Having been in Belo Horizonte in June 2014 to see Ben Foster become the first West Bromwich Albion player to play for England in a World Cup tournament since Jeff Astle in 1970, I was also fortunate enough to be at the Signal Induna Park on Wednesday evening to see Jake Livermore become the first Baggie to start for England as an outfield player since Derek Statham played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 victory over Australia in Brisbane in June 1983.
When taking substitute appearances into account, Steve Hunt was the last outfield player to represent England while at Albion when he came on to replace John Barnes a year later in a 2-0 defeat by the USSR at Wembley but it would be another 30 years before another Albion player won an England cap.
Many Baggies fans will remember that Kieran Richardson started and scored twice for England in the friendly win over the USA at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2005 having helped Albion achieve their Great Escape that season, but he was officially a Manchester United player when he joined up with England so, while it was his performances for the Baggies that impressed England manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, enough to select him for the squad, the record books won’t show him as an Albion player.
The three decades without England representative honours was unprecedented in Albion’s history and was a result not only of their years outside of the top flight but also the growth in overseas players in the English league. These days, virtually all Albion players have represented their country as full internationals, with Craig Dawson the only senior player in the current squad yet to get a full cap for his country.
Over the years, Albion have had many England internationals, although the Baggies’ status in the ranks of fashionable clubs has perhaps resulted in several players not achieving the number of caps they may have deserved.
Arguably the most obvious example was the aforementioned Derek Statham. His final cap against Australia was only Dekka’s third for England. His first was in the Home International against Wales in February of 1983 and the second was just a few days before his third, also against Australia. Most midlands-based fans and pundits will argue that he had been England’s finest left back for the previous four years playing in an excellent Albion side challenging near the top of the First Division, but England manager, Ron Greenwood, failed to look beyond Arsenal’s Kenny Sansom and it was only when Bobby Robson took the helm that Statham got anywhere near the squad. Even Robson ultimately preferred Sansom, however, and as Albion declined as a force, Statham’s chances of a recall declined with them.
Many of Statham’s team mates suffered a similar fate in being ignored by Greenwood despite being some of the finest players in the country at the time. It is perhaps an even bigger scandal that Tony Brown won just one England cap, against Wales in 1971 under Sir Alf Ramsey, and was ignored by a succession of England managers during the seventies when the national team failed to qualify for any international tournaments.
Laurie Cunningham became the first black player to represent England at any level when he played in the U21 international against Scotland in April 1977 just a few weeks after he moved to the Hawthorns from Leyton Orient, but despite being good enough to play for Real Madrid, he played just six times for England, three of which came before he moved to Spain. Cyrille Regis managed to win just five caps for England, four of which came while he was at the Hawthorns while Peter Barnes won six of his 22 England caps while he was an Albion player. The most successful England player from that side, of course, was Bryan Robson. Captain Marvel played 90 times for England, 13 of them before he moved to Old Trafford.
An interesting footnote to that great Albion team was that on 9th June 1979, the summer after they had come close to winning the First Division title, Statham, Robson and Regis all started for England in a U21 international in Sweden. Interestingly, Kenny Sansom also started that game and England won 2-1 thanks to goals from Robson and Regis.
Albion’s most capped England player was Jesse “Peerless” Pennington, a superb left back who played just under 500 games for Albion between 1903 and 1922 and won 25 caps for England in that period including eight games against Wales and eight against Scotland. In fact, he played just four times against countries outside of the British Isles with two caps against Hungary and two against Austria.
Don Howe comes a close second to Pennington with all of his 23 caps coming while he was at Albion in the late 1950s while Bobby Robson claimed 20 caps in the same era scoring four goals, two of which came on his England debut against France in 1957. Billy Bassett holds the record as Albion’s highest England goalscorer as he netted seven times in his 16 caps in the 1880s and 1890s.
In 1954, England representative honours were, perhaps, not quite as welcome as they are these days. As the season drew to its close, Albion were leading the first division with Black Country neighbours, Wolves, hot on their heels. The two were to meet at the Hawthorns on 3rd April, the very same day that England met Scotland at Hampden Park in a World Cup qualifier. Before the days of the international break, the FA forced clubs to release their players and, while the top two in Division One were preparing to battle it out in a key game in the title race, Albion were forced to release two of their most influential players in Johnny Nicholls and Ronnie Allen, while Wolves were to be without Billy Wright and Jimmy Mullen. Ultimately, it was Wolves who coped without their absentees better and won 1-0 to draw level on points with Albion in what was arguably a psychological blow that decided the title – the Baggies lost three of their remaining five games, including a 6-1 hammering at Villa Park, and Wolves took the title by four points.
Both Nicholls and Allen scored for England as they won 4-2 and secured their place in the 1954 World Cup finals, although neither player made Walter Winterbottom’s squad for the tournament. The Scotland match was Johnny Nicholls’ England debut and he won just one more cap, in a pre-season tournament against Yugoslavia. Ronnie Allen won five caps in total, scoring another goal in his final England game, a 3-1 win over West Germany in December 1954.
In 1958, four Albion players became the first Baggies to be named in an England World Cup squad when Bobby Robson, Don Howe, Derek Kevan and Maurice Setters all made the final 22, although Setters was one of two players that remained on standby and didn’t travel to Sweden – he never won an England cap.
Derek “The Tank” Kevan became the only Albion player to score for England at a World Cup when he grabbed England’s first as they came back from 2-0 down to draw their opening game with the USSR. Kevan also scored in the 2-2 draw with Austria but England were eliminated without winning a match. Kevan and Howe played all four of England’s games, while Robson played in the first three, but missed the play-off defeat to the USSR.
Four years later, Howe and Robson were once again in the squad for the World Cup in Chile, with Kevan being the unlucky standby player who didn’t travel. Robson suffered an injury in a pre-tournament friendly and neither he nor Howe featured in any of England’s matches.
Jeff Astle was the next player to make an England World Cup squad when he travelled to Mexico in 1970. He came off the bench to famously miss a great chance against Brazil in the group stages, and started the final group game, a 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia, although that proved to be the last of his five England caps as he was left out of the side for England’s quarter-final defeat to West Germany.
And it was a long 44 years before another Albion player was to make an England World Cup squad when Ben Foster went to Brazil and played England’s final group game against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte.
No Albion player has ever made an England squad for the European Championships.
On Wednesday, Jake Livermore became the 45th player to represent England while playing for West Bromwich Albion and put in a decent performance. Whether it will be enough to see him become an established England international, only time will tell – if so, he would be the first such player since Bryan Robson.