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Albion's World Cup Connections

Dan Tester

After watching Brighton & Hove Albion beat Manchester United to secure another season in the Premier League, the best footballing spectacle is undoubtedly the World Cup.

Every four years, teams from across the planet represent their countries in a month-long competition seen by billions around the globe.

In 2018, Russia has the honour of hosting the 21st incarnation of the tournament, which England famously won in 1966. And we haven’t stopped going on about it since! The 2018/19 campaign will be Albion’s sixth at the top table of the English game, which suggests that, probably, there hasn’t been much involvement in football’s big showpiece. At times like these, it is therefore very useful to be good friends with the club’s historian, Tim Carder.

What he doesn’t know about the Seagulls could be written on a stamp, in marker pen, so hopefully the following World Cup/Albion link ups will be as thorough as possible! Of course, we should start with England. Only one player, while being contractually obliged to the club, has ever worn the three lions – Steve Foster in 1982. The imposing centre back, who featured in two spells on the coast wore number six as Trevor Francis scored the only goal in an unflattering group-stage victory over Kuwait.

Wayne Bridge came off the bench twice during in the 2002 tournament in Japan before making the left-back berth his own during 2012/13 when he was on loan from Manchester City. Staying at the back, BBC pundit Matt Upson scored on his final, and 21st, international appearance as England lost to Germany, 4-1, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Despite hitting the target, the Suffolk-born stopper, and his partner John Terry, were at fault for the opposition’s strikes. Just three years later he ventured under Gus Poyet’s glass ceiling before the Uruguayan was ‘sacked’ on live television.

Northern Ireland defender Sammy Nelson celebrated helping Albion maintain their First Division status by playing twice for his country – against Spain and Austria – at the 1982 tournament. In the former contest, Gerry Armstrong famously netted the winner against the host nation. The striker wound down his career at the Goldstone, predominantly keeping the bench warm for three seasons from 1986, after returning from Mexico. Remembered for Gary Lineker’s golden boot display – and a little cheating bloke from Argentina and his ‘hand of god’ – in Group D, tricky Albion winger Steve Penney was also making a name for himself, but thankfully not by robbing his fellow British country of a place in the semi-finals. Two group-stage 90 minutes, versus Spain and Algeria, were not rewarded with knock-out phase qualification but at least we got to see ‘Brighton & Hove Albion’ in Panini football sticker albums. Cup final hero Gary Stevens was also an unused substitute for England on three occasions.

Sticking with the home nations; Mel Hopkins was in the Albion side that romped to the Fourth Division title in 1964. The big Welshman represented his country in their last World Cup, in 1958. Moving further afield, Tony Meola sang the star bangled at Italia 90, patrolling the penalty area for the USA before heading straight for Hove and a battle with the goalkeeper in trousers, Perry Digweed, for the coveted number one jersey. He left after two matches. Chris Birchall performed admirably in the loan-laden Albion side of 2008/09. The midfielder then departed Withdean, taking a significantly backward step by joining LA Galaxy, and linking up with David Beckham. The midfielder wore the red of Trinidad & Tobago at Germany 2006.

Radostin Kishishev played a huge part in Albion’s title-winning surge of 2010/11, pulling on the stripes 32 times as Poyet’s charges clinched the championship with games to spare. The stocky Bulgarian powerhouse was at France 98 and finished his career at his hometown club, Chernomorets Burgas, in 2012. The midfielder’s team-mate in that successful season was striker Chris Wood, who enjoyed the campaign on loan after playing for New Zealand – the only undefeated side in the tournament – in the 2010 World Cup.

Swedish goalkeeper Rami Shaaban – who guarded Albion’s posts six times in 2005 – saw action at the 2006 tournament, despite not having an international cap to his name, against Trinidad and Tobago after first choice Andreas Isaksson was hit in the face by a shot two days before the match.

Last season’s first choice left-back Gaeton Bong – who made 23 Premier League appearances – played one match for Cameroon in the 2010 World Cup, their last group match against the Netherlands, losing 2–1. ‘The Indomitable Lions’ were defeated in all three group stage games.

In June 2014, current Albion reserve custodian Tim Krul was included in the Netherlands squad for the World Cup in Brazil. In the quarter-final against Costa Rica he was brought on a 120th-minute sub for the penalty shootout, saving the first two of the five spot kicks he faced as his side won 4–3. It was the first time a goalkeeper had been sent on as a substitute purely for a penalty shootout.

On to Russia 2018 and Albion fans have a trio of squad members’ fortunes to follow. Jose Izquierdo, who netted some spectacular goals in his first season in England, travels to his first tournament as a Colombian international.

Summer signing Leon Balogun has been selected for the Nigeria 23 after fans got their first glimpse of the defender in the first half of their 2-1 defeat against England at Wembley as part of the tournament warm-up. But, technically, he’s not an Albion player until July 1st! Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan is at his second World Cup and hopes to maintain his excellent ever-present Albion form from 2017/18.

So there you have it – Albion players, and various tenuous links to greatest show on earth. I write this as the tournament is well under way. Probably best not to jinx England’s chances by making bold predictions!

Dan Tester

Posted in History on Jul 01, 2018