When it comes to becoming an England regular many are called and few chosen but what of the players who never got their chance, who got close but never got to wear the Three Lions and win a full cap. Here we look back at some of the best that never got a game to form an uncapped squad of 23. And yes to come up with this list did require a hefty scrape of the bottom of the barrel.
Note uncapped players with realistic chances of a call-up are excluded
- John Lukic
Lukic’s story is of a 2 club man. He first came to prominence at Leeds in the late ’70s but they were relegated in 1982 and their promising ‘keeper was sold to Arsenal. By 1985 Lukic had succeeded the ageing Pat Jennings as Arsenal number 1 and went on to win the 1987 League Cup before playing the entirety of Arsenal’s 1988-89 title season. But a year later George Graham signed David Seaman, but help was at hand as Howard Wilkinson’s revitalised Leeds had just won promotion and Lukic was back in a £1 million deal. Lukic was a key figure as Leeds as they won the final Football League Championship in 1992 with Lukic picking up his second title medal. He stayed at Leeds until 1996 before finally returning to Highbury to finish his career as Seaman’s understudy. In all he made 668 top flight appearance for Leeds & Arsenal winning a League title with both but at international level had to make do with 1 England B cap.
2. Ray Ranson
Let’s be honest if you are English and play right back you will get a cap, even Gary Charles & Carl Jenkinson got 1! I thought I’d be left with Kyle Naughton and Tony Hibbert fighting out a biggest Pygmy in the village contest, until I remembered Ranson. Although mainly known for being one of a posse of defenders turned inside out by Ricky Villa in the ’81 Cup Final, Ranson was a fine defender. He emerged from Manchester City’s academy in 1978 and made his England Under 21 debut a year later at the age of 19.
Ranson quickly established himself as a regular for City, making it all the way to Wembley in 1981 and the Under 21 caps kept coming until he fell outside eligibility with 11 to his name. But his path to the senior side was blocked initially by veterans Mick Mills & Phil Neal and then the younger Gary Stevens (both of them!)
In 1984 he transferred to Birmingham City and won a swift promotion to the First Division before going on to a solid spell at Newcastle in 1988. He made almost 500 League starts before retiring in 1995. Unusually in retirement rather than go for the usual ex footballer career of running a pub or opening a boutique he became a venture capitalist and made millions.
3. Lee Martin
The man who saved Alex Ferguson Part 1! Martin came through the junior ranks at Manchester United and made his debut in 1988. But United were struggling and in the 1989-90 season a wretched run of form saw them struggling in the bottom half of the table and get a 5-1 tonking at Maine Road! But the FA Cup offered Ferguson the chance to end is barren start of 4 trophiless years in Manchester. United with Martin at left-back strode out at Wembley for the Cup Final but came back with only a 3-3 draw. In the replay against Crystal Palace, Martin made a late run to get behind Palace and smash home Neil Webb’s long ball and secure a bit of footballing history with the only goal of the game, and Fergie finally had a trophy. But Martin was soon behind new man Denis Irwin in the pecking order and moved on to Celtic in 1994. But Martin’s career was hampered by injuries and he barely made 100 first team appearances and with England he only managed 2 Under 21 Caps.
4. Steve Bruce (c)
Probably the most shocking name on this list is the most decorated defender of the early Premier League era. Bruce came to prominence at Norwich who he joined in 1984 and the following year won The League Cup picking up the Man of the Match award in the final, although the Canaries went on to be relegated in the same season.
In 1987 he was snapped up by new Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson for £800,000. But after a good first season at Old Trafford the team were struggling and in 1989 Ferguson bought Gary Pallister to partner Bruce, initially it was a disaster with the defenders out of sync and shipping goals. But things turned when Lee Martin’s goal won the 1990 FA Cup. The following season saw Bruce & Pallister emerge as the best centre back pairing in England, Bruce even scored 19 goals (mostly penalties) as Ferguson’s side began accumulating trophies and finally ended United’s 26 year wait for a league with the inaugural Premier League title.
So why no England call? Well Bruce was 32 by the time he was a Premier League Champion and playing in an era flush with great english centre backs- Adams, Pallister, Keown, Wright and for a while Des Walker. The closest he got was an England B cap back in 1987 when he was simply too similar to Terry Butcher to be his partner. Still Bruce went on to win 3 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups, 1 Cup Winner Cup and 2 League Cups, before an up and down career in management.
5. Paul Elliott
Elliott would have got a cap were it not for a career ending injury. Elliott started out with Charlton then had stints with Luton & Aston Villa before completing his footballing education with Italian side Pisa. But it was his return to Britain with Celtic in 1989 that brought him to prominence. Elliott was outstanding at Parkhead winning Scottish Footballer of the Year in his second season.
When Elliott returned to England with Chelsea in the summer of 1991 many fancied his chances of a call up to Graham Taylor’s rebuilding England side. Sadly just a year later Elliott’s career was over via an appalling tackle from Dean Saunders. Elliott tried (unsuccessfully) to sue Saunders but went on to win an OBE for his work in junior football and anti racism initiatives. But his England ambitions remained unfulfilled.
6. Nigel Spackman
Never the flashiest player Spackman was a ‘do a job’ midfielder who would work and dig for the team, but those aren’t necessarily the qualities you need to break into an England midfield which at the time had Robson, McMahon, Hoddle and latterly Gascoigne & Platt. He started with Bournemouth but rose to the First Division in a successful 4 year stint with Chelsea. That opened the door for a move to all-conquering Liverpool with whom he eventually won regular start and won the 1988 League Title. He went on to spells with QPR, Rangers and even returned to Chelsea for a while in the mid 90s, but never won an England cap at any level.
7. Ian Woan
This tricky Left Winger was one of the last players to emerge under the tutelage of Brian Clough. He joined Nottingham Forest in 1990 aged 22 from mighty Runcorn. But Clough polished this rough diamond into an excellent left-wing, who would stay through good and bad times at Forest for a full decade. Woan wasn’t the paceiest wing but he could certainly cross and came close to call up under Terry Venables as England geared up for Euro ’96. But El Tel wasn’t convinced and instead brought in Woan’s Forest wing partner Steve Stone. Stone went to Euro ’96 whilst Woan stayed home but did go on to make over 200 appearances for Forest. It’s a shame for Woan he didn’t emerge 10 years later when we so desperate for left wings Stewart Downing got 30+ caps!
8. Jimmy Case
Case ran Liverpool’s midfield engine room through the most successful period in their history but failed to win a single cap. He got his debut aged 21 towards the end of the 1974-75 campaign. The following season he was regular providing drive and the odd thunderous strike from midfield and scoring a crucial goal in the UEFA Cup Final. He continued to be a regular at Liverpool and played the 1977 European Cup Final as he amassed 4 League Titles and 2 European Cups at heart of the side.
But by 1981 he was dropping down the pecking order and although he added a third European Cup Winner medal Case was moved on to Brighton. He stayed on the South Coast for 4 seasons and guided the side to the 1983 FA Cup Final but a suffered a second Wembley loss to Manchester United. With Brighton relegated that spring it seemed Case would drop down the divisions but in 1985 he was back in the top flight with Southampton where he played First Division Football until 1991 at the age of 37. Despite his achievements 3 successive England managers looked elsewhere and Case’s only flirtation with national team was 1 game with England B. But a truckload of medals and over 600 League games gives a proper perspective on his career
9. Lee Chapman
The best aerial striker of his day took in 12 clubs in an 18 year professional career. He started with Stoke where he scored 34 league goals and won an Under 21 call from England. But he fluffed what seemed to be his big move with a poor spell at Arsenal. However his move to Howard Wilkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday in 1984 saw in notch 79 goals in 4 seasons to put him on the footballing map.
The most direct of direct centre forwards then found an unexpected home with Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, yes the same manager who claimed “If God wanted us to play football in tha air, he’d have put grass up there”. Chapman did well at Forest with whom he played and won the 1989 League Cup Final. But the following season Chapman was back with Wilkinson this time with Leeds. Chapman enjoyed the most prolific spell of his career at Elland Road, he started by scoring the goal that put Leeds back in the top flight, he then notched 31 goals on Leeds return to Division 1 and then another 20 in 1991/92 as Leeds were crowned the final Champions of the Old Football League. In all he scored 80 goals in 3 and half years at Leeds and won an England B cap but never made it to the senior squad, he retired in 1996.
10. Mark Bright
One half of the best striker pairing in England at the turn of the 90s, Bright surprisingly never got called to play alongside strike partner Ian Wright with England. Bright like Wright rose up from the semi professional leagues and finally arrived at Crystal Palace in 1986 at the age of 24. He made his mark over the next 2 seasons amassing 45 league goals whilst Wright bagged 44, as Palace finally made it to the top-tier in 1989. In their first season up the dynamic duo struggled for goals but still took Palace to the Cup Final where Wright bagged a brace.
But the following season saw the pair take off with Wright the main threat and Bright with power and pace his wingman as Palace finished 3rd in the table. Wright won an England call up and early the next season was off to Arsenal whilst Bright stayed in South London and bagged a further 22 goals that season. Yet surprisingly England boss Graham Taylor remained unmoved and overlooked both Wright & Bright (and indeed Chapman) for Euro ’92 in favour of Wright’s Arsenal understudy Alan Smith. Now it was Bright’s turn to move on and he joined Sheffield Wednesday where he finished top scorer 3 seasons on a row and would bag 70 goals in 5 years but despite that Taylor and then Terry Venables remained unimpressed and Bright finished his career with 166 League Goals but no England caps.
11. Paul Allen
The second best player of the Allen clan, Paul became the youngest player ever to feature in a Wembley FA Cup final just over 100 days shy of his 18th birthday, his West Ham side went on to claim the trophy. Allen was a tricky, creative midfielder in the mould you’d expect from the Academy of Football and made steady progres, winning 3 England Under 21 Caps.
In 1985 with his profile on the rise he moved across London to Tottenham for £400,000. Allen would make his second FA Cup Final in 1987, whilst cousin Clive won footballer of the year but Tottenham lost 3-2 to Coventry. Paul stayed 9 years at White Hart Lane and finally collected his second FA Cup winners medal in 1991. In all he made 574 appearances for Tottenham & West Ham before dropping down the division’s. But his best years came when England had Barnes & Waddle as wingers whilst Steve Hodge and Trevor Steven remained favourites of Bobby Robson in the wide midfield roles, Allen never got a look in.
And the bench…
12. David May
Surely he got a cap- you know the Manchester United Champions League winner who was so integral to that treble winning side…oh wait.
13. Les Sealey
The Man who saved Alex Ferguson Part 2. After Jim Leighton’s hapless performance in the 1990 FA Cup Final Alex Ferguson made a bold move, he dumped Leighton and selected loanee Les Sealey despite his only having played 2 previous games for the club. It worked the former Luton man was outstanding in the replay helping Ferguson to his first trophy in England. Sealey was retained for the following campaign and won the European Cup Winners Cup before Ferguson signed Peter Schmeichel. It’s slightly surprising that at a time when Peter Shilton had retired new England boss Taylor never thought the willy veteran would make a useful back up option. Sealey stayed in the game until 1998 but sadly died of a heart attack just 3 years aged just 43.
14. John Beresford
This cultured left-back made his big break with Portsmouth in 1992, whom he helped to an FA Cup Semi Final whilst in Division 2. He missed a penalty in the semi final replay but impressed opposing manager Greame Souness enough to agree to sign him. But Beresford failed the medical and wound up an early signing of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle. Beresford maintained his place throughout the rollercoaster Keegan era and won 2 England B caps but in an era that also featured Stuart Pearce and Greame Le Saux a senior cap proved beyond him.
15. Gary Ablett
Ablett was a versatile defender who came through the ranks at Liverpool and eventually established himself as the clubs first choice left-back at a time they were the dominant side in England. Ablett won 2 League Titles & 1 FA Cup during his time at Anfield before Sounesss sold him to Everton, where he played another Cup Final and collected his second winners medal in 1995. Yet despite 237 league games on Merseyside Ablett only ever received 1 Under 21 cap and 1 B cap. Sadly he died in 2012 aged just 46.
16. Dennis Mortimer
Described by many as England’s best ever uncapped player, Mortimer started with Coventry but made his big move in 1975 when he joined Aston Villa. At Villa he thrived as a tireless midfielder and captained the side to the 1981 League Title. A year later he reached the peak of his powers by skippering Villa to the 1982 European Cup. But remarkably he never won a full cap. He was something of a late bloomer picking being 30 when Villa won their European crown but it’s still hard to believe he wasn’t worth a late call that summer for Ron’s 22.
17. Paul Davis
A native of Dulwich, Davis was an Arsenal junior product. He was a combative midfielder best remembered for punching Glenn Cockerill square in the jaw. Davis’ rugged style put Bobby Robson off and despite 11 Under 21 caps he never played for the senior side. He did however play 450 games for Arsenal over 15 years and won 2 League Titles, 2 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and the European Cup Winners Cup. It wasn’t enough to convince England who instead gave Carlton Palmer 18 caps.
18. Mark Noble
Mr West Ham was first capped by England at under-16 level and went on to win 47 age group England caps culminating in his captaining the Under 21’s at Euro 2009 where England finished runners-up. Noble can pass the ball but isn’t the most athletic and now aged 31 and after 450+ West Ham games it’s safe for him to remove Gareth Southgate’s number from speed-dial.
19. Michael Bridges
Bridges would have been an England international were his promising career not decimated by injury. Bridges started with Sunderland where he played as a second striker and his technique won flattering comparisons to Denis Bergkamp. He quickly established himself as a regular for England’s Under 21s and in the summer of 1999 joined Leeds for £5million. At Elland Road he stepped into the shoes of Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and immediately notched a 20 goal season, as Leeds made it into the Champions League. It seemed the world was at his feet but then Bridges suffered a career debilitating injury in the Champions League and would suffer 4 years of injury torment at Leeds. He did recover enough to play in the lower leagues but never regained the speed or developed the technique that brought him within a whisker of international football.
20. Rod Wallace
The best of Southampton’s three Wallace brothers, Rod showed great promise at The Dell winning 11 Under 21 Caps and in 1991 aged 21 made his big move by joining Leeds. Wallace’s speed and dribbling skill were a perfect complement to Lee Chapman’s aerial presence and he notched 16 goals as Leeds won the League. Graham Taylor took note and that autumn called up Wallace for England. But he got injured in the preceding club game and missed his chance.
Wallace continued at Leeds and won the 1993-4 goal of the season with a George Weah-esque box to box run against Tottenham. In 1996 he moved to Rangers on a Bosman where miraculously his strike rate doubled and 5 major trophies followed, but despite calls for a cap he remained out of sight out of mind.
21. Adrian Heath
An attacking midfielder come striker during Everton’s glory run in the mid ’80s, Heath was never quite the main man at Everton at a time when playing every week was a prerequisite for an England call. Heath started with Stoke City but made the move to Goodison in 1981 for a club record £750,000. We was Everton’s top scorer in 1983-84 with 18 goals in all competition as Everton claimed the FA Cup. The following season was injury hit as Graeme Sharp & Andy Gary took centre stage but Heath still earned a League Champions & Cup Winners Cup medal. A year on Gary Lineker arrived and Heath was largely relegated to the bench. But Heath regained a regular start in 86-87 as Everton won a second League Title. In all Heath played 307 games and scored 93 goals at Goodison before moving on to Spain and a nomadic end to his playing career taking in Espanyol, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Burnley. He’s now a successful MLS coach at Minnesota United where they serenade the team to Oasis’ Wonderwall much to the delight of one his former clubs best known fan.
22. David Fairclough
Every team needs an option off the bench, a man who gets on the pace of the game and scores the winning goal, so had England actually qualified for something in the ’70s why not call up super-sub himself David Fairclough? A Liverpool native Fairclough came through the Anfield junior ranks and made his senior debut in 1975. But it was the following season when he scored 7 in 14 games that saw him mould his supersub status with The Kop as Liverpool won the title.
The following season Liverpool had the Toshack/ Keegan pairing at their peak but Fairclough continued to bag goals from the bench. But having secured Liverpool the League, Bob Paisley made the strange decision not to pick Fairclough in his 12 man squad for the FA Cup Final, Liverpool lost and Fairclough wasn’t excluded again. The following week he came on in the European Cup Final as Liverpool won their first European crown. The following year he started the Final as Liverpool retained the trophy. But when Keegan was sold and Dalglish arrived the chances of Fairclough becoming a regular starter were done. Still he won 3 League titles, 2 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and a League Cup in 8 years with Liverpool.
23. Steve Ogrizovic
Coventry City’s legendary goalkeeper spent 16 years at Highfield Road but actually started out with Chesterfield. From there he moved to Liverpool where he spent 5 years at Ray Clemence’s back up but only played 4 games. After leaving Anfield he seemed destined for a lower division career but signed for First Division Coventry in 1984.
But ‘Oggy’s career highlight came in 1987 when he lifted the FA Cup after Coventry’s shock win over Tottenham. He was frequently considered by England boss Bobby Robson but with Peter Shilton’s unbreakable hold on the number 1 shirt and Chris Woods the anointed successor Oggy never got the call. He would retain the Coventry gloves in the top division all the way through to 1998 aged 40. He finally retired 2 years later after playing 500 games for City.
Honorable mentions: Marco Gabbiadini, Kevin Pressman, Jimmy Greenhoff, Mark Stein, Michail Antonio, Chris Turner, Kevin Nolan, Gary Crosby, Chris Whyte, Tony Coton, Gary Parker, Mike Newell, Brian Borrows, Paul Mortimer, Billy Bonds, Chris Fairclough, Julian Dicks, Howard Kendall, Terry Hurlock, Steven Taylor, Paul Lake, Vinny Samways, Dave Bennett, Gary Shaw & Tony Hibbert.