1. They think it’s all over… (1966)
Arguably the most iconic British sporting photograph of all time, the image of Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft as he’s carried around Wembley by the 1966 World Cup winners is still enough to make England fans well up with pride.
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One reason may be that, in all the years since, we haven’t even came close to replicating that 4-2 victory over West Germany - which resulted in street parties like this one up and down the country.
Manchester Daily Express
3. Butcher’s bandage (1989)
Stockholm, 6 September, 1989. England needed a point against a stubborn Swedish side to qualify for World Cup Italia ‘90, and they succeeded with a 0-0 draw thanks largely to central defender Terry Butcher, who suffered a head wound early in the game that kept bleeding every time he headed the ball.
The post-match photograph of the Rangers man was swiftly adopted as an emblem of English football’s most lauded quality: the so-called ‘bulldog spirit’. In later years Butcher’s straight-out-a-warzone look would be mimicked by Paul Ince and Alan Shearer (neither of whom got quite so bloodied).
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4. Lineker’s equaliser (1990)
At World Cup Italia ‘90, England were having their best tournament for decades. But with 10 minutes left on the clock, the trailed West Germany (who else?) by a goal to nil.
That’s until Paul Parker knocked an optimistic long ball into the opposition’s box that caused a rare moment of panic among the German defence. A rebound fell kindly for Gary Lineker, who took a touch before burying the equaliser.
Gazza’s tears and the inevitable penalty shoot out heartache were just around the corner, but for a sweet half hour or so, Lineker had kept a nation’s hopes alive.
5. Gazza’s tears (1990)
Pre-Gazza, football in England was a sport tarred by its association with hooliganism and shunned by the mainstream. The Geordie midfielder’s larger than life personality and scintillating performances at World Cup Italia ‘90 changed that forever.
After picking up a yellow card during the semi-final with West Germany, Gascoigne knew he’d be ruled out of appearing in the final and began to cry. A nation’s heart bled, and though England lost anyway, ‘Gazzamania’ had arrived to transform his life - and the popularity of the sport - forever.
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6. Bruno’s brief rise and fall (1995-96)
When Frank Bruno finally won his first Heavyweight Championship, defeating American Oliver McCall on points over twelve rounds, the nation rejoiced.
However, Bruno’s reign at the top was doomed to last less than a year, when in only his first title defence in 1995, he was taken apart in three rounds by a rampant Mike Tyson. Frank would never box professionally again, and instead entered the pantheon of talented but ultimately tragic sportsmen Britain loves.
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8. Psycho’s redemption (1996)
England’s penalty shoot out curse has haunted many great players down the years, none more so than Stuart Pearce, the notoriously patriotic left-back who, in 1990, saw his effort against Italy in the World Cup semi-finals saved.
Fast-forward to Euro ‘96 and the veteran was called on once again in a shoot out against Spain. As the nation held its breath, ‘Psycho’ smashed the ball into the net to exorcise six years of pain. He walked away from the spot calmly before letting out a scream of relief - giving football folklore one of its most enduring images in the process.
Getty / Bob Thomas
9. Redgrave’s fifth gold medal (2000)
In Sydney during the 2000 Olympics, Steve Redgrave picked up his fifth gold medal in his fifth consecutive games to become the most successful male rower in history. 11 years later he would be award the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Lifetime Achievement Award.
Getty / AFP / Emmanuel Dunand
10. Beckham bends it against Greece (2001)
Three years after being branded a national villain for his red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, David Beckham’s rehabilitation as an England legend was complete after a last minute curling free kick against Greece booked the nation a place at the 2002 finals. It wasn’t just the goal though: after the game it was revealed that Becks ran a staggering eight miles over an appearance that would define his international career more than any other.
11. Lennox Lewis knocks out Tyson (2002)
Eight years after ‘Iron Mike’ broke British hearts by defeating Frank Bruno with ease, he came up against our greatest ever undisputed world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. ‘The Lion’ knocked Tyson out in the eighth round with a right hook.
Getty / Robert Mora
12. Jonny’s drop kick (2003)
The greatest moment in English rugby history came in extra time of the 2003 World Cup final against Australia. With 26 seconds left on the clock, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson collected a pass and dispatched a perfect drop goal to seal England’s first ever tournament victory 17-20. Wilkinson - a practising Buddhist - would forever be synonymous with having the model drop kick technique.
Getty / David Rogers
13. Kelly Holmes wins gold in Athens (2004)
Kelly only got one shot at an Olympic Games, and she grabbed it with both hands to win Gold twice in Athens in the 800 and 1500m. A year later she’d become the nation’s favourite Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Getty / Stu Forster
14. Liverpool and the miracle of Istanbul (2005)
Liverpool’s heroics in Istanbul made 2005 the most memorable final in Champions League history. Coming back from losing 0-3 at half time to draw 3-3 - largely thanks to Steven Gerrard - the team went on to win on penalties. This is the moment they realised their improbable victory was secure.
In the aftermath of the game Gerrard, who had been considering a move to Chelsea all season, told the cameras: “How can I think of leaving Liverpool after a night like this?”. The captain has remained at the club ever since.
Bob Thomas / Getty Images
16. England’s Ashes victory (2005)
England’s victory over Australia in the Fifth Ashes was one of the most tense and exciting matches in cricket history. Here Kevin Pietersen leaves the field after his innings of 158 during day five.
Getty / Hamish Blair
Getty / Clive Rose
18. Ronnie O’Sullivan comforts Ding Junhai (2007)
No player encapsulates the power shift in world snooker from Britain to China better than Ding Junhai, the country’s most successful player.
The prodigy had already beaten O’Sullivan to win the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2006, but England’s greatest ever talent hit back a year later with a career-best performance when they met again in the final of the Masters at Wembley Arena.
But it was the veteran’s actions after the game that really put a lump in the throat. Rather than celebrate, he went immediately to comfort his then-18 year old rival, who had begun to get visibly upset by the vocal home crowd.
19. Kelly Smith scores in Women’s Euro Final (2009)
Trailing 1-3 in the final, Kelly Smith gave England a glimmer of hope in the 55th minute by striking a wonder goal from the edge of the centre circle, briefly putting her team back in contention for the biggest prize of all.
Getty / Ian Walton
Sadly, she would return home with a runners-up medal after England were eventually well-beaten 2-6 by the Germans. A familiar story for fans of English football - except that by reaching the final, Kelly and her team had eclipsed any achievement by their male counterparts since 1966.
Getty / Clive Brunskill
21. Mo Farah wins gold (2012)
It took Mo Farah 27:30.42s to reach the finish line and take Gold in the 10,000m at the London 2012 Olympics. He’d later make it a double, winning the 5000m. But it was the sense of fun that the 30-year-old brought to the games - demonstrated by his ‘Mobot’ victory pose - that would most endear him to the nation.
Getty / Michael Steele
22. ‘The face of London 2012’ triumphs (2012)
Jessica Ennis - the London 2012 poster girl - is probably the most famous face to have emerged from Team GB’s heroics last summer. And her gold, in the heptathlon, was arguably our most consummate victory. Leading from day one, it was no surprise when the 27-year-old from Sheffield finished the grueling event in first place, 306 points ahead of her nearest rival.
23. Chris Hoy’s home glory (2012)
When Chris Hoy won the sixth Olympic Gold medal of his career at London 2012, he didn’t just become the most successful Olympic cyclist of all time but Britain’s greatest ever Olympian. The emotion of achieving this infront of a home crowd proved too much as he welled up on the podium. In the stadium and at home, thousands of Britons did the same.
24. Simmonds swims to glory (2012)
After bringing two gold medals home from Beijing in 2008 while aged just 13, hopes were high for Paralympian swimmer Ellie Simmonds at London 2012. She didn’t disappoint. In the process of winning two golds she also managed to set a World Record in the 400m freestyle and pick up a nomination for Sports Personality Of The Year (during easily the most competitive year ever for that particular accolade).
25. Peacock struts his stuff (2012)
It was the centre piece of the London 2012 Paralympics, the T44 100m race with the charismatic South African favourite. Only Oscar Pistorius didn’t win, an 18 year old teenage from Cambridge called Jonnie Peacock did. Peacock beat his hero (and the world record) in 10.90 seconds - coincidentally also enough time to go from an unknown athlete to a Great British hero.
Getty / Julian Finney
26. City win the league (2012)
2011–12 was the most exciting football season of the Premier League era, with the relegation battle and the title race both going down to the last day. In fact, make that the last second - Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero scored with the final kick at Queen’s Park Rangers meaning the team drew level on point with fierce rivals Manchester United, winning the trophy on goal difference.
The euphoria that gripped City - who hadn’t won the league since 1968 - was unforgettable, with goalkeeper Joe Hart running the length of the pitch to celebrate.
Getty / Shaun Botterill
For neutral observers - so accustomed over the years to seeing the red confetti of United flutter on the final day - City’s victory was a thrilling example of the unpredictability of the beautiful game.
Getty / Shaun Botterill
29. Murray gets his Grand Slam (2012)
After losing four Grand Slam finals in four years, Andy Murray was beginning to look destined to join Britain’s long, long list of almost-ran male tennis players. Then, in 2012, fresh on the back of winning an Olympic Gold medal, Murray finally did it. Beating Novak Djokovic in 5 sets at the US Open final, Murray’s reaction said it all: not so much triumph or joy, but shock and relief.
30. The return of Fabrice Muamba (2012)
The most affecting and unifying moment in English football over recent years came not in the form of a goal or a victory but a tragedy, when Bolton player Fabrice Muamba collapsed in the middle of a FA Cup fixture against Tottenham Hotspur. Aged just 23, the Zaire-born midfielder had suffered a cardiac arrest that would stop his heart for 78 minutes.
The game was cancelled as Muamba was rushed to hospital, and a ‘Pray For Muamba’ campaign soon spread through the game and beyond. Against all odds, Muamba made a full recovery, and walked back on the pitch at White Hart Lane 8 months later to thank fans. A standing ovation brought a tear to his eyes and football - however briefly - felt like a community united.
Getty / Richard Heathcote