St George’s Day is nearly upon us and so, following the traditions set in this column across the previous saints’ days, it’s time to come up with an English Albion XI from across the ages – and a handy little combo it is too.
176+1 games, 0 goals
Seeing as how the Throstletariat regularly points out that Ben is England’s number one, who am I to argue? Worth plenty of points per season to the club, his towering presence in the number one shirt has been a key factor in Albion’s continued progress at the sharp end of the Premier League. Just as well seeing as how, based on the Liverpool game, he’s got absolutely no future on the right wing.
379 games, 19 goals
One of the first of the modern day, overlapping full-backs, Don was a pioneer once he’d established himself in the Albion side in the second half of the 1950s. He represented England at the 1958 World Cup, racking up 23 consecutive appearances for his country, his style hinting at the “wingless wonders’ of ’66, appropriately enough given Don had based his game on Alf Ramsey.
397 games, 4 goals
It’s forever a scandal how few England caps Albion men win, but it’s unbelievable that Joe Kennedy didn’t win any. Part of the “Team of the Century” of 1953/54, Kennedy was dominant in the air but, unusually for the time, he was deft on the deck too, a legacy of his early days in the game as an inside-forward and then a wing-half. His ability on the ball was the springboard for much of the dazzling football played under Vic Buckingham.
618+1 games, 29 goals
The epitome of the warrior centre-half, John Wile was a rock at the centre of the Albion defence for a decade and more, his partnership with Alistair Robertson the greatest in our history. A leader as a captain, not only was he almost unbeatable in the air and uncompromising in the tackle, his pace equipped him to cope with the best strikers in Division One. Endlessly consistent, during his time at the club, he played 500 out of our 525 league games.
362+1 games, 11 goals
Some might argue for the inclusion of Jesse Pennington, but in the four man defensive era, it was Derek Statham who was truly peerless at left-back and robbed of the century of England caps that was his due by virtue of injury and an obsession with picking players from a handful of clubs… Quick, inventive, immaculate close control and with immense physical and moral courage, Statham was an absolute joy to watch.
252+7 games, 46 goals
There’s a sound argument that says Bryan Robson is the greatest footballer the Albion have ever produced. For all the caps and cups that followed his departure for Old Trafford, Captain Marvel played as well for us as anyone, covering the ground, box to box, winning tackles, dropping grenades, scoring goals. This country hasn’t produced a midfielder fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Robson since he hung up his boots.
449 games, 36 goals
If Robson and Statham aren’t the greatest players we’ve ever produced, then the great Ray Barlow is. Endlessly humble about his talents, he was an artist with the ball at his feet, a purveyor of passes over any distance long or short, a reader of the game with astonishing vision, Barlow is the man on whom Bobby Moore based his own game. The fact that he got just one cap should have led to a Public Inquiry, the fall of a government and the closure of the Football Association. A genius, plain and simple.
257 games, 61 goals
Bobby Robson is the link man of the team, mirroring the two phases of his Albion career, starting as very much a goalscorer in the inside-right role when we initially bought him from Fulham before dropping deeper into a schemer’s role as Barlow came towards the end of his career at The Hawthorns. As his later career showed, he understood the game inside out, a gift he brought to his playing days when he was an England regular across 13 games, including the ’58 World Cup.
311 games, 77 goals
Every good side needs width and pace and in the quicksilver Billy Bassett, this team would have it in spades. Lightning down the right hand side, Bassett came to the fore as Albion won our first ever FA Cup, defeating Preston North End. Bassett’s man of the match performance in the final catapulted him into the England team, where he remained a fixture, collecting seven goals from 16 games – the equivalent to winning around 60 caps nowadays.
291 games, 173 goals
“The Tank” piledrove his way to eight goals in 14 games for England as an old-fashioned centre-forward who gave as good as he got in the physical battle of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Not simply strong in the air, he had a thunderous shot on him too, but all of that was secondary to an insatiable hunger for goals. His determination to get on the end of chances would see him ploughing through opposition defences to score by any means possible – no niceties as he used to say…
458 games, 234 goals
Unlike Kevan, Ronnie Allen, “the complete footballer”, was not the archetypal barrel chested number nine but was, instead, the thinking man’s goalscorer, a man whose clever movement and anticipation got him into position before a defender realised he’d gone. An exemplary finisher with either foot, he was a creator for others too, able to drop deep and direct the play from the “number ten” position, then score from any distance or any angle.