A Team of Dying Breed of "One Club" Footballers
I have a debt, a loyalty to this club; the best place for me to do what I always wanted to do. It demands loyalty and responsibility, and it gives me back fulfillment and peace. – Michael Jordan
In today’s world, where money is given a priority over every single emotion, it is hard (read: next to impossible) to find a footballer who would commit his future to a club, just because he was born and bred over there. With Gary Neville and Paul Scholes bringing an end to their illustrious career, the term “loyal servant to the club” will be in use even less frequently.
I remember doing an obituary for the legendary Nat Lofthouse, the ultimate one club man, who played for Bolton Wanderer throughout his career. Ahh, those were the days and they were the players. Much better than today’s greedy footballers. The quest to find more of such legends led to this article and here I am, with a team of 11 starters and 7 substitutes that comprises of this dying breed of “one club, loyal” footballers.
This is just my view and in case of some of these players, I had to rely on youtube videos and views of elder people who actually watched these legends play. So, if you feel that I have left out any other player, do mention it in comments.
PS: The Loyal XI plays in a 4-3-1-2 formation and includes only the players who have retired.
Goalkeeper: Lev Yashin (Dynamo Moscow), 326 games
Well, no other goalkeeper (Casillas included) will EVER come near to what “The Black Spider” achieved in his playing career. His ability to stop long range shots, close range headers and every other possible shot that threatened to go in goal, coupled with his loyalty to Dynamo Moscow makes him the greatest goalkeeper ever to grace this beautiful game. Known for his athleticism, amazing reflex saves, imposing stature and his unorthodox technique, Yashin played 22 seasons with Dynamo Moscow before retiring in 1971. In his career, Lev stopped over 150 penalties out of the 225 faced. He is credited to the revolutionizing the modern day goalkeeper. His approach to goalkeeping, that included commanding the area, communicating with the defence, punching away clearances and early distribution of the ball, was the foundation of new set of groundrules for modern day goalkeepers.
In 1994, FIFA established the Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper at the World Cup finals. FIFA polls named Yashin as the sole goalkeeper in World Team of the 20th Century. World Soccer Magazine named him in their The 100 Greatest Players of the 20th Century. Till date, he is the only goalkeeper ever to have won the European Footballer of the Year award.
The legendary goalkeeper passed away in 1990 due to complications caused by an amputation of one of his legs following a knee injury in 1986.
“Yashin is, undoubtedly, the peerless goalkeeper of the century.” - Eusebio
Right Back: Gary Neville (Manchester United), 602 games
If there ever was a player totally committed to his boyhood club, it was Gary Neville. Gary joined United’s youth academy in 1991 along with his brother Phil. The duo, along with Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes formed a part of “Fergie’s Fledglings”. Both at Manchester United and in England national team, Neville spent most of the time defending, covering up David Beckham, and thus forming a formidable partnership on the right flank. A true loyalist, Neville was appointed as the club captain when Roy Keane left in 2005. The rightback held his position until he decided to retire in the middle of the 2010-11 season, following a string of injuries and not-so-good performances. In January 2006, his celebration in front of the visiting Liverpool fans at Old Trafford, when ran from the half-way line towards the opposing fans to celebrate the 90th minute injury-time winning goal. Neville won eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two European Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup, and one League Cup. Neville made a total of 602 appearances for Manchester United in his 18.5 seasons with the club. Post retirement, Neville had a brief stint as a commentator of United’s Reserve and Youth games for MUTV before shifting to a full time pundit at SkySports.
“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Center Back 1: Franco Baresi (AC Milan), 719 games
Acknowledged by many as the greatest defender to ever play, Baresi was nicknamed “Piscinin”, meaning ‘Little One’. Baresi played for AC Milan for over 20 years though ironically, he was rejected as a youngster at Inter. Baresi didn’t exactly fit in the frame of an ideal central defender, being just 5”’9’ but he generally operated as a Sweeper, just behind the defensive line. He is considered as the “best reader of the game” and has the honor of mentoring Paolo Maldini. He quickly established himself as a player of real quality, and remained loyal to the club despite twice being relegated to Serie B in the early 1980s, but he may have left upon the arrival of Arrigo Sacchi in 1987: his friend, and later biographer, Alberto Costa wrote in the Corriere della Sera in October that year that he wanted to leave as he had problems with the coach. Their differences eventually settled, he became a fundamental part of Sacchi’s legendary side. He played 719 games for Milan before retiring in 1997 at the age of 37. In the meantime, he won 6 Serie A titles and 3 European Cups along with a host of other trophies. He was also a part of World Cup winning Italy team of 1982. He was named the “AC Milan Player of the Century” in 1999 and his jersey number 6 at Milan has been retired.
“Selling Franco Baresi would be like selling the flag of Milan itself.” - Silvio Berlusconi
Center Back 2: Jack Charlton (Leeds United), 629 games
Brother of Manchester United Legend Sir Bobby Charlton, “Big Jack” played as a Central Defender for United’s bitter rivals Leeds United. Jack played for Leeds between 1952-73, making 629 appearances. He was a part of England’s victorious World Cup squad in 1966. The player was recognized by everyone, even the Pope. “Yes, I know who you are: you’re the boss,” Pope John Paul II said on meeting Charlton in 1990, when he was the manager of Ireland national team. A player who received many lucrative offers in his career, including two from Bill Shankly’s Liverpool chose to end his career with his childhood club Leeds. Charlton then went on to manage Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and, for almost a decade, the national team of the Republic of Ireland. In 1996, the year after he resigned as manager of the Republic of Ireland team, Jack Charlton was awarded honorary Irish citizenship. A life-size statue of him can be found at Cork Airport. Although mainly known as one of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes, Jack Charlton also deserves praise for his commitment to Leeds United, for which he made 773 appearances between 1952 and 1973. In 2005, he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
“He gives a straight answer to a straight question, and that’s always a good sign.” – Bill Shankly
Left Back: Paolo Maldini (AC Milan), 902 games
A versatile defender, who was equally at ease playing as a left back or a centre back, Maldini holds the record of most number of Serie A appearances. Son of Cesare Maldini, who played as a center back for AC Milan too, Paolo joined AC Milan training academy in 1978. He made his first appearance for AC Milan in 1985 and in his illustrious career spanning over 24 years, Paolo made a total of 902 appearances for Milan. The player has 7 Serie A titles, 5 European Cups amongst a host of other trophies to flaunt. Milan retired the number 3 jersey after his retirement. Though, if any of Maldini’s sons’ plays for Milan, the jersey would be given to him. His son Christian has already joined the Milan youth academy and looks set to continue the Maldini dynasty.
“I will not have his longevity. He has something which no one else has, he has a strong head. Paolo is like metal, he never slackens, he loves to train and to play. I do not believe that in four or five years I will be like that.”- Alessandro Nesta
RM: Sir Tom Finney (Preston North End), 473 games
Described by Bill Shankly as “the greatest player I ever saw in all my time”, Sir Thomas Finney dedicated his football career to Preston North End. Nicknamed “Preston Plumber”, Finney is still considered as the most versatile player, having played in all five orthodox forward positions that exist in football. Operating from either wings, Finney had a pin-point cross to compliment his blistering pace. Add to it, his ability of firing explosive shots from either foot, and you can see why the opposition defenders were terrified of him.
Finney was an established England player when Preston were relegated in 1948-49. Had he agitated for a transfer, Blackpool and Manchester United were ready to pay a record fee for his signature. But instead, he decided to stay with his childhood club. He was never booked in his career. He received the OBE in 1961, became President of Preston North End, a magistrate and chairman of his local health authority while continuing to run his plumbing busines. And in 1998, he received the revered knighthood. A statue in his honor stands outside the ground at Deepdale, which can be found on Sir Tom Finney Way.
“Tom was crafty, quick and elusive. He could beat you on either side without breaking stride. When he had the ball, that was it, you’d never get it back. A brilliant, exceptional player.” – Bill Shankly
CM: Billy Wright (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 541 games
Described as “a national treasure” by The Times in 1959, Billy was the first player to play 100 internationals for England. A defensive midfielder, Billy spent his entire 20 year playing career with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Billy joined Wolves as a part of ground staff when he was just 14. He eventually took the field as a player and aged just 15, made his first team debut. Standing just 5”8’ tall, Billy’s main attribute was his pin-point passes. His career was hindered by the War but still, he managed to make 541 appearances for Wolves. He was the runner up for the 1957 Ballon D’Or. In 1998, he was included in a list of Football League 100 Legends and in 2002, he was named as the member of English Football Hall of Fame. Billy managed Arsenal from 1962-1966, though his career as a manager was not very successful. He died from stomach cancer on September 3,1994. The legendary Billy Wright spent his whole career at Wolverhampton Wanderers, making 541 appearances between 1939 and 1959. He is also known for his highly successful career for England, being the first footballer in the world to earn more than 100 caps for a national team. Billy became manager of his boyhood heroes, Arsenal, in 1962 and four years later he left Highbury and was thereafter associated with sports coverage on ATV. He retired in 1989, and, in May 1990, he delighted Wolves fans both young and old, when he returned to Molineux as a director for one of the most popular homecomings of all time. In September, 1994, at the age of 70, Billy Wright passed away after a fight against cancer. His funeral the following week, bought the centre of Wolverhampton to a standstill as the town bid farewell to its favourite footballing son.
“Billy had a heart of oak and was the most reliable of men. Essentially a team player who never tried to seek personal glory, Billy turned simplicity into an art form.” – Walter Winterbottom
LM: Paul Scholes (Manchester United), 676 games
A member of Sir Alex’s famous Class of ’92, Scholes made a staggering 676 (4th highest for Manchester United, behind Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs and Bill Foulkes) appearances for the club that he joined at a tender age of 14. A humble man, Scholes allowed his feet to do the talking throughout the 20 year long career.
Born and bred in Manchester, Scholes’ youth career began in 1991. Scholes signed his first professional contract in 1993 and made his first team debut against Port Vale in the League Cup in 1994. He scored twice on debut (the only other player I remember to score twice on debut: Sir Bobby Charlton) as United won the match 2-1. A vital member of the 1999 treble winning team, Scholes scored one of the two United goals in the FA Cup final. He, along with Roy Keane, had to sit out of the UEFA Champions League final in 1999 due to suspension. His goal against Barcelona in the semifinal of 2008 Champions League paved the way for United to go on and win the title. He was inducted in the English Football Hall of Fame in 2008. One fact about the legendary player is that he never had an agent throughout his playing career. Far away from the glamor of fashion magazines, the red carpets, Scholes preferred to follow his self lain routine of “Train in the morning, pick up the kids from school, play with them, have tea, get them to bed and then watch a bit of TV.”
“I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes. Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United. Players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich. Players like Denis Law and George Best who I enjoyed so much as team-mates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era. And in so many ways Scholes is my favourite.” – Sir Bobby Charlton
AMF: Fritz Walter (1. FC Kaiserslautern), 379 games
An attacking midfielder, Walter played for Bundesliga club 1. FC Kaiserslautern throughout his playing career. Walter joined the Kaiserslautern’s youth academy in 1929, at a tender age of 9 and made his first team debut in 1937, at the age of 17. Walter was a gifted technician who would dribble his way around the stingiest of defenders. People back in Germany remember him as a goal hungry playmaker who was always ready to put in an extra hour in practice. He made 379 appearances for Kaiserslautern, scoring an astonishing 306 goals (it’s an extraordinary record for a striker, let alone a midfielder). He missed many years of his career because of World War II, but still made his debut for the national team during those years. Post World War II, Walter led Kaiserslautern to German championships twice, in 1951 and 1953. His goal scoring prowess wasn’t just limited to club level. In his time with the German national team, Walter scored 33 goals in 61 appearances. He was the captain of the West German team that won their first World Cup in 1954. Walter retired from football in 1959, following an injury that he suffered against Sweden in the semifinal of the 1958 World Cup. In his playing career, Walter turned down ridiculously good offers from FC Nancy of France and then Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, preferring to continue playing for his hometown football team. On Walter’s 65th birthday, the home stadium of FC Kaiserslautern was renamed the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in 1985. Fritz Walter was named an honorary captain of the German football squad in 1958. Walter passed away in 2002 aged 81.
In November 2003, to celebrate UEFA’s 50th anniversary, the German Football Association selected him as its Golden Player of the past 50 years (from 1954 to 2003).
ST1: Santiago Bernabeu Yeste (Real Madrid)
The man who devoted 66 years of his life to make Real Madrid the club it is today, Santiago Bernabeu started his career as a striker after joining the club’s youth team in 1912. A prolific striker, Yeste scored over 1,000 goals in his long playing career, before calling it a day in 1927. Yeste stayed with the club and in 1929, joined the Real Madrid board as the secretary. In 1943 he was elected president, which he would remain until his death in 1978. No other president kept the job for so long or led the club for so many titles as Bernabéu did. He was responsible for the building of a large new stadium for the club in Chamartin. He was one of the volunteers who helped paint the stadium and lay the turf. The stadium was finished in 1947 and renamed in 1953 in his honor: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. He was one of the creators of the European Cup. He died in 1978, while the World Cup was being played in Argentina. In his honor, FIFA decreed three days of mourning during the tournament. In 2002 he was awarded FIFA’s Order of Merit.
ST2: Nat Lofthouse (Bolton), 503 games
The sturdy traditional Number 9, who devoted his entire career to Bolton Wanderers was born in Bolton in 1925. Nat appeared in 503 matches for Bolton, scoring 285 goals. He also scored 30 goals for England in 33 internationals. He was nicknamed “Lion of Vienna” for the courage he showed against Austria on international duty. During the match, Lofthouse was knocked unconscious briefly, but insisted on returning to the action despite a knee injury. His winning goal, which came even though the Austrian defenders committed three fouls on him in the process, was lauded to the skies. He also took Bolton to the famous FA Cup victory, defeating Manchester United in the final. Following his retirement, Lofthouse was appointed as the Assistant Trainer with the club and in 1967; he took on the role of Chief Coach. On December 1, 1968 he became the full time manager of the club, having held the post as a part time manager earlier too. He went on to become the Executive Manager of the club in 1978 and in 1986, became the Bolton Club President, a post he held till his death. He also released an autobiography in 1954, titled “Goals Galore”. He was a freeman of the city of Bolton and received an OBE in 1994 for his services to football. In 1997 Bolton named the East stand of the Reebok stadium after the top scorer in their history. He would later be named club president. Nat passed away on January 15, 2011.
“I will always remember him for his speed, fearlessness, a hard shot in either foot, good heading ability, and a robust frame to stand up to all the physical stuff.” - Sir Thomas Finney
Alan Knight (Portsmouth), 801 games:
Portsmouth legend Alan Edward Knight holds the record for the most appearances for a single club by a goalkeeper, having played 801 games between 1978 and 2000. He is also the only player to have appeared in all four divisions of the Football League for the club. His autobiography “Legend” was published in September 2003.
Willie Miller (Aberdeen), 797 games:
Described by Sir Alex as “the best penalty box defender in the world”, ‘Mad Jolly Miller’ made around 800 appearances for Scottish club Aberdeen before retiring in 1990 due to an injury. A captain at just 21, Miller took his team to a League Cup success. Under his captaincy, Aberdeen won another 9 domestic titles and 2 European titles. Miller started as a striker but was quickly turned into a sweeper because of his tackling ability. An interesting incident shows his team mate’s faith in their captain. Ian Portfield took charge of Aberdeen and was unpopular. Before a match, Portfield named the side, discussed tactics and left the dressing room. Miller strongly disagreed with the tactics and told his teammates that they would be playing according to his tactics rather than Portfield’s. The players did exactly that and Aberdeen won 1-0, with Miller scoring the only goal.
Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool), 627 games:
Right back Jimmy Armfield played 627 games for Blackpool between 1954 and 1971, and also captained the team for a decade. Armfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Bloomfield Road, when it was officially opened by him in April 2006. Organised by the Blackpool Supporters Association, Blackpool fans around the world voted on their all-time heroes. He also captained the England national team fifteen times. After managing Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United during the 1970s, Armfield now works as a football pundit for BBC Radio Five Live. The South Stand at Bloomfield Road is named the “Jimmy Armfield South Stand” with ARMFIELD spelled out in white seats amongst the tangerine majority.
Mathhew Le Tissier (Southampton), 540 games:
“Le God” was one of a kind player. No matter how big his oppositions were, Le Tissier would just play his own kind of football; the aggressive kind. In an interview, the man himself admitted that he sees opposition players as obstacles in his path of scoring. The Southampton player had a chance to move to big clubs like Chelsea and Spurs on various occasions but he decided to stay at the club which he joined in 1985 as a youth player. He wasn’t amongst the precariously gifted players but he had a constant awareness of what the opposition players were doing on the pitch. And if found out of place by even an inch, he mercilessly made them pay. He retired in 2002, after playing 540 matches for Southampton. The attacking midfielder came to a total of 540 appearances for Southampton. His 162 goals make him the second-highest ever scorer for the club (behind Mick Channon).
Trevor Brooking (West Ham), 636 games:
Respect; a quality that has become nearly extinct in the modern day football, Trevor Brooking is amongst the most respected sportsman known for his skill and sportsmanship. Amongst the most intelligent footballers, Brooking had a very clean disciplinary record throughout his career. An attacking midfielder, Brooking made 636 appearances for West Ham and 103 appearances for England between 1967-1985. He won two FA Cups with West Ham, first in 1975 and the second in 1980. After his last appearance for West Ham at Upton Park, in 1984, Brooking was carried off the field on the shoulders of supporters at the end of game. As a player; Brooking favored the attractive and skillful style of football, even if it doesn’t guarantee success. Even now, as an expert, Brooking has expressed his concern over the increasing number of foreign players coming to the premier league. Sir Trevor Brooking, also known for his post-professional career as manager, on-air analyst, and administrator, made 635 appearances for West Ham United between 1967-1984. In the 1980 FA-Cup final, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Arsenal.
Jimmy Dickinson (Portsmouth), 828 games
Between 1946 and 1965, Jimmy Dickinson made a total of 845 appearances for Portsmouth. He is also remembered as a fair sportsman: during his 845 club and 48 international appearances, he was never once booked or sent off. Following three heart attacks, Jimmy passed away in 1982, aged 57. In 1998 he was included on the list of 100 Legends produced to celebrate the centenary of the Football League. Dickinson’s image can be seen in the seating in the Fratton End stand in Fratton Park.
Pichichi (Athletic Bilbao), 197 games:
Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, nicknamed Pichichi (Little Duck) courtesy his tiny 5ft ½ inch frame, was a prolific goal poacher who played for Athletic Bilbao and Spain during his entire playing career. He almost single handedly carried the Bilbao club during the decade he played, scoring 389 goals in 197 appearances at a staggering 1.9 goals per appearance. He died in 1922, aged 29, the victim of a sudden attack of typhus. In 1926, a bust was erected in his honour outside the San Mames Stadium. It is a tradition for teams visiting the stadium for the first time pay homage by leaving a bouquet of flowers at its base. In 1953, Spanish sports newspaper MARCA introduced the Trofeo Pichichi in his honour. The trophy is awarded to the top goalscorers in the Primera Division and the Segunda Division.