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Asian Classics: England’s Lineker recalls that night against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur


London: Ask Gary Lineker, or any of the England players for that matter, what they remember about the night on June 12, 1991 when England played Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and they will say one word: "Humidity".

Coming straight from the wind-blast of winter in Wellington (where it snowed the day later) into Kuala L was a shock for most players and the England captain Lineker - although more 'acclimatised' than most - was equally shocked.

"I got a few that night,” he remembers modestly of his four-goal haul, but it was the backstory to the game that was to play out for the next 12 months.

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What began as a seemingly low-key dispute between club and country ended with a moment that was to be an indelible mark on Graham Taylor's (pictured below) England management.

Lineker was the England captain at the time — having been appointed as successor to Bryan Robson in September 1990 — but he was also a star draw for the 1991 FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur, who had been invited to play a lucrative tournament — the Kirin Cup in Japan.

The Tottenham hierarchy, including manager Terry Venables, were insistent that Lineker made at least one appearance in the tournament and as the club reported: “The final in Tokyo ended in a disappointing 4-0 defeat to the Japan national team.

“As well as savouring the nation’s victory, the 45,000 crowd present got their first sight of England international Gary Lineker playing for us.”

But Taylor was unimpressed.

His mood was not improved by journalists complaining at the length of the end of tour press conference at the capital's Petaling Jaya Hilton was endangering their ability to make a flight to Bali.

Taylor felt there was a lack of respect for England and, pointedly, him as England manager. This tour, he claimed, was evidence.

In his book Taylor admits: “My thoughts on the trip as a whole were not positive. In hindsight I didn't feel the trip should have been given full international status.”

What was hidden from public view though was Taylor's displeasure at Lineker's trip to Japan, which was, Taylor assumed, more about securing a move to the new J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight the following season than fulfilling a commitment to Spurs.

Taylor accused Lineker of not respecting the captaincy.

Lineker was — and still is — understandably furious and it was seen as the start of a breakdown in the relationship which led to him being substituted in England's final match of the Euro 92 campaign (and the last of his 80 caps).

“I always respected the England captaincy, it is one of the great honours a player can receive, leading his country,” he recalls to the-AFC.com.

“I was in an impossible situation as both Tottenham and England both wanted me to play. I was caught in the middle.”

So while 'the few' that Lineker recalls getting that night in Kuala Lumpur — which equalled the four he scored in Madrid against Spain in February 1987 — included the first after 42 seconds thanks to a pass from Geoff Thomas.

His fifth international hat-trick came within the first 30 minutes. The fourth Lineker goal came after 70 minutes as England, the first senior European nation ever to play an international in Malaysia, won 4-2.

In the final moments, Lineker headed wide of an open goal to miss the chance of scoring five.

“Probably should have scored,” he remembered of a night where Malaysia had their moments of joy too as striker Matlan Marjan (pictured above) scored twice to send the fans - who had packed the historical Merdeka Stadium - into raptures.

Legendary commentator John Motson recalled: "If the World Cup is ever to come to Asia then there is a great passion and appetite for the game here. There is a real love for the England game and all the players, like Lineker, were household names."

It was something Taylor himself recognised but he still had his complaints: "The FA and England have to wave the flag and there are a lot of people very keen on English football but to make it a full tour put added pressure on England we didn't need. More thought has to be given to these tours”

The fall-out: Lineker was substituted in a 2-1 defeat against Sweden on June 17, 1992 in Stockholm. He didn't look at the bench when he left the field.

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