Plough Lane – England 2–0 France
England beat France to secure eighth straight win
Classic match report: Southampton duo Davies and Lopez score to down Les Bleues at Wimbledon
The previous night at the “Daily Express National Five-a-Side Championship” France beat their hosts 1–0 in a small-sided exhibition match at Wembley Arena.
At this stage the arena was still known as the “Empire Pool”, although the eponymous swimming pool was long gone – much like the empire itself.
Claudine Dié hit the only goal in front of 9,000 noisy supporters. While agile goalie Marie-Louise Butzig pulled off a string of saves to hand the Gallic quintet the spoils.
Meanwhile, a stunning upset in the men’s event saw Second Division minnows Leyton Orient beat out 15 big names, including Celtic and Manchester United, to win the trophy.
After squeaking through three rounds on penalties, cult centre-half Phil Hoadley became an unlikely final hero. His brace saw off Tottenham and sent long-suffering Os fans into delirium.
BBC cameras and a commentary dream team of Messrs Motson, Davies and Gubba captured the events, as footage went straight out on that night’s Sportsnight at 9.55pm on BBC One.
Enjoyable as the Empire Pool experience must have been for the players, it was a mere amuse-gueule before the main event at Plough Lane in Wimbledon.
A crowd of 2,000 clocked through the turnstiles for some Thursday night football under the floodlights at the home of the non-League Dons.
Not bad, but it was a far cry from the massive numbers pulled in by the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies for their legendary battles with Alice Milliat’s Parisian Mademoiselles some 54 years earlier.
As part of the pre-match festivities, Maurice Chevalier’s ludicrous Thank Heaven for Little Girls blared out over the tannoy.
It was the theme song from the Oscar-winning film, Gigi. To modern eyes the film’s plot resembles a disturbing how-to guide for what would now be called sexual grooming.
Those in attendance, shivering and clutching cups of steamy Bovril, were also treated to telegram messages attributed to stay-away FA bigwig Ted Croker and hapless Don Revie.
Wimbledon board member Alec Fuce was much more supportive than deadbeats Croker and Revie. The diminutive veteran took a shine to the England squad and became an unofficial team mascot.
In fact the WFA were so impressed with the staging that they came back to Wimbledon the following year, for England’s 3–1 defeat by Sweden.
Honorary Secretary Pat Gregory beamed: “The crowds and officials at Plough Lane are a treat to work with”.
By the time England hosted Italy at Plough Lane in November 1977, Wimbledon had been elected to the Football League and were starting out on their journey to becoming the “Crazy Gang”.
In her programme notes Gregory anticipated Paul Hardcastle, pointing out that the average age of the French squad was just 19.
Five French stars listed in the programme – Ghislaine Souëf, Josiane Marichal, Dominique Tedeschi, Armelle Binard and Elisabeth Dejean – were all replaced at late notice.
It wasn’t clear if their absence was down to knocks picked up at the five-a-sides, work commitments, or gamesmanship on the part of coach Pierre Geoffroy.
Geoffroy is a legendary figure in women’s football but his antics during Reims’s tour of Ireland the previous year perhaps marked him out as something of a pantomime dame.
At Plough Lane his Moaning Minnie act commenced early, when a size five match ball came out despite – the French said – a prior agreement to use a smaller size four.
The WFA pointed to the match ball sponsor, Liverpool-based Jack Sharp Sports Ltd. But that did little to stymie Geoffroy’s mutterings of “Perfidious Albion”.
Geoffroy was still sore over the first match 18 months earlier, where England cantered to a 3–0 win in Brion, near Châteauroux, before 3,000 stunned home fans.
A few of the French players, including 29-year-old Reims goalie Marie-Louise Butzig, had also faced an England team at the 1971 FIEFF World Cup in Mexico.
There they beat Harry Batt’s England selection 3–2 in a fifth-place play-off staged at the Azteca in Guadalajara, before the semi-final between Argentina and Italy.
Batt’s players had been roughed up in the group stage matches and he needed to borrow some Mexicans to put out a team.
Nevertheless they twice went ahead through Janice Barton (badminton star Gail Emms’s footballing mum), before being reeled in by the indomitable Gauls.
Pierre Geoffroy had signed Anne O’Brien to be the star player in his all-conquering Reims outfit, but was unable to field the amiable Dubliner in his national team.
He had also snapped up Scots Rose Reilly and Edna Neillis before their moves to Italy. It seems Geoffroy didn’t fancy signing any of the England players, or if he did the WFA warded off his overtures.
Likewise none of England’s clubs had the financial clout to pull off a cross-Channel signing, as Dick, Kerr’s had with goalkeepers Louise Ourry and Carmen Pomiès back in the day.
According to Guardian hack Richard Yallop, Michèle Wolf looked like Bridget Bardot and played like Dave Thomas – a flying winger whose trademark was his rolled down socks and lack of shin pads.
Wolf was eager to make up for lost time. She had missed the Mexican jamboree because she couldn’t get the time off from her job in a greengrocers. Zut alors!
As a 15-year-old Amersham Angels player, Surrey-born Choat made it to the final probables-v-possibles trial for the first England team in 1972 only to narrowly miss the cut.
Thomas and Deighan became England legends over the ensuing decade and were both part of Martin Reagan’s Euro 84 squad, finishing gallant runners-up to Sweden.
England’s other substitutes listed in the programme were kids – Carr Fastener’s Lorraine Dobb (Hanson) and Annette Matthews of Wardon. Presumably Matthews was a back-up goalie.
Four members of the squad, including captain Sheila Parker, were from the Sandbach-based works club Fodens.
Under the shrewd management of Eric Aldersay, Fodens had famously wrested that year’s WFA Cup from Southampton, who also contributed four players to England.
Lack of training time with his squad was Tommy Tranter’s bugbear. On the eve of the match there was a brief get-together at the National Recreation Centre at Crystal Palace.
Slick England quickly seized control, as jinking winger Choat “caused havoc with her tricky wing play” according to the Daily Express report.
But it was effervescent Fodens midfielder Jeannie Allott who laid on both England’s goals. A “female Tony Currie”, purred Richard Yallop of The Guardian.
On 11 minutes she nodded on a through ball to Pat “Thunder” Davies, who scampered clear of the French defence and coolly slotted past Butzig.
Four minutes after the break Allott surged to the byline and swung in a cross. When Butzig dropped the ball, Lopez was on hand to thump in England’s second.
The French would grow sick of the sight of Allott – she later turned up playing for HOLLAND and single-handedly scuppered the French Euro 87 qualifying campaign.
In 1985 she marked her Dutch debut with the only goal in Leeuwarden, then hit a hat-trick in the return; a 5–3 Dutch win in Cambrai.
Anyway, England survived a late penalty shout when ref R.B. Register waved away theatrical appeals from Pierre Geoffroy and his beleaguered charges.
The impressive Lionesses held on to secure the win, their eighth on the trot. Little did Tranter’s troops know this would be England’s last win over France for at least 43 years!
No less a figure than Jimmy Hill was moved to pen an effusive News of the World column, praising the skill on show and the balance in Tranter’s 4–3–3.