Phil Thompson: England captaincy snub really hurt – it was a Sunday League decision!

Thommo was not pleased about being overlooked

England World Cup 1982 France


Our football ambassador Phil Thompson was the latest guest on Monday’s From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, with the former Liverpool and England defender taking time out of his busy schedule for an in-depth chat with Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh.

Thommo is a unquestionably a legend at Anfield but also enjoyed an extremely successful international career, including featuring for the Three Lions at the European Championships in 1980 and the World Cup two years later, but the rugged centre-back was not happy about being overlooked for the captaincy in Spain.

I won 42 England caps, and captained England six times. I just missed out captaining England at the World Cup in 1982.

That was a strange decision in Spain, and I never got around to really asking why it happened. I got an explanation but I didn’t like it.

Ron Greenwood was the manager, and it was myself and one other at centre-back. That ended up being Terry Butcher, but I was the main person who was going to be playing every game. And when Kevin Keegan didn’t play, I captained my country.

I’d done it quite a few times so I’m thinking going into this World Cup, with Kevin injured and struggling with a bad back, I would lead the side. Keegan had gone back to Hamburg in Germany ahead of our opening game with France to get it sorted out and get him ready for the next few games.

Kevin Keegan England Scotland Wembley May 26, 1979

He’s not playing so I’m thinking “I’m going to be captain against France in the opening game in Bilbao. This is so exciting”. But I’d not heard anything and Greenwood hadn’t said anything to me.

That made me think “hmm, this is not going very well.” As a player you were always worried about whether you were going to be playing or not, and when you get an arm around the shoulder on Friday you go “oh sh*t”.

On the Friday in training I get an arm around the shoulder from Greenwood, but I know I’m playing – that may be big-headed but I knew I was going to be playing – so Ron then goes “Phil, it’s about the captaincy tomorrow…”

He said: “I’m going to make Mick Mills of Ipswich Town the captain against France.” I asked why, and he said “Well Phil, I think it’s going to be Mick’s last tournament”.


Mick Mills Ipswich Town January 1, 1980

Mick was about 32 and I was 28, so I said: “Oh, is that it?” He didn’t give me any real explanation so that left me thinking “Where did that come from?”

I don’t think Mick had been captain of an England side prior to that and it was always either Kevin or me. Seeing those pictures of us lining up for that first game, and then against Czechoslovakia and Kuwait, with Mick Mills leading the team out did hurt me.

It was one of the low points in my career because I was a proud Englishman and I did want to do it. I had 42 caps but with so many fixtures these days I would probably have had around 70 or 80 in that time.

That decision was like something you would see in Sunday League.

Why would you do that in a World Cup? It was my last tournament too! I didn’t play another one.

Ron Greenwood was wonderful. He was great, but why or how he came up with that I do not know.

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