England will play their 1000th international game on Thursday night when they take on Montenegro at Wembley in a Euro 2020 qualifier which could see them reach next year’s finals.
We have seen 219 players appear at major tournaments wearing the Three Lions over the years, with 1244 having played for the country in total, but who have been the best in each position? The Sportsman casts an eye over some of the greats of England national team history.
England have seen almost everything from their number ones over the course of history, but three names stand out from the crowd.
England’s most capped player, Peter Shilton, is definitely one of them. Making 125 caps for your country is simply phenomenal, with his national career spanning 20 years and three World Cups. Diego Maradona might have out-jumped him in 1986, but he was still first choice four years later when the Three Lions made their first semi-final on foreign soil.
David Seaman is also in contention, having provided a safe pair of hands as England’s number one for almost 10 years, including at Euro 1996. He saved penalties from Miguel Angel Nadal in 1996 and Hernan Crespo in 1998, and the standard he set has arguably not been met since his exit from the national stage in 2002.
In terms of quality, England have had one goalkeeper who was a cut above the rest. Shilton may have won the most caps but it didn’t get any better between the sticks than J̶o̶e̶ ̶H̶a̶r̶t̶ Gordon Banks. ‘Safe as the Banks of England’ the nation used to cry as he won the World Cup in 1966 and then made one of the greatest saves of all time from Pele four years later.
Named as the second-best goalkeeper of the 20th century after Lev Yashin, and with 73 England caps to his name, we were lucky to have footballing royalty represent our country. Simply, he was the best custodian England have ever had.
England have boasted many remarkable defenders over the past 147 years, some of whom have produced incredibly iconic images. Who could forget Stuart Pearce’s scream or Terry Butcher’s bloodied headband?
The latter makes our shortlist as the embodiment of the English centre-half. Rugged, no-nonsense and passionate, he played for his country at three World Cups, including Italia ‘90. Tony Adams was another irrepressible centre-back who gave his all and captained the side at Euro ‘96.
Billy Wright must be considered for his incredible consistency which made him the first player in football history to reach 100 international caps. He also captained England a record 90 times.
But, despite all the incredible contenders, there can only be one winner. Bobby Moore remains England’s only World Cup-winning captain.
With 108 caps to his name in an international career that spanned 11 years, Moore was a Rolls-Royce of a defender, a calm head with an incredible range of passing, and always, but always, made defending look effortless.
Bryan Robson was an inspiration in an England shirt, making 90 appearances for his country and leading them out as captain on 65 occasions. Johnny Haynes ran the show 20 years earlier, with Pele calling him “the best passer of the ball I’ve ever seen”.
Paul Ince broke barriers as England’s first black captain while David Beckham went from football’s villain to saviour over the course of a few short years. John Barnes was remarkably talented and Paul Gascoigne captured the hearts of a nation with his skills and his tears.
Sir Tom Finney was England’s record goal-getter during the 1950s, while Sir Stanley Matthews bagged 30 goals in 76 appearances. The ‘Wizard of Dribble’ gained praise from around the world and was one of few players during that time to abstain from smoking and drinking in order to improve his performance.
Sir Bobby Charlton comes out on top in this category, though. With 108 caps, 49 goals and a World Cup win, Charlton is one of the all-time greats of football history. Named in four World Cup squads and a scorer of vital goals in crucial games, he is surely the greatest English midfielder of all time.
The guys who put the ball in the net. This is where it really matters, and England have had some top-class strikers over the past century.
Stan Mortenson holds an incredible scoring rate, having notched 23 goals in 25 games, while Nat Lofthouse managed a staggering 30 strikes in 33 appearances.
Geoff Hurst is still the only man to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, while Wayne Rooney’s 53 goals make him England’s all-time greatest goalscorer. Alan Shearer is the Premier League’s greatest-ever striker and had some phenomenal moments for England at Euro ‘96, while current skipper Harry Kane's World Cup Golden Boot has thrown him into the mix.
But two stand out above the rest. This one is so close to call, but in second place is Jimmy Greaves. He scored 44 goals in 57 games and also contributed to England’s World Cup win in 1966, playing in all three group games before an injury allowed Geoff Hurst to claim his own date with destiny.
But our pick at England’s greatest striker is Gary Lineker, one of only two England players to have won the World Cup Golden Boot. He notched 10 goals across two World Cups, including one in the 1990 semi-final against West Germany.
Now known more for presenting in his pants, back in the day Lineker was one hell of a forward and produced some of his best stuff when donning the Three Lions on his chest. He was never booked during his career and his 48 England goals mark him out as probably the most clinical, consistent and dependable of strikers ever to play for the country.