As far back as I can remember, the announcement of any England squad for a major tournament has always been big news, especially for those who don’t make it.. So as Euro 2020 is finally on the horizon, here I look at the unlucky players who just missed out in each European Championships that England been involved in. Some are unfortunate to get injured just before the finals, some are placed on a stand-by list in case they are needed, and some are cruelly axed with the plane in sight.
Manager Alf Ramsey still had a large amount of his World Cup winning players to pick from for the 1968 tournament in Italy. The exception to this however, was right-back George Cohen, who had struggled with a cartilage injury sustained during the previous winter. Unfortunately he had no choice but to retire 18 months later.
In the end, Ramsey only chose 12 of the players who were part of his World Cup squad from two years earlier, including nearly all the eleven who started the final. The manager presumptuously named his 22 men for the competition before they had even played the second leg of their quarter-final qualifying match, as was the confidence of Ramsey that they would once again be lifting silverware.
Following a 3-1 aggregate win over Spain, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti was forced to pull out of the squad after damaging a knee ligament. He was replaced by Everton’s Gordon West, who went as third choice stopper behind Gordon Banks and Alex Stepney. Off England flew to Florence for their semi-final with Yugoslavia, which is remembered more for Alan Mullery becoming the first English international to be sent off, than the 1-0 defeat. Still, Ramsey’s side did beat the Soviet Union 2-0 in the third place play-off, which remains their best ever finish at a European Championships to this day.
After the 1970 World Cup, England failed to qualify for another major tournament until the European Championships in 1980 – again in Italy. This ten-year hiatus was ended by Ron Greenwood, who had taken over the England team two years earlier. The competition had now been increased to eight nations taking part in two groups, meaning the balance of the squad was even more important.
An achilles injury to Nottingham Forest’s Trevor Francis the previous month had ruled him out of contention, but Greenwood still had some big calls to make. He named twenty of his 22 shortly after a friendly win over Scotland on May 24th, with a shortlist list of five players to fill the two remaining spots; Bryan Robson and Peter Barnes (both WBA), Glenn Hoddle (Spurs), Garry Birtles (Forest) and Laurie Cunningham (Real Madrid).
Robson and Hoddle travelled with a virtual ‘B’ team to Australia for a friendly to celebrate 100 years of football down under. Not the ideal preparation for players who might be involved in a European competition a week later, it must be said. However, the match on the 31st May finished 2-1 to the visitors.
Just three days later, Greenwood announced that Hoddle and Birtles were the two players to have made the final squad. Hoddle had impressed in Sydney, scoring one of the goals. Birtles on the other hand had not gone to Australia, instead he was part of Nottingham Forest’s second consecutive European Cup success. This, plus his solitary England cap from a few weeks earlier, was enough for the manager to take Birtles to Italy. All three players who missed out could count themselves unlucky, especially Cunningham, who had just won La Liga with Real Madrid. Incredibly, he was only capped once more after that summer. Barnes would suffer a similar heartbreak two years later, just missing out on the 1982 World Cup squad. There was no such problem for Robson though, as he would go on to have an illustrious England career, appearing in four major tournaments after this – three as captain.
In terms of impact on Euro ’80, Garry Birtles and Glenn Hoddle only played one game a piece in England’s three group matches. Birtles started their second game (a 1-0 defeat to the hosts) for only his second cap. And Glenn Hoddle’s appearance came in the final match against Spain, where a two-goal margin of victory was required to qualify for the 3rd/4th place play-off. England came up short, only winning 2-1 on the night, with Hoddle being sacrificed for another forward as they chased that elusive goal. One can only wonder if afterwards Ron Greenwood regretted not taking three of his most exciting players in Barnes, Robson and Cunningham.
The previous November, Terry Butcher had broken his leg playing for Glasgow Rangers. It was touch and go throughout the rest of the 1987/88 season as to whether England’s main central defender was going to make the Championships. But by the end of April it was apparent he would miss out, dealing a huge blow to Bobby Robson’s plans.
The manager named a 24-man squad for an England XI in Alan Hansen’s testimonial, two home Rous Cup games against Scotland and Colombia and a friendly in Switzerland. On May 28th, Robson cut four members from his squad – QPR keeper David Seaman; Middlesbrough central defender Gary Pallister; and strikers Tony Cottee and Mick Harford from West Ham and Luton Town respectively. Inexperience had obviously cost the four who missed out, with just five caps between them all at this time. Harford’s exclusion was especially unfortunate, having being dropped from England’s 1986 World Cup squad at a similar stage.
There was one more new player to join up with the group before they flew out to the tournament in Germany. Stuart Pearce failed to shake off an injury, so Chelsea’s Tony Dorigo got the call to replace him. Ironically he got the news on the same day his side were relegated from the First Division, following a play-off defeat to Middlesbrough – Gary Pallister played in the same game. Dorigo remains the last English outfield player to go to a major competition without having a cap to his name.
England only scored twice in three group games during Euro ’88, so Cottee and Harford will both think they could have made an impact from the bench. However, with the set in stone partnership of Beardsley and Lineker, and Mark Hateley scoring 1 in 2 for Monaco that season, it’s difficult to argue with the strikers Bobby Robson took to Germany. It was only found out later that a lethargic Gary Lineker was suffering from Hepatitis. Also the young defensive pairing of Tony Adams and Mark Wright had a torrid time throughout, so I doubt the even more inexperienced Gary Pallister would have faired better against the likes of Marco Van Basten. Who England really needed was Terry Butcher.
There’s no doubt that Graham Taylor had some dreadful luck with injuries before this tournament in Sweden, but at the same time he also made some baffling decisions in the players he did choose. A week before England’s friendly with Brazil on May 17th, Taylor picked a massive squad of 28, plus four on standby – Tottenham pair of Gary Mabbutt and Paul Stewart; Crystal Palace midfielder Geoff Thomas; and Gary Pallister, now of Manchester United and winner of the PFA Player Of The Year.
Two days prior to the match at Wembley, Liverpool right-back Rob Jones withdrew with shin splints. The day after the 1-1 draw with Brazil, Taylor then named his 20-man squad for the championships. Joining the standby list would be QPR’s Andy Sinton – in case John Barnes failed to respond to treatment on a thigh injury – and Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman, who would also miss out for the second consecutive Euros. Five other players were dropped altogether; Goalkeeper Tony Coton, defender Keith Curle (both Man City), experienced right-back Gary Stevens (Glasgow Rangers), and the Arsenal pair of David Rocastle and Ian Wright. It’s worth saying that Wright had just won the First Division Golden Boot, scoring 29 league goals.
Now the drama really started, as a week later Arsenal’s Lee Dixon pulled out of the squad after damaging his knee whilst out for a run , with Gary Stevens drafted back in to replace him. The squad was then submitted to UEFA before one final warm-up fixture in Finland on June 3rd. Just 12 minutes into that match, John Barnes ruptured an achilles tendon and was ruled out of the tournament. Later in the game, the one remaining recognised right-back in the squad, Gary Stevens, suffered a stress fracture to his foot and also had to withdraw. Two days later, UEFA allowed two replacements to be called up, so Andy Sinton and Keith Curle filled the spots. Bear in mind Curle, who was naturally a central defender, now found himself recalled as England’s fourth choice right-back.
There was another crushing blow to come for Taylor, as Liverpool captain Mark Wright revealed a few days later that he had aggravated an old tendon injury in Helsinki, but didn’t say anything in hope it would heal in time for the tournament. Unfortunately, it hadn’t, and Wright did not travel with the rest on the players to Sweden on June 7th. Arsenal’s captain Tony Adams was placed on standby in case UEFA agreed to Wright being replaced. On June 11th, Wright then flew to Sweden to be examined by a UEFA medic – the same day as England’s opening game. But as the injury was not a recent one, the request for a replacement was denied, leaving England with just 19 players for the tournament. Taylor was not happy in the slightest about the situation and only picked Wright once more during his tenure.
At the Championships England were poor. For a start one goal in three matches wasn’t enough, with Taylor not knowing who to partner Lineker upfront with between a young Alan Shearer and an out of sorts Alan Smith, with Nigel Clough remaining an unused sub throughout. All the while the English First Divsion’s top scorer was sat at home. Having no natural right-back was also a problem, with Keith Curle, Trevor Steven and David Batty all filling in at some stage. Yes the injuries were unlucky but calling Curle up as a replacement when he had already capped the likes of Nottingham Forest‘s Gary Charles and Aston Villa’s Earl Barrett in previous friendlies was a mistake, and it unbalanced the squad massively. However, as England manager, you should be taking as many in-form players as you can to a major tournament, and if the PFA Player Of The Year (Pallister) and Golden Boot winner (Ian Wright) aren’t part of the squad, it’s unforgivable.
With England hosting the European Championships in 1996, this was the squad that every player wanted to be in. Terry Venables learned the lessons from his predecessor and named 27 players with no standby list for the Wembley friendly with Hungary and a short tour of the Far-East. In that last home fixture, Mark Wright limped off with strained knee ligament and would miss another Euros – Newcastle’s Steve Howey was called up as a replacement.
After a further friendly win over China in Beijing and an unofficial international against a Hong Kong select XI, Venables named his 22-man squad for the home tournament. The unfortunate five to be dropped were Aston Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu, winger Jason Wilcox of Blackburn, Chelsea captain Dennis Wise, and Newcastle duo Robert Lee and Peter Beardsley. Ehiogu and Wilcox had only won one cap each so their exclusion was no surprise, but Lee and Wise had featured regularly during Venables’ two years in charge, as had Beardsley, who at 35 wouldn’t play for England again. These were tough decisions for the manager, who was taking away a once in a lifetime chance to play in a home tournament.
Things got even tougher for Venables when a couple of days after they’d landed back in England, photos had emerged of a group of players drinking heavily in a Hong Kong bar – the infamous dentist chair night. The newspapers were calling for Paul Gascoigne and the others to be dropped from the squad., Venables relented and his team closed ranks, focusing only on the football from now on. Back in the camp, Steve Howey picked up an injury, forcing him out of the competition. Once again UEFA refused to allow England to call up a replacement. Luckily for Venables, he still had 21 players available, unlike the 19 Taylor had four years earlier.
You would have to say that out of all England’s European Championship squads, this one was the strongest, and there were certainly no arguments about who were selected. For once the three leading scorers during that season were picked, in Shearer, Ferdinand and Fowler. It was young, exciting and more balanced than any squads before or since. The only player who did miss out was Graeme Le Saux, who had broken his ankle earlier that campaign and up to then had been Venables’ first choice left-back. But just think, if Le Saux had been there, then we wouldn’t have had Stuart Pearce’s glorious penalty redemption against Spain.
In March 1999 when Kevin Keegan took over as England manager, he was viewed as the saviour of the national team. Fourteen months later the optimism had gone, following a qualification campaign which saw his side very lucky to be in Belgium/Holland at all. However, Keegan still had a bounce in his step and named a squad of 28 players on May 15th for the home friendlies with Brazil and Ukraine.
Just six days into the camp, Jason Wilcox, now of Leeds Utd, withdrew with a knee injury, missing out on a second successive Euros. Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry was immediately called up from the Under 21s as his replacement. A decent display by England followed in the 1-1 draw against the South Americans, but Ray Parlour of Arsenal suffered ligament damage after coming on as a late substitute, and had to pull out. A day later, Liverpool’s Jamie Redknapp and Manchester United striker Andy Cole both declared themselves unfit for the tournament. The pair had been trying to shake off injuries, but to no avail.
On May 30th, before the second friendly against the Ukraine, Keegan announced his squad for the European Championships. The injuries meant just three more players had to be axed. They were West Ham defender Rio Ferdinand, Kieron Dyer of Newcastle, and Aston Villa’s keeper David James. The decision to drop youngsters Ferdinand and Dyer was not a huge surprise, as Keegan stuck with the massive amount of experience already in his side. Rio Ferdinand names that moment as a huge turning point in his career, encouraging him to knuckle down and leave the London nightlife behind – just a few months later he moved to Leeds.
At the tournament, England were not up to scratch again, going out at the group stage. You can’t help but think that some of the injuries or exclusions could have made a difference. For a start, having Wilcox or Dyer as an option for the left side of midfield when Steve McManaman was injured, instead of a 33 year old Dennis Wise, looks a much more attractive prospect. But up front Keegan was very much set in his ways. Starting Alan Shearer and Michael Owen and then bringing Emile Heskey on for Owen after an hour was how the group games panned out. Both Robbie Fowler and ‘European Golden Boot’ winner Kevin Phillips didn’t get on the pitch at all during Euro 2000, so it’s hard to imagine Cole getting more of a chance.
One notable absentee who simply wasn’t available was Rio Ferdinand, who had failed to attend a drugs test at his Manchester United training ground in September 2003. By January, Ferdinand was given an eight-month ban from football, meaning he would once again miss a European Championship for England.
Unlike the World Cup in Korea and Japan two years earlier, this time manager Sven Goran Eriksson had no such injury worries. On May 17th, he named his 23-man squad for the Euros nice and early, with just two friendly matches against Japan and Iceland in Manchester to get through before the tournament started. Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe joined the squad for the games as cover for Darius Vassell. Eriksson also named five standby players, who would be keeping their beady eyes on these matches for any injuries – Goalkeeper Richard Wright (Everton), defenders Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough) and Matthew Upson (Birmingham), midfielder Scott Parker (Chelsea), and striker Alan Smith (Leeds).
For once in England’s history, there wasn’t to be any withdrawals from the original squad. A poor 1-1 draw with Japan was followed by a thumping 6-1 victory over Iceland. The most important thing however, was that all 23 players came through the matches unscathed. Even Vassell proved his fitness by scoring twice against the Icelandics, leaving Defoe surplus to requirements. Although he was given a five minute sub appearance as a thank you.
If there’s one thing you can say about England’s 2004 squad, it’s that it included probably the strongest starting eleven in their history – James, Neville, Cole, Terry, Campbell, Beckham, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard, Owen and Rooney. Everybody else who went to Portugal were just limited to substitute cameos. England played extremely well most of the competition before unfortunately being knocked out by the hosts on penalties, so to suggest that any player left at home would have made a difference is quite ludicrous.
When he was appointed manager at the beginning of May 2012, Roy Hodgson was basically given a free hit at these European Championships. The shock resignation of Fabio Capello three months before had given the FA a massive headache and Hodgson was more than happy to be the aspirin.
His first job was to name a squad for the tournament. A provisional list of 23 players was announced on May 16th before England’s two warm up games against Norway and Belgium. Five additional players were placed on standby: uncapped Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland; Phil Jageilka of Everton; Jordan Henderson of Liverpool; Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge; and Liverpool defender Martin Kelly for cover at right-back. Peter Crouch turned down the chance to be on that same list.
On May 25th, Butland was called up as replacement for John Ruddy, who broke a finger in training. The following day Gareth Barry picked up a groin injury in the 1-0 win in Oslo, and pulled out two days later, to be replaced by Jageilka. On the same day that Barry withdrew, Frank Lampard pulled up in training with a groin injury. A scan ruled him out of the Euros and his place went to Henderson. Gary Cahill was injured during the 1-0 win over Belgium on June 2nd, after a needless push from an opponent caused him to collide with Joe Hart and break his jaw. Martin Kelly was then called back up as his replacement.
After the early injury crisis, England did well at the tournament, topping their group and setting up a quarter-final with Italy. Unfortunately a penalty shootout would once again send them packing. With Roy Hodgson only knowing the players for a month before the competition started, it’s hard to criticise his squad selection. There were certainly no startling omissions, and who knows, if the likes of Lampard, Barry and Cahill had all been fit, his side may have surprised a few people. It’s sad to say but this was as good as it got for Hodgson.
The pressure was now on Hodgson following a poor 2014 World Cup, but yet another easy qualification campaign gave England fans renewed optimism for a major tournament. Gone were the old guard of Gerrard and Lampard and in came a group of exciting youngsters. So on May 16th a squad of 26 was named before three friendly matches with Turkey, Australia and Portugal. Two players missing were Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, who had scored three times in qualifying, and Phil Jageilka, who had captained his country once during the same campaign.
England beat Turkey 2-1 in the first match, but on the eve of the second match Fabian Delph dropped down to the standby list due to a groin injury. After defeating Australia in that game, Hodgson named his 23 men for the Euros, axing two remaining players. New Premier League winner with Leicester, Danny Drinkwater, and recently relegated Newcastle midfielder, Andros Townsend, were the unfortunate duo to get the chop.
Hodgson’s men were undefeated in the group stage, but two draws out of three meant they were beaten to top spot in their group by British rivals Wales. This set up a second round match with Iceland, and we all know what happened there. You could argue that the likes of Walcott, Townsend and Drinkwater could’ve made some impact in the tournament, but really things were too far gone in regard to how Hodgson wanted to play. It’s just unfortunate for him that they got found out in such a humiliating way against a country with the same population as Coventry.
Whoever Gareth Southgate picks for his Euro 2020 squad, there will inevitably be players with injuries, players who will be dropped at the last minute, and a standby list of players who are secretly hoping for rapid changes in the group. But to get so close to going to a tournament like many in this piece, has to be up there with football’s biggest cruelties.
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