In England’s 37 matches between May 1984 and April 1987, manager Bobby Robson only ever started one man at left-back. That man was Kenny Sansom. The Crystal Palace and Arsenal great enjoyed a nine-year international career and is his country’s twelfth-most capped player. And it’s inevitable that an England player of 86 caps will hold some very special memories of wearing the white and red. Indeed, here he harks back to his Three Lions years. This is Talking England with Kenny Sansom.
How did it feel to represent your country for the first time, back in 1979?
It was fantastic. It was just an absolute honour. I loved it. I played for the Three Lions at every level, from schoolboys all the way through (to the senior team). It was always very special.
Describe how your first England cap came about and how the game went.
I just got a letter that came through, saying “You’re in the England squad, to play Wales”. It sounds quite simple, but that’s how it was in my day. It was at Wembley. We drew 0-0, and the game was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. Jack Charlton said (mine) was one of the best debuts he’d ever seen, which was nice. I just remember going out there and enjoying myself. I took it very seriously and it was very special.
Who was the best England player and best England manager you worked alongside?
Bryan Robson was the best player. And I’d have to say Bobby Robson the best manager. He was the longest-serving manager I played under. He did forget my name several times, though! Before the Paraguay game in Mexico ‘86, Bryan Robson was injured. Bobby talked for 40 minutes before the game and calmed us all down. And then he said “Relax lads, don’t worry about the 60 million people watching at home”. We couldn’t believe it, but that was Bobby.
What did you feel was the biggest difference between playing club football and playing for England?
You’re playing with ten different players to club football. When you’re an international, you have to learn about (how they all play) in three or four days before a game. I just thought, “I’ve got to do my job. If we all do our job, then we’ll be a team”. At a club, you might play twice a week together. At international level, you have to become a team in a much shorter period of time.
What are your thoughts on the current England team, under Gareth Southgate?
I think they have some promising youngsters. Against Croatia in the World Cup, we were all over them in that first 20 minutes, but then we let them back into the game. Southgate needs to learn from these things. If mistakes are made, you need to see them and learn from them.
Which players do you see in the current England team as the most capable leaders on the pitch?
I’m not sure having Harry Kane as captain is good idea, as he’s a striker. If you’re a captain, you have a job to do. When you’re a centre-half you can see the whole pitch. I like Jordan Henderson. I like Dele Alli. I don’t know what he’d be like as a captain. He dives a bit, but he’s aggressive. I like Harry Maguire. He clearly likes to perform and he does his job and makes others do theirs too. I think it rubs off on your teammates. Can the manager see that the captain has the respect of the other players? A club manager gets to work with the players every day, so it’s a lot harder for Gareth. So, someone who has respect from his teammates is a good captain. Bryan Robson was the best captain I knew.
What is your favourite memory of playing for England?
Making my debut was obviously very special. I remember my Nan and Granddad were there for my England schoolboy debut. They were there, pushed in their wheelchairs up the famous Wembley tunnel.
Many thanks go to Kenny Sansom for kindly agreeing to describe his England best-bits to us. In a lengthy career for both club and country, he won two British Home Championships with England, the Second Division with Crystal Palace as a youngster and, in 1987, the League Cup with Arsenal. Perhaps most astonishingly of all, he made the PFA Team of the Year 11 times in a row – once in Division Three, then twice in Division Two, before a subsequent eight consecutive times in the First Division.
This has been Talking England, with Kenny Sansom.