We continue our recollections of England at the European Championship by recalling six of the most notable players never to be in a Euros squad since first entering the competition in the 1960s…
It goes without saying that such great names such as Tom Finney, Stanley Mathews and Billy Wright never went to a European Championship, but their international careers ended before England first entered the qualifying process for the 1964 tournament. We will therefore focus on players from that point onwards who would miss out on going to the Euros.
The 1968 finals saw 10 of England’s revered World Cup winning XI named in the squad and make appearances. There would be one sad exception. George Cohen had made his England debut in May 1964 and could well have been picked by Alf Ramsey for that year’s European Nations’ Cup tournament had they qualified. But he would quickly cement his place at right-back, including playing throughout the glorious 1966 World Cup campaign.
But there would sadly not be a long career after this. He made his last England appearance in November 1967, with an injury sustained while playing for Fulham against Liverpool early the following month marking the beginning of the end for him. He would become plagued by cartilage trouble and, although he got back on the field with Fulham, he was forced to retire in March 1969.
“It is as shameful as it is sad that the career of a player who had a passion for physical fitness should come to such a premature end at 28,” wrote Eric Todd in The Guardian. By then England had become accustomed to Cohen’s absence, falling short in their bid to become European champions in 1968. They finished third, a placing which was anti-climatic after winning the World Cup but has never been surpassed since.
46 caps, 21 goals and no major tournaments. Mick Channon’s time playing for England in the 1970s would unfortunately coincide with the nation being in the international football wilderness, failing to get beyond the qualifying group stage for three successive competitions. They included the World Cups of 1974 and 1978, but he would also see an opportunity to grace the European Championship in 1976 slip through his grasp.
Channon had opened the scoring for England in the opening qualifier, a 3-0 win at home to Czechoslovakia in October 1974. A year later he did likewise in the return game in Bratislava, but this time the Czechs recovered to win 2-1. It turned the tide against Don Revie’s England and a 1-1 draw away to Portugal in the final qualifying game proved insufficient to take them through to the last eight. Edging them out were Czechoslovakia, who went on to win the competition. Channon had to be content with winning the FA Cup with Southampton, as he once more missed out on a major international tournament.
When Peter Barnes put England 3-0 up away to Bulgaria in June 1979, the nation at last started to believe the long exile from major tournaments was over. Barnes could certainly feel confident of going to the European Championship the following year, with Ron Greenwood having recognised the value of naming wingers from the start of his reign and regularly selected him. His worth was also about to be recognised by West Bromwich Albion, breaking their transfer record to sign him from Manchester City to replace another England contender – the gifted Laurie Cunningham.
Barnes appeared in the first five of the eight qualifiers England side played as they comfortably made it through to Italy, but he would not be one of Ron’s 22. His only appearance in the eight months leading up to the finals was in a humiliating 4-1 defeat by Wales, which is unlikely to have helped his cause. Having regularly accommodated two natural wingers in the side previously, now Greenwood would not even be able find space for that many in the squad. Only Steve Coppell was selected, with both Barnes and Cunningham left at home.
With 22 caps to his name Barnes may not seem as notable an absentee as some of the others featured today, but his non-selection was significant in the context of his earlier prominence under Greenwood. Further salt would be rubbed in his wounds when he failed to make the cut for the 1982 World Cup squad, never gracing a major tournament:
He was capped 77 times by England, deputised for Bryan Robson as captain and featured prominently at three World Cups. Yet Terry Butcher would never go to a European Championship. Circumstances would continually work against him.
The 1980 finals came a little too soon, having earned his first cap just days beforehand for a glorified B team away to Australia. By the 1984 tournament he was an established England defender, but the team lost out to Denmark during qualifying and didn’t make it. Four years later England did get there, but Butcher didn’t. A broken leg sustained while playing for Rangers in November 1987 ruled him out for the rest of the season and the Euros, with his value to the England side evident by them conceding seven goals in three games in his absence.
“We were always going to miss Butcher,” lamented Bobby Robson. “You can’t replace him, you can only fill in.” Butcher duly returned and helped England reached the last four of the 1990 World Cup, before retiring from international football. It meant he was out of the picture for Euro ‘92 and would never go to a European Championship.
When memories of playing for England crop up with TV mates Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer, Ian Wright can be excused for feeling a little uncomfortable. Lineker and Shearer each went to four major tournaments, both finishing top scorer at one of them. Yet Wright never got to go to any, despite being similarly potent at club level. A failure to qualify and injury cost him a place at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups respectively, but his absence from two Euros squads would arguably be even harder to stomach.
By 1992 Wright had proven himself as a top-flight goalscorer with Crystal Palace and Arsenal, while he had broken into the England ranks a year earlier. But he would never start an international for England during the 1991-92 season, believing a comment he made that Graham Taylor overheard while sat on the bench away to Malaysia in June 1991 counted against him. Even so, Wright felt confident of going to Euro ‘92 after a strong first season with Arsenal. “I won the Golden Boot and at no stage did I think I wouldn’t be going to the tournament,” he wrote in his autobiography. Yet Taylor would have other ideas and opted not to take him to Sweden, with a devastated Wright responding with an expletive-laden rant.
He would get back into the team under Taylor, but successor Terry Venables did not pick him again after October 1994 amid a plethora of other attacking options to consider. Wright would miss on being involved in Euro ‘96 on home soil and was left to wonder what might have been. “I honestly believe it was my destiny to score that goal,” he wrote of the tantalising chance that fell Paul Gascoigne’s way against Germany. Some consolation would be gained when he was recalled by new boss Glenn Hoddle, helping the team win Le Tournoi and qualify for the 1998 World Cup before fate again intervened.
Perhaps the most surprising name of all featured today is Rio Ferdinand. He went to three World Cups with England and only a late injury stopped him going to another. It’s also quite feasible he could have been in the squad for four European Championships, but varying circumstances meant he was never involved. The closest he would ever come was being invited to train with the squad during Euro ‘96 as a 17-year-old (along with fellow novice Frank Lampard).
Glenn Hoddle certainly anticipated Ferdinand featuring prominently come Euro 2000, having included him in the 1998 World Cup squad in preparation for him thriving as sweeper two years later. “I had fantastic plans for Rio Ferdinand,” said Hoddle subsequently. But those plans would never materialise, with Hoddle’s successor Kevin Keegan happy to revert to a more traditionally ‘English’ defensive shape. Ferdinand was not only not in the side, but not even in the squad for the Euros
But age was still on his side and, after establishing himself in the defence and earning praise during the 2002 World Cup, the stage seemed set for him to impress at Euro 2004. Then came the fateful day in September 2003 when he missed a drugs test. Ferdinand’s ban would last until after Euro 2004 ended. Inspired by Wayne Rooney, England had no problems finding the net but they conceded six times in four games without Ferdinand in defence.
Ferdinand’s absence would again be felt in November 2007, when he was suspended for the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia as the makeshift defence endured a tortuous night in the Wembley rain. England’s defeat meant they missed out on the Euros, with Ferdinand having to console himself with Premier League and Champions League winners’ medals ahead of a blank summer.
Ferdinand missed the 2010 World Cup after sustaining an injury in training shortly before the finals and he played just three games for England after this. But he still harboured aspirations of making the Euro 2012 squad, only to be overlooked by new manager Roy Hodgson. Many would speculate that he was uneasy about Ferdinand and John Terry being in the same squad (at the time Terry stood accused of racially abusing Rio’s brother, Anton), but Hodgson insisted this was not the reason. Whatever the reality, it marked an anti-climatic ending to Ferdinand’s 81-cap England career and ensured he would never go to a European Championship.
Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.