England’s Best XI

by Patrick Curry

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The easiest and quickest way to choose this team would be to go with the boys of ’66.  After all they are the only players to have represented England and won a major trophy.  They had a strong spine running through the team – Banks, Moore, Bobby Charlton and Hunt – and the right blend of flair and grit (the creativity and style of Peters and Ball ably backed up by the bark and bite of Jackie Charlton and Stiles).

However, to go with this option would be like picking a French all-time XI and including Stephane Guivarc’h whilst omitting Michel Platini.  Sure, Hurst hit that hat-trick at Wembley to seal his place in English footballing folklore but was he really a better centre forward than Gary Lineker?

A further hurdle posed with this kind of selection is that of the formation – pre-Ramsey coaches favoured the classic WM formation whereas Sir Alf won the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 with his famous wingless wonders.  To avoid too many disputes I’ve tried to keep to a classic English 4-4-2 system and played players in what would have been their natural positions according to this.  However, I haven’t gone with players I’ve only seen in my lifetime (as someone suggested I should) as that would be to omit the majority of England’s finest talent.   This selection has already caused major debate, some of it heated, so please feel free to pull me up on any of the choices below…

GK – Gordon Banks

From the World Cup winning team but better remembered for the save that Pele described as the greatest he’d ever seen, Gordon Banks was the best custodian England have had bar none.  Banks possessed a safe air of hands and an instinctive reading of a striker’s intentions, amassing 73 caps for England in an international career that spanned 9 years.  Amazingly he was moved on by Leicester City a year after the ’66 victory when a 17 year old Peter Shilton said he would not sign a professional contract unless he was guaranteed the spot of first choice ‘keeper.  Though Shilts went on to play for his country, Banks will be remembered as number one.

LB – Ray Wilson

England don’t seem to produce full backs these days.  In the early 60s it was different.  Ray Wilson came from an amateur football background but after signing professional forms with Huddersfield soon gained a reputation as a nippy left back with good overlapping skills.  After appearing in the ’62 World Cup he transferred to Everton in 1964 and was an ever present in Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winning team in ’66 as well as winning the F.A Cup with Everton that season.  Altogether he represented England 63 times and while he may have lacked Stuart Pearce’s chest thumping hardness, he was surely the better footballer.

CB – Bobby Moore

A classy ball playing centre-half Moore captained his country a record 90 times (a record shared with Billy Wright) and led England to its greatest triumph on home turf in 1966.  He was famed for his gentlemanly conduct both on and off the pitch and for his reading of the game.  He executed what many see as the perfect tackle on Jairzinho in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and amongst the numerous iconic images from the World Cup win, Moore hoisted aloft on the shoulders of his teammates is one that is most recognizable.

CB – Billy Wright

Wright could play either left wing-half or centre-half and was the first player in the world to reach 100 caps.  He holds the joint captaincy with Moore and played in 70 consecutive internationals between 1951 and 1959.  More solid and competitive than flashy he described his own style as follows; “I only had two things on my mind as a player: to win the ball and then to give the simplest pass I could to the nearest team-mate.”  The Times were a little more forthcoming when in 1959 they described Wright as ‘a national treasure’.

RB – Alf Ramsey

Prior to managing his country Ramsey represented England 32 times at right back, captaining the team 3 times and also scoring 3 times.  He possessed excellent positional sense and was a great reader of the game.  While lacking pace he was known for his distribution and his cool head which saw him become a specialist penalty taker, earning the nickname ‘The General’.

LM – Duncan Edwards

Duncan Edwards was a giant of a player.  He was terrorizing opposition players under the nickname Big Dunc long before Everton’s Ferguson brought his own unique brand of sportsmanship to the Premier League.  Edwards was roundly regarding as one of the greatest players to play the game before his career was tragically cut short at 21 years of age following the Munich air crash.  He was able to play all over the park but his imposing frame was best used as a marauding left half where his aerial ability and assuredness on the ball were instrumental in taking United to back to back titles in the 50s and helping England qualify for the 1958 World Cup.

CM – Bobby Charlton

England’s record goal scorer and an attacking midfielder with a vicious shot, Charlton is a must for any England XI.  An integral part of Ramsey’s team throughout the ’66 tournament he scored both goals in the semi-final victory over Portugal and went on to represent England alongside Moore, Charlton, Ball and Banks in Mexico in 1970.  He also won numerous titles with Manchester United including the 1968 European Cup  ten years after surviving the Munich air disaster.

CM – Bryan Robson

Bryan Robson’s international career spanned 11 years, 90 caps (65 times as captain), 26 goals and 4 tournaments.  He was seen by successive England managers as an integral part of the England team and was given the nickname Captain Marvel for his bravery and leadership while on England duty.  For 20 years he was in the record books for having scored the fastest World Cup Goal and while his managerial ‘achievements’ have seen his high standards slip somewhat he should surely be remembered as an excellent leader and captain and the ideal foil for Sir Bobby in an England all time XI.

RM – Stanley Matthews

The only player ever to have been knighted while still playing, Stanley Matthews has long been held as one of the greats of the English game.   His career stretched from a pre-war debut in 1934 through 23 years to 1957 where as a 42 year old he became the oldest player ever to represent England.  Known for his trickery on the wing Matthews scored 11 times for England in 54 games appearing in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups.

CF – Jimmy Greaves

Though his less than enthusiastic reaction from the bench following Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick goal in the ’66 final was well documented, it should be remembered that Greaves had a phenomenal goal scoring record for his country.  In 57 games he netted 44 times putting him 3rd in the all time scorer’s chart (behind Lineker and Charlton) and he scored more hat-tricks for his country than any other player (6).  Though his England career was pretty much over following the World Cup win his strike rate and nose for goal cement his place in my England Best XI.

CF – Gary Lineker

Before the Match of the Day perma tan and the smug Walkers crisps adverts Gary Winston Lineker was a terrific centre forward.  Famed for never being booked in his career he also had a deadly eye for goal in the box and scored 48 goals in 80 appearances.   In 1986 he became the only Englishman ever to win the Golden Shoe as top scorer at the Mexico World Cup and though his career came to an unsatisfactory end (he was infamously subbed by Graham Taylor for Alan Smith vs. Sweden in Euro ’92) he is one of the few modern day representatives to make many people’s England XI.  Currently he is engaged to lingerie model Danielle Bux.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Lineker & Robson, absolute legends! With those 2 players in the side you always knew they would save us (World Cup semi final 1-1, Poland 3-0 etc…, (Robson in Spain 82), we don’t seemed to have a player like that at present. Despite Dexy actually believing we will win the world cup I feel its not having one of these type of players will be the reason why we won’t go all the way.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Robson was class!

    For those of you to young to remember here’s proof!


    1982, what a World Cup

  • Dexylongshot

    I’m a bit of an obsessive when it comes to England and although I never saw many of the older players in the flesh, I’ve got a stack of DVDs and documentries on England since the first game against the Jocks. I’ve plenty of World Cup footage as well and one of my heroes was Garincha, the bandy Brazilian winger widely regarded as one of the best dribblers the world has ever seen. I’ve also got footage of a game he played against England when he came up against Ray Wilson. Ray didn’t give him an inch, tackle after tackle. I was lucky enough to have a word with great man last year and got him to sign a picture of him going in hard on the Brazilian. “he didn’t get a kick!” winked Wilson” A great man who usually shuns the limelight, he now works as a funeral Director! It’s a funny game. Greaves=Class

  • http://reassessthepress.wordpress.com Sam

    It may not be a warmly received suggestion but currently sitting at the top of the pile of all time out field appearences with 110 is that man Golden Balls.

    Becks may not have lifted an International trophy and may be flagging of late but he has countless times dragged this England generation through big games, shouldering the burden of a nation’s frustrations and always put his hand up to face the toughest challenges. Any Enland player would be hard pressed to match his delivery and set piece quality. Don’t know where he would squeeze into this 11 but his name must surely be put forward.

  • Patrick

    Yeah, Ray Wilson was top class. Like all the best full backs he was unfussy and got the job done. I do rate Ashley Cole as a very decent footballer (not a decent bloke mind) but Wilson pipped him pretty easily for me.

  • Finn

    It’s hard to know what to add to this – it seems pretty spot on. The only player I can think of would be Paul Scholes but as the managers during his time never built a side around him he never looked that good – surely if he hadn’t been shoved out to the left and instead played central as the hub of the team he could’ve achieved alot more?

  • Dexylongshot

    Totally agree with the Scholes comment, when you look back at the last 15 years, I can’t think of a better England player. Before him Gazze was superb for a couple of seasons but was never the same after the injury. ALf is an interesting choice, in most of the documentaries, it is usually George Cohen who time his run up to the 66 final perfectly when Jimmy Armfield was injured. As Patrick pointed out, another unfussy full back who got forward now and again too. That photo with him about to swap shirts with Argies and Sir Alf pulling him away, imagine the tabloids now if Fabio did that!

    PS: George’s Rugby World Cup winning nephew Ben Cohen follows the Den on twitter no less. Hope your enjoying the debate Ben and big wheel-up for smashing the Ozzies in 2003, i’ve never been so hammered at 10am in my life!


  • Alex

    I was fully prepared to shoot down your selections Mr. Curry but frankly it’s hard to find fault, the sad truth, however, is that this team is worryingly predictable both in terms of personnel and the manner in which they’d have played. If only Garrincha had been born in Birmingham!

  • Nev Napier

    The only wrongful omission is Andy ‘Scintillator’ Sinton.

  • Kenny Shankly-Paisley

    Pretty well argued team, can’t really fault it. As it’s entirely subjective however here’s my two penneth:

    (4-4-2; pretty much players I’ve seen, apart from Moore):

    1. Shilton
    2. Rob Jones (not a strong position for England traditionally so I’ve gone for unfulfilled potential)
    3. Pearce
    4. Adams
    5. Moore (C)
    6. Hoddle (sitting deep/holding to give Gazza licence to roam)
    7. Beckham
    8. Gascoigne
    9. Lineker
    10. Beardsley (other forwards have been more prolific but this was the best partnership)
    11. Waddle

  • Dexylongshot

    Nev, funny you should mention Andy Sinton, make sure you see the England blog on Friday!

    I think i would put a tackler in your midfield kenny, I can’t see Hoddle getting stuck in as much as Robson. If we’re talking about unfulfilled potential Gazza again. We should a top 11 of players who didn’t turn up for England duty, Barnes and Le Tiss would be shoe-ins.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Matt Le Tiss, greatest player never to play in a World Cup!

    Hoddle was my hero as a youth, and that’s coming from a gooner, he was shear class! That chip he scored at Watford, sublime!

  • Matt Quinn

    George Best?

  • Patrick

    Nev, admittedly it was tough omitting the Scintillator. He’s a class act and no mistake. If football were 12-a-side then trust me, he’d be the 12th name on that team sheet. He got it done for QPR and Spurs as well and he’s up there with Carlton Palmer when you talk about your England legends.

    As for Hoddle, poor manager, legendary player. I wanted to put him in but in terms of balance across the midfield and also what he actually did in an England shirt I couldn’t justify it.

  • Dexylongshot

    Are you lot buggin the Den??? First Sinton, then Palmer, you lot wait till the next England blog,
    one clue…..

  • Giuliano di Sagrata

    Damn! I guess the head must rule the heart, you reason well Patrick, but leaving out the Great Glenn really hurts. But And Sinton??? Please!!!

  • Patrick

    Giuliano, Sinton was nominated in jest. He’s more of a worst XI starting pick. Which might be a precursor to the next England blog. Am I right Dexy? If so I’m looking forward to it.

    And yeah, leaving Glenn out was very tough. Of the current squad I think maybe Rio or Gerrard would be the only two worth making a case for (in place of Wright and Robson).

  • Jude

    Congrats Patrick – not one ‘oh my God, you’re having a laugh arn’t you?’ choice.

    Everyone of them deserves a mention. I am with you 100% on the forwards, with only Newcastle’s favourite son (but for how much longer?) Alan Shearer, as a possible alternative.

    75% of your midfielders. I would actually have another Newcastle Leg-End, ‘King Kev’ Keegan playing just behind ‘BBC’ Lineker and ‘On The Ball’ Greaves and ahead of the holding player, Bryan Robson. I would have to reluctantly omit Duncan Edwards, who sadly didn’t reach his full potential due to the Munich tragedy. If he had, I believe he would be mentioned in the same breath now as Di Stefano, Pele and Maradona.

    I’m with you on the centre-backs, but your choice of keeper and full-backs would make my Second XI, but for my First…

    Peter Shilton in goal (Cloughie knew his worth), right-back, radio’s best footie pundit, Jimmy Armfield, and the stocky figure of Kenny Sansom at left-back.

    Shout-out also to Tom Finney. Johnny Haynes, and of course Gazza.

  • Dexylongshot

    Kenny Samsom used to live down the road to fellow blogger Jim Baker.
    Maybe we can arrange another interview!

  • Ash

    What’s all the this negativity towards Andy Sinton – QPR Legend! 🙂

    Oh and Matt Le Tiss – great player but horribly inconsistant.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Andy Simpleton turned down Arsenal for the Spuds because he wanted to win things!! Hilarious! What a muppet!!

  • Dan Church

    I used to see Kenny Sansom in the pub i worked in on Sunday lunchtimes, absolutely smashed, pint of white wine in one hand, propping himself up against the fruit machine and ploughing about £50 into it…..the following Saturday he would be on Sky having a chat with Martin Tyler on the Wembley pitch….

  • Nev Napier

    The cheap and easy way to get round whether Le Tiss, Shearer or even the Scintillator should be included is to add a bench, if it was a friendly fixture that could be anything up to 50 players couldn’t it?!

  • Patrick

    If there was a bench surely you’d have Alan Smith on there to come on and replace Barry Spineker. What about a manager? Second Choice Steve perhaps?

  • Nev Napier

    Even if a bench 500 was permitted by FIFA Alan Smith would still not make it into my squad!

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Which Alan Smith are we talking about? They were both world class!!

  • Patrick

    Old school Al. But to be fair he’d be nowhere near any squad of mine. Quite clearly we’re all missing a trick here – what about Tony Dorigo? How he’s not been mentioned is beyond me. The man is clearly top class. Particularly his hair. So bouffed, so fluffed, so wild, get him in there!!

  • Giuliano di Sagrata

    It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing. Maybe Golden Balls was unjustly overlooked.

  • Edwin

    Very good Patrick, think you’ve got it in one. As a mere novice, I would have given Shearer a place on the bench. Who would you get to manage that lot, there are some egos to address?

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