Soapbox on captains courageous: so who leads England out against Wales?


The question is posed by Pete Sixsmith. who detects a subtle difference between your John Terrys and your Kevin Balls …

The big talking point on Sport on 5 last night was the England captaincy.

Mark Pougatch, David Pleat and Mike Ingham had a sustained and intense discussion about who should wear the captains armband against Wales and Ghana next week, what with Rio being injured, Stevie G being out and would JT get it back. Interesting? Not really

One startling revelation that came out was that Terry was “upset” when the armband was passed around during the multi-substitutions against Denmark and it never reached him, poor diddums.

It made me think about the importance/value of a captain in this day and age, when the players are given complicated procedures to follow, akin to an NFL play book and the skipper has little leeway to change things.

I suppose Terry is the kind of man who leads by example so that players follow. His attributes include urinating in public, sleeping with a team mate’s ex and generally being a pain in the arse, but I am sure that those who led the lads ashore in Normandy in 1944 or routed the French at Waterloo and Agincourt were hardly angels, so we can forgive him the odd misdemeanour.

There are some who would argue that the role of a captain is little more than a glorified coin tosser and that they are almost superfluous. Italy and Spain tend to pick their 11 best players and then ask someone to be captain and that role can change from game to game. Here, we tend to pick a captain and he is almost guaranteed a place in the team until he drops out or sleeps with the physio’s wife.

At Sunderland we have two captains. Bole Zenden is the club captain, which conjours up a picture of an amiable type swanning around in sports jacket and cravat while quaffing a G and T. The team captain is Lee Cattermole (when fit) who set a glorious example in August by being sent off twice in the first four games, though he has settled down, as I am sure all Stoke City and Spurs fans ( if not, necessarily, Stockton publicans – ed) – would agree.

This type of captaincy is very common in the English game, where the ability to be strong and to get stuck in far outweighs any cerebral thoughts on the game. If Sunderland fans were asked to name their favourite skipper over the years, I would assume that many would plump for Kevin Ball or Charlie Hurley.

Both were inspirational figures. Bally led some decent sides in his time at Sunderland and he was able to move ordinary players to greater heights through a mixture of inspiration and fear. Two examples stand out in my memory.

The first was at West Brom in the record breaking promotion season when we went in two down before the interval and were playing like drains. I can imagine Reid and Ball almost pinning the players up against the wall at half time. Lo and behold, Bally got the winning goal in a 3-2 win that made us realise what a good side we had.

A few years earlier, he scored a goal in a dismal final day 3-1 defeat at Meadow Lane which kept us in the second flight. Had he not shown the strength and willpower that day, we would have slid back into the third level, perhaps never to return. That was the midfield of Cunnington, Atkinson etc ; Bally must have felt an alien with players like that …

Charlie Hurley was equally inspirational and was clearly a man that the Herds, Crossans and Irwins of his team looked up to. He had to deal with the notoriously grumpy Alan Brown on behalf of the players although I think that Brown thought so much of Charlie that it was a relatively straightforward task. Nowadays, they would either instruct their agent or sulk.

What do we want from a captain? Is it a tub thumper like Bally? A giant figure like Charlie? Or a more thoughtful figure like Paul Bracewell, who would lead by example on the field with his neat and tidy passing? And who is the least distinguished captain you have ever seen in a red and white shirt? George McCartney perhaps? George Kinnell?

As for England, I couldn’t care less which over rated, over paid Premier League golden boy wears the armband – unless it’s Jordan Henderson.

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1 thought on “Soapbox on captains courageous: so who leads England out against Wales?”

  1. Great article about an issue that otherwise I couldn’t care less about. Crapello can make Mike Brearley captain if he wants.

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