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One Cap Wonders – Steve Perryman

Although regarded as a household name in English football at the time, Steve Perryman was 30 when he earned his one and only England cap during this month in 1982. Sadly for him, few would remember his solitary England outing for 20 minutes in Iceland.

Perryman was a true stalwart at Tottenham Hotspur, making a club record 866 first-team appearances between 1969 and 1986. His years at White Hart Lane included lifting the FA Cup for Spurs in 1981 and again 12 months later, part of a climax to the 1981-82 season that brought a hat-trick of personal successes. Perryman was also named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and he finally earned his chance to represent England at senior level.

To B or not to B…

The Spurs stalwart had previously been a regular at under-23s level but was uncapped by the seniors when he was named on Ron Greenwood’s 40-man shortlist for the 1982 World Cup squad, with slim hopes of realistically making it. But he was named in the England party for a friendly in Iceland on June 2, two days before the final 22-man squad for the finals in Spain was confirmed. The trip to Reykjavik was a bit of a strange one, as it was effectively an England ‘B’ team picked. Greenwood was making noises to the contrary and pushing for full caps to be awarded, but it was hard to ignore that the team he would be fielding in Finland the following day looked extremely like the one he would want to start the World Cup finals with (it effectively was, although injuries to Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan meant the manager had to reshuffle his pack a bit).

With Greenwood in Helsinki, Bobby Robson and Dave Sexton looked after a makeshift side in which Glenn Hoddle was the standout figure. His Spurs colleague Perryman was on the bench and with 20 minutes left he entered the fray when he replaced Alan Devonshire. Fellow debutant Paul Goddard scored for England in a 1-1 draw in cold conditions, in a match that went untelvised in the UK and received minimal publicity.

It perhaps came as little surprise that Perryman was not named in the World Cup squad and neither were some other players to feature including Dave Watson, whose long-service to his country ended rather anti-climatically in Reykjavik. But some consolation for Perryman came with the confirmation full caps were being awarded for the Iceland fixture. 

Iceland Revisited

Perryman never featured again after Robson replaced Greenwood after the World Cup, but three years later the Iceland match would rather controversially be revisited when the player published his autobiography. In his own World Cup Diary published the following year, Robson recalled what he saw serialised in the Sunday People. “I’ve played only once for an England team under Bobby Robson and I was horrified by what I saw and heard,” said Perryman. “Everything about it was so amateurish I could not believe that was how England did things.”

Robson retorted: “Ron Greenwood picked the squad and the team and I just met them at the airport on the way out to Iceland. One of my instructions from Ron was to bring Perryman on for a cap in the second half because he had been such a good honest professional for many years without being quite talented enough to make the international grade. Perryman’s response was to say that playing for England was a laugh and, on the strength of those few minutes in Iceland for a ‘B’ team, he had learned enough to state ‘it seems to me that since Sir Alf Ramsey was in charge there has been a lack of organisation and direction’.”

It was an unfortunate difference of opinion, coming at a time when Robson was feeling pretty sensitive to media criticism amid a tabloid circulation war. But perhaps the one nice touch from it all is that – if Robson’s account is accurate – Greenwood appears to have genuinely wanted Perryman to have an England cap to his name, so he would not remain one of the ‘great uncapped’ like players such as Billy Bonds, Howard Kendall and, later, Steve Bruce. 

But Perryman clearly believed he warranted more caps on merit and saw Robson as a barrier to his remaining international ambitions. On his official website, Perryman states: “The time when I felt I should really have got my foot in the door was after the 1982 World Cup. But for a couple of little reasons, rather than anything major, I ended up being the only person who didn’t see eye-to-eye with Bobby Robson and it just didn’t happen.”

Perryman later went into management himself, making an impression with a good run to the FA Cup quarter-finals with Brentford before a spell at Watford and success in Japan. He has gone on to enjoy a long stint as director of football with Exeter City, where mercifully he survived after requiring heart surgery 30 years on from his solitary England cap. An appearance for his country was certainly merited by a man who has served football in different capacities for almost five decades and is fondly remembered by Spurs fans – most of whom will believe he deserved more than 20 minutes in the world of senior international football.

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Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.

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