As England prepare to take on the might of Montenegro (The Sun Says, “They’re OK, they fought with us in the wars!“) this evening, chance to reflect on those who have donned the Arsenal shirt and been woefully underappreciated by England:
10. Steve Bould
Oh, come on. 2 caps. Surely not? Having been part of the most consistently mean defence in the top flight, Bobby Robson continually overlooked Bould, preferring the likes of Butcher, Walker and Wright as England continued to qualify well and woefully underperform at Finals. Bould was certainly the equal of Butcher and better than the other pair. Yet his contribution to the Arsenal team was devalued outside of the club. His call-up came in 1994, arguably England’s nadir over the past thirty years, when Graham Taylor simply could not get anyone to perform. The defence bolstered by Bould played Greece and Norway without conceding, winning 5-0 in the first before a goalless draw against the Norwegians.
9. Nigel Winterburn
There are those who would argue that Stuart Pearce thoroughly deserved his place in the side yet Winterburn was equally consistent and probably deserved more than his brace of caps. He got off to a promising start, a substitute in England’s goalless draw against Italy in 1989. Quite what Winterburn did to merit being excluded from the England set-up until 1993 is beyond me, especially since the vastly over-rated Tony Dorigo was regularly included. It’s tempting to suggest that Winterburn might have done better than Pearce in that penalty shootout in 1990 but the memories of his feeble effort in the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final preclude me from doing so. His final appearance was in the US Cup in 1993, a 1-2 defeat to Germany.
8. Peter Simpson
A toss-up as to whose omission was more startling; Simpson or Sammels. The latter is unfashionable to rate but in the late 1960s and having been capped by England at junior levels, he surely merited some caps at the senior level. But I’ll plump for Simpson on this occasion.
A stalwart for Arsenal, Simpson managed to get called into the England squad by Sir Alf Ramsey prior to Mexico 1970. Unsurprisingly given the talent that the manager had avaialble to him, the Arsenal player was never capped. Given the paucity of performances following the quarter-final defeat to Germany, it is totally surprising that he was never given the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level. Perhaps Arsenal players were not considered good enough, surprising that from 1968 to 1972, there were three losing finals, a league title, FA Cup and Fairs Cup along the way. But then in those days, being called into the squad was recognition of your talent rather than being a media-orchestrated campaign. And a cap? That meant the world.
7. Malcolm MacDonald
Scoring five goals in one match – still a record – and then scoring in a 2-0 win over West Germany (reigning World Champions at the time) ought to have cemented MacDonald’s place in the England line-up. That night in 1975, Cyprus the victims, was the pinnacle of his England career, which ended four months later in Portugal as England failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships. All of this before he signed for Arsenal. His record of a goal every other game whilst at the club was not deemed good enough, despite being arguably the best in the country at the time, before the injury which ultimately ended his career struck. England’s appalling record in tournaments from 1972 to 1978 makes it all the more baffling as to why he didn’t earn more call-ups in his prime.
6. Charlie George
Hardly surprising that George did not earn more caps. 1970s football as far as England was concerned, was the dark ages for the maverick. Like kindred spirits, Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles and Alan Hudson, his was distrusted by Ramsey and Revie. His solitary call-up for the full team came in a 1976 friendly against the Republic of Ireland. He failed to score and was exiled with a speed that proved to be Revie’s template. Falling out with the manager was deemed to be justification for his previous omissions but his appearance came when he was past his prime.
5. Paul Davis
When he first broke into the team, Davis was rated highly, capped at Under-21 level, touted as a future international. It never happened. Partly because he was an undemonstrative midfielder, integral to Graham’s team, overshadowed by higher scoring individuals. His passing was exemplary – the Denilson of his era – and better than some who appeared for their country. The suspicion remains that breaking Glenn Cockerill’s jaw cost him more than the fine and subsequent nine-match ban.
4. Lee Dixon
A small gripe on this one. Dixon was capped 22 times for his country but it was nowhere near enough. Without a shadow of a doubt, Dixon was the most consistent right back in the top flight during his time at Arsenal. Far superior than Paul Parker, he could not match the versatility offered although Parker’s ability as a centre back was over-rated. More swashbuckling that Gary Stevens, the only reason for his lack of caps in comparison is that his face did not fit. Sitting next to Adrian Chiles has since rectified that problem.
3. Alan Sunderland
Forever etched into the minds of Arsenal supporters for the 1979 FA Cup Final, Sunderland arrived at the club from Wolves with a burgeoning reputation carved over 150 appearances. He enhanced that during seven years but never got international recognition primarily due to Arsenal’s dubious league performances preceding and during his time. His one appearance came amid a much derided tour of Australia, a 2-1 victory in Melbourne scant reward for his efforts.
2. Reg Lewis
Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to put down the lack of international appearances to a player being born at the wrong time. The Second World War denied him football in his prime. Despite this, Lewis scored 118 goals in 176 games for Arsenal but it was a time of arrogance for the nation, a time when they believed they ruled the world, a time when England could travel the globe and beat one and all. These beliefs would be shattered during three short years, starting in Belo Horizonte in 1950. It just so happened that it was the time of Mortensen and co, revered England internationals hence Lewis’ failure to gain a solitary cap.
1. George Armstrong
Wingless wonders? 1966 proved Ramsey right; 1970 hinted that he might not have lost the plot but subsequent events surely merited Armstrong’s inclusion, particularly with the traditional England centre forward emerging. It is simply baffling that such a hard working and talented player did not receive international recognition. Utterly baffling.