I wrote this on spec in September 2015, the year before England’s disastrous campaign in the 2016 European Football Championship. In my mind it is distinguished mainly by the speed with which it was rejected – none too graciously either – by the prestigious monthly football magazine to which I submitted it: almost as soon as my own finger had left the ‘send’ button. A couple of real football writers subsequently read it and said it worked for them.
Eleven top footballers won the World Cup for England in July 1966. But how many of them played for their country’s top six clubs the previous season? The answer is only four (their names are given below if you haven’t already reeled them off*). It further surprised me to find that only nine top-sixers figured in Alf Ramsey’s entire 22-man squad.
The 1960s were of course nothing like today. Stuff happened then that couldn’t possibly happen now. One of those Boys of 66 arrived at the England camp fresh from a club who’d just finished one place higher in the league than Northampton Town (**). But with the selection net cast as wide as it was, we did manage – just that once – to Go All The Way.
Now nearly 50 years of hurt down the line, we’re heading for the finals of Euro 2016. But check out the make-up of Roy Hodgson’s 22-man squad which coasted through the latest qualifiers. No fewer than 15 of his players were drawn from clubs who’ll probably finish in this season’s top six. Here then is my armchair query. When it comes to the biggest games of all, should playing for fashionable clubs make you a shoo-in for your country? Or might a sprinkling of in-form lower-profile players prove more fashionable? In the sense that such players might be easier to fashion into a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts?
At the World Cup two years ago, the narrow-net approach brought thin returns: with 16 players from that season’s top six clubs, we got knocked out after two games. So over the next few months, might Roy profit from looking harder at the ‘wrong’ end of the Premier League table? It’s still not too late for him to trawl a bit deeper. Two of our World-Cup-winning eleven went into that 1966 tournament with just seven caps between them (***), and six of the final team had racked up 16 or less. Roy could even follow Alf by dipping into the second tier to dredge up a pair of real minnows (****)! Man of the moment Jeremy Corbyn is urging all of us to look at the whole pool, not just the big fish basking on the surface. In football as in so much else, might the net results be interesting?
(Those names: *Both Charltons, Hunt, Stiles **Fulham’s George Cohen ***Hurst , Peters  ****Flowers, Paine. Special bonus point for naming, in order, the 1965/6 Div One top six: in three of the cases, it was quite like today!)