Dominating the football world in the last international break was England’s 1000th international. Podcasts, radio shows, newspapers and online outlets were all engaging in that age-old, thankless task of forming England’s Greatest Ever XI. Of the 1,246 players ever to have played for the Three Lions, only a select handful are ever considered for a spot in that eternal dream team. England’s most-capped international, Peter Shilton, is most certainly one of the strongest contenders.
The 867th player to represent England, Shilton holds the record for having played more competitive matches in world football than anyone else in history, with 1,390 appearances.
EnglandFootball.org got the opportunity to speak with him ahead of last week’s celebrations against Montenegro. This is Talking England with Peter Shilton.
You’ve played a record 125 times for England. Is that likely to ever be beaten?
Shilton: Records are there to be beaten and you can never say never. In the modern game, with the amount of games that players play, it will be difficult. But I think there are a couple of players like Harry Kane and Jordan Pickford. Especially Pickford, being a goalkeeper, he could play for another ten years. So, it can definitely be beaten.
In your career, you made more appearances in competitive football than anyone else in the history of the sport. How did you manage to stay at the top for so long?
I think you’ve obviously got to have the metabolism. Your body has got to be able to stand the strain of training, for longevity. I think I got that off my mother – she was very fit into her nineties. But I started very young and I worked very hard at the game. It was in an era in the sixties when I had to make all my own training exercises.
I think my work ethic and lack of injuries as well, you can get nasty injuries. Basically, it’s the two put together, but also my love of football. You’ve got to love the job; you’ve got to love competing and playing. Those were the ingredients that allowed me to carry on as long as I did.
“I probably would have had the record if Maradona hadn’t cheated against us”
I set myself goals and always did throughout my career. If I achieved something, I would try and set myself another target. That kept me motivated and kept me wanting to work very hard, especially when it was cold, wet, windy days and you were diving around in all the mud. They don’t get that these days! Those were the days when you had to put the hard work in to keep your standards up.
Does any particular match stand out to you as your greatest performance for England?
When you’ve played 125 times, there are quite a few games that you remember with fondness. I think possibly two (stand out). One was when I made, what people say is, my best England save ever – it helped establish me in the England team for quite a long time.
We had the Auld Enemy games against Scotland in the seventies; far more than nowadays, they were real battles because there were mostly British players at clubs. We had a lot of Scottish players at our club (Leicester City). It was normally English or Scottish players and a few Welsh and Irish players.
I remember playing in one of my first (England-Scotland games) at Wembley, in front of 100,000 and we were winning 1-0 with about ten minutes to go. It was a save from Kenny Dalglish when the ball got cleared from a corner. I went with my left arm but wasn’t getting it – I brought my right arm over and managed to touch it away. I played behind the great Bobby Moore in that game and we ended up winning 1-0.
One other sticks in my mind quite vividly. I was involved in 1973; I was in the team that failed to qualify (for the 1974 World Cup) because we didn’t beat Poland at Wembley in a very famous game, because of their goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski. I was partly to blame for their goal – one of the only shots of the game and the pace went under me.
But then we had to go to Poland to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, which eventually became a fantastic World Cup for England – getting to the semis and revitalising football in the country. We went over to Poland needing a point and I pulled off one of my best first-halves for England in my career. I made about four or five really good saves.
“Italia ’90 revitalised football in our country”
The second-half was a total contrast – we seemed to get our game together, but (in) the first-half, we were a little bit all over the shop. It was a 0-0 in the end, and a little bit of sweet revenge for me. I think I repaid the debt.
We got there, that’s the main thing. And I like to think I played a massive part in us getting there.
You hold the joint-record for the most number of World Cup finals clean-sheets. What ensured that you were able to peak at the right times like this?
I played in three World Cups and felt that our defensive record in all three was very good, as that indicates. I probably would have had the record (outright) if Maradona hadn’t cheated against us.
Your defence in front of you plays a big part, but you always peak for World Cups, always work very hard to be ready for the tournament and I did that, but we had some good defences in all three tournaments.
Do you think the England team are in a good place at the moment? If so, what has changed from less significant years in our recent history?
It’s been a bit up-and-down in recent years – we have failed at recent tournaments. I think we did have the luck of the draw in the last World Cup; we didn’t beat any of what I would call the ‘top’ nations. But we managed to get to the semi-final.
What I have seen is the team spirit, the work-rate, and he has set some really good ground rules for players who don’t turn up or don’t perform. He sets high standards. That’s good – we are aiming to get players who want to turn up, who want to play for England, who want to perform in every game. I think that is something that Gareth Southgate has instilled in the players.
“With the Euros next summer, there’s a lot to look forward to”
I still think we have got a little way to go, to really reach the top. I think we are on the right lines, and with the Euros next summer, there is a lot to look forward to.
Finally, a quick look at the system England are playing at the moment. We were playing a 3-5-2 at the World Cup and now we are at 4-3-3. Does this represent a positive change, given the players Southgate has got available to him?
With the opposition that we have got in our group, I think that will dictate sometimes. We are expected to be playing well and scoring goals against the opposition we are playing against, so obviously it is more of an attacking formation.
But, I think at the World Cup, three-at-the-back worked well. It seemed to shore up the defence and that was our strong point. Maybe (Southgate) will have to look at that, depending on the strength of the opposition we play.