Greatest Matches - No47

The Boleyn Ground played host to a young Wayne Rooney's England debut - but it was a night to forget for the Three Lions
England 1           Australia 3
Jeffers 69             Popovic 16, Kewell 41, Emerton 83
International Friendly, Wednesday 12 February 2003
England: James (Robinson 46), Neville (Mills 46), Ferdinand (Brown 46), Campbell (King 46), A.Cole (Konchesky 46), Beckham (Hargreaves 46), Lampard (Murphy 46), Scholes (Jenas 46), Dyer (Vassell 46), Beattie (Jeffers 46), Owen (Rooney 46)
Subs not used: Wright, J.Cole, Upson, Parker, Davis
Australia: Schwarzer, Neill, Moore, Popovic (Vidmar 72), Lazaridis, Emerton, Okon (Muscat 87), Skoko (Bresciano 45), Chipperfield (Grella 76), Viduka (Sterjovski 85), Kewell (Aloisi 56).
Subs not used: Kalac, Tiatto
When you mention England, Australia, sport and the year 2003, the thoughts of many immediately turn to the Rugby World Cup final and Jonny Wilkinson’s last-gasp drop goal.

That unforgettable moment of drama occurred in November, but the Boleyn Ground had played host to another historic sporting moment between the two old sporting enemies nine months earlier.

Wembley Stadium was closed for reconstruction in 2001, leading the England national football team to undertake a tour of the country. Home fixtures had already been played at White Hart Lane, Elland Road, Anfield, Villa Park and St Mary’s Stadium before West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground was chosen to host England’s first match of 2003.

Australia provided the opposition for The Castlemaine XXXX Friendly Match on Wednesday 12 February 2003 – the first time ever that the Socceroos had travelled to England.

For England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and his players, 2002 had been a year of highs and lows – David Beckham’s penalty helped the Three Lions to defeat Argentina on their way to the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, where ten-man Brazil proved just too strong.

The 2004 UEFA European Championship qualifiers had begun with narrow 2-1 victory in Slovakia and a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to FYR Macedonia in Southampton.

A number of the squad who travelled to Japan/South Korea had been dispensed with – David Seaman, Martin Keown, Teddy Sheringham – as Eriksson began to plan for the next FIFA World Cup cycle.

As such, the squad the Swede selected for the visit of Frank Farina’s Australia was an experimental one.
The media reacted with excitement to the inclusion of two teenagers – Newcastle United midfielder Jermaine Jenas, 19, and Everton forward Wayne Rooney, who had made a huge impact since making his senior debut for the Toffees in August 2002.

Two months later, the clamour for Rooney increased to fever pitch when the teenager from Croxteth curled an unstoppable shot past Arsenal goalkeeper Seaman at Goodison Park. A star had been born.

Of less excitement at the time but of more interest to West Ham fans reading this article, a grand total of eleven former, current and future Hammers were called-up by Eriksson and Farina, including goalkeeper David James and midfielder Joe Cole.
Despite the inclusion of a number of young players in his squad, Eriksson opted to field an experienced starting XI in front of an expectant 34,590-strong Boleyn Ground crowd.

Home favourite James was handed a start in goal behind a back four of Gary Neville, Academy of Football graduate Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. The midfield comprised Manchester United duo Beckham and Paul Scholes, future Hammer Kieron Dyer and Ferdinand’s fellow graduate Frank Lampard. Liverpool’s Michael Owen partnered Southampton forward James Beattie in attack.

England fans would have held high hopes of a morale-boosting victory over the Australians, despite the presence of a host of Premier League players in Farina’s side.

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer lined up alongside future West Ham captain Lucas Neill, Crystal Palace centre-back Tony Popovic, Birmingham City’s former Hammers winger Stan Lazaridis and Leeds United attackers Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.

While the Socceroos selection was certainly strong, confidence was high that England would win fairly comfortably in east London.

That confidence was misplaced.

The first-half performance of Eriksson’s team was labelled ‘dreadful’ by the BBC as the eager and talented Australians tore into their illustrious hosts.

In a scene more akin to an Ashes Test match – England had been thrashed 4-1 in Australia that winter – Lazaridis delivered a free-kick that was headed past James by Popovic with just 15 minutes on the clock.

Five minutes later, Scholes saw his strike disallowed for a foul by debutant Beattie, and things got even worse when the outstanding Kewell robbed Ferdinand, rounded James and calmly slotted the ball into the empty net.

The Boleyn Ground was left in a stunned silence, bar the large and vocal group of Australian fans, many of whom had made the short journey from their adopted London homes.
It likely had nothing to do with England’s first-half performance, but Eriksson took drastic action to arrest his side’s slide at half-time – he substituted his entire team!

Among those to be brought on were Everton strike partners Francis Jeffers, 22, and Rooney, the latter becoming England’s youngest-ever international at the age of 17 years and 111 days.

Rooney eclipsed the previous record set by Clapham Rovers half-back James Prinsep, who was 17 years and 253 days when he made his one and only England appearance against Scotland in April., 1879.

The new record holder made an instant impact with his strong running, energy, vision and outstanding technique. His first contribution in a Three Lions shirt was to provide a cross for Darius Vassell, only for the Aston Villa striker to fail to find the target.

Rooney was instrumental again as Jeffers rewarded England's much-improved second-half show with a goal after 69 minutes, feeding fellow teenager Jenas on the right flank, and his cross was expertly glanced past Schwarzer at the near post by his Toffees team-mate.

England's youngsters continued to impress as full-time approached, only for Australia to launch a counter attack to score a third and clinch victory with seven minutes remaining.

Substitute John Aloisi beat Ledley King and then set up Emerton for a simple finish to seal an impressive win for Farina’s visitors.

Rooney, of course, has gone on to a successful career with club and country. Now 28, he has won 95 England caps, scoring 40 goals. In summer 2004, he joined Manchester United for £25.6m and has since won five Premier League titles, 12 trophies in total and a host of individual awards.

The Boleyn Ground has since hosted one other senior international friendly – Ivory Coast’s 1-0 victory over Italy in August 2010 – but it is Rooney’s debut and Australia’s shock success that will live longer in the memory of this famous stadium.