England Caps : 125
Player : 1970-1990
So who is England’s greatest ever keeper? It’s an argument that is impossible to conclude because it’s so subjective. Popular opinion holds with Gordon Banks, who kept goal for the 1966 World Cup winning side, but Peter Shilton, who was Banks’ understudy early in his career at Leicester, is surely the only clear opposition.
Shilton started his career at Leicester City as a schoolboy and by the time he was 16 he was competing for a first team place against Banks and very soon, forced the sale of Banks to Stoke City. This was a bold move as this was 1967, only a year after Banks’ superb showing in the World Cup winning campaign when he was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, let alone the UK.
England CallsShilton gained his first cap under Sir Alf Ramsey in 1970, in a friendly against East Germany in November. Although Banks was still the No 1, Ramsey was looking for a new under-study, possibly as a result of Peter Bonetti’s disappointing performance in the World Cup quarter-final against West Germany which had seen a 2-0 lead turned into a 2-3 defeat. Shilton steadily gained caps as time progressed until suddenly the whole situation changed when a car crash in 1973 robbed Gordon Banks of the sight in one eye.
Ray Clemence, the then Liverpool goalkeeper, had made his England debut two years after Shilton but had quickly established himself as a direct competitor for the reserve keeper slot. With Banks unable to continue playing, a shuttle began system where successive England managers were unable to choose between Shilton and Clemence, and in some cases alternated match-on-match. Unfortunately this embarrassment of riches between the sticks was largely under-utilised as England suffered their most barren time in international football since winning the World Cup.
Fallow GroundWhile Shilton and Clemence vied for top spot, England, who had failed to qualify for the European Championships in 1972 with Banks in position, decided not to attend the 1974 World Cup either. Qualifying came down to the last match against Poland at Wembley and the 1-1 draw was not good enough, Shilton taking stick for not saving the Polish strike, in virtually their only attack of the match, saying afterward that he was trying too hard to make the perfect save and should have just concentrated on keeping the ball out.
The run of disappointment continued with failure to qualify for the European Championship in 1976, although at this point the pendulum had swung toward Clemence and as a result Shilton only gained three caps between 1975 and 1977. Always very ambitious, Shilton withdrew from the England squad in frustration in 1976, only to change his mind a few months later, but Clemence remained first choice throughout the run-up to the next World Cup, 1978, which again was unsuccessful, and by the time England qualified for the 1980 European Championship it was to be their first tournament for a decade.
Unfortunately another lack-lustre showing saw the team depart for home at the end of the preliminary rounds. Fortunately for Shilton this was however a time of success outside the international area as he was now with Brian Clough’s legendary Nottingham Forest side and was voted PFA Player of the Year in 1980, the year that they won the European Cup.
1982 World CupFinally England had managed to qualify for the World Cup for the 1982 tournament, to be held in Spain, but fell foul of a bizarre second group stage, an arrangement never seen before or since. Shilton had played his part, only conceding one goal, in the opener against France, over the five matches and restricting Ray Clemence, who retired from international football shortly afterward, to the reserve bench throughout.
The Bobby Robson YearsBobby Robson took over from Ron Greenwood after the 1982 World Cup and Shilton established himself as the first choice keeper for the rest of the eighties, although again, success for the team was sporadic. As far as the European Championship went, England failed to qualify for the 1984 tournament and qualified but crashed out in the first stage in 1988. There were better performances in the World Cup, with an exit in the quarter final in Mexico to Maradona’s Argentina and the famous Hand of God goal, where Shilton was lucky not to have been booked for his understandable protestations that it was Maradona’s hand, not head, that put the ball in the net.
In the run-up to the 1990 World Cup Shilton passed Bobby Moore’s then record of 108 England caps and did not concede a single goal in the qualifying rounds. At Italia 90 England started with some worrying performances but began to gel together as a team and were unlucky to go out in an epic semi-final against Germany, with the Germans clinical in the execution of their penalties, not missing a single one, after the match had ended at 1-1. The third place play-off, which Italy won 2-1, was to be Shilton’s last match, and he captained the team to take his total number of caps to 125, still a record today, as he announced his retirement from international football.
A Long TailOff the pitch Shilton’s personal life had been marred by gambling, poor business decisions and accusations of extra-marital affairs, but after his last top flight match, for Derby County, in 1991, he tried his hand at management, and went that wasn’t successful, went back to playing, eventually amassing 1,000 league appearances playing for Leyton Orient against Brighton and Hove Albion, and finally reaching 1005, although he carried on playing after that for number of for non-league clubs.
During Shilton’s long career as England’s keeper he kept clean sheets on 66 of his 125 appearances and went six matches in a row on two occasions, just short of Banks’ record of seven in a row, he also captained England on 15 occasions. Had it not been for the rivalry with Clemence, he may well have reached over 180 caps, and for Clemence, his total would have been around 100 (he gained 61) had Shilton not been around.