Since it started in 1956, there have been 84 British players who have received at least one vote for the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year). This year, Raheem Sterling and Trent Alexander-Arnold add their names to that list. The award had always been voted for by journalists around Europe, until 2007, when it was expanded to worldwide writers, plus the coaches and captains of each national team. Before 2010, each voter had five votes, ranking their top five players in order from 1st to 5th. The top place getting 5 points, second with 4 and so on, down to fifth place receiving one point. Since then it has changed to a percentage vote.
With so many nominations from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the years, there was always going to be some obscure names that have gone under the radar. So here are 12 players from the British isles that you probably didn’t know had been nominated for football’s biggest individual prize…
Years Nominated: 1968 & 1969
Final Position in Votes: 22nd & 10th (2 & 10pts)
Often in the shadow of his younger brother Bobby, Jack Charlton was a great player in his own right. Describing the difference between him and his sibling, Charlton once said, ”Our kid likes to play with the ball and I like to stop people playing with the ball.” A one-club man – spending his entire 21 year career at Leeds United – Charlton finally enjoyed domestic and international success later on in his playing days, following Leeds’ rise to the top of the First Division in the late 60s under Don Revie. Unlike most of his England teammates, neither of the centre-back’s Ballon d’Or nominations came in the World Cup winning year. Instead, his first arrived in 1968, recognising his outstanding club form at Elland Road, where he helped his side to win their first ever major trophies, in the League Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (UEFA CUP). That year Charlton received one vote for a 4th place, finishing in joint 22nd spot overall, tied with Bobby Moore.
The following campaign was even better, as Leeds won their first ever League Championship. His contribution was noted by journalists over Europe, who voted him into 10th spot for the award, with one 2nd and two third place votes. Charlton was 34 years old by this point, but still played for another four years at Leeds, finishing runners-up in the First Division on three more occasions and finally lifting their one and only FA Cup in 1972. Big Jack also holds the club record for most Leeds United appearances. Not a bad career considering he was the ‘worst’ Charlton.
Years Nominated: 1970 & 1971
Final Position in Votes: 18th & 18th (3 & 2pts)
Another Leeds United legend on this list, Terry Cooper made the left-back slot his own for nearly a decade at Elland Road. The story goes that Cooper simply turned up at Leeds one day with his boots in a paper bag asking for a trial. His wish was granted and he impressed so much that he was offered an apprentice contract there and then. Cooper actually won all of the same trophies as his defensive teammate Jack Charlton – apart from the 1972 FA Cup, where he was injured for the final – but his nominations came as he burst into the England team for the 1970 World Cup. He was rightly praised for a series of excellent performances during that tournament, with some journalists saying that he was England’s best player in Mexico. Cooper received one third place vote in the Ballon d’Or that year, making him finish in joint 18th spot overall with Geoff Hurst and Alan Ball.
The following year he finished in the same position, this time receiving one 4th place vote, tying him with another Englishman, Francis Lee. After Don Revie left Leeds in 1974, injuries and lack of form meant Cooper also left Elland Road to go to Middlesbrough, but he will forever be known as their greatest left-back.
Year Nominated: 1972
Final Position in Vote: 18th (1pt)
It isn’t difficult to see why Rangers fans voted John Greig their ‘Greatest Ever Ranger’ in 1999. Captain of the Glasgow side for 12 years, record number of league appearances for the club (496), scorer of 120 goals from defence, the only Rangers player to have won the domestic treble three times; the list goes on.
However, the reason he received his one 5th place vote in the 1972 Ballon d’Or was undoubtedly because that year he led Rangers to their only European trophy to date – European Cup Winners Cup. Thrilling aggregate victories over Stade Rennes, Sporting Lisbon, Torino and Bayern Munich, led to a final against Dynamo Moscow at the Nou Camp, Barcelona. They won the match 3-2 in a tight affair, and Greig had to lift the trophy inside the stadium buildings due to a pitch invasion by fans. It’s regarded as the greatest night in Rangers’ history and any photos you may find afterwards are mainly of Greig with the trophy, as he barely let any of his teammates have a hold. This was the greatest Ranger of them all having his moment, and boy did he deserve it.
Year Nominated: 1975
Final Position in Vote: 9th (12pts)
The year of 1975 was probably the best of Colin Todd’s career. Firstly, his side Derby County, won the League Championship for a second time, with his solid central defensive partnership with Roy McFarland (pictured above) being one of the major factors to Derby’s success. This led to Todd winning the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award – an achievement in itself as only six defenders have won the trophy to this day. His international career also flourished, as Todd became a regular for England, playing in every game for the national team during the calendar year.
It’s no surprise then, that journalists around Europe recognised his contribution and nominated him for the Ballon d’Or. Todd received six votes in total; two 3rd placings, two 4th and two 5th. Overall, he finished in 9th place, and had the honour of being the only Englishman to be nominated that year. With the many accolades that came his way during the mid-70s, Colin Todd is quite rightly regarded as not just one of the best English centre-backs, but one of the best English players of the whole decade.
Year Nominated: 1980
Final Position in Vote: 16th (4pts)
Quite rightly, Viv Anderson is remembered as a pioneer, being the first black player to make their England debut in 1978. But it’s often forgotten that he also won a lot of trophies during his playing career; a First Division title, two European Cups and two League Cups with Nottingham Forest, a further League Cup with Arsenal and one FA Cup with Manchester United. A selection of trophies that most modern day players can only dream of.
It was after the second of his European Cup triumphs that Anderson was nominated for the Ballon d’Or. Forest’s 1-0 win in Madrid against Kevin Keegan‘s Hamburg, was seen as a much bigger achievement than the previous year’s victory over Swedish minnows, Malmo. Anderson had the ability to go on marauding forward runs from right-back, while staying disciplined in defence, and his performance in this final was vital in keeping the German side at bay. He received one 2nd placed vote in the Ballon d’Or, meaning he finished in 16th spot – joint with Liverpool’s Terry McDermott and ahead of Forest teammates, Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton.
Year Nominated: 1984
Final Position in Vote: 18th (2pts)
One of the youngest and most surprising names on this list is the Scottish midfielder, Paul McStay. The Celtic starlet was barely 20 years old when he was thrown in with Europe’s greatest players in 1984. Honours wise, success was still to come for McStay, as he went on to win eight domestic trophies and a couple of individual awards during his 16 years at Celtic.
However, the 1983/84 season was when he first became known around Europe, and despite his young age, he quickly became a regular in a very decent Scotland side. McStay’s performances for club and country drew attention from several European giants, including Inter Milan, who had a £2 million bid rejected by Celtic – a fee which would have made him one of the most expensive players in the world at the time. One 4th place vote for McStay gave him a nomination for the Ballon d’Or, which put him in 18th spot for the award overall, tied with his fellow countryman, Gordon Strachan. It took 17 years for another Celtic player to be nominated for the trophy, when Henrik Larsson finished 14th in 2001.
Year Nominated: 1985
Final Position in Vote: 21st (2pts)
The linchpin of arguably the greatest ever Everton team, Peter Reid enjoyed the most successful year of his career in 1985. Twelve months after helping his side to an FA Cup win, Reid won a League Championship and European Cup Winners’ Cup double with the Toffees, before just missing out on a unique treble, in the narrow FA Cup final defeat to Manchester United. His fellow professionals recognised Reid’s contribution to his side’s success, and duly voted him PFA Player’s Player of the Year. The rewards didn’t stop there for the midfielder, as he made his England debut that summer and stayed in the team for the following year’s World Cup finals in Mexico.
Individually, it got even better for Reid, as he finished 4th in the ‘World Soccer’ Footballer of the Year award – which was voted for by readers of the worldwide magazine. They placed him just behind Michel Platini and Diego Maradona, and above the likes of Rudi Voller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. To top it all off, Reid was nominated for the biggest award of the lot; the Ballon d’Or. He may have only received one 4th placed vote, but this put him in 21st spot overall, joint with Peter Shilton, Graeme Souness and Pat Jennings. There aren’t many players over the years who have had as much success in a calendar year as Peter Reid did in 1985, that’s for sure.
Year Nominated: 1987
Final Position in Vote: 21st (2pts)
Despite the English invasion of the late 80s, Ally McCoist remained the star man in attack for Glasgow Rangers, excelling as his new teammates brought more quality to the side. The 1986/87 campaign was the first of the famous 9-in-a-row league titles for Rangers, who dominated the Scottish league for nearly a decade. As well as being an ever-present in the team, McCoist scored 34 league goals that season, nearly claiming his first European Golden Boot – a trophy which he would later win twice in ’91 and ’92. He received one vote of 4th place in the 1987 Ballon d’Or, which put him in joint 21st spot overall.
What is quite surprising, is that that he was never nominated for the award again, especially when you consider he was the most prolific striker in Europe during the early 90s. Also, McCoist is the last Scottish player to be nominated at all, a statistic which would have been laughed at if predicted back in 1987, especially with the amount of great Scots who received votes before him. It’s surely no coincidence then, that the national team’s fortunes have also declined since.
Year Nominated: 1991
Final Position in Vote: 13th (3pts)
Another surprise on this list is the Welsh striker, Dean Saunders, who was nominated despite suffering relegation with Derby County in the summer of 1991. However, Saunders did still manage to net 17 league goals that campaign, which was enough for Liverpool to fork out a then British record-fee of £2.9m on him. What would have worked in Saunders’ favour back then was his impressive European record for the Reds, scoring 10 goals in the first three rounds of the UEFA Cup before the end of the year. He was also part of a Wales side that so nearly qualified for Euro ’92, after a famous 1-0 win over Germany in Cardiff – a 1-0 friendly victory over Brazil also followed.
Saunders received one 3rd place vote in the Ballon d’Or, leaving him in 13th position, just behind his fellow countryman, Mark Hughes. Later that campaign the striker helped Liverpool to an FA Cup final victory over Sunderland, although in the summer of the following season he was sold to Aston Villa for a similar fee. His Welsh team were a penalty kick away from qualifying for the USA ’94 and he also won a League Cup with Villa, but Dean Saunders’ career never again hit those dizzy heights of 1991.
Year Nominated: 1991
Final Position In Vote: 21st (1pt)
Signed from Middlesbrough in 1989, Gary Pallister was at Manchester United from the very beginning of their success under Alex Ferguson. Following an FA Cup win in 1990, United went on a fantastic run in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, reaching the final where they met Barcelona. It was a memorable occasion in Rotterdam and the Red Devils ran out 2-1 winners over the Spanish side – who actually went on to win the European Cup the following season – with both goals coming from Mark Hughes. This success was enough for Pallister to receive one 5th place vote in the Ballon d’Or, finishing in 21st spot for the award.
In the 1991/92 campaign, Pallister’s excellent defensive displays next to his captain, Steve Bruce, helped United to a runners-up finish in the final League Championship, just behind Leeds United. His performances didn’t go unnoticed by his fellow professionals up and down the country either, and he was voted PFA Player’s Player of the Year. Pallister went on to win ten major trophies at Old Trafford, but despite this, he only won 22 England caps over an eight-year spell. What the national managers didn’t see in him, we’ll never know.
Year Nominated: 1999
Final Position in Vote: 26th (1pt)
The 1998/99 season is without a doubt the greatest in Manchester United’s history. Winning an unprecedented treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup, it’s no surprise that six United players were nominated for the Ballon d’Or that year; David Beckham, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, Jaap Stam, Ryan Giggs and Cole himself. This has to go down as one of Cole’s greatest achievements, especially because he rarely got any credit from anyone outside Old Trafford. The then England manager, Glenn Hoddle, once said that he couldn’t pick Cole because, ”He needs 4 or 5 chances to score a goal.”
Regardless, Cole received his nomination with one 5th placed vote, leaving him in joint 26th place for the award with the likes of Egdar Davids, Roberto Carlos and a certain David Ginola. He will go down as one of the most prolific strikers in Premier League history, and nobody can ever take that ‘outstanding’ year away from Andy Cole.
Year Nominated: 2005
Final Position in Vote: 20th (3pts)
When Rafa Benitez took over as Liverpool manager at the beginning of the 2004/05 season, he moved Jamie Carragher from full-back to centre-back, which proved to be a career defining switch for the vice-captain. It was a position that Carragher would remain at for the rest of his playing days. That campaign the change obviously worked wonders, and it helped his side win their fifth European Cup trophy. For the final itself against AC Milan, Carragher’s contribution is often overlooked (obviously not by Reds supporters), with the focus more on the amazing effort it took to draw level from being 3-0 down at half-time. However, if it wasn’t for Carragher making two vital last-ditch interceptions – while suffering from cramp – then the comeback would have all been in vain.
His leadership skills at the back were so valuable that season, that Carragher won Liverpool’s Players’ Player of the Year, over club captain, Steven Gerrard. It is well known that the skipper finished in third place for the 2005 Ballon d’Or, but it is often forgotten that Carragher made the nominees list too, gaining one 3rd place vote himself, to end up in 20th spot for the award. Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan will go down forever as one of the most dramatic Champions League finals in history, and Jamie Carragher will always be a massive part of that night in Istanbul.
ALL THE BRITISH NOMINEES
Here is the long list of all the British Ballon d’Or nominees since the award began 63 years ago, broken down into each country from the UK. Winners in bold.
ENGLAND*(55); Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Johnny Haynes, Colin McDonald, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Smith, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst, Jack Charlton, Francis Lee, Martin Peters, Terry Cooper, Martin Chivers, Colin Todd, Kevin Keegan, Emlyn Hughes, Trevor Brooking, Peter Shilton, Ray Kennedy, Trevor Francis, Tony Woodcock, Viv Anderson, Terry McDermott, Bryan Robson, Mark Hateley, Peter Reid, Gary Stevens, Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne, Des Walker, David Platt, Chris Waddle, Gary Pallister, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, David Seaman, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Andy Cole, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Jamie Carragher, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane.
SCOTLAND (16); Denis Law, Jim Baxter, Tommy Gemmel, Jimmy Johnstone, Billy Bremner, John Greig, Peter Lorimer, Gordon McQueen, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Archie Gemmill, John Wark, Gordon Strachan, Paul McStay, Steve Archibald, Ally McCoist.
WALES (9); John Charles, Cliff Jones, Ivor Allchurch, Ian Rush, Neville Southall, Mark Hughes, Dean Saunders, Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale.
NORTERN IRELAND (4); Danny Blanchflower, Harry Gregg, George Best, Pat Jennings.
*Robbie Fowler, Tony Adams, Paul Scholes, Sol Campbell & Joe Cole all received at least one nomination each without getting a single vote. Scholes on five occasions.
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