London’s football history: the capital’s captains

  • London has been the birthplace of some memorable England captains

  • David Beckham the most-capped Londoner

  • Johnny Haynes the first London-born player to captain Three Lions at World Cup

London will welcome the stars of the footballing world on Monday 23 October, when the city plays host to The Best FIFA Football Awards™. It is fitting that the greats of the global game are to be celebrated in a city steeped in football history. takes a look back at some of the most notable England captains to have been born in the country’s capital.

Norman Bailey (19 caps, 1 goal: 1878-1887)

A couple of players can quite possibly lay claim to being the first Londoner to captain England, including goalkeeper Alec Morten (in 1873) and forward Hubert Heron (in 1876). But Norman Bailey is likely the standout of those born in the capital to lead England in those nascent games.

Bailey, a solicitor by trade in an era when all footballers were amateurs, was born in Streatham in 1857 and first captained England aged 23 against Scotland – a 6-1 defeat. However the sturdy half back was more successful during the rest of his reign as skipper, losing just two competitive matches in the British Championship and captaining the Three Lions on 15 of his 19 international appearances.

Gilbert Oswald Smith (20 caps, 11 goals: 1893-1901)

One of the first great centre-forwards, Smith was not just a lethal finisher, but generous with assists. Born in Croydon, he skippered England at least 13 times (official records are unclear). The peak of his captaincy surely came against Ireland at Roker Park in 1899, where he scored four goals in a 13-2 thrashing of the Three Lions’ close rivals.

A schoolmaster by profession, Smith was also a notable cricketer, representing Oxford University and Surrey with distinction.

Johnny Haynes (56 caps, 18 goals: 1954-1962)

Very few Londoners have captained England at the FIFA World Cup™, and Johnny Haynes – born in Kentish Town - was the first of that select group. ‘The Maestro’, as he was affectionately nicknamed due to his supreme passing and technical ability, led England 22 times in total, including their four games at Chile 1962.

The inside-forward’s final Three Lions appearance came against eventual winners Brazil in the 1962 World Cup quarter-finals, with Pele – watching on from the sidelines - describing Haynes as the “best passer of the ball I've ever seen”.

Stuart Pearce (78 caps, 5 goals: 1987-1999)

The irrepressible full-back Stuart Pearce, born in Hammersmith, is intrinsically linked to some of English football’s most iconic moments of the 1990s. He missed a penalty in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shootout against West Germany, before finding redemption by scoring in two shootouts at UEFA EURO 1996, against Spain and Germany.

He captained England on ten occasions, and remains one of the oldest outfielders to have done so, at the age of 35 in a 1997 friendly against South Africa.

David Beckham (115 caps, 17 goals: 1996-2009)

Despite graduating from Manchester United’s academy, David Beckham was actually born in Leytonstone in England’s capital, and remains the country’s most-capped Londoner. Only three players have made more appearances as captain than Beckham’s 59 (Bryan Robson, Billy Wright and Bobby Moore), and nobody has led the Three Lions in more World Cup games (level on ten with Bobby Moore).

In fact, two of Beckham’s finest moments as England captain are directly linked to the World Cup. His talismanic performance and superb free kick against Greece to seal qualification for Korea/Japan 2002 has gone down in English footballing folklore, as has his match-winning penalty against Argentina at the 2002 finals themselves. The latter was widely seen as redemptive, due to his red card against the same opponents in the France 1998 Round of 16.