The Best Players Who Rose Through the Lower Leagues to Play for England

Unfortunately, it's never been easier for an English player to get called up to the national squad. With the large amount of cheap, foreign imports being snapped up by Premier League clubs, Roy Hodgson has an astoundingly decreasing pool of talent at his disposal to pick from...

Unfortunately, it's never been easier for an English player to get called up to the national squad. With the large amount of cheap, foreign imports being snapped up by Premier League clubs, Roy Hodgson has an astoundingly decreasing pool of talent at his disposal to pick from. The statistics show that if you are an Englishman playing 50% or more of your team's games in the Premier League, then you have a 30% chance of being selected for the national side.

This fact, however depressing, represents a magnificent opportunity for players from newly promoted teams or players joining Premier League clubs from the lower reaches of professional English football. Southampton's triumvirate of Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have all benefited from this recently, while international teammates John Ruddy, Joe Hart, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker and Phil Jagielka all kicked off their careers outside of the top league and worked their way up.

Let's take a look at players to have taken the same route and became major parts of the international setup.

1. Peter Shilton

During a World Cup qualifying match against Poland, the England goalkeeper Peter Shilton turns away unable to watch as Allan Clarke scores from the penalty spot to make the score 1-1. England's draw with Poland resulted in their failure to qualify for the World Cup

What better way to start than with the man holding the record of most ever appearances for England?

Peter Shilton had been a regular between the sticks for two years at Leicester City, forcing out World Cup winner and England no.1 Gordon Banks when he was just 17, but had been largely ignored for the England squad.

It was after the Foxes had been relegated and were playing in Division Two that the young shot-stopper was given a chance at international level by Alf Ramsey. Shilton made his debut against East Germany in November of 1970 and kept that position for 20 whole years, earning his last England cap in 1990 and racking up 123 others along the way while appearing in three World Cups.

Not bad for a young man in the Second Division of English football.

2. Kenny Sansom

Breaking into his hometown's team aged just 16, Sansom missed just one league game out of 156 for the Eagles starting back in 1976, when Palace were in the old Third Division and were about to be labelled as the "Team of the '80s".

Palace progressed through the divisions with this young side, gaining two promotions and briefly topping the old First Division at the end of 1979. However, they were unable to sustain their form and did not win any trophies in this period. This lack of trophies lead to Sansom moving to Arsenal to get his hands on top flight silverware.

On 23rd May 1979, just three years after his debut in the third tier, Sansom made his debut for the full England team in a goalless draw against Wales. He became England's first choice left back almost immediately and held the position for nearly a decade, notching 86 caps in total and playing in four major international tournaments.

3. Stuart Pearce

Kenny Sansom's place in the England squad was taken by this electrician and plumber with his own "nothing to something" story. Pearce was playing part time at Wealdstone FC in the Alliance Premier League when, somewhat out of the blue, Coventry City manager Bobby Gould paid £30,000 for the left back.

Pearce was so unsure of his own ability that upon joining Nottingham Forest two years later, he placed an advert in the matchday program offering his services as an electrician if his career failed.

There was no way, however, that Pearce was going to be a failure. His combative and determined style led to him becoming the most feared defender in the country and this was recognized in 1987 when he made his international debut vs Brazil at Wembley on his way to 78 appearances in total for the Three Lions, 10 of which were as captain.

4. Bryan Robson

Captain Marvel himself, Robson was one of England's finest ever captains, only behind the great Bobby Moore and Billy Wright in appearances as skipper at 65 games with the armband. Robson started his career, however, in more modest surroundings with West Bromwich Albion in the Second Division in 1975.

Although he only spent two seasons in that league before Albion were promoted to the top flight, it is amazing that Robson even made it as a pro. The central midfielder broke his left leg twice and his right ankle once in the same year. Such injuries commonly resulted in retirement during the 70's, but it was to Albion, Manchester United, Middlesbrough and England's great relief that Robson was able to put in dominating performances despite those grisly setbacks.

The County Durham man's 90 England caps make him the 9th most capped Englishman of all time and his invaluable 26 goals in the white of his nation rank 13th.

• • •

These players show that just because you start your career in a lower league, doesn't mean you cannot grow to be a top class player for club or country. Current players should draw strength from these greats of the English game and who knows, maybe guys like Hart, Will Hughes and Wilfried Zaha will appear on a similar list in the future.

For all the latest football news and rumours please visit


What's Hot