300th post: Who is the greatest English footballer ever?


A few weeks ago, It’s Football Not Soccer celebrated it’s second birthday, and I was amazed that I had been doing this blog for that long. But what amazes me even more is that this is the 300th post I am writing. That’s right, I can’t believe it either.

For post #100 back in September 2014, I looked at who the greatest player of all time was. My answer? Pele. Then, for post #200 in April this year, I looked at who the greatest Premier League player of all time was. My answer? Ryan Giggs. So, for post #300, I will attempt to find out who the greatest English player of all time is. Trust me, this was the toughest decision yet.

I will be taking into account not only their careers for the national team, but also on the club stage as well and see what others had to say about them. Like before, I have narrowed it down to a top five after a lot of deliberation in my head, but it would be pointless going through the ‘ones who just missed out’ because there are so many. Without further ado, here is my top five in alphabetical order…

Gordon Banks


  • Full name: Gordon Banks
  • Date of Birth: 30th December 1937 (age 77)
  • Position: Goalkeeper
  • England Caps: 73
  • England Goals: 0
  • England Debut: Vs Scotland (06/04/1963)
  • Clubs played for: Chesterfield (23 games/0 goals) 1958-59, Leicester City (356/0) 1959-67, Stoke City (250/0) 1967-72, Cleveland Stokers (7/0) 1967 – loan, Hellenic (3/0) 1971 – loan, Fort Lauderdale Strikers (39/0) 1977-78, St Patrick’s Athletic (1/0) 1977 – loan

Best Moment


It would be easy to say winning the 1966 World Cup because Banks was part of that historic team, but as were other players in my top five, so I’ve gone for another moment in the following World Cup, four years later in Mexico. It was the quarter-finals against Brazil, and the day before, the goalkeeper had been informed he had been awarded an OBE. Jairzinho burst down the wing and chipped a cross to perfection onto the head of Pele, who powerfully connected. It looked a certain goal, and Pele himself jumped up to celebrate. But Banks got a fingertip to the ball to push it over the bar, in what many people say is the greatest save of all time. Banks himself admits: “They won’t remember me for winning the World Cup, it’ll be for that save. That’s how big a thing it is. People just want to talk about that save.” In 2002, the UK public voted the save No. 41 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.


Leicester City

  • Football League Cup: 1964

Stoke City

  • Football League Cup: 1972


  • FIFA World Cup: 1966
  • UEFA European Championship third-place (Bronze Medallist): 1968
  • British Home Championship (8): 1964 (shared), 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970 (shared), 1971, 1972


  • FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971
  • FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 1966
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire: 1970
  • Daily Express Sportsmen of the Year: 1971, 1972
  • FWA Footballer of the Year: 1972
  • NASL Goalkeeper of the Year: 1977
  • FIFA 100: 2004

What They Said

“When I was up against Gordon I used to ask myself, ‘how can I beat this man?”

Jimmy Greaves

Did You Know?

Banks kept clean sheets in a remarkable 35 of his 73 internationals.

Bobby Charlton


  • Full name: Robert Charlton
  • Date of Birth: 11th October 1937 (age 78)
  • Position: Forward
  • England Caps: 106
  • England Goals: 49
  • England Debut: Vs Scotland (19/04/1958)
  • Clubs played for: Manchester United (758 games/249 goals) 1956-73, Preston North End (45/10) 1974-75, Waterford United (4/1) 1976

Best Moment


Once again I’m going to save the 1966 World Cup for someone else on the list and instead go for one of the achievements in Sir Bobby Charlton’s club career. After being one of the survivors of the Munich Air Disaster of 1958, the forward would go on to become a Manchester United great and ten years after the tragedy played in a hugely emotional European Cup Final against Benfica. Charlton scored twice as United beat the Portuguese side 4-1 and he lifted the trophy as captain at Wembley. The Red Devils became the first English side to win the competition and it marked the culmination of a decade of rebuilding following the events on 1958. Charlton was the star of the team that won it for Sir Matt Busby and all of the players who lost their lives, the friends that he had seen lying dead around him on an airfield ten years previously.


Manchester United

  • Football League First Division (3): 1956–57, 1964–65, 1966–67
  • FA Cup (1): 1962–63
  • Charity Shield (4): 1956, 1957, 1965, 1967
  • European Cup (1): 1967–68


  • FIFA World Cup (1): 1966
  • British Home Championship (10): 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970
  • UEFA Euro 1968 (Bronze Medalist)


  • FWA Footballer of the Year: 1965–66
  • FIFA World Cup Golden Ball: 1966
  • FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (2): 1966, 1970
  • Ballon d’Or: 1966
  • PFA Merit Award: 1974
  • FWA Tribute Award: 1989
  • FIFA World Cup All-Time Team: 1994
  • Football League 100 Legends: 1998
  • English Football Hall of Fame: 2002
  • FIFA 100: 2004
  • UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll: 2004
  • BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award: 2008
  • Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award : 2012
  • Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE): 1969
  • Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE): 1974
  • Knight Bachelor: 1994
  • Order of the Rising Sun, 4th class: 2012

What They Said

“He was one of the greatest players I have seen – very much the linchpin of the 1966 team. Early in my management I knew I had to find a role suitable to Bobby’s unique talents. He wasn’t just a great goalscorer, with a blistering shot using either foot. Bobby was a player who could also do his share of hard work.”

Sir Alf Ramsey

Did You Know?

The son of a miner, Bobby Charlton got his footballing genes from his mother Cissie, whose father and four brothers all played professionally.

Stanley Matthews


  • Full name: Stanley Matthews 
  • Date of Birth: 1st February 1915 (Died on 23 February 2000 aged 85)
  • Position: Right Forward
  • England Caps: 54
  • England Goals: 11
  • England Debut: Vs Wales (29/09/1934)
  • Clubs played for: Stoke City (355/62) 1932-47 & 1961-65, Blackpool (428/18) 1947-61

Best Moment


Stanley Matthews had one of the longest careers in the history of English football, but his best moment came in the 1953 FA Cup Final, otherwise known as ‘The Matthews Final’. You know it’s pretty special when it’s named after you. But in fact, Matthews didn’t actually score as his team Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3. He grabbed three assists and in general ran the show as he final won the famous trophy in his third final aged 38. It was the perfect story for Britain’s most loved footballer and even newly-crowned footballer of the year Nat Lofthouse stood to applaud. In February 2010, the boots worn by Matthews in the match were won in an auction for £38,400, and in November 2014 Matthews’ winning medal was sold for £220,000. With his nicknames including “The Wizard of the Dribble” and “The Magician”, it’s hardly surprising.



  • FA Cup (1): 1953

Stoke City

  • Football League Second Division (2): 1932–33, 1962–63


  • British Home Championship (9): 1935 (shared) 1938, 1939 (shared), 1947, 1948, 1950, 1952 (shared), 1954, 1955


  • FWA Footballer of the Year: 1948, 1963
  • Ballon d’Or: 1956
  • CBE: 1957
  • Knight Bachelor: 1965
  • English Football Hall of Fame: 2002

What They Said

“He was the man who taught us how football should be played! What more can I say?”


Did You Know?

Matthews remains the only English footballer in history to be knighted whilst still playing, and is England’s oldest goalscorer and appearance maker.

Bobby Moore


  • Full name: Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore
  • Date of Birth: 12th April 1941 (Died on 24 February 1993 aged 51)
  • Position: Defender
  • England Caps: 108
  • England Goals: 2
  • England Debut: Vs Peru (20/05/1962)
  • Clubs played for: West Ham United (544 games/24 goals) 1958-74, Fulham (124/1) 1974-77, San Antonio Thunder (24/1) 1976 – loan, Seattle Sounders (7/0) 1978, Herning Fremad (9/0) 1978 *

*All statistics are league appearances and goals only

Best Moment


This is where I get to talk about the greatest moment in English football history – the 1966 World Cup. Bobby Moore was the captain of that famous team and a star at the heart of the defence. He got two assists in the final against West Germany thanks to his quick thinking and West Ham connection with hat trick hero Geoff Hurst. With England 1-0 down, he was fouled by midway inside the German half and, rather than remonstrate or head back into defence, he picked himself up quickly while looking ahead and delivered an instant free kick on to Hurst’s head, who scored. Then with the score at 3-2 England and with seconds remaining, the ball broke to Moore on the edge of his own penalty area. Team-mates shouted at him to just get rid of the ball, but he calmly picked out the feet of Hurst 40 yards upfield, who scored to bring the score to 4–2. It made a Moore and the #6 shirt an icon and he remains the only Three Lions skipper to lift the most famous trophy in world football.


West Ham United

  • FA Cup (1): 1963–64
  • UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1): 1964–65
  • International Soccer League (1): 1963–64


  • FIFA World Cup (1): 1966
  • UEFA Euro 1968 (Bronze Medalist)


  • FWA Footballer of the Year (1): 1964
  • West Ham Player Of The Year (4): 1961, 1963, 1968, 1970
  • FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (1): 1966
  • BBC Sports Personality Of The Year (1): 1966
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire: 1967
  • UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament: 1968
  • Inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame: 2002
  • UEFA Jubilee Awards – Greatest English Footballer of the last 50 Years (Golden Player): 2003
  • FIFA World Cup All-Time Team: 1994
  • World Team of the 20th Century: 1998
  • Number 6 retired by West Ham: 2008 (posthumous)

What They Said

“My captain, my leader, my right-hand man. He was the spirit and the heartbeat of the team. A cool, calculating footballer I could trust with my life. He was the supreme professional, the best I ever worked with. Without him England would never have won the World Cup.”

Sir Alf Ramsey

Did You Know?

Moore’s last club game in England in 1975 was actually against his beloved West Ham. The defender was playing for Fulham in the FA Cup Final, which the Hammers won.

Wayne Rooney


  • Full name: Wayne Mark Rooney
  • Date of Birth: 24 October 1985 (age 30)
  • Position: Forward
  • England Caps: 107
  • England Goals: 50
  • England Debut: Vs Australia (12/02/2003)
  • Clubs played for: Everton (77 games/17 goals) 2002-04, Manchester United (493/236) 2004-Present

Best Moment


One of the main reasons why Wayne Rooney is in my top five is because he is England’s highest goalscorer ever. So I’ve picked his best moment as the game when he broke that record, which was just last month. Since becoming England’s youngest ever goalscorer against Macedonia in September 2003, hopes were pinned on Rooney becoming a world superstar. Fast forward 12 years and Rooney was level with Sir Bobby Charlton on 49 goals in the England goalscoring charts as the Three Lions faced Switzerland. Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box and as soon as the referee pointed to the spot, there was only one man who was taking it. Rooney confidently stepped up and smashed into the net to reach 50 goals and break the record in his 107th appearance. The entirety of Wembley stood on their feet as they witnessed history, with the striker even tearing up slightly after the goal. It was also his 300th professional career goal.


Manchester United

  • Premier League (5): 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13
  • Football League Cup (2): 2005–06, 2009–10
  • FA Community Shield (3): 2007, 2010, 2011
  • UEFA Champions League (1): 2007–08
  • FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008


  • PFA Players’ Player of the Year (1): 2009–10
  • PFA Young Player of the Year (2): 2004–05, 2005–06
  • PFA Fans’ Player of the Year (2): 2005–06, 2009–10
  • PFA Premier League Team of the Year (3): 2005–06, 2009–10, 2011–12
  • Football Writers’ Player of the Year (1): 2009–10
  • Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year (2): 2005–06, 2009–10
  • BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year (1): 2002
  • Bravo Award (1): 2003
  • Golden Boy Award (1): 2004
  • UEFA Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament
  • FIFPro World Young Player of the Year (1): 2004–05
  • Premier League Player of the Season (1): 2009–10
  • Premier League Player of the Month (5): February 2005, December 2005, March 2006, October 2007, January 2010
  • England Player of the Year (3): 2008, 2009, 2014
  • FIFA Club World Cup Most Valuable Player of the Final (1): 2008
  • FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball (1): 2008
  • FIFA FIFPro World XI (1): 2011
  • Premier League 20 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2011–12): Best Goal (vs. Manchester City, 12 February 2011)

What They Said

“I could go on all day about Wayne because he’s such a big talent. He’s going to keep breaking records and I’m just glad he’s English.”

Steven Gerrard

Did You Know?

Rooney has won the Premier League Player of the Month award a total of five times, which is a record he shares with Steven Gerrard.

SoWho is the Greatest English Player Ever?

Decision time. As I’ve said, out of all three milestone posts I’ve done, this is the hardest one to decide yet, but I think I’ve finally put my top five in order.

At number five it’s Wayne Rooney, who despite being England’s record goalscorer, has never quite fully lived up to the hype that surrounded him as a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, he is an excellent player who has won lots of trophies and awards at club level, but on the biggest stage of all, World Cups and European Championships (except Euro 2004), he has often failed to turn up. Furthermore, along with David Beckham he holds the unwanted record of England’s most red carded player, having been sent off for the Three Lions twice.

In fourth place is Gordon Banks, who would have been higher up the list had he been more successful in his club career. There is no doubt that he is England’s greatest goalkeeper of all time and he is one of just 22 players to have won the World Cup for England. But the fact that he isn’t higher is probably unfortunately because he is a goalkeeper. It seems unfair, mainly because goalkeepers don’t get as many of the headlines because they don’t score hat-tricks or crucial winning goals. That’s what gives Banks a disadvantage, but his save against Pele really is the greatest ever in my opinion.

Moving into the top three, and I’ve gone for Stanley Matthews next, and he’s only behind the Charlton and Moore because he didn’t win the World Cup. In fact, he didn’t win much at club level either despite his long career. But it’s his long career which makes him third place. To carry on playing at the top level at supreme fitness until the age of 5o is incredible, and I doubt there are any modern day footballers who could achieve that feat. Matthews inspired the whole country and was loved by all fans, proving himself to be a true hero. Don’t forget his career would have been even longer had it not been for World War Two, whilst as aforementioned he remains the only footballer to have been knighted whilst still playing.

So, which of the Bobbys have I decided is the greatest English footballer of all time? Drum roll please……


His team-mate Bobby Moore comes in at second, and is perhaps the greatest ever England captain ever. Pele described him as the best defender he ever played against, whilst Moore was also named in the team of the 20th century. Even in the 1966 final he had a huge impact from the back as described and the tournament made him a footballing icon. Even though his club career wasn’t as successful, to have a shirt number retired in your honour as Moore did at West Ham shows how much of a legend he was. Alf Ramsey said England wouldn’t have won the World Cup without him, and that’s coming from the man who managed the famous side.

But it is indeed Bobby Charlton who takes the title of It’s Football Not Soccer‘s greatest ever English player. He enjoyed superb success with both club and country, even after witnessing a horrific tragedy early on in his career. Maybe that spurred him on to become one of this country’s legends of the game, as the influence he had on any team he played in was huge. He holds the record for the most ever Manchester United goals and up until last month held the same record for England. At the end of the day, football is all about scoring goals and winning trophies, and Charlton has an impressive amount of both, and that’s what earns him top spot in my list.

My Top Five English Footballers Ever

5. Wayne Rooney

4. Gordon Banks

3. Stanley Matthews

2. Bobby Moore

1. Bobby Charlton

Thank you for reading and here’s to the next 100 posts! Let me know your top five in the comments 🙂


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