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“I told them in the dressing room that we simply couldn’t afford to lose that game,” said Sir Bobby Robson of his England side's FIFA World Cup Italy™ qualifier in Sweden in 1989, “that they had to sweat buckets for the cause.”
One man Robson knew he could rely upon was Terry Butcher, the lionhearted centre-back he had coached at either Ipswich Town or international level for the past 13 years. Butcher was a man who was prepared to not only sweat buckets, but to bleed buckets for the shirt – as he would prove emphatically.
England, who were above their opponents only on goal difference at the top of Group 2, with just the section winners being guaranteed a ticket to Italy 1990, knew they faced an uphill challenge in their third-final preliminary. The Three Lions’ solitary previous trip to the Rasunda had ended in a 1-0 loss three years earlier, and this time they were without influential captain Bryan Robson. Moreover, the Swedes were buoyed by a goalless draw at Wembley earlier in the qualifiers.
That uphill challenge got a little steeper early on in the game. Roger Ljung hoisted the ball upfield towards Johnny Ekstrom. The Cannes forward leapt high to nod the ball on, but his head then accidentally yet viciously crashed into Butcher’s.
Blood oozed from a gaping wound on the Rangers man’s forehead, but he refused to call it quits. Instead, he had the cut treated with seven stitches and bandaged up, before throwing himself back into battle. “You’d have had to kill me to take me off,” Butcher stated afterwards.
Unfortunately for England’s stand-in skipper, Sweden, with two tall men upfront in Ekstrom and Mats Magnusson, incessantly hoisted long balls forward throughout the second half, forcing Butcher to make headed clearance after headed clearance (except once, when he cheekily punched the ball away – “I decider to give the wound a little break,” he later joked). Every time he did, blood seeped from his forehead on to his jersey.
When the final whistle sounded to conclude a 0-0 draw, goalkeeper Peter Shilton and the nine outfield players in white commemorated a valuable point. Butcher, the tenth, also celebrated, but by now he was doing so in a jersey that was blood red.