Following the first part of our tribute to former England players who have passed away in 2018, we today remember more of those we’ve sadly lost this year…
This week marks the 40th anniversary of one of the seminal events in the development of black players in English football. West Bromwich Albion, featuring the black trio of Brendon Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, turned it on as they won 5-3 at Manchester United in front of the TV cameras. “What a goal,” cried Granada commentator Gerald Sinstadt as Regis produced a fine finish to complete a flowing move that capped the victory. It was a day to remember.
Regis, who had been playing non-league football with Hayes just a couple of years earlier, was starting to establish himself at the top level and England under-21s and B caps would come his way. In February 1982 he graduated to the senior ranks when he made his debut for Ron Greenwood’s side as a substitute against Northern Ireland. Just days earlier he had scored the BBC’s Goal of the Season for West Bromwich Albion against Norwich City, with a terrific effort that underlined his wonderful mix of grace and power.
But, as many black players of the era would affirm, moments of joy could usually be tempered by the words and actions of the racists. Sinstadt had noted in his commentary on that West Brom win over Manchester United that the black players were being booed and Regis would receive a bullet through the post after he was first called up to the England squad. It was a sad indictment of the racism problem at the time – one that has thankfully improved over the ensuing decades, but recent events have sadly reminded us it has not totally been eradicated.
Regis refused to be intimidated and got on with the job in hand, as he looked to earn a place in the 1982 World Cup squad. Prior to the finals he earned three caps, but an injury sustained against Iceland shortly before Ron’s 22 was to be announced ended his hopes of being in the squad for Spain. Sadly his England career stalled after this, disappearing from the international scene for five years after featuring against West Germany in October 1982.
But 1987 was to mark a renaissance in his career. He was prominent in Coventry City’s FA Cup success, playing in the captivating final win over Tottenham Hotspur. And in October Bobby Robson brought him back into the England fold, with Regis featuring in the closing stages of the 8-0 home win over Turkey. It was to be his fifth and final cap, having never completed 90 minutes in the process.
It was a tally of caps lower in number than Regis deserved, but it did not detract from an impressive career. He was to be a role model for younger black footballers and was well-respected throughout the game. He was later reunited with his former West Brom manager Ron Atkinson at Aston Villa at the dawn of the Premier League, before working his way down the divisions until he finally called it a day at 38. The widespread respect he was afforded from spectators in the later years of his career was in stark contrast to some of the barracking he had endured in his early days.
Regis, who had been born in the French Guyana in 1958, died suddenly in January with his 60th birthday approaching. The tributes poured in from throughout the game to a man whose contributions were pivotal in ensuring future generations of black players could make it in English football – and who was an excellent player in his own right.
Although he was never capped by England at senior level, we believe Jlloyd Samuel warrants an honorary mention here. Samuel, who tragically died in a car crash in May at the age of 37, gained seven caps for England under-21s and also represented the side at U20 and U18 level. He would be called into the full squad in 2004 without making an appearance, so could not have come much closer to a senior England cap.
The former Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers player had been born in Trinidad and he would start to consider an international career with Trinidad and Tobago as it became more apparent he was unlikely to earn a full England cap. He was unable to gain the green light to represent them in the 2006 World Cup but later earned two caps for them. Samuel could finally say he had played in a full international after several years of coming close.
The absence of Jimmy Armfield from England’s friendly away to Czechoslovakia in 1963 created two openings. It allowed Bobby Moore to captain England for the first time and led to Chelsea defender Ken Shellito making his international debut at right-back. Moore would go on to skipper England to World Cup glory three years later, but for Shellito it was all over by then. He never earned another cap after that outing in Czechoslovakia and injury woes led to him making his final league appearance in 1965, at the age of just 25.
It’s a prime case of what might have been. Shellito would almost certainly have been capped again but for his injury nightmare and might even have played in the 1966 World Cup. Instead, he was left to reflect on a career that ended prematurely.
Shellito had helped Chelsea win promotion shortly before his first England cap and he would remain at Stamford Bridge as a coach after accepting defeat in his bid to overcome his injury woe. He would later manage Chelsea and Cambridge United and then take charge of clubs in Malaysia, where he died in October at the age of 78.
As this blog post was being completed on New Year’s Eve we were sorry to learn of the death of Peter Thompson, who was capped 16 times by England from 1964 to 1970 while with Liverpool. The winger would have the misfortune to be axed from both the 1966 and 1970 England World Cup squads after making the 28-man shortlist, and he would also be among the 40 contenders for a place in the 1962 squad without going to Chile. He did though enjoy a regular spell in the side after making his debut against Portugal in 1964, although England appearances became sporadic from 1965 to 1970.
Thompson, who has died at the age of 76, made more than 400 league appearances for Liverpool and also played for Preston North End and Bolton Wanderers. He would win major honours at club level while with the Reds and would rate among the players most unlucky never to go to a World Cup, given how close he came on two occasions.
The England career of Ray Wilkins would tend to be remembered for two incidents. The first was his superb chip to score against Belgium at the 1980 European Championship; the other would be his shock dismissal against Morocco in the 1986 World Cup. But these two moments formed only a mere snapshot of his England years, in which Don Revie, Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson each trusted him sufficiently to grant him a total of 84 caps.
Wilkins had a reputation as a thinking midfielder, who had some detractors in his homeland who would label him ‘The Crab’ and accuse him of continually wanting to pass the ball sideways. But others would appreciate what he offered, including Chelsea who handed him the club captaincy when aged just 18 and Manchester United, who forked out £825,000 – a lot of money at the time – to sign him in 1979. His qualities were confirmed by AC Milan snapping him up for £1.5 million in 1984, as he adapted well to Serie A.
And recognition from the England team would come quickly. He was still only 19 when handed his first cap against Italy in the USA in 1976 and he remained a mainstay of the squad for the next decade. He was far from a prolific goalscorer – managing just three for England – but he had a knack of scoring great goals, epitomised by his first game at a major tournament against Belgium in the 1980 European Championship. He produced an exquisite chip to score a goal still fondly remembered almost four decades later, although England would crash out in the group stage.
Two years later Wilkins would play in all five of England’s games at the World Cup in Spain, as he and Bryan Robson began to forge a midfield partnership for both club and country. They were now the main contenders to captain England under new manager Bobby Robson and Wilkins would get the nod to skipper the side against Denmark in September 1982. But Bryan Robson would ultimately captain the side against Greece two months later in the absence of Wilkins and he would keep hold of the armband, as Wilkins had to contend with the role of vice-captain.
But this role often saw him deputise for Robson as skipper and the manager would value the views of Wilkins. This was going to be particularly true at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where the state of the captain’s shoulder was a major concern. It duly gave way in the second game against Morocco and Wilkins was handed the armband. But within minutes there would be despair. The way Wilkins threw the ball back to the referee would be interpreted as dissent and he was dismissed for a second caution.
It was a shock for any England player to receive a red card like this, but especially such a seasoned and respected player as Wilkins. “How could I be so bloody stupid?” he would be overheard rhetorically asking afterwards as he tried to come to terms with his actions. He would pay the price for them, beginning with serving a suspension.
And his England career was effectively derailed by that incident in Monterrey. The side found a winning formula in his absence against Poland and Paraguay and he could not get back in the side against Argentina despite being available again. Bobby Robson’s eyes had been opened to new midfield options and, although Wilkins figured in two games after the World Cup, he was never capped again after November 1986.
But he continued to make an impact at club level. After arriving back in the UK from Paris St Germain, he would enjoy an Indian summer to his career with Rangers – where he enjoyed league title glory – and then QPR. His displays with the latter even led to strong speculation that he would earn an England recall with Italia ’90 beckoning.
Although it didn’t come to anything, Robson would reveal in his 1990 autobiography that he had seriously considered bringing Wilkins back into the fold. The midfield veteran was continuing to impress and he would still be making league appearances after he had turned 40 – his experience and decency appreciated by various managers. He himself would move into management with spells in charge of QPR, Fulham and the Jordan national team.
However, his most prominent coaching roles would be as a trusted assistant manager at several clubs, including Chelsea where he would also take temporary charge. From 2004 to 2007 he returned to the England set-up when he was assistant boss of the under-21s. Although he endured health problems in the closing years of his life, Wilkins remained in demand as a media pundit. His death at the age of 61 in April led to respects rightly being paid by many for a player who enjoyed a lengthy career and made it both at home and abroad.
Of all the players to have won the World Cup, it’s doubtful any have been as down to earth as Ray Wilson. As a player at club level he would think nothing of getting on the same bus as fans to get to home games; away from football he was happy to enjoy the quiet life, walking his dog around his beloved Yorkshire; and after hanging up his boots he would attract intrigue by working as an undertaker. But this was a man who enjoyed his moments of high-profile joy, completing the Wembley double in 1966 by winning the FA Cup and World Cup at the same stadium.
When he took his place on the field Wilson would show why he was so highly regarded. He’d been converted from an attacker to a defender and was considered one of the world’s best left-backs, boasting the pace to dispossess opponents and the ability to read the game. Alf Ramsey would appreciate what Wilson brought to the table, with the defender one of just three England players to appear in the 1962 World Cup who went on to play in the 1966 final. A new side had been moulded after Ramsey took over in 1963, but Wilson remained the trusted left-back.
He and fellow full-back George Cohen were valued individuals who seldom featured in the limelight, but their contribution to the success was no less significant. Wilson would also enjoy a strong friendship with fellow quiet man Bobby Charlton, with the pair regularly being room-mates. Their lives may have been very different in terms of post-football careers, but they had a close bond and were regular England colleagues.
Wilson broke into the England side away to Scotland in 1960 while with Huddersfield Town, beginning to establish himself during the Walter Winterbottom era and playing in all four of England’s games at the 1962 World Cup. He remained the chosen left-back in the ensuing four years, preserving his place amid the side evolving personnel-wise. Now with Everton, he visited Wembley in May 1966 in the FA Cup final as the Toffees recovered from 2-0 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday. It was the start of a momentous few weeks for Wilson at the stadium.
Wilson played all six games during England’s World Cup on home soil, helping them keep four consecutive clean sheets in the process. Although he would take some of the blame for West Germany’s opening goal of the final after his header was seized upon by Helmut Haller, Wilson made amends by playing his part in England’s victory. He could forever feel pride over having played for England in a World Cup triumph.
Wilson was the oldest member of England’s revered 1966 World Cup XI, but he continued to play for the side over the next two years. Amid injuries and age starting to take their toll, his 63rd and final cap would come in the third place play-off at the 1968 European Championship against USSR. A year later he left Everton for Oldham Athletic and he would go on to move to Bradford City, where he had a spell as caretaker manager.
But a life outside football was beckoning, as Wilson began a new career as an undertaker. He would finally receive an MBE in 2000 and was later inducted into the English football hall of fame. Sadly, the final years of his life saw Wilson suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. His death in May at the age of 83 marked the third fatality from England’s World Cup winning XI.
Wilson may have had a lower profile than most of his 1966 colleagues, but he commanded the same level of respect for his efforts and ability. He was considered a fine defender and a key part of that great England side.
We salute all the former England players we have lost this year and fondly remember their efforts. RIP
Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.