How far have you seen the Three Lions go?

Watching England at the World Cup is never easy

Every generation of England fans has a defining World Cup moment.

One has the greatest of them all but for most it is one laced with disappointment and heartache.

The country’s post-war baby boomers are the most fortunate, brandishing their memory of Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley in 1966 as a shield to the mainly misery that followed.

Since then, England supporters have gone through a succession of early exits, absence from the finals all together and penalty shootout woe.

Envy then the youngest generation of English fans, unburdened with memories of Diego Maradona’s “hand of God” in 1986, Paul Gascoigne’s tears in 1990, David Beckham’s flicked boot in 1998 and Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink in 2006 and who have only ever known the euphoria of England winning knockout games on spot-kicks.

Before Saturday’s quarter-final against Sweden, BBC Sport taps into our great World Cup moments countdown to look back at England at the tournament and the incidents that have defined the experience for English fans of all ages.

‘I know that was then, but it could be again’ – England fans are starting to believe it could be coming home in 2018

How far have you seen England progress?

England have not got past the quarter-finals at a World Cup since 1990, which means that an English football fan would realistically have to be in their mid-30s at least to have witnessed a semi-final featuring the national team.

To have experienced the one time it got better than that for England, you would either be coming up to or have already passed your 60th birthday.

The below graphic illustrates how far you are likely to have seen England progress at a World Cup, with your total experience being anything above the indication of your age…

It came home

Like a Royal wedding, there were street parties to greet England’s World Cup win in 1966

It has overshadowed all that has followed for England – Moore, sitting on the shoulders of his team-mates holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy at a jubilant home of football in 1966.

You don’t have to have been alive at that time to know that image, the names of Moore, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks et al, or that a Russian linesman played his part in a 4-2 final victory over West Germany (voted number four in your list of great World Cup moments).

50 Great World Cup moments: England win the World Cup – 1966

In four tournaments before this, England had only ever got as far as the last eight, so for those in their late 50s or early 60s they have a treasured first World Cup memory, one that can resist the blows that have followed in the subsequent 52 years.

Back down to Earth

England fans had to find something else to do during the summers of 1974 and 1978

Those born in the immediate years after 1966 have perhaps the worst lot of all England fans when it comes to early England World Cup memories.

As defending champions, hopes were understandably high for Sir Alf Ramsey’s side in Mexico, but West Germany got their revenge for 1966 as Gerd Muller’s extra-time goal won the quarter-final tie between the sides.

It would be the last any England fan would see of their team at a World Cup for 12 years. Poland’s Jan Tomaszewski wrote his name into the fabric of English football history with one of the great goalkeeping displays to ensure his side edged England and Ramsey – who was soon to be sacked – out in qualifying.

Jan Tomaszewski – a man previously described as “a clown” by Brian Clough – made a number of saves to deny England victory against Poland at Wembley in 1973

Four years later, following a turbulent period which saw Don Revie come and go as manager before Ron Greenwood took charge, England were again knocked out in qualifying, this time by Italy on goal difference.

The ‘hand of God’

The clash between England and Argentina was enough to push the fans to fight in the stands

England football fans aged 40 and above have a clear villain and his name is Diego Armando Maradona.

In Spain in 1982, Greenwood’s England suffered the unusual fate of exiting the tournament having not lost a game. They scored their first goal after just 27 seconds – Bryan Robson against France – but failed to find the net at all in the second group stage and out they went. They had a good kit, though.

Four years later, they started poorly in Mexico but a hat-trick from Gary Lineker (half of the six he scored in the tournament en route to winning the Golden Boot – or Shoe as it was then) against Poland saw them through.

50 Great World Cup moments: Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland in 1986

Paraguay were dispatched in the last 16 before two goals – one demonstrating sublime skill, the other sneaky skullduggery – by Argentina’s Maradona dumped them out.

50 Great World Cup moments: Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal – 1986
50 Great World Cup moments: Maradona’s ‘magnificent’ second goal v England – 1986

So close, yet so far

English fans display their flags in support of their team during the World Cup in Italy

David Platt’s volley against Belgium, the comeback against Cameroon, Gascoigne’s tears, Lineker’s “have a word with him” and the penalty shootout defeat that started it all in the semi-final against West Germany – Italia 1990 had as many good memories as bad, but it is the latter that persists in the mind of those in their mid-30s.

World Cup countdown: Paul Gascoigne’s tears in Italia ’90 semi-final
50 great World Cup moments: England lose to Germany on penalties at Italia 90

And the fact England did not qualify for USA 1994 only increases their resonance.

Eight years felt like a lifetime to wait, but after qualifying for France 1998, Glenn Hoddle’s England gave us hope, partly thanks to a young Michael Owen…

50 Great World Cup moments: Michael Owen stuns Argentina – 1998

…before Beckham went from hero to villain and the nation suffered penalty heartbreak again, this time at the hands of Argentina.

World Cup countdown: David Beckham sent off against Argentina in 1998

Ronaldinho and Ronaldo

England football fans at a central London pub react to England’s penalty shootout loss to Portugal in 2006

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign as England boss at World Cups – and the founding memories many in their early to mid-20s have of England at the World Cup – ultimately boils down to a lob and a wink.

The first – Ronaldinho’s free-kick that sailed over David Seaman and in to eliminate England in the quarter-finals in 2002 – still generates debate over whether the Brazilian meant to do it.

50 great World Cup moments: Ronaldinho lobs England’s David Seaman – 2002

The second – Ronaldo’s wink after his Manchester United team-mate and England’s main man Wayne Rooney was sent off in the penalty shootout defeat by Portugal in the last eight – ushers no such debate.

50 Great World Cup moments: Wayne Rooney sent off against Portugal – 2006

Group stage exit and German mauling

England fans had their day at Glastonbury ruined by the defeat by Germany in 2010

Teenage England fans have had little to cheer about until Russia, with the first half of the 2010s providing not only disappointment but a high-profile squad becoming ever more detached from their fans. The decade began with a trip to South Africa for a Fabio Capello side who had sauntered through qualifying and still possessed a healthy number of the nation’s so-called ‘golden generation’.

50 Great World Cup moments: England’s Rob Green concedes an awful goal to USA – 2010

Robert Green’s goalkeeping error in the opening draw against the United States set the tone as England limped out of their group before being put out of their misery by a ruthless and brilliant Germany, who have never had it so easy in a World Cup game against the old enemy. Not even the Frank Lampard shot that crossed the line but was not given would have saved England.

50 great World Cup moments: Frank Lampard’s ghost goal against Germany – 2010

England made even less of an impact on the tournament four years later as the familiar figure of Uruguay and then Liverpool striker Luis Suarez ensured Roy Hodgson’s side went out in the group stage.

World Cup countdown: Luis Suarez’s goal to knock England out – 2014

A whole new world

Young England fans watch the game against Colombia on an estate in London

Witnessing the social media videos of fan parks and bars in the aftermath of the last-16 penalty shootout win over Colombia, containing a jubilant sea of arms, legs and spilled plastic pints, you would forgive the youngest generation of England fans for wondering what all the fuss is about.

After all, to anyone younger than 10, England reaching the quarter-finals and winning penalty shootouts at the World Cup is all you’ve known.

World Cup 2018: England’s historic penalty shootout win against Colombia in full

And it may get better yet. Another victory on Saturday and Gareth Southgate’s side will equal the achievements of the class of 1990 and set up a semi-final showdown against either Croatia or hosts Russia. Win that and there is only one side left to emulate – Ramsey’s winners.

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