As the iconic Euro '96 song belted out by comedians Baddiel and Skinner goes, three Lions on the shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. It was all hazy sunshine, rainbows and clear blue skies back in the summer of 1996 when England had a team they could be proud of.
The whole country came together to witness what was to be a near perfect tournament for the host nation. Under the helm of Terry Venables, England had a wonderful passing side with natural talent and a solid back four. It featured the likes of ex-Arsenal keeper David Seaman and Tony Adams.
Meanwhile, the midfield included one of England’s all-time greats in the form of Paul Gascoigne. Ex-Manchester United forward Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer completed what was on paper a fearsome front line. But those were the glory days and as night turns into day, England is struggling to compete at the highest level.
Just take some of the last few tournaments which England have reached. It is all well and good breezing through the qualifying groups beating teams such as Andorra and San Marino. But when showtime rolls around, those fearsome lions project little more than a small whimper. They limp out with hardly a stir as was clearly demonstrated in the most recent World Cup.
In a group containing Italy, Costa Rica and Uruguay, England couldn't manage to pick up a single victory. Whether it’s the weight of expectations they carried on their footballing shoulders or a simple lack of quality, they came home as quickly as they flew out to Brazil. Fundamentally, it boils down to the players who are coming through the ranks or in the present squad. Most of them are nowhere near good enough to even polish the boots of Messi, Suarez, Pirlo, Ronaldo and co.
England has produced some wonderful players over the years but they have also had their fair share of lousy ones. Here are the 20 worst England players to ever pull on the jersey.
20 Anthony Gardner
Anthony who? That’s what many English fans asked themselves as they scratched their heads vigorously. Creeping into the top 20 is one of the worst English defenders of all time. His place is well deserved thanks to his bumbling performances at the heart of the defence. Gardner made the England starting line up under the reign of Swedish figure Sven Goran Eriksson.
In 2004, Sven picked the former Tottenham and Everton defender for a game against Sweden of all teams. This was to be his debut as well as his last appearance for England. However, Gardner has managed to carve a whole 12-year career in football playing for other clubs including Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday.
19 Jay Bothroyd
Having swanned off to the depths of Thai football in order to seek first team football, Jay Bothroyd is another one for the scrapheap. As if playing for Muandthong United was not enough of a tongue twister, Bothroyd went on to have an unsuccessful spell with Premier League side Queens Park Rangers.
A former graduate from the Arsenal stable, Bothroyd has also played for Cardiff City which is where he grabbed his first opportunity. His one and only appearance f0r England came against France in a friendly match taking place in November 2010.
18 Carlton Palmer
A lanky defensive midfielder, Carlton Palmer managed to attain a staggering 18 caps for England. Yet this does not detract from his woeful performances which made him seem out of touch. His England career only lasted 12 months between 1992 and 1993 at the peak of then manager Graham Taylor’s powers.
There was a genuine lack of cover in the midfield area so Taylor turned to Palmer. However the phrase fish out of water springs to mind in this particular scenario. Palmer made a number of different appearances during England’s dismal USA '94 campaign which saw them fail to qualify for the tournament.
17 Andy Sinton
Andrew Sinton was a tricky and nifty winger who bounced around a string of clubs including Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers. He bamboozled defences, not to mention manager Graham Taylor who started him 12 times for his country.
This is all the more perplexing given the fact that Taylor had the likes of John Barnes available for selection. An efficient yet run of the mill wide player, Sinton was started at right back for several England games during qualifying for Euro '92.
16 Michael Ricketts
Considered to be one of the worst Three Lions players ever, ex-Bolton man Michael Ricketts is certainly up there. In spite of the fact that he played up front for the Trotters, he was in a rich vein of form which led to his call up.
Ricketts made his first and last appearance for England in February 2002 where he came up against Holland. Unfortunately, there was to be no fairy tale ending or a goal as Ricketts was pulled off at half time. He would never appear for England again and would finish his career with unsuccessful spells at Stoke City and Tranmere Rovers before retiring.
15 Seth Johnson
Former Derby County midfielder Seth Johnson had an injury ravaged career but this did not stop him from making the Three Lions team. He earned the right to put on the white shirt in November 2000 which turned out to be his only call up.
After impressing for Derby, Johnson moved to Leeds who paid at the time an extravagant fee in the region of $12 million. This came just one year after starting for England. It all proved to be too much as Johnson’s form at Leeds dipped so much so that he faded quickly.
14 Richard Wright
Having climbed the footballing heights all the way to the front doors at Arsenal, Richard Wright is another name to forget. A big money signing for the Gunners, Wright was subsequently called up to the first team squad. He had impressed during his career at Ipswich Town which led to his debut in 2000. Yet his impact was minimal against Malta having conceded a penalty to the lowly minnows. He was included in the Euro 2000 squad but was soon to end up on the footballing scrapheap via Manchester City.
13 Zat Knight
Ex-Bolton defender Zat Knight comes low on the pecking order when it comes to central defenders. Yet this disastrous defender managed to play for England.
His debut came in the match against the South American squad of Colombia which took place in May 2005. Knight was to make only two appearances in total in the same year, the other against the United States. Having started his fledgling career at non-league team Rushall Olympic, this was quite a feat. Knight went on to have spells at Fulham as well as Aston Villa.
12 David White
Another one to forget is midfielder David White. At Manchester City he had the ability to turn up the flair. This was largely in part thanks to his dancing feet and tricky runs which dazzled defences up and down the country. Yet, Graham Taylor somehow called him up for the national side in a friendly match against the Spanish.
As Monty Python declared, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition but for White it came far too late. After just a few minutes, White had a chance to make a dream debut but after doing the hard work of rounding the keeper, he somehow missed the goal.
11 Gavin McCann
Gavin McCann started just the once for England in 2001 when he played against Spain. The former Bolton Wanderers and Aston Villa player enjoyed quite a long playing career which also included playing for Sunderland.
However, the truth of the matter is that he was not up to England's standards in any shape or form. He was selected in this particular game by Sven Goran Eriksson who had certainly not come to grasps with the English game yet. It turned out to be McCann’s only game for the Three Lions.
10 Scott Carson
First, there was the wally with the brolley in the shape of Steve McLaren. Then there was Carson the Clown. Making only a handful of appearances for his country, Scott Carson is not let off lightly.
He burst onto the scene against Austria in 2007. The former West Bromwich Albion shot stopper will mostly be remembered for his calamitous display for England against Croatia. This was the same game where McLaren was pictured on the touchline with umbrella firmly in hand to combat the British weather. He gifted a goal to Croatia as the ball slipped through his hands and as a result England never qualified for Euro 2008.
He did have a minor resurgence under the helm of Fabio Capello but Carson was not able to recover from that incident.
9 Michael Ball
The Phantom of the Opera star and singer of the same name could have been more terrifying instead of former Everton man Michael Ball. This full back was around at exactly the same time as ex-Charlton Athletic defender Chris Powell. He was to make his debut against Spain in 2001.
He was never to hold down a firm place and many people were staggered he was in the starting 11 in the first place. After an inconsistent playing career featuring spells at Glasgow Rangers and PSV Eindhoven, Ball decided to hang up his boots in 2012.
8 Michael Gray
The left back position was always a tricky one to fill. Nonetheless, England has produced a string of impressive players in this position such as the grit of Stuart Pearce and the energy of Ashley Cole. However, there was a big gap between these particular players and the manager at the time Kevin Keegan had a dilemma.
Up stepped former Sunderland player Michael Gray who was unable to fill those illustrious boots. All in all, Gray managed only three caps against lowly opposition which included Hungary and Bulgaria.
7 Geoff Thomas
One of the all-time worst strikes in an England shirt, Geoff Thomas still managed to pull on the white shirt nine times. The former Crystal Palace player formed part of Graham Taylor’s team during the early 1990’s which of course included the not so legendary Carlton Palmer. His waif like figure and gait like walk ensured he was almost pedestrian like at times.
This ended up when Thomas played for England against France back in 1992. It was to be his last game but at least it was a memorable one. With only the keeper to beat, Thomas managed to chip the goalie with the ball ending up closer to the corner stick.
6 Andy Gray
No, we are not talking about the controversial Sky TV pundit. After all, he was Scottish, but there was also an Englishman in the form of Andy Gray. Having played together at Crystal Palace with Geoff Thomas, Gray earned a single solitary cap for his efforts.
This came against Poland in 1991 in what was to be an important European Championship qualifier. Gray managed to play just one single half where he should have buried an opportunity from less than four yards from the goal. He was never selected again.
5 Stuart Ripley
Former Blackburn Rovers winger Stuart Ripley only managed to accumulate two caps during his England career. In fact, they came within the space of half a decade which is even more bizarre.
His first appearance was in a 7-1 win against the not so mighty outfit from San Marino, whilst his last game was against Moldova. This took place in 1997 which turned out to be Ripley’s last cap for England. He did though have the honour of replacing David Beckham as a substitute.
4 Keith Curle
Former Manchester City defender Keith Curle hardly made an impression in his England playing career. He made his debut whilst under the tutelage of Graham Taylor during 1992. He was played at right back which was not his normal position for his club.
Unfortunately the situation was completely evident as Curle struggled to make any impact at all in his three caps. Having played entirely out of position, he was never chosen again for any other coach.
3 Brian Deane
There are those players who are able to step up to the plate on the international stage and those who don’t. Brian Deane was definitely one of the latter as he appeared as many times as there are lions on the England shirt. The former Sheffield United marksman cut a forlorn figure up front which was the opposite of his club form. Two of his caps were against New Zealand where he still was not able to find the back of the net.
2 Steve Guppy
With only two England caps under his belt, former Leicester City player Steve Guppy was utilized under the reign of Kevin Keegan. He had a decent spell whilst playing under Martin O’Neill at Filbert Street where he played alongside Emile Heskey as well as Neil Lennon.
In fact, he had formed an influential triumvirate at Leicester which got him noticed in the first place. However, international stardom was not his destiny and the left winger soon was forgotten from the footballing mind-set.
1 Francis Jeffers
One of the bright shining stars in England at one time, Francis Jeffers was set for big things. He had impressed at U21 level and was banging in goals left right and centre. Yet for all this, he tops the list as he soon turned out to be a flop.
His career spanned a dozen clubs across four different countries including Everton and Arsenal. He moved to the Gunners for a fee in the region of $14 million but he was never to repay the Arsenal fans.
Unfortunately for Jeffers, he only made one appearance in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Australia. Ironically, Jeffers scored England's only goal of the game and it would be his only goal, in his only appearance for the Three Lions.