A seventh-tier football club has been celebrating after one of their players was sensationally called up by England.
There’s a massive dollop of caveat to that – the individual in question, the tremendously-named Ted Curd, is on loan at Hashtag United from Chelsea, but has earned a call-up to England’s Under-17 squad for games against Brazil, Iran and New Caledonia.
Hashtag United, for the uninitiated, started out life in 2016 as a sort of online football club, playing exhibition games against former pros and celebrities, with the action broadcast on YouTube.
But after registering to play in the English football pyramid, Hashtag have gone from strength to strength – plying their trade, at the time of writing, in the Isthmian League. Former Chelsea and Spain ace Cesar Azpilicueta is amongst the club’s investors.
For all their progress, it’s still an almighty vote of confidence for Chelsea to send one of their prized young assets down the divisions – especially one with the talent to represent England at junior level.
All of which got us thinking: how often have lower league players been called up to England’s senior squad, if at all?
You’d be amazed how many Championship and second-tier players have been called up by England.
By our reckoning, well over 20 individuals played for England while turning out for a Second Division club in the pre-war era. Dixie Dean, one of the greatest goalscorers that English footballers has ever produced, got the nod while banging them in for Everton, while John Townrow also got the call in 1925 while turning out for Clapton Orient – the club we know today as Leyton Orient.
That trend continued immediately after the Second World War too, with some notable England caps given out to second-tier players – Alf Ramsey, you probably know him best as the manager that led the Three Lions to the 1966 World Cup, goal machine Johnny Haynes and outstanding forward Tom Finney chief among them.
But as money became more of a factor in English football, the biggest clubs became stronger – it’s no surprise that they competed in the old First Division. Soon, a gulf began to open up between the top and second tiers, which resulted in fewer lower league players being selected for England duty.
But that’s not to say there hasn’t been plenty of anomalies. Peter Shilton, Mick Channon, Trevor Brooking….these are all huge names in English football that scored an international call-up while plying their trade in the Second Division (the Championship as know it today).
By the 1990s, only five players from the second tier would be called up by England during the entire decade. Steve Bull won 13 caps all told despite playing for Wolves, who were very much a lower-league club during the predatory striker’s time there. Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce was another given a cap during his Second Division tenure.
Since the turn of the new millennium, only five players have been called-up to England duty from the Championship:
- David James (2003)
- David Nugent (2007)
- Jay Bothroyd (2010)
- Wilfried Zaha (2012)
- Sam Johnstone (2021)
Zaha, famously, played twice for England during that time in non-competitive games, and so was able to take advantage of the loophole that would enable him to subsequently change allegiance to the Ivory Coast.
It was that man Bull who became the last third tier player to be called up by England.
That call came in 1989,when he blitzed 37 goals in just 45 league games and finished the 1988/89 campaign with 50 goals in total.
Prior to the Wolves legend, there were occasional call-ups for Third Division (League One) players. Peter Taylor, who would be the caretaker manager of England for one game in which he handed David Beckham the captain’s armband, was one such example in 1976, alongside the likes of Johnny Byrne, Reg Matthews, Tommy Lawton and a stack of players in the pre-Second World War era.
Even though lower league players have been given a chance by England, such invitations have never been handed down to a player from the fourth tier, be it the old Fourth Division or League Two.
It sounds crazy, but six players have been capped by England while playing non-league football!
You perhaps won’t be shocked to learn that those call-ups came many, many years ago, with Corinthians’ Alfred Bower the first in 1923 and Bernard Joy, of the Casuals (who would merge with Corinthians in 1939), getting the last in 1936.
This was in the days before there was a mammoth gulf between the professional and amateur games, so it was less of a surprise when a non-league player got the nod – many amateurs of this era were good enough to turn pro, it was just less appealing to do so before the big bucks flooded into the sport.