England have been led by 111 captains
in the 918 matches they have played since the first in 1872.
The list is headed by the incomparable Billy Wright and Bobby Moore, who each led England
90 times, still a world record. Wright served as captain in 70
consecutive England matches during the 1950's, an almost unbelievable record
that was eventually broken by Heinz Hermann of Switzerland (71 captaincies in
a row 1982-89), and then Andoni Zubizaretta of Spain. A record that seemed unbreakable in an era in which the physical demands of the
game are much higher and even the slightest injury keeps players costing
millions of pounds out of action. Bryan Robson, who led England 65 times, Wright and Moore are the only
players to lead England
more than 40 times. Robson probably would have challenged the
Wright/Moore record of 90 captaincies but for his relentlessly aggressive style
of play, which led to several serious injuries reducing his international
The captaincy was not assigned to one
player for an appreciable number of matches until professionalism began to
take a grip on the national side in the 1880's and 1890's. Before that
it was merely regarded as an honour with ceremonial attributes to be passed
around to deserving players, a concept that continued to carry weight into the
inter-war era when the Football Association's International Selection
Committee continued to choose the lineups and the captain. Indeed, that notion has occasionally carried lingering
force in modern times when players have been given the captaincy for a single
match in recognition of long service or a milestone in career caps. Thus
David Seaman was made captain for the match marking his 50th cap, and Bobby
Charlton led out the team for his 100th cap although the regular England
captain at the time, Bobby Moore, was also in the lineup (albeit
Charlton also captained England on two other occasions when Moore was
But in the
post-Second World War era, the captaincy generally has been assigned by the
manager/coach to a
single player who remained in that role until until his international careers waned or
ended or until a new manager/coach brought in a new captain. In modern
times, the manager/coach usually also picks a vice-captain, who leads the team
when the regular captain is absent through injury or suspension. Michael Owen had led the team Sven-Göran Eriksson's first-choice captain, David Beckham,
has been absent. In the Steve McClaren era, Steven
Gerrard deputised for John Terry. As for the Capello era, Rio Ferdinand
deputised for John Terry, that was until Rio himself became the National
side's captain, to be deputised by Steven Gerrard.
the England captaincy still is regarded as a great honour and carries the
traditional ceremonial aspects--leading the players onto the pitch,
introducing the players to match dignitaries, exchanging emblems with the
visiting team's captain, attending the referee's coin toss which settles
direction of play and which team kicks off at the beginning of a match--it
involves much more than that. The captain is expected to exercise
leadership both on and off the pitch--to serve as a public spokesman for the
team, to provide a communication link between the players and the staff, and
to take charge of the team during a match, rallying and inspiring the team
when it is down, exercising a calming influence when tempers are frayed,
encouraging young players inexperienced at international level, correcting
errant players and the like. Still, England football captains generally
do not have much influence on team selection, formation or tactical
decisions, although some of them have gained their manager's ear by dint of a
long working relationship, most notably Bobby Moore under Alf Ramsey.
Only players who started a match as
captain are recognised as official England captains. Players who took
over the captain's armband during a match when the starting captain had to
leave the pitch because of injury or, in modern times, because of substitution
are not listed as captains in the Football Association's official records.
In fact, it has said it does not even keep records of those
temporary armband wearers.
We know of only
two instances in which more than two players wore the captain's armband in
the same match. The
first occasion was the scoreless draw against Morocco at Estadio
Tecnológico in Monterrey, Mexico on 6 June 1986.
Bryan Robson of Manchester United was the starting captain in this World
Cup final tournament match.
He went off injured and the armband went to Ray Wilkins, then of AC Milan.
Wilkins was sent off soon after, and Peter Shilton of Southampton FC then took the
The second occasion was the 2-1 friendly match against
Serbia and Montenegro at Walkers Stadium in Leicester on 3 June 2003, when four players wore the captain's armband, including
three Liverpool players. There was widespread dismay in the media and among some former England stars that three players deemed undeserving
of the captaincy--Emile Heskey of Liverpool, Phil Neville of Manchester United
and Jamie Carragher of Liverpool--were handed the captain's armband as a result of the spate of
substitutions that followed the half-time retirement of Liverpool's Michael Owen, who had
started the match as captain in the absence of regular captain David
Beckham. Only Owen will be listed as captain in the official match
records, however. The three who took over the armband were merely its
temporary custodians. While it is to be hoped this unfortunate situation
will not reoccur, the three temporary wearers of the captain's armband are not entitled to official recognition as England
captains, and hence the outrage was somewhat over the top.
Owen was the 104th official captain.
He first led the side in three preparatory friendly matches just before World
Cup 2002 while Beckham recovered from a broken foot. Owen captained
England again in the season-opening friendly against Portugal on 7 September
2002, and in the pair of matches that ended the season, the friendly against
Serbia and Montenegro on 3 June 2003 and the European Championship 2004
qualifier against Slovakia a week later.
Steven Gerrard became the 105th official England captain
on 31 March 2004, in a friendly celebrating Sweden's
centenary. It was in the absence of regular first choice captain, David
Beckham, and second-choice captain, Michael Owen, who were both injured and
unfit for this match.
John Terry was chosen by Steve McClaren
as the 106th captain, following David Beckham's resignation, with Steve
Gerrard on stand-by should Terry be unfit to play. It was Steven Gerrard
who became Fabio Capello's first captain in his first match in charge.
Capello announced that John Terry too, would be his official captain in
September 2008. Rio Ferdinand had already become England's 107th known
official captain in Capello's search for a captain, Ferdinand in turn, became
the vice-captain to Terry in the Capello era.
It was on the middle-east heat, in the
deserts of Qatar, that saw Wayne Rooney become the third youngest post-war
captain, and the 108th known captain. John Terry had been ruled out of
the Brazil friendly match in the night before the match and Rio Ferdinand and
Steven Gerrard had already been excluded from the initial squad due to an
injuries. David Beckham had withdrawn himself from the squad a week
earlier due to club commitments. Capello saw Rooney as the next natural
Towards the end of 2009, the role of
the Captaincy was under scrutiny after John Terry was named and shamed in the
media regarding his off-the-field antics. Although within the modern
morality of society, this as hardly a sin of any proportion, but the fact the
allegations concerned an England team-mate left his position as a national
role model untenable. It was reasonable to suggest that no Manchester
City player, the current club of Wayne Bridge, would ever see JT as their
leader. That made Capello make a decision in the best interest of the
national game, and vice-captain Rio Ferdinand, became England's next current
captain. Steven Gerrard becoming the vice-Captain. A
role that become vital throughout the 2010 World Cup Finals, where Gerrard
took the armband as his own, with Frank Lampard becoming his vice.
At the beginning of 2011, with both
Ferdinand and Gerrard unavailable to take the armband through injury, Frank
Lampard became England's 109th known different captain, against Denmark.
In March the same year, in the match against Ghana at the new National
Stadium, Gareth Barry became the 110th known England Captain, the 47th
post-war. All of this catapulted Capello's decision-making process into
the limelight. The very fact that Capello reinstated John Terry in March 2011 to the
captaincy position, without informing Ferdinand, but informing Gerrard, then
three days later, handing the armband to Barry. The Captain's role is
never an easy one, and neither is the decision to make it so.
It was the Captain's armband
that eventually cost Fabio Capello his position as England manager.
The Football Association felt it necessary to strip John Terry of the
captaincy for the second time in his career, as he awaited trial for alleged
racism. Capello disagreed at some point, whether at his own
non-involvement in the decision-making process,
or with the decision itself, only a future auto-biography will tell.
Up stepped Capello's number
two, Stuart Pearce, who, despite the fitness of Steven Gerrard, chose an
untested Scott Parker, winning only his eleventh cap, in the match against
the Netherlands in February 2012. Gerrard, however, was finally chosen
as the national team captain after Roy Hodgson was appointed as England's
thirteenth manager in May 2012.