Biggest TV audiences for England World Cup matches revealed

England’s footballers may have a patchy record of performance at the World Cup, but when it comes to pulling in TV audiences back home, the team has enjoyed remarkably consistent success.

Tens of millions of people have tuned in over the years to watch England try, fail and sometimes succeed at making progress through the tournament.

Some of the biggest audiences in television history have been for England World Cup games – but just how big were they?

The FP has compiled a list of the top 10 most-watched matches since current records began.

They come from just four tournaments: 1990, 1998, 2006 and 2010. England’s highest-placed game from the 2014 World Cup ranks at number 17 in the chart.

(PA Graphics)

1. West Germany v England, 1990: 25.2 million

Not only is this the biggest ever audience for a World Cup match, it’s also one of the most-watched live events in UK history.

England’s semi-final with West Germany was shown by both the BBC and ITV, the BBC beating its rival by two to one (16.7 million watched BBC One, 8.5 million ITV).

When the match went to penalties, half the nation was in front of a television to see England lose the shoot-out 4-3.

Among those unable to watch the game were prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs, who were allowed to listen on radios in their cells, and the Prince and Princess of Wales, who were hosting a concert at Buckingham Palace. Diana reportedly announced the result to guests, concluding: “I’m reliably informed that Pearce and Waddle missed.”

2. Argentina v England, 1998: 23.8 million

Another crucial match settled by penalty kicks.

England’s Round of 16 clash with Argentina gave ITV its largest ever audience for live sport, as once again millions watched England go out of a World Cup after losing a shoot-out 4-3.

David Beckham (left) is given the red card by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen, after a foul on Argentina’s Diego Simeone during their France ’98 World Cup match (Image: PA)
David Beckham (left) is given the red card by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen, after a foul on Argentina’s Diego Simeone during their France ’98 World Cup match (PA)

3. Cameroon v England, 1990: 23.6 million

Back to Italia ’90 for England’s quarter-final match with Cameroon, which England won 3-2 after extra time.

The game was shown by both the BBC and ITV, with 15.7 million watching BBC One and 7.9 million choosing ITV.

England’s Paul Gascoigne (right) hugs manager Bobby Robson (left) after England beat Cameroon to reach the 1990 World Cup semi-finals (Image: PA)
England’s Paul Gascoigne (right) hugs manager Bobby Robson (left) after England beat Cameroon to reach the 1990 World Cup semi-finals (PA)

4. Romania v England, 1998: 19.5 million

This was England’s second group match of the 1998 tournament, and ended in a 2-1 defeat.

The evening kick-off helped ITV pull in a massive audience.

A few days earlier, England’s first group match against Tunisia had attracted only 11.4 million – but that had kicked off in the afternoon.

Michael Owen during England's World Cup 1998 match against Romania (Image: PA)
Michael Owen in action during England’s World Cup 1998 match against Romania (PA)

5. England v Belgium, 1990: 19.3 million

England’s Round of 16 match at Italia ’90 was shown by both BBC One and ITV, who got audiences of 13.3 million and 6.0 million respectively.

England clinched a 1-0 victory after extra time.

England celebrate David Platt’s goal near the end of extra time during their match with Belgium at the 1990 World Cup (Image: PA)
England celebrate David Platt’s goal near the end of extra time during their match with Belgium at the 1990 World Cup (PA)

Here is the rest of the top 10:

6. Italy v England, 1990: 19.2 million (12.5 million BBC One, 6.7 million ITV)
7. Colombia v England, 1998: 19.1 million (BBC One)
8. Sweden v England, 2006: 18.5 million (ITV)
9. Germany v England, 2010: 17.5 million (BBC One)
10. England v Ecuador, 2006: 16.3 million (BBC One)

Note: all figures are from Barb. No comparable ratings were compiled for UK TV channels before 1981. Any viewing figures quoted for matches taking place before this date, such as the 1966 World Cup final, are not reliable and should be treated with caution.

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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