complaints apparently shamed the FA in influential circles and hastened the demise of the WFA. Lopez did not reveal what in particular about the WFA’s shoestring operation had riled the famously placid Scandinavians.
After getting humiliating public knock-backs from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain and a host of other names, the increasingly desperate English and Scottish FAs needed someone, anyone, to attend their flagging Rous tournament. It is easy to imagine they seriously greased the palms of the Chileans to save further embarrassment. No doubt the Chilean delegation got put up in a top hotel, given fat cigars, suitcases full of cash and fur coats for their wives. Meanwhile the Swedish FA mandarins over for the women’s fixture—still fully-fledged members of a fellow FIFA association—were curtly pointed in the direction of the WFA. If they were lucky, they might have got a couple of soggy sandwiches and some supermarket own-brand crisps!
The Swedish men’s team were in the same qualification group as England for the men’s World Cup and had been at Wembley the previous October, for another 0–0 bore draw. On that occasion it was the Swedish hangers-on who got the red carpet treatment, which probably brought the no-frills setup at this women’s match into sharp relief.
Sweden had finished runners-up to Norway in a prototype World Cup held eleven months earlier. The bulk of their Wembley team went on to compete at the first FIFA-sanctioned World Cup in China ’91, where they finished third.
England had pluckily won the 1988 Mundialito tournament in Italy. But they did not even qualify for China after being badly mauled 6–1 by Germany in Euro 1991. With England in serious decline compared to other countries who were getting proper support from their national association, veteran coach Martin Reagan was harshly sacked after the Germany result. Reagan had spent several years telling everyone exactly what modest work needed to be done in order to keep up. Sadly those with the clout to make it happen did not lift a finger.
The England team did not evolve, partly because the stony-broke WFA shut down their under-21 team. Until 1991 there was no national league. Doncaster Belles, who supplied five of the 15 at Wembley, routinely walloped local opposition and were only tested in the later rounds of the national cup. Belles and England netminder Tracey Davidson would spend entire league games walking a dog behind the goal and drinking cups of cocoa to keep her hands warm.
The FA finally put the WFA out of its misery and took over direct control of women’s football in 1993. After many more wasted years, it was not until Hope Powell—England’s midfield schemer in this match—took the reins as coach that some painfully slow, incremental progress began to be made.
This match is recorded as England’s first FULL match at Wembley because of another debacle… 1987–88 saw the Football League arrange its centenary celebrations, which for some reason were overseen by colourful Chelsea chairman Ken Bates. Mercantile Credit were roped in as sponsors but pitiful attendances saw the League clubs absorbing huge losses. The WFA lined up Holland for a friendly as part of the main event at Wembley. The Dutch FA (KNVB), when informed at late notice that their slot was only 15 minutes each-way, were fuming and wanted no part of such nonsense. Ireland, who like England lacked the support of their national FA, had no such scruples and the mini game went ahead.