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What are the biggest TV audiences for England football matches?

The top 10 includes eight England defeats and only two wins.

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England’s David Beckham is given the red card by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen, after a foul on Argentina’s Diego Simeone during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

England’s David Beckham is given the red card by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen, after a foul on Argentina’s Diego Simeone during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

England’s David Beckham is given the red card by Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen, after a foul on Argentina’s Diego Simeone during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

England’s Euro 2020 quarter-final match with Ukraine on Saturday is likely to be seen on TV by millions of people – but what are the numbers it needs to beat to become one of the most-watched games of all time?

Here are the biggest UK TV audiences for England’s World Cup and Euro matches since comparable records began.

The figures have been compiled by the PA news agency from archive data published by the audience research organisation Barb, and are for the average audience across the whole coverage, not the peak number of viewers watching at any one point during the game.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

1. West Germany v England, 1990: 25.2 million

Not only is this the biggest ever TV audience for an England football 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).

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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

This was 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 another World Cup after losing a shoot-out 4-3.

3. Germany v England, 1996: 23.8 million

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t watch it on the BBC,” Des Lynam told viewers. “Frankly, I’d be disappointed.”

Some 17.5 million people heeded his words and tuned to BBC One to see England’s Euro ’96 semi-final against Germany, which ended in yet another penalty shoot-out and a 6-5 defeat for the Three Lions.

A further 6.3 million people ignored Lynam and watched the spectacle on ITV.

The precise total TV audience was 23.76 million, ranking it just behind the 23.78 million who saw Argentina v England in 1998.

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England captain Tony Adams clashes with Germany’s Andreas Moller during the Euro ’96 semi-final at Wembley (Sean Dempsey/PA)

England captain Tony Adams clashes with Germany’s Andreas Moller during the Euro ’96 semi-final at Wembley (Sean Dempsey/PA)

PA

England captain Tony Adams clashes with Germany’s Andreas Moller during the Euro ’96 semi-final at Wembley (Sean Dempsey/PA)

4. Argentina v England, 1986: 23.7 million

England’s quarter-final match with Argentina at the 1986 World Cup attracted 15.3 million viewers on BBC One and 8.4 million on ITV.

This was another ratings blockbuster that ended in defeat for England, with Argentina triumphing 2-1 thanks to goal-scorer Diego Maradona and a little help from “the hand of God”.

5. Cameroon v England, 1990: 23.6 million

Back to Italia ’90 for England’s World Cup 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.

6. Croatia v England, 2018: 20.7 million

This is the most recent match to make it into the top 10.

ITV had sole rights to England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final clash with Croatia, which ended 2-1 to Croatia after extra time.

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England manager Gareth Southgate and players applaud fans after losing against Croatia during the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Moscow (Owen Humphreys/PA)

England manager Gareth Southgate and players applaud fans after losing against Croatia during the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Moscow (Owen Humphreys/PA)

PA

England manager Gareth Southgate and players applaud fans after losing against Croatia during the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Moscow (Owen Humphreys/PA)

7. Portugal v England, 2004: 20.7 million

The BBC had sole rights to this Euro 2004 quarter-final, and to date it remains the channel’s single biggest audience for an England football match.

With the score level at 2-2 after extra time, the dreaded penalty kicks ended 6-5 to Portugal.

The precise audience was 20.66 million, placing it just behind the TV audience of 20.73 million for Croatia v England in 2018.

8. England v Italy, 2012: 20.3 million

Yet another game that saw England sent home from an international tournament thanks to a penalty shoot-out.

England’s Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy was goalless after extra time, but ended with the Italians winning the shoot-out 4-2.

The match was shown on BBC One.

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England’s Ashley Young is consoled by John Terry after England lose the penalty shoot-out against Italy at Euro 2012 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

England’s Ashley Young is consoled by John Terry after England lose the penalty shoot-out against Italy at Euro 2012 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

PA

England’s Ashley Young is consoled by John Terry after England lose the penalty shoot-out against Italy at Euro 2012 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

9. Romania v England, 1998: 19.5 million

This was England’s second group match of the 1998 World Cup, 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 on BBC One – but that had kicked off in the afternoon.

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David Beckham plays in the England v Romania match during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

David Beckham plays in the England v Romania match during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

PA

David Beckham plays in the England v Romania match during the 1998 World Cup (Adam Butler/PA)

10. 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, making it one of only two matches in the top 10 most-watched games that ended in a Three Lions win.

Note: No comparable ratings were compiled for UK television 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. The biggest average TV audience so far in Euro 2020 is provisionally 17.2 million, based on overnight ratings for England’s quarter-final match with Germany on June 29.


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