With England manager Gareth Southgate looking to the future with his latest squad selection for the matches against Spain and Switzerland, there’s not much chance of any of the current crop being selected and never winning a cap. However, this has happened to many players over the last 30 years who have had to watch from the substitute’s bench and were never selected again. Here’s a look at some of the unluckiest men in English football.
Paul Davis – England vs Denmark (Friendly 1988)
The 1988/89 season will always be remembered for the dramatic way Arsenal won the Division One title. And with so many homegrown youngsters in the side, this really was a golden era for young English players at Highbury. This showed with Bobby Robson giving caps to Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Alan Smith, David Rocastle and Michael Thomas during the campaign. Midfielder Paul Davis got his call up in September of that season for a friendly against Denmark. Manager Robson gave debuts to Rocastle, Des Walker and a certain Paul Gascoigne in this match, so Davis can count himself unlucky not to get on the pitch at Wembley. Despite a couple more call ups, he was never selected in a match squad again. He still went on to have a successful 16 year career at Arsenal, winning 2 League Championships, 2 League Cups, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup. When you look at all those trophies and that he was a regular in such a high profile side, it’s hard to believe he never won at least one England cap.
John Beresford – Turkey vs England (World Cup Qualifier 1993)
When researching this I was surprised to find that there was only one of Graham Taylor’s outfield players that falls into this category. I was even more surprised to find out it was John Beresford! The Newcastle defender was called up in March 1993 for a World Cup qualifier away in Turkey. Taylor was short of defensive options following injuries to regular left-backs Stuart Pearce and Tony Dorigo. Beresford was playing in Division One at the time, as Newcastle were just wrapping up promotion to the Premier League under Kevin Keegan. The most baffling aspect of this call up was that the England manager chose to play QPR winger Andy Sinton in the left-back role over him anyway. Why bother calling him up in the first place? Beresford was never selected again, despite Newcastle coming close to winning the Premier League three years later.
Mark Draper – Moldova vs England (World Cup Qualifier 1996)
In September 1996, Glenn Hoddle wanted to put his own stamp on his first squad following England’s successful Euro ’96 tournament. Persuading Stuart Pearce to come out of international retirement, recalling Matt Le Tissier and Gary Pallister, and handing debuts to David Beckham and Andy Hinchcliffe certainly did that. One player forgotten about in that opening World Cup qualifier was substitute Mark Draper. The Aston Villa midfielder had enjoyed a successful season the year before, with Villa finishing 4th in the Premier League and lifting the Coca-Cola Cup. Due to injuries, Draper received his one and only call up in Hoddle’s first match and as Villa were establishing themselves as a top 6 side, he must have thought it could be the first of many. Little did he know that he would never get this close to pulling on the national shirt again.
David May – England vs Mexico (Friendly 1997)
When you consider that David May played in the most successful side of the ’90s in Manchester United, it seems quite bizarre that he never got many opportunities for England. His one call up was for a friendly against Mexico at Wembley in March 1997. Injuries to key defenders Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and teammate Pallister seemed to pave the way for May to win his first cap. This was the period however, when manager Hoddle played Stuart Pearce as a centre-back to push the United defender further down the pecking order. May watched the full 90 minutes from the bench as England won the match comfortably 2-0. Following the return from injury of the aforementioned defenders, plus regular Gareth Southgate, and the following year’s World Cup must have seemed like a pipe dream for David May. Still I bet that Champions League winners medal takes some polishing.
Lee Clark – England vs Italy, France & Brazil (Le Tournoi 1997)
The only player on this list that had a tournament squad number (18), Lee Clark was called up to England squad for Le Tournoi – a warm up competition in France the year before they hosted the 1998 World Cup. Clark himself had finished the season strongly, playing an important part Newcastle’s run-in to finish in second place under new manager Kenny Dalglish. In the tournament itself England excelled and ended up winning the trophy, defeating Italy and France, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively, before losing 1-0 to Brazil in a final dead rubber match. Lee Clark however, was the only outfield player not to play a single minute in all three games. That statistic must haunt the Newcastle midfielder, as England had already won the competition with a game to spare, so it seems harsh that Glenn Hoddle wouldn’t just bring him on for a couple of minutes to get that elusive cap. Clark moved down a division to join local rivals Sunderland later that summer, virtually ending any chance of further call-ups.
Shaka Hislop – England vs Chile (Friendly 1998)
The third and final Newcastle player in this list, Shaka Hislop had a mixed spell at St James’ Park. The goalkeeper was in and out of the side throughout his three years there, but an impressive run of games at the beginning of 1998 earned a first England call up from Glenn Hoddle. Born in Hackney, London, Hislop had previously played at youth level for Trinidad & Tobago, but had publicity expressed his desire to represent the country of his birth. Injuries to David Seaman, Tim Flowers and David James meant a place on the bench behind Nigel Martyn. In a largely forgettable performance, England lost 2-0 with the world class Chilean striker Marcelo Salas silencing the Wembley crowd with a brace. Hislop remained an unused sub as Hoddle gave debuts to Dion Dublin and an 18 year old Michael Owen – the youngest player to represent England at that time. The Newcastle keeper never received another call up and eventually committed to playing for Trinidad for the rest of his career. He did however, represent the Caribbean minnows at their only World Cup appearance in 2006.
Dominic Matteo – Switzerland vs England (Friendly 1998)
You would have forgiven Dominic Matteo for getting a little excited about his call up. Just 2 months before the 1998 World Cup, the Liverpool defender was the only new name in Hoddle’s last friendly get together before he named his preliminary squad for the tournament. Matteo was in a similar position to David May before him; a regular in a top 4 side but way down the list in a strong line of defenders. Despite his consistent performances for Liverpool and a couple more call ups a year later from new manager Kevin Keegan, this was his only breakthrough into a match day squad for England. After getting so close Matteo decided to play for Scotland (his birthplace) two years later, winning just 6 caps before retiring to concentrate on club football with Leeds.
Just a quick word on Glenn Hoddle. I was surprised to see five players from his reign on this list. Hoddle was famous during the ’80s for publicly criticising his England managers for not giving him enough opportunities. So to let many of his players get this close to representing their country and then never pick them again, is just baffling in my opinion. Anyway…
Chris Armstrong – England vs Poland (Euro Qualifier 1999)
It sounds a bit desperate, but with the lack of English strikers around today, Chris Armstrong would probably walk into the England squad if he was playing now. During three of his six seasons at Spurs he scored well into double figures, but with the likes of Shearer, Sheringham, Ferdinand, Fowler, Owen, Dublin and Cole above him in the pecking order, Armstrong never really stood a chance. In Kevin Keegan’s first match as manager however, he was called upon due to a massive injury crisis. All but Shearer and Cole were unavailable or pulled out of the squad, so the Tottenham striker was named as a substitute. Unfortunately for Armstrong, Keegan didn’t feel the need to send him on for his debut – despite giving first caps to Tim Sherwood and Ray Parlour in the same match. England won the game easily with a hat-trick from Paul Scholes in a 3-1 victory and when the huge pool of striking talent returned from their various injuries, Armstrong was surplus to requirements. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow, as he turned down the chance to play for Nigeria and the Republic Of Ireland at the 1994 World Cup, to try and fulfil his dream of playing for England. Ouch!
Steve Froggatt x2 – England vs Scotland (Euro Play Off 1999)
During Kevin Keegan’s reign as England manager, there were a distinct lack of left footed players available to him. In games previous, Keegan had called up players like Leicester’s Steve Guppy and Michael Gray from First Division Sunderland, who obviously were not international class. In November 1999 however, Coventry City winger Steve Froggatt was selected in the squad for the important two-legged play-off against Scotland, with the winner qualifying for Euro 2000. Froggatt had been playing well for the Sky Blues, so it wasn’t a surprise when he received his first call up. He was named on the bench for both legs of the tie but never got the nod from Keegan. England scraped through 2-1 on aggregate, the 2-0 win at Hampden Park proving decisive as England lost the return leg at Wembley 1-0. Looking back it would’ve taken a brave manager to hand a player his debut in such a high tempered atmosphere as an England vs Scotland match, especially with qualification to a major tournament on the line. Froggatt was clearly liked by Keegan and was called up for the friendly against Argentina the following February. But days after that announcement he suffered a career ending injury from a horror tackle and retired months later aged just 28.
Jlloyd Samuel – Sweden vs England (Friendly 2004)
In the run up to Euro 2004, manager Sven Goran Eriksson was in the process of selecting a settled starting eleven for the tournament. This left many players vying for the back-up slots in the squad. Injuries to first and second choice left-backs Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge, left England short for the last match before the final squad was announced in May. The ever versatile Phil Neville was the only recognised replacement and with his history of costing England in past tournaments, Eriksson had to call upon a fresh face in reserve. Step forward Jlloyd Samuel. The Aston Villa left-back had had a fine season at Villa Park, with David O’Leary’s men finishing in an impressive 6th place in the Premier League. As Neville started the match in Gothenburg, Samuel must have been hopeful of getting on the pitch with Eriksson’s reputation of changing entire sides at half time. Debuts were given to Jermaine Defoe, Celtic’s Alan Thompson and Tottenham’s Anthony Gardner, but poor Samuel did not come on. By the time the squad was announced in mid-May, Cole, Bridge and P. Neville were all selected to go to Portugal. Samuel never got another call up and also failed to reach his peak form again like he did in 2004. Tragically, earlier this year the 37 year old was killed in a car crash near his home in Cheshire. May he rest in peace.
David Wheater x2 – England vs USA, Trinidad & Tobago vs England (Friendlies 2008)
To celebrate the centenary of Trinidadian football, England were asked to play in a friendly in the Caribbean to help celebrate their 100 years in football. Manager Fabio Capello named a huge squad of 29 for the match and a friendly against USA at Wembley a few days before. After injuries and other commitments were taken into account, 22 of that squad flew to the Port Of Spain. They included Middlesbrough centre-back David Wheater, who had impressed for the Under 21s and throughout the season for ‘Boro, despite their underwhelming final position of 13th. Wheater had watched six substitutes enter the field of play during the previous match with the USA from the bench and must have surely though he was on for his first cap against T&T. Unfortunately it was not to be for the Teesider, who saw Dean Ashton, Phil Jageilka, Stephen Warnock and Joe Hart all make their debuts in this match ahead of him. Wheater was called up again by Capello as a replacement later that year, but never managed to be make an appearance in a match day squad. He’s currently playing in the Championship for Bolton Wanderers, after promotion from League One last season.
Joe Lewis x2 – England vs USA, Trinidad & Tobago vs England (Friendlies 2008)
In those same two games that David Wheater missed out, so did a young goalkeeper from League Two team Peterborough United. Yes you read that right, Peterborough United! A successful season at London Road saw The Posh promoted to League One and he duly caught the attention of England manager Fabio Capello. An injury to Chris Kirkland saw Lewis called in as back-up to David James and Joe Hart. While he obviously wouldn’t have expected to play like some on this list, what a great experience that must have been for the young goalkeeper. Being a sub for England at Wembley is a far cry from playing at old grounds like Blundell Park and Sincil Bank as he was that season. Another achievement for Lewis is that he became the first player to be named in a match day squad for England from outside the top two divisions since Steve Bull at Wolves in 1990.
Honorary mentions go to these players, who were also named as subs but never actually played for England.*
Tony Coton – Malaysia vs England (1991)
Sean Davis – England vs Australia (2003)
Steven Taylor x2 – England vs Germany (2007), San Marino vs England (2013)
Jimmy Bullard – Germany vs England (2008)
Curtis Davies – Germany vs England (2008)
Michael Mancienne – Germany vs England (2008)
Scott Loach x2 – England vs Hungary, England vs France (2010)
Frankie Fielding – England vs Hungary (2010)
David Stockdale x5 – Denmark vs England, Bulgaria vs England, England vs Wales, England vs Spain, England vs Sweden (2011)
Saido Berahino x2 – England vs Slovenia, Scotland vs England (2014)
*This list doesn’t include any unused subs for England that could realistically still get a cap e.g. Michael Antonio.