23 Greats Who NEVER Graced the World Cup Stage
The World Cup was established in 1930 and the four home nations of the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all played in the tournament at some time. However, rather than comment on players who have competed in this event, I’m more intrigued by those who never had the opportunity to show their skills on the World Cup Stage. Some of the “big names” you just assume must have taken part, whilst others never found much favour with their national teams, and three of them never managed a senior squad call up at all!!!
For simplicity I’m using the idea of a 4-4-2 formation to ensure an equal spread of players from each home nation. My squad will comprise of three goalkeepers, eight defenders, eight midfielders and four forwards, and all will have played within the lifetime of the World Cup (1930s-2000s.) So here after great deliberation are my 23 Greats for a British World Cup Squad.
NEVILLE SOUTHALL (Wales 1982-1997: 92 caps): One of the best keepers of his generation.
MAIK TAYLOR (N Ireland 1999-2011: 88 caps): With an English father and German mother Maik could have played for any of the home nations but opted for Northern Ireland. This undoubtedly gave him the best chance to taste international football at the highest level.
TONY COTON (England UNCAPPED): Played for Birmingham City, Watford, Manchester City, Sunderland and Hereford United between 1978 and 2004. But he only ever managed one England B cap in 1992.
I was torn between Tony Coton and John Lukic of Leeds United and Arsenal. John also never made the England senior squad managing seven U21 and one B squad caps from 1980 to 1990. But I decided on Tony because he played for the more “unfashionable” clubs and he was born in Tamworth which isn’t far from where I live now.
BILLY McNEILL (Scotland 1961-1972: 29 caps: 3 goals) Centre Back: Retired from the game in 1975 having made 790 appearances for Celtic. Billy’s international career spanned an era where Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup (1962, 1966 & 1970). I’ve read McNeill was never subbed from a game during his playing career at Celtic which shows what an indomitable force he was in defence. With this in mind and the fact he captained Celtic to win the 1967 European Cup in Lisbon, I’m having Billy as my team captain.
GERRY TAGGART (N Ireland 1990-2002: 51 caps: 7 goals) Centre Back: I chose Gerry because he was a defender who could score goals. It was a tough call between him and Aaron Hughes (79 caps 1 goal) but Gerry’s better goal ratio to caps won him a squad place.
MIKE ENGLAND (Wales 1962-1975: 44 caps: 4 goals) Centre Back: At the heart of the Spurs defence during the sixties and seventies. Mike seems to have commanded as much respect in his central defensive role as Billy McNeill.
STEVE BRUCE (England UNCAPPED) Centre Back: Early rejections by several clubs almost caused Steve to give up the game completely. Eventually he secured an apprenticeship with Gillingham moving onto Norwich City, Manchester United, Birmingham City and Sheffield United. Despite a playing career spanning 1979-1999 covering five World Cups where England qualified, Steve Bruce never had a senior call up. A single B squad cap and eight youth caps were all that Bruce was given. The international omission is hard to believe considering Steve Bruce’s integral part in defence during the earlier years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United.
PETER RODRIGUES (Wales 1965-1974: 40 caps) Right Back: Won the FA Cup as captain of Southampton in 1976.
EMLYN HUGHES (England 1969-1980: 62 caps: 1 goal) Left Back: Emlyn was captain 23 times for his country but England didn’t qualify for the 1974 or 1978 tournaments. I’ve seen Hughes listed in a group of greatest “left-backs” on various websites, hence why I have him playing in this position. But I vaguely remember him in a more central defensive role or midfield position as a player. So he could be an excellent utility man if needed.
TOMMY GEMMELL (Scotland 1966-1971: 18 caps: 1 goal) Right/Left Back: In his senior career Gemmell made 380 appearances scoring 51 goals. His name can be found in the greatest right back listings on the web BUT although he was right footed apparently he excelled in the left back position. Gemmell probably was a more attack minded kind of player who could switch sides as a full back.
JOHNNY “Jackie” CAREY (N Ireland 1946-1949: 9 caps) Right/Left Back: Johnny played for both the Northern Ireland (IFA) and Ireland (FAI) international teams. For Ireland he gained 29 caps scoring three times. During his career it is reported that Johnny played in nine different positions including once in goal!! Matt Busby made Carey captain of his Manchester United team from 1946-1953. Carey is listed in greatest left back website reports but the Irish FA has Johnny recorded as a right back, therefore I’m guessing he could fill either role. From what I’ve read Carey seems to have been a more holding type of player.
JIM BAXTER (Scotland 1960-67: 34 caps: 3 goals) Centre: I have Jim orchestrating the midfield from the centre for my squad. Left footed Baxter was always part of my plans as he was another supremely gifted player not to have had the opportunity to test the World Cup waters.
DUNCAN EDWARDS (England 1955-58: 18 caps: 5 goals) Centre: The Munich Air Disaster robbed the football world of this huge talent. Had this awful incident not occurred I’m sure Edwards would have played in several World Cups but fate decided otherwise. Duncan’s name was one of the first to spring to mind for this project and I’m both saddened and honoured to name him in my team. His talent as a box to box midfielder was without question.
GARY SPEED (Wales 1990-2004: 85 caps: 7 goals) Centre: A player who needs no other plaudits when you know he became the most capped outfield player for Wales.
HOWARD KENDALL (England UNCAPPED) Centre: An integral part of the “holy trinity” of Everton’s midfield in the 1960s and 70s alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey. From 613 senior appearances Howard scored 65 goals. At the time of the 1964 FA Cup Kendall was the youngest finalist at Wembley. Although he represented England at schoolboy, youth and Under-23 level Howard never played at England senior level!! He did captain England youths in the Little World Cup of 1964 and for this reason I am making Howard Kendall my vice-captain.
I was torn between Kendall and Cliff Bastin for my midfield but eventually went for Kendall due to his central playing position. Bastin was a left winger and oddly enough I have too many players with a preferential left sided leaning (Giggs, Best and Baxter) already.
RYAN GIGGS (Wales 1991-2007: 64 caps: 12 goals) Left Wing: Only retired from the game this summer and clocked up 672 appearances for Manchester United scoring 114 goals.
GEORGE BEST (N Ireland: 37 caps: 9 goals) Left/Right Wing: One of the greatest footballers ever to come out of the UK, Best had the misfortune to play in between 1958 and 1982 the two years Northern Ireland qualified for the tournament. For an all too brief spell George Best lit up the football world during those 24 years, but his rewards came from the domestic game. Being a bit of a maverick player it could be said that having Best in the squad could be a risk, but the chance to play Best and Giggs in the same team is too much temptation. I’ve read that George played his best on the left wing of midfield, the same position as Ryan Giggs. However reports also described George as a natural with both feet, so to have him and Giggs play together I’d have George Best on the right wing instead.
KEITH GILLESPIE (N Ireland 1994-2008: 86 caps: 2 goals) Right Wing: In case my experiment with Best didn’t work out I wanted to ensure a natural right winger was in the squad. You can’t get much more consistent than Keith here who I believe could also fill in at right back or centre back.
JIMMY DELANEY (Scotland 1935-1948: 15 caps: 6 goals) Right Wing/Forward: Another utility player who could play outside right wing or up front as a centre forward. Jimmy is an emotional choice for me because he came from my home village of Cleland, and I grew up hearing stories about him. I also remember several Celtic greats turning out for this quiet unassuming man’s funeral. During a career spanning twenty-four years Jimmy won the Scottish Cup with Celtic, the FA Cup with Busby’s Manchester United and the Irish Cup with Derry City. A runner-up medal with Cork Athletic gave Delaney four cup medals from four countries. A badly broken arm (almost amputated) put Jimmy out of the game for nearly two years but he returned to show what a wonderful player he was.
IAN RUSH (Wales 1980-1996: 73 caps: 28 goals): Welsh leading scorer and the complete striker, lethal in front of goal.
TOMMY LAWTON (England 1938-1948: 23 caps: 22 goals): Tommy played club football between 1935 and 1955 making 383 senior appearances and scoring 235 goals. Lawton may not be a name particularly well known to England fans but he should be up there with Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker as top England goal scorer. Unfortunately for Tommy his England and English League XI appearances during the war don’t seem to get any credit, which I personally think is shameful. If a player today can get a cap for five minutes play in a meaningless friendly (with under strength teams), then Tommy should get appropriate recognition for his extra 26 wartime appearances which brought a further 26 goals.
JIMMY McGRORY (Scotland: 1928-1933: 7 caps: 6 goals): Jimmy played for Celtic between 1922 and 1937 with a short loan spell at Clydebank. Taking into account all competitions Jimmy made 534 senior appearances and scored 538 times. Despite this prowess in front of goal McGrory was given a paltry seven caps for his country.
DAVID HEALY (N Ireland 2000-2013: 95 caps: 36 goals): Leading scorer for Northern Ireland. During the qualifying campaign for the European Championships of 2008 David scored thirteen times in eleven games becoming the highest ever goal scorer. He broke the record of Davor Suker (Croatia) who had scored twelve times in ten games. Healy was given a special award in recognition of his achievement.
My choice of Manager is Sir Mat Busby and my deputy manager is Jock Stein. The reasoning for Sir Matt’s appointment comes from the fact that he managed the Great Britain Olympic football team of 1948, so who better to run a squad of four nations! Of course he also managed Manchester United to European victory in 1968. Jock Stein is chosen because of his success with Celtic who became the FIRST British club to win the European cup in 1967. He was also the national manager for Scotland who led them to the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain, but sadly passed away on the evening when Scotland qualified for the 1986 Finals.
To ensure all my players get a game in I shall provide two line ups using the 4-4-2 system. But I’m very tempted to mix it all up completely with a more unusual formation, and I believe I’ve got the man power to do that quite easily. Anyway, here are my less radical line ups….
Southall, LB Hughes, CB McNeill, CB Taggart, RB Rodrigues, LW Giggs, CM Baxter, CM Edwards, RW Best, Rush and McGrory
Taylor and Coton one half each, LB or RB Carey, CB England, CB Bruce, LB or RB Gemmell, LW Speed, CM Kendall, CM Gillespie, RW Delaney, Healy and Lawton.