Watching Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain take Manchester United apart in January 2012, reminded me of his dad, Mark Chamberlain.
Now it’s not strictly true to say I knew Mark, but we did both appear at Wembley for the first time in December 1982. Him on the pitch, and me in the stands.
Mark Chamberlain had burst onto the scene in 1982 when he moved from Port Vale to Stoke for the start of the ’82-’83 season. He was a winger. During the 70’s and early 80’s most teams had wingers, and young Mark was one of the most exciting. I was a winger in my school team and always looked for those players when I watched football.
Stoke returned to the First Division in 1979. They’d battled against relegation for 2 out of the 3 seasons, 1982-83 was their best performance since they came up. Manager, Richie Barker had tasted success as 2nd in command to John Barnwell at Wolves when they surprisingly beat European Cup holders, Nottingham Forest in the League Cup Final in 1980. As with Tony Pulis today, he had plundered other clubs squads to assemble a team that would battle for the cause.
Chamberlain, though, was a raw, young and exciting player who would hug the touchline and make full-backs look silly. He had pace, good close control and could operate on both wings. But he also had a certain quality that made wingers so absorbing for me as a spectator – unpredictability. There would be games where he’d be quiet, his tricks wouldn’t come off, but in with all that, you always got a buzz when he received the ball wide on the wing with a full-back to take on and the bye-line to reach.
In 1982 England had a new manager. Bobby Robson had left a very successful post at Ipswich to take on the national job as Ron Greenwood stepped down. England had just come from the World Cup in Spain. Unbeaten, they peaked in the first match (beating France, 3-1), and gradually performances dropped off the further they progressed. They were a game away from the Semi-Finals, but in a way they were further than that.
Robson had taken charge of three matches and had mixed results, before England showed up at Wembley in December. England’s European Championships Qualifier had begun with a 2-2 draw in Copenhagen, only to be beaten, 1-2, by West Germany in a friendly at Wembley. This was followed by an impressive 3-0 win in Greece.
Come December, England were confident of another win. Luxembourg were the visitors and were on a 15-game losing run, which ultimately stretched to 32 matches. Robson gave just 1 new cap that night, to Chamberlain.
After several attempts on goal, the deadlock was finally broken when Luxembourg scored an own goal after 18 minutes. Suddenly, England were rejuvenated and Steve Coppell made it 2-0, three minutes later. Midway through the half, Tony Woodcock made it 3-0. Then, two minutes before the break, came an important moment for English multi-cultural progression.
Watford’s Luther Blissett scored England’s 4th. Well, only just as he’d made a pretty good attempt at keeping himself off the scoresheet for the most of the half, and even scuffed this chance. For those younger readers, you may be surprised to hear that Blissett became the first black player to score for England. It was only 4 years since Viv Anderson became the first black player to play for England, and so another milestone had been reached.
Blissett then grabbed his 2nd midway through the second half, and England were 5-0 up. Robson then sent Chamberlain on for Steve Coppell. There was genuine excitement in the crowd and then on 72 minutes, Chamberlain scored. It was a great moment for the young lad, who just 6 months earlier had been playing in the Fourth Division (now League Two) at Vale Park. Although the attendance of 33,980 was lower than normal at Wembley, this was certainly the largest crowd he had played in front of. Some players play several matches before they get their first goal for their country, some never achieve it, but Chamberlain had scored within 8 minutes of coming on.
Blissett then completed his hat-trick 4 minutes from time and there was still enough time for Glenn Hoddle and Phil Neal to complete the scoring and 9-0 is still a record win for England at Wembley.
My eldest brother had taken me to Wembley. He’s a mad Spurs fan and Hoddle was his hero. For me, a Liverpool fan, I was there to see Phil Neal and Sammy Lee, but secretly I was there to watch a young lad who’d just turned 21 and I hoped he’d be the future of the England team.
It’s a bit like when young kids were really interested in Paul Gascoigne in Italia ’90 or Michael Owen and David Beckham at France ’98. There is a sense that these young lads are ‘yours’. They’re coming into an adult world already inhabited by your older siblings, who have their favourites but have never seen these young pretenders.
Chamberlain never scored again for England, mind you neither did Blissett. Chamberlain didn’t pull on another England shirt until the vital qualifier against Denmark in September 1983. England lost and Denmark went to the Finals at their expense. It wouldn’t be till the following year that Chamberlain had his best run in the team. He was picked for the Home International Championship match against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1984, and then USSR, Brazil (the John Barnes goal) Uruguay and Chile in June. His final appearance for his country was at Wembley against Finland in October 1984. It was fitting for a lad who made his debut in a 9-0 win, to then be part of a 5-0 win in his final match.
With the emergence of John Barnes and Chris Waddle, there was ultimately no place for Chamberlain at international level. In 1985 he moved to Sheffield Wednesday and spent three years there. Interestingly enough, I will always think of him as a Stoke City player, but when he moved to Portsmouth (from Sheffield Wednesday), he made more appearances for them than he did for Stoke.
I later came across him again in 1992 when he was the elder statesman in a young vibrant Pompey side that nearly beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final. They took them to a replay and were only beaten on penalties. That was the Portsmouth side that gave us our first glimpse of players like Darren Anderton, John Beresford, Guy Whittingham, Warren Neill and Kit Symons.
So do I feel old seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing professional football? Not really, but there’s a strange kind of symmetry in how his Dad played a large part in my football education as a youngster and now his son is exciting people, and hopefully inspiring kids to play the way he does.
After all these years, I still get excited about players running at defenders. Lennon, Walcott, Bale, there’s a definite rise in the heartbeats of supporters when they get the ball. Chamberlain followed people like Peter Barnes, Laurie Cunningham, Dave Thomas and Steve Coppell. He was 12 minutes away from being the first black player to score for England, but for one lad at his first trip to Wembley, Mark Chamberlain was my hero for that day.