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Six of the Best – Unused England players at the Euros

Euro 2020 has begun and all members of Gareth Southgates England squad will be hoping to get on the field during the tournament. But anyone who doesn’t will find themselves in good company in terms of England players to be named in a European Championship squad without ever playing a minute at the finals..

Jimmy Greaves (1968)

Most fans know that Jimmy Greaves suffered the heartache of missing out on playing in the 1966 World Cup final. Less familiar is his England story after that. Sir Alf Ramsey had now found an effective forward line that did not include Greaves, but the prolific marksman would not stray from the manager’s thoughts. Although closure may never have really been reached over his absence from English football’s greatest day, Greaves enjoyed some redemption in the spring of 1967. Not only did he win the FA Cup with Tottenham Hotspur, but he returned to the England side and scored twice in three appearances.

But soon he found himself back on the sidelines, a perennial squad member who wasn’t getting on the field. Greaves was named in England’s 22-man squad for the latter stages of the 1968 European Championship, beginning with a two-legged quarter-final tie against Spain. But it was around this time that matters came to a head, Greaves having grown weary of his continual non-selections and suggesting to Ramsey that he only call him up if he was going to play him.

Prolific in an England shirt for so long, Jimmy Greaves would sadly play just three more games for England after the 1966 World Cup.

However intended, it appears Ramsey construed Greaves’ comments as that of a player trying to dictate the terms of his involvement with the team and his international career effectively ended there and then. The record books list Greaves as a squad member for the finals, but he would be even more detached from proceedings than two years earlier. According to his biography Natural by David Tossell, Greaves was among the players not taken to Spain for the second leg and he then watched the side’s semi-final loss to Yugoslavia on television. It was an anti-climatic ending to a prolific England career.

Joe Corrigan (1980)

Rotation systems are a common sight nowadays, but Ron Greenwood seemed to be rather ahead of the game when managing England at the 1980 European Championship as he allowed almost all his squad time on the field in just three matches. One of the exceptions was Emlyn Hughes, who we have previously recalled suffering a similar fate at the 1970 World Cup. But he had at least played in the two-legged European Championship quarter-final against West Germany in 1972 (technically part of qualifying, but two rounds nearer the final than the current group stage).

That left Joe Corrigan. As will be a common theme today, it was a case of a good player being around at the wrong time in his position. Corrigan became an established squad member, but had two leading goalkeepers blocking his path.

Joe Corrigan had the misfortune to be the ‘third man’ in the Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton era.

Greenwood’s decision to rotate Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton not only failed to appease either man as they regularly sat our key internationals, but also effectively closed the door on any other goalkeeper looking to become England’s number one. Corrigan would become the best of the rest, the trusted third choice goalkeeper whose nine caps all came in friendlies or mini tournaments. Yet Big Joe’s presence in the squad should not be underestimated, given that he was being selected ahead of a multitude of potential challengers from the First Division.

The 1980 European Championship in Italy marked England’s return to major tournament football after a lengthy absence. Corrigan made it onto the plane but he was merely an onlooker amid Greenwood’s chopping and changing, with Clemence playing against Belgium and Spain and Shilton keeping goal against the hosts. Corrigan would again be cast in the role of backup goalkeeper at the 1982 World Cup, which marked the end of his international involvement.

Tony Dorigo (1988 and 1992)

One of the more eyebrow-raising England call-ups for a major tournament was Tony Dorigo at Euro ‘88. He was uncapped at senior level, he was born in Australia to an Italian father and was suffering relegation with Chelsea when he learnt he was going to the finals. Stuart Pearce was out injured and Bobby Robson opted to call up Dorigo as Kenny Sansom’s deputy for the left-back spot.

Dorigo would merely be there as cover, not even getting on the field during the dead rubber against the Soviet Union. Sansom never played again for England, but Dorigo would spend the next five years as a regular squad member who was unable to dislodge Pearce from the side. His only appearance at Italia ‘90 came in the third place play-off, but that was a game more than he enjoyed two years later at the European Championship in Sweden.

Tony Dorigo went to two European Championships but never played at either.

Had Dorigo played in virtually any other position then Euro ‘92 would surely have been his time, having developed in the four years since 1988 and played a prominent role as Leeds United won the First Division title in 1991-92. But Pearce remained an insurmountable obstacle for Dorigo, at a time when England were decimated in the other full-back spot. Both England assistant manager Lawrie McMenemy and broadcaster Mike Ingham critically suggest in their autobiographies that Dorigo spurned the opportunity to play at right-back during the tournament.

Dorigo may well have a different take on things, but he would be left on the bench as England crashed out in the group stage. He remained in Taylor’s plans and deputised for Pearce in the decisive World Cup qualifier away to the Netherlands in October 1993. That proved his final England cap, with Terry Venables never picking him as Dorigo was left to concede he would not get to play at a European Championship.

Les Ferdinand (1996)

It’s a measure of how good Les Ferdinand was that, amid a plethora of striking options to choose from, he made it into the England squad for Euro ‘96 and the 1998 World Cup. But it’s also indicative of the high standards of the time that he never got on the field at either tournament.

Les Ferdinand in action for England, something he sadly never got to do at a major tournament.

Unlike his cousin Rio, Les did at least make it into an England squad for the Euros when he earned his place on hone soil in 1996. Although not a regular under Venables, Ferdinand had earned his place after bagging 25 Premier League goals for Newcastle United during their title challenge. He also went into the finals in better goalscoring form for England than either Alan Shearer or Teddy Sheringham, who hadn’t scored at international level since September 1994 and November 1995 respectively. Ferdinand had netted England winners against Bulgaria and a Hong Kong Golden Select XI during the build-up.

Venables kept faith with his favoured Shearer and Sheringham pairing and it bore fruit during England’s run to the semi-final stage, with Ferdinand never even coming off the bench. He remained in the England squad under Glenn Hoddle and featured in four qualifiers en route to France ‘98, but come the finals he would again watch from the sidelines. His international career cruelly ended without him getting on the field at a major tournament.

Kevin Phillips (2000)

Imagine if this summer an English forward had just won the European Golden Shoe at club level but never got a touch of the ball at the Euros. That was Kevin Phillips’ world in 2000. He had scored 30 times for Sunderland in the Premier League – a phenomenal achievement considering he had never played top-flight football before – and few could argue against including a player in such goalscoring form in England’s Euro 2000 squad.

Kevin Phillips had to settle for just eight England caps.

Andrew Cole had missed out amid fitness concerns, but Phillips would still find it tough to break into the side. Where Ferdinand’s path had been blocked by Shearer and Sheringham, now Phillips had to contend with Shearer and Michael Owen being the established forward pairing. There were clear deficiencies in England’s Euro 2000 side under Kevin Keegan, but goalscoring wasn’t really one of them as the side netted five times in three games. Phillips would never be called upon.

Capped eight times by England, Phillips failed to find the net for his country as he joined a high number of forwards down the years unable to replicate their goalscoring exploits at club level on the international stage (it should be added that he was never given the opportunity to play a full 90 minutes for England). But winning the European Golden Shoe wasn’t a bad consolation.

Joe Cole (2004)

He made appearances at three different World Cups, yet Joe Cole never got to display his talent at the European Championship. Keegan considered him for his Euro 2000 squad, but decided it was a little too soon for the uncapped teenager. Cole missed out on Euro 2008 when England failed to qualify and he had left the international stage by Euro 2012.

Joe Cole got on the field for England at three World Cups – but never at the Euros.

That left Euro 2004. Cole had established himself with West Ham United and then Chelsea and repeatedly came off the bench during England’s warm-up games. Sadly this would not be the case come the finals, as he made the squad but never got on the field. In an echo of some of the situations mentioned previously, Cole had the misfortune to be around when competition for places in his position was at its most intense. Sven-Goran Eriksson was trying to accommodate David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes in the same midfield and that left little room for anyone else to get their chance.

The more defensively-minded Owen Hargreaves was repeatedly brought off the bench, but Eriksson never turned to Cole during the team’s four matches. He would at least be more appreciated at the World Cup two years later when he played in all five games following the international retirement of Scholes, but there would be no such opportunities coming his way at a Euros.

englandmemories View All

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

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