Government discussed England missing World Cup after Hillsborough

England could have been withdrawn from the 1990 World Cup, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, goverment papers have revealed.

Ministers were concerned about the potential of hooliganism ahead of the tournament with former Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe writing to Margaret Thatcher to express concerns about potential violence.

“The World Cup in June next year provides a natural focus for hooligan activity. And every individual match carries the potential for confrontation,” he wrote.

“The committee also looked at the possibility of our seeking the abandonment of the England v Scotland match at Wembley next spring and the withdrawal of England from the World Cup. They felt it would be premature to reach a firm view on either.

“It appears that the Scottish Football Association privately favours cancelling the England v Scotland match, especially if both countries are in the World Cup. So this issue may resolve itself, to everyone’s satisfaction.

“Withdrawal from the World Cup is an altogether larger issue. If England withdrew, the likelihood is that the determined hooligans will make their way to Italy anyway and find a different cause to champion.”

Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary Bernard Ingham also write to the then Prime Minister asking for the cancellation of a friendly with Netherlands, which was subsequently called off.

“You will recall that after the European Championships you asked the FA to consider whether to go ahead with European friendly matches and they cancelled a fixture with Italy at Wembley,” he stated.

“However, they have inconceivably gone ahead with the Dutch fixture in the middle of December notwithstanding that Holland has probably the worst soccer hooligan problem in Europe after ourselves.

“The FA do seem to be behaving extraordinarily stupidly in organising a friendly with Holland at a time when, apart from anything else, they should, in their own interest, be cultivating their return to European football proper.”

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