Here they are in all their ‘glory’- that rare breed of English footballer good enough to get a call up but weren’t given a second chance. And what a mixed bag of stories these 23 player provide…
1. Nigel Spink (1983)
Picture the seen it’s the 1982 European Cup Final and Aston Villa ‘keeper John Rimmer (himself a One cap wonder) goes down injured and in steps young understudy Nigel Spink to face mighty Bayern Munich. Spink was outstanding and left Rotterdam carrying club footballs biggest prize. He went on to make 460 starts for Villa but despite more than a decade in goal for a top 6 side Bobby Robson only picked him once, England’s other European Cup Winner Peter Shilton was undisputed number 1 throughout the Robson years and Sir Bobby preferred Gary Bailey and later Chris Woods as back up. Still Spink remains a cult hero in Birmingham and 35 year on remains the last English ‘keeper to play in a European Cup Final.
2. Jon Flanagan (2014)
Most One Cap Wonders were simply not good enough to get a game with England, Flanagan bucked that trend; by having his career decimated by injury. Flanagan shot to prominence in Brendan Rodgers’ title chasing Liverpool side of 2013-14. His attacking flare won him comparisons with Brazil legend Cafu from Brazil legend Cafu! Roy Hodgson gave him a taster of international football just before that summer’s World Cup. Sadly 2 years of injury followed and Flanagan has struggled to get his career back on track since playing only 11 more Premier League games, such a pity.
3. Michael Ball (2001)
No not the one who sang ‘Love Changes Everything,’ the one who wrote the homophobic tweets and got sacked by Leicester City. After Greame Le Saux succumbed to injury England were so desperate for a left-back virtually anyone who could control the ball with their left foot got a chance. Ball then with Everton could do that and got the call, despite playing in an Everton so awful I remember hearing manager Walter Smith shout ‘Useless B£@tards!’ from his dugout in the general direction of his players. Ball played 45 minutes of Sven’s first England game and did little of note- thankfully Ashley Cole made his England debut the following month and that was that. Not long after Ball followed Walter Smith to Rangers where he won a league title and bizarelly won the Eerdervise with PSV Eindhoven the following year. He played 200+ senior games across England, Scotland & Holland before his potty mouth Tweet landed him a P45.
4. Mike Phelan
Younger fans mainly know him for making Alex Ferguson jump by popping a balloon on the touch-line. Phelan was however a good defensive midfielder in his day, so much so Ferguson signed him for United in 1989. Phelan started out with Norwich where we became close friends with Steve Bruce and shortly after Bruce left for Old Trafford Ferguson came back for Phelan. He was prominent in Ferguson’s early cups successes at United and won his first England cap in that period, but with Bryan Robson, Gazza, David Platt and Steve McMahon all in form it was a tough ask to get a second.
5. Neil Ruddock (1994)
‘Razor’ was always a polarising player- not afraid to put his foot in (As Andy Cole found to his cost) or wind up opponents (as Patrik Viera discovered whilst being dragged off the pitch), he finally got his chance with Terry Venables in 1995. It came a year after he’d joined Liverpool where despite a string of headlines about his womanizing, drinking, weight problems and turning down Eric Cantona’s collar in an on the pitch scuffle he was playing the best football of his career. However it was quickly apparent his lack of pace would be an issue and Venables looked elsewhere- still he’s officially listed as the 17th hardest footballer ever!
6. David Unsworth (1995)
If Terry Venables had paired ‘Razor’ and ‘Rhino’ England wouldn’t have so much parked the bus as grounded an oil tanker on the edge of their box. Unsworth a veteran of the successful 1993 Under 20 World Cup squad got his chance after an excellent display in the 1995 FA Cup Final. But like Razor he found competition for places stiff with Venables looking for defenders more comfortable on the ball partnering Tony Adams. Unsworth enjoyed a steady Premier League career and recently had a spell as interim boss at his spiritual home of Everton- he quickly retreated back to coaching the juniors.
7. Lee Bowyer (2002)
Most one cap wonders just weren’t good enough, a few just don’t work out for other reasons- Bowyer was in the later camp. Bowyer became a star in David O’Leary’s young Leeds side in the late 90s. His driving performances from midfield were comparable with Steven Gerrard and saw him score 6 goals in Leeds’ unlikely run to the Champions League semi final in 2001. But bizarrely Bowyer’s brilliant performances on the pitch came whilst he was standing trial in an infamous assault case which eventually saw teammate Jonathan Woodgate convicted of affray. Bowyer was found not guilty but was banned from England selection during the trial and retrial otherwise he would have played far more games for England. He made an impressive belated debut in 2002 providing the assist for Leeds teammate Alan Smith in a 1-1 draw with Portugal. But Bowyer’s relationship with Leeds soured after the trial and he never recaptured his best form in spells with Newcastle, West Ham and Birmingham. He recently retuned to the game becoming assistant manager at his original club Charlton.
8. Joey Barton (2007)
Philosopher, Pillock, Misunderstood, Pillock, Genius, Pillock- Joey Barton has been described as many things by many people and thanks to Steve McClaren we can add England International: and that one’s a fact not an opinion! In McClaren’s defence it’s easy to forget that in 2007 Barton was actually quite a good footballer and McClaren desperately searching for chemistry in his side threw Barton on with 12 minutes left of a friendly against Spain, unsurprisingly he wasn’t Fabio Capello’s cup of tea.
9. Franny Jeffers (2003)
Francis ‘fox in the box’ Jeffers has the distinction of being England’s joint leading goal scorer at Under 21 level with a certain Alan Shearer. In March 2003 2 strikers who began their careers at Everton made their England debuts against Australia, one scored that night, the other didn’t but went on to score 53 in 119 games for his country. Guess which one was Jeffers? Still he has an international strike rate of 100%
10. Kevin Davies (2010)
How many strikers where injured that week? Unbelievably aged 33 the ‘robust’ Davies finally got the England call Sam Allardyce had said for years he deserved. He like Jeffers as a 100% strike rate with England, sadly for Davies his is Caps to Yellow Cards, who’d have guessed?!
11. Mark Walters (1991)
Walters was a promising winger with Aston Vila when on New Years Eve 1987 he joined Rangers. He made his debut in an Old Firm match 2 days later, a match noted for appalling racial abuse and the game having to be stopped to clear the banana’s Celtic fans hurled at Walters during the game- unbelievably nobody was ejected from the ground or received a ban. But Walters had the last laugh winning 3 successive league titles, 3 domestic cups and scoring 52 goals in 3 and half seasons at Ibrox. It lead to calls of an England cap, but Bobby Robson remained unconvinced and with Chris Waddle and John Barnes already in his squad it was easy to see why. But in 1991 Robson’s successor Graham Taylor had dropped Waddle in search of pacier options on the wing and Walters was called up for the summer tour; getting his cap against New Zealand in Auckland. Two months later Walters followed his old Rangers boss Graeme Souness to Liverpool where unsurprisingly he found defences south of the border somewhat harder to unlock than those in the SPL and his path to a second cap was blocked by such stellar names as John Salako, Tony Daley & Dennis Wise.
12. Chris Kirkland (2006)
Another player who was good enough but injured too often. Kirkland showed immense promise at Coventry City, so much so in 2001 Liverpool paid £6million for him- then an astronomical sum for a goalkeeper. Kirkland took a while to settle but his chance came a year later and got a run of 14 games that autumn with an England call seemingly on the horizon. But then the injuries stuck and Kirkland would play on 43 more games in 4 years. On regaining full fitness new England boss Steve McClaren handed him a cap, a new career with Wigan Athletic promised to revive his career but the debilitating effect of those injury problems saw him struggle to recapture his early promise. What’s particularly frustrating with Kirkland is had the injuries not occurred his best years would have been 2002-2010 when England’s goalkeepers in competitive games were David James, Paul Robinson and Scott Carson, what might have been?
13. Mel Sterland (1988)
An overlapping right-back with a thunderous shot, Sterland came to prominence with Howard Wilkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday for whom he made 347 appearances and scored 49 goals, statistics like that get you noticed and Bobby Robson handed him a cap in 1988. After a brief stint with Rangers Sterland returned to Yorkshire to reunite with Wilkinson at Leeds where he won a League Champions medal in 1992. Sadly he was sidelined by injury in the title run in and never played again. His autobiography is titled ‘Boozing, Betting & Brawling’ no further explanation necessary!
14. Ryan Shawcross (2012)
There’s 16 minutes left in a friendly against Sweden and the England manager brings you on for your debut- what could possibly go wrong? Well you could find yourself marking an angry Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that’s what happened to Shawcross and 3 Zlatan goals later his England career was over, still Zlatan later claimed he’d retired the entire nation of Denmark so the people who make those great BBC4 crime dramas share Ryan’s indignity.
15. Steven Caulker (2012)
One thing perhaps worse than being Ryan Shawcross is being Steven Caulker- he marked Zlatan quite well for 74 minutes and even scored on his debut before being taken off for Shawcross. 16 minutes later nobody remembered any of Caulker’s good work and he’s done little since to remind us.
16. Martin Kelly (2012)
This must be the shortest England career ever- 3 minutes! Despite only getting 180 seconds plus injury time Kelly then of Liverpool made it to Euro 2012 as a late replacement for the injured Gary Cahill. He seemed to get the call because Roy Hodgson knew his name from Liverpool and he wasn’t as rubbish as Paul Konchesky. Shortly after a rotten run of injuries put paid to Kelly’s hopes of a second cap and spending the last 4 years with Crystal Palace prbably hasn’t helped.
17. Alan Thompson (2004)
Another member of the 1993 Under 20 World Cup side Thompson came to prominence at Bolton in the mid 90s with his trademark left footed crosses and set pieces. By 2004 Thomspon was in midst of a purple patch with new club Celtic and Sven called him up to audition for England’s problem left-wing position. Previously Nick Barmby, Kieron Dyer and bizarrely Owen Hargeaves had played down the left- all of whom were right footed. Thompson proved in 1 cap that being left footed doesn’t elevate an SPL level player to an International one and Sven continued to search for his left-wing eventually settling on Joe Cole. Depressingly England managers have often overlooked the lesson Thompson’s debut taught us with amongst others Steve Guppy, Jason Wilcox and depressingly 35 cap Stewart Downing all representing England purely because they had a left foot and worst of all…
18. Seth Johnson (2000)
The first sign that ‘Publicity’ Pete Ridsdale might not be the steadiest hand at the helm of the good ship Leeds United came when he splurged a staggering £9 million on ‘industrious’ midfielder Seth Johnson. Johnson was a promising defensive midfielder with a left foot who occasionally delivered a good cross from the left for Derby County. That was enough for interim England boss Peter Taylor to call up Johnson for his only cap against Italy- a game better remembered as David Beckham’s first as captain. But the hype machine was in place and the fact Johnson had a left foot was enough for some to claim he was England’s answer and in the mind of Ridsdale worth £9million plus £37k per week in wages! Johnson spent so much of his 4 years in Yorkshire injured that by the time he was due to make his 55th appearance for Leeds and with it trigger a £2million add on clause Leeds were so skint they preferred to have him sit in the reserves and eventually return to Derby on a free.
19. Lee Hendrie (1998)
The Aston Villa midfielder played 13 years at Villa Park and was eligible through his parents to play for Scotland but chose England. It was a tough ask to get in the England midfield in the mid to late 90s and Hendrie had to wait until November 1998 to get his chance. Sadly for him it was Glenn Hoddle’s final game with England and Hendrie was forgotten when Kevin Keegan took over the following year. Since his retirement Hendrie has been declared bankrupt and allegedly twice attempted suicide. He’s tried rebuilding his life by being part of the Footiebugs childrens football project and doing some media work, anyone with a heart should wish him well.
20. Danny Wallace (1986)
Southampton’s Danny Wallace was the eldest of the 3 Wallace brothers (Rod & Ray would also graduate from Southampton). Wallace was a quick and incisive winger who won 14 Under 21 caps before Bbby Robson gave him a shot at the senior side shortly before the 1986 World Cup. Wallace scored and impressed on his debut in Cairo but Robson already had John Barnes & Steve Hodge so Wallace was surprisingly never called up again. His impressive 64 goals for Southampton persuaded Alex Ferguson to sign him in 1989. He started brightly at Old Trafford and started the FA Cup Final and Replay which delivered Ferguson his first trophy for United and probably saved him from the sack. Wallace looked destined for a call up from new England boss Graham Taylor at the start of the following season but the emergence of first Lee Sharpe and then Ryan Giggs saw him drop down the pecking order. After retiring in 1995 Wallace was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and has set up a foundation to provide help for fellow sufferers- in 2006 he completed the London Marathon in 5 days to raise money for the cause.
21. David Nugent (2007)
Before he became a Football League journeyman Nugent showed some promise with Preston North End and was called up by Steve McClaren for his poachers instinct- and boy he showed it. Coming on as a late sub against the mighty Andorra Nugent tapped home Jermain Defoe’s goal bound shot just before it crossed the line to ensure he has an England goal enshrined on his career, well Defoe does have another 20 so maybe he didn’t mind?
22. Michael Ricketts (2002)
It’s fair to say Sven-Goran Erikkson liked to dish out the caps in friendlies- often deploying 2 different teams for 45 minutes each. This policy was mostly accepted until the day he gave Michael Ricketts a go. The briefly in form Bolton forward was enjoying a good start to life in the Premier League after excelling in The Championship, however Ricketts produced 45 minutes so forgettable it requires photographic evidence to prove he was actually there. Predictably the gulf in class from Championship to Premier League caught up with Ricketts and the next 3 seasons saw him bag 9 goals before going down to the Championship with Leeds where he couldn’t hit a cows bum with a cricket bat (failing to score in 25 games). Since then Ricketts has played for 8 clubs and rarely scored for any.
23. John Ruddy (2012)
The Norwich ‘keeper got a surprise call up from new England manager Roy Hodgson for Euro 2012. Ruddy was excused Hodgson’s first game as he was getting married (highlighting how much of a shock his call up was). Sadly Ruddy broke a finger on his return to training and missed the trip to Ukraine. But he only needed to wait 2 months for his second chance as Hodgson brought him on for 45 minutes in a friendly against Italy. Ruddy played well and looked set for a prolonged stay in the squad but suffered from Norwich’s yo-yo club status and whilst in the Championship Hodgson persuaded Ben Foster to come out of retirement and Fraser Forster hit an eye-catching run of form in the Champions League with Celtic. Ruddy spent 7 years at Norwich but moved to Wolves last summer and looks set for a Premier League return next season- but he should perhaps keep that solitary Cap under lock and key for his grandchildren rather than expect some more.
‘Honorable’ mentions: John Rimmer, Carl Jenkinson, Steve Guppy, Frazier Campbell, Brian Stein
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)