THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

31 July ~ Sunderland have made a habit of collecting international goalkeepers in recent years. We've now got Scotland's Craig Gordon and comedian Frank Carson's nephew, Northern Ireland Under-21 international, Trevor. In the past there's been Thomas Sorensen, Mart Poom, Marton Fulop and Thomas Myhre. But you have to go as far back as Jimmy Montgomery being overlooked, unfairly according to many, in the 1970s (he got as far as the preliminary 40 for the Mexico World Cup) to find a Wearside goalkeeper anywhere near the England squad. With this in mind I was a little disappointed when Bristol City, rather than Sunderland, signed David James on Friday.

While many footballers are difficult to warm to David James was rare example of a player who most fans claimed to "not mind". Shortly after signing for Liverpool in 1992, he attended a school sports event in the north-east. Despite being the latest great hope of English goalkeeping he appeared a down to earth character, inviting several schoolchildren, myself included, to "test him" with a penalty each. Not being a natural in a dead ball situation, I was surprised to see the ball go one way and Liverpool's new goalkeeper the other. Unfortunately, it then hit the base of the extremely square five-a-side goalpost and returned towards me quicker than I'd originally kicked it. When I reacted with words many would find not entirely appropriate for a ten-year-old boy, James jumped up, grinned, and wiped his forehead with an exaggerated gesture.

Over 18 years later and, for the time being, England's goalkeeping hopes still rest with David James. But his move to Bristol makes sense for both club and player. He gets guaranteed first team football, on a longer term contract than others were reportedly offering and without moving from his home in the south-west. According to him: "I've had offers to stay in the Premier League but it is more important that I play football – which I love – for the right club and be a family man." Bristol City get a goalkeeper who is still regarded as the best in England. But having a first-choice English international playing in the Championship raises some interesting questions.

Recent England managers have been reticent to pick players outside the top division, but it used to be a common occurrence. Winger Terry Paine, who got the last of his 19 caps for England in the 1966 World Cup finals hadn't played in the First Division at that point. (Southampton had been promoted at the end of 1965-66). A decade later another Saints forward, Mick Channon, also got the majority of his 46 England caps when the club were in the Second Division. In more recent times, Steve Bull got 13 England caps in 1989-90 as a Division Two player with Wolves. Indeed, the first of these was at the end of the season when Wolves had been promoted from the third. Since then, however, England's players have been drawn almost exclusively from Premier League teams, even the mediocre ones.

The pressures of top-division football have now changed. The financial dominance of the Premier League means the bigger clubs now just hoover up more technically adept foreign players, meaning that the top young English players are sent out on loan – often to the Championship. We can't be far away from a time when England managers will have to consider candidates for their squad from below the top level. I assume that David James will still feature for England next season, and he may bump into Fabio Capello in hospitality areas next season more often than he might have been expecting. Philip Godwin

Comments (7)
Comment by Fatter Hipper 2010-07-31 15:13:36

I can certainly follow the argument that international outfield players should ideally be playing in the top division. But is that the same for goalkeepers? A shot into the corner in League Two is a shot into the corner in the Premiership, surely? I also think that- aside from the very top keepers- there's probably much less of a difference in quality between top flight keepers and those a few leagues down.

I guess you're not going to get so many viciously swirling/dipping shots in the lower leagues where technique's not so good, and the 'pressure' of the Premiership is perhaps higher but I still don't think it matters what level a goalie's playing at so much.

Comment by Janik 2010-08-01 13:30:11

"Bristol City get a goalkeeper who is still regarded as the best in England."

No, they don't. They get a goalkeeper who is rated as the best Englishman. James has never been rated above Cech, van der Sar, Reina or Given.

Comment by James Goyder 2010-08-01 18:32:55

'We can't be far away from a time when England managers will have to consider candidates for their squad from below the top level.'

This argument does not stand up to close scrutiny. The England team itself might have a tendency to disappoint but that is due to a lack of coherence rather than quality.

There wasn't a noticeably higher concentration of top quality English players in the days when there were only a handful of foreigners plying their trade here. The only difference is that whereas before mediocre English players were making up the numbers in the top division they are now languishing lower down in the leagues.

Meanwhile the elite English players are benefiting from playing alongside, and against, the best in the world week in, week out.

It is highly unlikely that Championship players are ever going to feature regularly in the England squad. There will always be room in the Premiership for the very best English players.

Comment by Janik 2010-08-02 00:29:51

James, maybe not at goalkeeper, though. Who is there to chose from?

Paul Robinson at Blackburn, who has been tried and discarded but might be tried again
Steve Harper at Newcastle, which wouldn't be a bad shout if he wasn't already 35...
Rob Green at West Ham, similar tried and failed problems to Paul Robinson
Chris Kirkland at Wigan, but he appears to be made of glass
Matt Gilks or Paul Rachubka at Blackpool, whichever of these two gets the gig is unlikely to have much chance of making a case

There is also a couple of players who would probably consider themselves first choices but might be soon getting a nasty shock;

Ben Foster at Birmingham, newly signed, he has to prove himself to McLeish
Scott Carson at West Brom, who it is entirely conceivably could find Boaz Myhill picked ahead of him

Then there is Joe Hart at Man City, but he isn't going to displace Given and Ross Turnbull at Chelsea who is talented but has no chance of a regular game.


In fact it seems a really bad time for Joe Hart to not be playing regular football. Given James' age now and especially by the time of the next Euros (let alone the next World Cup), and his move outside the Premier League, you would think the job is vacant. Hart would be the obvious person to claim it, if he was playing weekly.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-08-02 10:44:34

"Meanwhile the elite English players are benefiting from playing alongside, and against, the best in the world week in, week out." You and your facts James. When things go wrong blame foreigners. When things really go wrong, blame immigrants.
On the 'keeper issue you have mentioned some very good ones and seems to me the future is in safe hands

Comment by onedeadbudgie 2010-08-02 11:56:28

I think the decision is questionable for Bristol City. They already have a good keeper in Dean Gerken. James may be down to earth but will command big wages. At Ipswich we signed during last season, unusually for Keane a player on a free, from Ireland a keeper called Brian Murphy. Looks fine for the Championship I would say. However Keano is off to the other place he signs players from, Sunderland, to sign Martin Fulop. While Keane's management seems hard to figure out at the best of times, his plan here, presumably to play two keepers, is weird even for him.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-08-04 11:11:36

Janik,
Im pretty sure Paul Rachubka is American,so that rules him out,unless we are going to have an Almunia type of debate going on.

And JG brings up the old chestnut about the top English players "benefiting" from playing alongside and against foreigners........
Well, when Gareth Barry for instance,gets displaced from the Man City team by Yaya Toure,how does this "benefit" England?
We have just been unceremoniously dumped out of a World cup less than a month ago,arguably in part due to the preponderance of foreign players in the English Game.
Havent we learnt any lessons from that?

Related articles

Bobby Robson film offers smiles, tears and plenty of fond memories
Embed from Getty Images // Watching the elegantly put together More Than A Manager highlights why Robson was so revered by fans, players and...
Graham Taylor: In his own words
Peloton Publishing, £18.99Reviewed by David HarrisonFrom WSC 375, April 2018Buy the book The untimely loss of Graham Taylor in January 2017...
Alan Ball: The man in the white boots by David Tossell
Hodder & Stoughton, £20Reviewed by Mark O’BrienFrom WSC 374, March 2018Buy the book Early on in this detailed and warm biography...