Kenilworth Road 27 May 1984 – England 1–0 Sweden (3–4 on penalties)
Linda Curl’s cracker levels the tie but Swedes edge it on penalties
Classic match report: Sweden win the first ever UEFA Women’s Euro, but brave England push them all the way
The haves and the have-nots
England’s gritty 1–0 first-leg defeat was played out at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg before 5,552 fans. Sveriges Television (SVT) cameras had beamed it into the nation’s trendy minimalist living rooms.
The 2,565 second-leg crowd at Luton’s Kenilworth Road was deemed a qualified success by England’s WFA, who feared a humiliating three figure turnout.
In the face of BBC disinterest, obscure Leeds-based cable TV startup Telvista reportedly filmed the match. True to form, they went bust before the year was out.
Swedish FA bigwigs Lennart Johansson and Tord Brodd were in evidence, but their hapless equivalents Ted Croker and Bert Millichip were conspicuously absent.
The Swedish party travelling for the second leg also included 36 press and media personnel.
Meanwhile, the English media operation – which usually resided in the person of Cathy Gibb – had at least doubled.
Left-leaning broadsheet The Guardian sent along an earnest young sports reporter named Ian Ridley.
His short report amounted to a scrap of what’s known in the trade as “downpage” (i.e. filler). But, hey. It was a start.
Most of the senior football writers had been in Glasgow for the previous day’s Scotland v England game at Hampden. Tony Woodcock cancelled out Mark “Muttley” McGhee’s opener.
Sweden’s cheery coach Ulf Lyfors was a full-time employee of the Swedish FA, whereas England’s Martin Reagan got pocket money towards his expenses. He had a ‘real’ job flogging vet supplies in York.
Lyfors treated his relatively intense media scrutiny as a mixed blessing. His patience sometimes frayed at endless “stupid questions”.
The pathetic dearth of media coverage in England helped make up Kerry Davis’s mind to join Lazio the following year.
“If the men had made the European final, it would have been splashed across every paper in the country,” Davis said. “When we made it against Sweden they didn’t want to know.”
England’s women lacked the backing of their own FA, and were the Swedes’ poor relations in every other conceivable way. Cathy Gibb termed the visitors: “the affluent skilful favourites”.
Etoe and Sollohub’s Three Lions on her Shirt (2007) quotes Gill Coultard on the kindly Swedes doling out their spare training kit and Adidas clobber.
“When they came and said ‘Do you want one of these?’ you snapped their hands off,” said Coultard.
A ground, a ground, my kingdom for a ground!
Or, Have boots, will travel
Wembley Stadium was apparently a no-go for the second-leg. Although in the preceding weeks it had happily hosted male soccer minnows Stansted, AFC Stamford, Northwich Victoria and The Dog & Duck Second XI.
Actually the last one was made up, but you get the picture: no women at Wembley. Eyebrows were raised at what was either a curious anomaly, or indefensible bias, depending on your point of view.
The penny must have dropped with the stuffy blazers at the FA, as the WFA were quietly invited to stage a six-a-side exhibition before the Charity Shield in August 1984.
“Is this the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for?!” enthused Linda Whitehead. But all that excitement would have to wait.
At the end of a long season, not one of London’s 13 League clubs would stage the women’s Euro final: “Cor blimey, yer ‘avin a laugh int cha? Lawks a mercy!” was their response (probably).
Substitute Hope Powell’s 2016 autobiography revealed the WFA’s fears that the Swedes would squeal to UEFA and get the match forfeited.
In the event, it was big-hearted Swedes who came to the rescue. Luton’s Swedish-founded ball bearing factory SKF sponsored the match day at Kenilworth Road and even offered up their sports fields as a training venue.
Sweden indulged in some mild whinging at not getting to train on the match surface, although they soon piped down when they cottoned on that England couldn’t either.
Ain’t talkin’ ’bout Mud
A massive downpour turned the Kenilworth Road pitch into a mud bath, described by Hope Powell as “absolutely shocking”.
But, for all sorts of logistical reasons, a postponement was not feasible. It was now or never.
In those days muddy pitches were nothing unusual in English football. The spectacle of mustachioed stars sloshing and wallowing like hippos was a common sight on Match of the Day.
Likewise any concept of “elf and safety” still belonged to the “Loony Left” in 1984 and would have been dismissed as outlandish.
A year earlier England had a dress rehearsal when a Pat Chapman brace beat Scotland 2–0 on a similar mud heap at Leeds United’s Elland Road.
With their clubs England’s players were well versed in being third or fourth in line for rubbish council pitches.
In pre-National League days, their lowly place in the pecking order meant that the men and even little boys had generally churned up the pitches before the women got anywhere near them.
So the Lionesses fancied their chances here. Gill Coultard even said that the rain and mud did England a big favour.
The Swedes were robust athletes as well as excellent footballers, but they didn’t know what had hit them when England flew out of the traps.
Sparky front three Chapman, Curl and Davis harried the Swedish defence and ran them ragged.
Beleaguered centre-half Angelica “Agge” Burevik later admitted she was too tired to even contemplate taking a penalty in the shootout.
Mind you, her interview with Helsingborgs Dagblad said she’d been running after “Linda Davies”. No wonder she was knackered, then, if she didn’t know whether she was chasing Linda Curl or Kerry Davis!
At the end of the following season, Luton Town infamously laid a plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road. That solved the mud but brought problems of its own.
Elisabeth Leidinge .1
Ann Jansson .2
(c) Anette Börjesson .3
Angelica Burevik .4
Mia Kåberg .5
Anna Svenjeby .6
Eva Andersson .7
Helen Johansson .8
Karin Åhman-Svensson .9
(out 35′) Lena Videkull .10
Pia Sundhage .11
Camilla Andersson .12
Gunilla Axén .13
Anette Nicklasson .14
(on 35′) Doris Uustitalo .15
Inger Arnesson .16
Curly hits pay dirt
Tenacious skipper Carol Thomas was in her element, leaving behind her a trail of vanquished Valkyries; upended Swedes with yellow shirts and blonde hair splattered in mud.
On the 31-minute mark, Thomas unleashed not one, but two blockbuster tackles in the middle of the mire.
The ball bobbled out to Linda Curl – affectionately known as Curly – on the right, who flashed past marker Kåberg.
She took a couple of strides down the wing then lashed a right-footed shot high over a startled Leidinge and into the far corner of the Swedish goal.
Noting the strike’s impressive swerve, Guardian hack Ridley pronounced Curl: “aptly-named”.
Lena Videkull, coruscating in her first-leg debut, toiled in the mud and was unable to make any impression on England’s rearguard.
She was hooked at half-time for nippy Hammarby striker Doris Uusitalo, a semi-final scorer against Italy.
It jolted the Swedes into action. They forced the inspired Terry Wiseman into four saves and Eva Andersson rattled the post four minutes from time.
And so it was that the tie went to a penalty shootout. A distasteful and heartlessly cruel way of deciding any game, let alone a European final.
The mud made matters even more of a lottery than is usual on such occasions. A hasty shootout was also much to the crowd’s bemusement, as they had naturally expected some extra-time.
It was tense stuff. Lyfors remained in the dugout with his head in his hands, unable to watch.
It’s tempting to think a mere penalty shootout was small beer to Martin Reagan, a man who took a tank into the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe.
But that would be a faulty analogy, comparing two totally different kinds of pressure.
Invested in his team and a football man to his marrow, Reagan desperately wanted to win. The ol’ nerves were a janglin’, no doubt about that.
Goal hero Curl went first. She hit it high, hard and true… but too close to Leidinge, who stood up well and swatted it away. Advantage Sweden.
Captain Börjesson, a prolific, set-piece hitting defender in the Ronald Koeman mould, stroked Sweden ahead. The following year she notched a notable penalty hat-trick against France.
Angie Gallimore and Debbie Bampton both successfully converted for England, either side of Eva Andersson’s kick, also successful.
Terry Wiseman then blocked Helen Johansson’s effort with her trailing legs.
Despite the high-pitched shriek of the crowd, England’s goalie impassively got to her feet. She simply trotted, head down, back to her spot behind the goal.
Lorraine Hanson failed to capitalise, though, as Leidinge got both palms to a miskick which squirted tamely towards the centre of the goal.
Veteran Ann Jansson, whose brace handed England their first ever defeat in June 1975, put Sweden back ahead. Although Davis pulled England level again, it left Sweden one kick from glory.
Star player Pia Sundhage delivered the coup de grâce – and the last word in her personal duel with Wiseman.
After a long run up Sundhage scuffed the ball into the left hand side of the net – not right in the corner but well out of the wrong-footed goalkeeper’s reach.
Three days later Bruce Grobbelaar of Liverpool’s famous “spaghetti legs” routine flummoxed AS Roma in a European Cup final shootout at the Italians’ home stadium.
But there was none of that nonsense here. To their credit the mud-caked goalkeepers both played it clean.
In 2013 Elisabeth Leidinge admitted: “It was almost impossible to move because of the mud”. She recalled begging Sundhage not to risk a cheeky Panenka-style lob.
Hansson’s medal snub
Luckless Anette Hansson, dropped for the match despite an accomplished debut in the home leg, didn’t even get a gold medal.
There weren’t enough to go round, but the Swedes vowed to lobby UEFA into cutting an extra gong.
Mia Kåberg was on the verge of entry to Stora Tjejers Märke, a sort of Swedish FA hall of fame which accords VIP entry to all Swedish national team games.
Based on a convoluted points system, she had to bide her time a bit longer because – technically – the Swedes lost the match.
Swedish media man Thorsten Frennstedt’s reportage contained a section which, despite literally translating as “what fantastic losers”, was actually a warm tribute to the England team’s spirit.
A few Swedish players admitted they would not have been so gracious in defeat. And, after their tetchy semi-final battle with the Italians, they didn’t think many other national teams would be either.
As always, Martin Reagan set the tone by refusing to bemoan his side’s luck and congratulating Sweden as worthy victors.
His calls for England to emulate the new champions’ methods fell on deaf ears with the powers that be.
A post-match knees up saw both squads mingling happily, with nary a long face or petted lip in sight.
Lennart Johansson said: “The two teams did well to play such good football in the circumstances”.
Carol Thomas was buttonholed to appear on the BBC’s Breakfast Time, alongside Selina Scott and renowned bon viveur Frank Bough.
Though she later found her standard appearance fee diverted to WFA coffers. To uphold the solemn sanctity of her amateur status, they deadpanned.
Ulf seals the deal
A whimsical SVT documentary Den Andra Sporten (2013) brought Ulf Lyfors back to Kenilworth Road.
He visibly beamed at the sight of the dressing room bath, recalling being dunked in there with his 16 jubilant players – all fully clothed, he hastened to add.
Jitex BK had carried off a Swedish League and Cup double in 1984. All their players won national team honours, EXCEPT for their strong-willed left-back, Marika Domanski.
Lyfors resisted the urge to call up Domanski… even after she married him! Marika later emulated Ulf by taking charge of the women’s national team.