Kalvin Phillips looks set to earn a call-up for the England squad, if reports are to be believed this week.
And not before time: defensive midfield is probably Gareth Southgate’s biggest problem position, depending on how you rate Ben Chilwell, and Phillips has probably been the outstanding player in the Championship for a couple of seasons now.
Phillips is very much like The Dude’s rug from The Big Lebowski: he really ties the team together. Leeds might have more eye-catching players, you could argue that Pablo Hernandez is more important to the team overall and even that Ben White has been more impressive this season. But Leeds aren’t the same team without Phillips as the glue in the middle of the park: it could be a coincidence, but probably isn’t, that he was absent for two of their more stinging recent defeats, against Nottingham Forest and Wigan.
If Phillips does earn a call-up, he’ll be the latest in a fine tradition of players from outside the top flight to play for the national team. Here are a select few from down the years.
Edgar Kail (three caps)
Edgar Kail laughs in the face of a player from the second-placed team in the Championship – effectively the 22nd best in the country – playing for England. For he was the last (but by no means only) non-league player to win full caps, playing for Dulwich Hamlet, who at that point presumably weren’t known primarily as the team of choice for south London pink and blue fashion statement scarf-sporters. His England career actually only lasted six days, but it sounds like it was a good six days, being part of the 1929 end of season jolly to Europe when they played three games against France, Belgium and Spain. He scored a brace in the first, and while he was called up a couple more times after that, they were his only caps. He retired from the game in 1933 and became a wine merchant. The road leading up to Dulwich’s Champion Hill ground (and also a 7/10 big Sainsbury’s) is named Edgar Kail Way.
Bernard Joy (one cap)
On a similar note, the magnificently-named Bernard Joy was the last amateur player to appear for England, winning his only senior cap against Belgium in 1936, while he was playing for Corinthians Casuals and, confusingly enough, Arsenal too, although he was registered to the former so counts for this list. A centre-back whose prime years were probably robbed by World War II, Joy was also the captain of the Great Britain side at the 1936 Olympics, where they were knocked out in what sounds like an absolute ripper against Poland: Bertram Clements gave GB the lead, before the Poles bagged five in 23 minutes either side of half-time and presumably kicked back assuming the job was done. But wait: Donald Shearer got one back, before our hero Joy scored twice in the closing stages, only for the Poles to hold on and won 5-4. Joy would later become a journalist, working for the Express among others, and wrote a history of Arsenal.
Johnny Byrne (11 caps)
Striker Johnny Byrne might have gone to the 1962 World Cup as a Third Division player were it not for an unfortunate set-to with Don Howe. Byrne was playing for Crystal Palace when he received a call-up in November 1961, and was very much in the frame to travel to Chile with Walter Winterbottom’s side, but after a game against West Brom he and Howe locked horns in the tunnel after the game. The England selection committee seemingly took a dim view of this and excluded Byrne from consideration. He was back in favour in 1964, but by that point was playing for First Division West Ham and the last of his 11 caps came the following year. Just as well really: imagine how insufferably the Hammers would’ve been if they’d had four players in 1966.
Trevor Brooking (47 caps)
Dear old Trev of course remained loyal to West Ham for his whole career (save for a couple of post-retirement cameos), and won a fair chunk of his 47 England caps while playing for them in the Second Division: it’s either 18 or 19, depending on how you classify an appearance in June 1981, shortly after the Hammers were promoted. Indeed, those years below the top flight were by no means wilderness ones for Brooking: he scored the winner in the FA Cup final against Arsenal, and also travelled to Euro 80 with England, scoring in their ultimately vain 2-1 win over Spain, finishing a point behind hosts Italy in the first round.
Rodney Marsh (nine caps)
The source of one of football’s great apocryphal quips/anecdotes, Rodney Marsh won the first of his nine caps while playing in the Second Division for QPR in November 1971, winning one further call-up as an unused substitute before moving to Manchester City where he may or may not have ruined their chances of winning the First Division. Marsh’s international career was reasonably unremarkable, were it not for the bon mot he claims he was responsible for, when Alf Ramsey said he was looking for some effort in the opening 45 minutes of a game “or else I’ll pull you off at half-time.” Marsh quipped, allegedly: “Christ! We only get a cup of tea and an orange at Man City.” Is that true? Almost certainly not, but print the legend guys, print the legend.
Steve Bull (13 caps)
Ah, Bully. People remember that Steve Bull was called up for England while playing for Wolves below the First Division, but he was in the Third Division when he got his first cap. But you can’t really ignore 102 goals in two seasons, as he managed in 1987/88 and 1988/89, and Bobby Robson didn’t. Bull scored on his debut against Scotland and got another three in the run-up to Italia 90. So confident was Robson about Bull’s ability to translate his scoring to international level that he only named three strikers in that World Cup squad, although if you speak to Wolves fans they’ll probably bemoan how brief his appearances were, broadly limited to brief cameos when chasing a goal and a start against Egypt. Jimmy Greaves wore a ‘Let The Bull Loose’ t-shirt on TV, but to no avail. “It was the biggest crowd I’ve seen in my life,” said Bull about the fans that greeted England on their return home, “only comparable to when Wolves won the Sherpa Van Trophy.”
David Nugent (one cap)
One game, 14 minutes, one goal, hammered home. Surely the most efficient England career of all time. David Nugent was ripping it up for Preston in the Championship at a time when England were floundering under Steve McClaren: they had gone five games without a win, which included that away defeat to Croatia – Paul Robinson’s whiffed clearance and all that – plus a dispiriting 0-0 draw in Israel.
For the trip to Andorra in 2007, Nugent was called up after Darren Bent pulled out with injury, as the man to provide a shot in the arm for the floundering side, which he…sort of did. Steven Gerrard has scored twice before, in the 90th minute, Jermain Defoe shot from the right of the area, Andorra keeper Koldo half-saved and the ball trickled towards the line. This was Nuge’s big chance, and he took it with gusto, racing to get there before basic physics allowed Defoe to claim the goal, connecting beautifully as he lashed the ball home from upwards of four inches. He could barely stop laughing afterwards, and why not? If you’re a Championship player who probably knows he won’t get many more chances for England, robbing a goal then pissing yourself about it afterwards might not be terribly dignified, but who among us would do anything different?
Wilf Zaha (two caps)
A curiosity of an England stint, such as it was: in those days before Manchester United briefly sucked the soul from his career, Zaha was a gloriously joyful player, and playing in the Championship for Crystal Palace couldn’t dull that. Roy Hodgson called him up for a couple of friendlies in 2012, against Sweden and Scotland, appearing from the bench for a total of 21 minutes. Then United happened, and Zaha wasn’t really an international factor for a few years, until he ultimately elected to play for Ivory Coast, the country of his birth, in 2016.
“It was just like I was rejected from the England side,” Zaha told CNN two years ago. “I didn’t get picked or even get a look in for four years. “Four years in football is a long time so it’s like there’s no regret at all. No one even thought about me at all. And Ivory Coast, even though I told them no, they still had the belief in me and still wanted me because they knew what I could do for the team.”
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