England recently played their 1000th game, and during this time, 1244 players have been lucky enough to pull on the famous shirt. From Robert Barker – the England goalkeeper on the occasion of their first-ever international in 1872 – to Tyrone Mings, the most recent newly-capped player – 1244 people have fulfilled the dream of tens of millions. Here, we take a look at the players to have turned out the most times for the Three Lions. It’s a list which includes some of the biggest names in the country’s footballing history.
10. Bryan Robson (90 Caps)
North-East born midfielder Bryan Robson won the first of his 90 England caps against the Republic of Ireland in a European Championship qualifier on February 6th 1980. His first goal for his country came a year and a half and 12 caps later in a 2-1 away defeat to Norway. Because of his tenacity, aggression and sheer work-rate, many have called Bryan Robson an old-school midfield player. Indeed, he was, but to label him as nothing more than that is to do him a tremendous disservice – Robson had terrific technical ability too.
Unfortunately, however, Robson’s international career was not what it could have been; he missed out on the majority of the Mexico ’86 and Italia ’90 World Cups through injury. With Robson, widely regarded as the best player in the country at the time, who knows, maybe England would have gone beyond the semi-finals in both competitions. But even without the silverware that could have been, the ex-Manchester United player is a bonafide England legend.
9. Billy Wright (105 Caps)
The only player on this list to have won his first England cap before 1950, Billy Wright was a centre-half and one-club man who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He played for his country 105 times and appeared at three World Cups in 1950, 1954 and 1958 before hanging up his boots. Wright also holds the incredible joint-record of having captained England the most amount of times – he wore the armband on 90 different occasions, as did Bobby Moore.
He made his debut in 1956 in a 2-0 victory over Belgium and, almost a decade and a half later, became the first player in world football to pass the 100-cap mark. While there are now eight players to have surpassed him, Wright’s record is arguably the most impressive given that he became England’s most-capped player in 1952 with only his 42nd cap. Though he scored just three times for England, he will be remembered as one of the most important players in the history of the nation’s football.
9. Frank Lampard (106 Caps)
The first footballer on this list from the modern age and one of five from England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ between 2004 and 2010, Frank Lampard won the first of his 106 international caps in a 2-1 friendly win over Belgium in 1999. Perhaps surprisingly for a player with notable goalscoring prowess, it took him four years before he registered his first England goal. It came in 2003 in a 3-1 triumph over Croatia.
Had he not been made to wait for five years before making his first appearance at a major tournament for England, Lampard might well have been further up this list. As it was, it was 2004 when Lampard got his first chance to prove himself on the biggest continental stage. He scored three goals over the course of England’s European Championship campaign in Portugal and was rewarded by being named in the Team of the Tournament.
Two years later, Frank Lampard was a mainstay in Sven Goran Eriksson’s England side. He endured a poor 2006 World Cup campaign before being part of Steve McLaren’s squad which failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
In 2010, Lampard’s goal-that-wasn’t could have levelled the scores in England’s round-of-16 clash with Germany. Of course, England went on to lose 4-1. The injustice of that refereeing decision, however, is one of the most enduring moments in England’s recent history.
Lampard would go on to play in the 2012 Euros and 2014 World Cup before retiring with a record of 106 caps and 29 goals, a figure which makes him the joint-ninth highest Three Lions scorer of all time.
7. Bobby Charlton (106 Caps)
Said by many to be the greatest Englishmen to have ever kicked a ball, Bobby Charlton is one of just two players on this list to have been part of the World Cup-winning side of 1966. He made his England debut in 1958, eight years before this triumph on home soil and just two months after the horrific Munich Air disaster which he had survived but eight of his Manchester United teammates did not. He was named in the England squad for the 1958 Sweden World Cup, won by Brazil, but did not feature in any matches.
His tournament debut came four years later in the 1962 World Cup in Chile. By this time, Charlton had established himself as one of the best players in world football and was already an icon at Manchester United at the tender age of 24. England were eventually knocked out of the tournament at the last-eight stage.
Four years later, Alf Ramsey’s England side entered a World Cup on home soil as one of the favourites. Charlton was an integral part of the ‘wingless wonders’ that eventually triumphed in the tournament. Charlton scored three goals on route to a 4-2 final victory over West Germany.
He played once more in a World Cup in 1970 where again England were knocked out by West Germany. Charlton finished his England career with 106 caps and 49 goals which, at the time, made him the highest England goal scorer of all-time. It was a record which was only surpassed almost 50 years later.
6. Ashley Cole (107 Caps)
At number seven is ex-Chelsea and Arsenal left-back, Ashley Cole. Widely regarded as the finest fullback to wear the England shirt, Cole appeared 107 times for England from 2001 to 2014. In this 13-year period, to say he was an ever-present would be an understatement. One quirk of Cole’s international was that, despite holding more than a century of caps, he remarkably did not net a single goal.
He made his first major tournament appearance in 2002 in the World Cup held in Japan and South Korea. After being part of the ‘invincible’ Arsenal side in the 2003/04 season, Cole was selected again for the Euros in 2004. Despite England’s elimination at the quarter-final stage, Cole was considered to be one of England’s best performers and, alongside Frank Lampard, was named in the Team of the Tournament.
After this, England’s, and consequently, Cole’s, tournament form was poor. However, Cole has consistently been named in all-time England XIs since called time on his England career in 2014 following his omission from Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.
5. Bobby Moore (108 Caps)
Of the names on this list, there are few with as much gravity as Bobby Moore. The iconic defender who spent the vast majority of his 25-year playing career with West Ham United, represented England 108 times, scoring twice. His first appearance in the white of England came against Peru in 1962 – just four years later he would captain them to their one and only success in the World Cup.
As mentioned, Moore jointly holds the record for the most appearances for England as captain. Crucially, one of these 90 appearances came on the July 30th 1966 when England beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final at Wembley Stadium. However, according to fellow squad member George Cohen, it was almost not this way. Apparently, the England fullback at the time heard England manager Alf Ramsey debating with his backroom staff whether or not to drop Moore for the final in favour of then more combative Norman Hunter. Alas, this did not come to pass and Bobby Moore gave the assist for England’s decisive fourth goal and lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in front of nearly 100,000 fans with 32-million more watching on at home.
He may be fifth on this list of the most capped England players but for many, in terms of his influence over the course of English football, Bobby Moore is unrivalled.
4. Steven Gerrard (114 Caps)
At number five is ex-England and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Stevie G played for England for 14 years between 2000 and 2014 and captained them from 2010 onwards. Like the other players on this list from England’s so-called ‘golden generation’, Gerrard might well look back on his international career and wonder ‘what if?’ His inability to form a partnership with Frank Lampard in central midfield has been lamented by many as the reason England failed to capitalise on the immense well of talent at their disposal.
However, Gerrard should not be used or even remembered, as a scapegoat. There is simply no taking away from Gerrard’s monumental achievement of winning 114 caps for his country. His leadership and commitment to the cause were never in question, even if tactical deficiencies meant that England never made the most of his prodigious talents.
He finished his England career after another World Cup failure in 2014. Although it was a disappointing end to his England career, it was Gerrard’s 7th major tournament with the Three Lions and that, in itself, is a reason for him to be celebrated.
3. David Beckham (115 Caps)
In terms of image, David Beckham is arguably the most iconic player on this list. For a decade he was synonymous with English football. This was, in some respects, because he was a departure from many of the faces of English football before him. Beckham was emblematic of English football beginning to move away from the agricultural football of the past and towards a more sophisticated approach. It is still very much a work in progress, of course, but Beckham represented the most glamorous aspects of the game in England.
Beckham presence was felt at the epicentre of nearly every big moment England had between 1998 and 2008. In his debut major tournament a young Beckham was sent off in the last-16 match-up between England and Argentina and was subsequently the subject of a tirade of abuse from English football fans Two years later and the villain had turned hero as he helped England thrash Germany 5-1 and scored a sensational last-minute free-kick which ensured qualification for the World Cup.
By this time, Beckham was England captain, a position for three major tournaments in succession. When he waved goodbye to the national team in 2009, he did so as a legend.
2. Wayne Rooney (120 Caps)
As the most capped outfield player in this list, Wayne Rooney could stake a claim to be the greatest servant to English football in the modern era. The ex-Manchester United and Everton centre-forward not only has 120 England caps but 53 goals to boot – a figure which puts him four ahead of his nearest competitor as England’s greatest ever goalscorer.
Like Beckham before him, Rooney has had to shoulder the weight of expectation which comes with being England’s leading light. Also, like Beckham, he has been vilified when things haven’t gone England’s way. In 2006 when a young Wayne Rooney was sent off for a stamp on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho, he was made a scapegoat for England’s failings at the tournament. He recovered, of course, and would go on to appear for England at four more major tournaments, the last of which – Euro 2016 – he was captain of the side.
Rooney is often lampooned for not being at his best in major tournaments. He scored just one World Cup goal and, other than his remarkable run at Euro 2004, was unconvincing at that level. However, there’s no debating that, in terms of statistics and ability, Wayne Rooney is one of the greatest to pull on an England shirt.
1. Peter Shilton (125 Caps)
Strangely, the number one spot on this list is also occupied by the only goalkeeper on this list. Peter Shilton made a staggering 125 appearances for England in a two-decade international career that ran from 1970 to 1990. Given Shilton’s remarkable consistency throughout his career, that he holds this record is thoroughly unsurprising – in fact, Shilton holds the record for the most competitive appearances in global football at any level with 1390.
Shilton was a brilliant servant for England, an ever-present, game after game, tournament after tournament. When he won his first cap, Alf Ramsey was still manager. By the time he had collected his last, it was Bobby Robson at Italia ’90. Truly, he did what few players can and spanned generations. Longevity, ultimately, was his best asset and England benefited from it for two decades.