England caps are an honour… so wear them with pride like Bobby once did
23:54 GMT, 12 November 2012
EXCLUSIVE: Gerrard emulates Moore on the eve of his 100th England cap
Click here to see the pictures as Steven Gerrard shares a special moment with pupils at his former school — emulating the famous picture of England's iconic captain
They're abandoning ship faster than the rats on the Titanic.
Men for whom it should be a matter of enormous pride to play for their countries are pulling out of international matches this week faster than they can bank their club pay cheques at the rate of 10 a minute.
Never mind the national pride, here’s the sick note. Basically it reads: ‘It’s only a friendly.’
Centurion: Bobby Moore posed with 99 schoolboys each
wearing an England cap prior to winning his 100th
Time was when these games were nearly all friendlies and great players would have given – if not quite their right arms – at least a couple of fingers for the privilege of pulling on the shirt.
Now they pull a pained expression.
The world might never have heard of Ferenc Puskas and his mighty Magyars had it not been for the small matter of a so-called non-competitive match at Wembley in the spring of 1953, when Hungary stormed the hitherto impregnable fortress of English football and fired a six-goal salvo into the heart of our national game.
A year later, in the return friendly, they made it seven and changed us forever.
John Barnes would not have immortalised himself with a wonder goal in the cathedral of Rio’s Maracana unless England had travelled to Brazil to practice playing against those infernal South Americans.
That friendly is more fondly remembered than any England World Cup match of late.
Magnificent Magyars: Hungary's Ferenc Puskas (right) greets Billy Wright at Wembley in 1953
The cap which Barnes received for his exploit is the most cherished of his mementoes. It seems there are England players now who would rather put a baseball cap on backwards and go for a night out.
Roy Hodgson is not so much England’s new manager as the secretary of a youth club, so little known are some of the kids he is calling up for national service in Sweden on Wednesday evening.
Frankly, at first glance, I thought Zaha was a clothes shop. It turns out he is a lad who, until yesterday, had been torn between playing for England or the Ivory Coast… someday.
I wish the lad well but if he does plump for this country I hope he never forgets that his big chance came in the kind of game which so many of his elders – and supposedly betters – are in the habit of calling ‘meaningless.’
Neither Bobby Moore or Bobby Charlton ever described any England match in which they took part in such disparaging terms. Nor did any of their distinguished peers. For men like these, it was always an honour to play for the country.
And even though David Beckham is a long-time sparring partner of mine, it has to be said that he always wanted to play in every England game. In fact, still does.
Unforgettable: John Barnes embarks on his epic run before scoring against Brazil at the Maracana in 1984
Although it was country first for the older gentlemen of England they were conscious, also, that every international appearance enhanced their reputations both at home and abroad.
They knew, too, that if they wanted to become World Cup stars it was only proper that they served their time and answered the call every time it came.
Now no-one doubts that John Terry is on crutches for a reason after that leg-crunching collision on Sunday.
But while it could well be that yesterday’s scans of other celebrated limbs revealed serious hurt, we can be forgiven for expecting that a whole posse of celebrated names missing from the passenger manifest for the flight to Stockholm will suddenly reappear, right as rain, in the Premier League this weekend.
Maybe there is pressure from some leading managers – Arsene Wenger for one is a leading campaigner for the abolition of friendlies – but the kind of strong-minded footballer who ought to be picked for England should be able to resist.
Patriot: David Beckham would still play for England in every match if he were selected
It’s not only the English chaps, of course, Robin van Persie – who came under Wenger’s influence for a long time at Arsenal – is one of many overseas Premier Leaguers opting out of ‘friendly’ week on the Continent.
In a perfect world, all the replacements would do so amazingly well that the services of the cynical old drop-outs would not be required in future.
That is most unlikely to happen, of course. But perhaps the mere thought of it might send out a reminder to the celebrities that since much of their fame and fortune is garnered from playing in the big World Cup games we expect in return that they pay their dues on the less glamorous occasions.
And if that’s not enough, in this of all weeks, let them not forget to wear not only their poppies with pride… but also their caps.