Apparently, by the time you get to read this, the Queen will have become our longest reigning monarch. Her great-great grandma ascended to the throne when the then king, William IV, died. This was 1837, a long long time ago, which might explain some of the food on sale in the William IV Hotel in Birtley the last time I visited it. However, the William’s now under new management and I’m assured things are much improved.
That great-great granny was Victoria, who made it through to the start of the last century. She died in January 1901; had she lived just another year and a half she’d have seen us win the League Championship.
So the present Queen has achieved quite something. I mean, not every person lives that long, even if they are rich.
But has she done as much as Wayne Rooney? There might be no pubs named after his great-great-grandma’s uncle but he’s scored more goals than the Queen – and I bet no-one ever dared to foul her as she darted into the (royal) box. Rooney’s achievements surely justify the recent claim by John Terry that he (Rooney, I think he means) is England’s greatest ever player. After all he has now surpassed the goal scoring record of not just Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and King William combined, but also that of Sir Bobby Charlton, and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, he now has better hair than Sir Bobby.
50 goals in 107 matches for Rooney, compared to 49 goals in 106 for Sir Bobby seems to be the decider. Only, I’m not convinced making that the basis for judgment allows a fair, or even sensible comparison. Things are different now, things were different then.
Wayne Rooney became England’s youngest ever player when coming on as a sub against Australia in a friendly. He was still only 17 when he scored his first goal, in a European Qualifier against Macedonia. Bobby Charlton was some four years older than Wayne Rooney when he got his first cap in 1958. It was against Scotland at Hampden Park and he scored.
It’s not true to say that Rooney’s debut as a precocious teenager means he had more talent earlier. Nor is it true to say that Rooney, with many more years to come, must be better because he will surpass Sir Bobby’s 107 games by a great margin, and with that, go on to smash his goal record to smithereens. Players had different career paths; fitness, training and injury treatments are worlds apart.
By the same token, though, it’s not true to say that Bobby Charlton’s better because all of Wayne Rooney’s goals were against the likes of Macedonia and San Marino. Not all of Bobby Charlton’s goals were against formidable teams (which Scotland were in the fifties). Both have scored in tough games, both have done it against lesser opposition.
Besides which, we need to ask ourselves if it is adequate to make a judgment solely on goals scored. When evaluating players is that all there is? Of course not, I hear you saying, Kevin Ball scored only twenty or so goals in over three hundred games. Who doesn’t doubt he’s one of our best-ever players? And let’s not get started on Charlie Hurley.
Only, how can I make even that judgment when I never saw Buchan, Carter, Shack, Cloughie, nor did I see Holliday and Hogg, who both scored hat-tricks in our 9-1 win. It’s like the polls you see for “best pop song ever”. You and your dad will never agree.
Or maybe not. When it comes to England’s best ever footballer I’m going to accept my dad’s judgement. He always said the best footballer, the most complete footballer he ever saw, was Duncan Edwards.
Here’s Duncan Edwards as described by Bobby Charlton:
Physically, he was enormous. He was strong and had a fantastic football brain. His ability was complete – right foot, left foot, long passing, short passing. He did everything instinctively.
Bobby Charlton was injured in the Munich Air disaster of February 1958. He recovered and it was in March, at the age of 21 and with one League title behind him, that he made that Hampden debut and began his goal scoring record.
Duncan Edwards was injured in the Munich Air disaster of February 1958. He died in hospital.
By the time of his death, at the age of 22, he had won two League titles and, after having made his debut as the youngest player since the war, had already played 18 games for England.
He gets my vote.