England's greatest leaders: The top ten captains

Monday 21 Jul 2014
Bobby Moore lifts the World Cup aloft in 1966

As Steven Gerrard announces his decision to call time on his England career, we look back at the men who have worn the armband more than any others.

1. Bobby Moore

Bobby Moore leads England to World Cup glory in 1966

Bobby Moore
  • 90 captaincies
  • Won 57
The legendary captain and centre-half remains the only Englishman to hold aloft the World Cup. He also holds the joint record for the number of times anyone has captained England – leading the Three Lions in 90 of his 108 appearances.

Moore’s first as captain came after just 12 appearances (in the 4-2 victory against Czechoslovakia) – and at the age of 22 years and one month, remains the youngest man to wear the England armband.

1. Billy Wright

Billy Wright before the 1956 fixture against Brazil

Billy Wright
  • 90 captaincies
  • Won 49
Billy Wright shares the record with fellow centre-half Moore. The two iconic leaders also ended their international careers with an almost identical cap tally – Wright won 105 caps compared to Moore’s 108. 

Wright made his international debut in September 1946 – and in April 1959 become the first player in the world to win 100 caps when he turned out in the 1-0 victory against Scotland.


3. Bryan Robson

Bryan Robson made 65 appearances as captain

Bryan Robson
  • 65 captaincies
  • Won 32
Between 1982 and 1991 Manchester United’s ‘Captain Marvel’ made 65 appearances with the armband on. His first appearance as captain came on 17 November 1982, as he led the Three Lions to a 3-0 win over Greece in Salonika. 

Famed for his all-action approach in midfield, Robson was a constant threat in the opposition’s penalty box and scored 26 goals in his 90 international appearances – including a hat-trick in England’s 8-0 victory over Turkey in 1984.

4. David Beckham

Beckham celebrates his iconic strike against Greece

David Beckham
  • 59 captaincies
  • Won 35
One of the most iconic footballers of the modern era – Beckham was famously first handed the armband on 15 November 2000 by the then caretaker manager Peter Taylor.

He kept the armband under new manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and played a major role in helping guide England to the 2002 FIFA World Cup – including his last-minute free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford… a moment no England fan will ever forget.

5. Steven Gerrard

Gerrard celebrates his strike as England book their place in Brazil

Steven Gerrard
  • 38 captaincies
  • Won 20
Steven Gerrard captained England on 38 occasions, since first being handed the armband on 31 March 2004. 

He guided the Three Lions to victory in 20 of those, before calling time on his international career in July 2014. During his time with England, the Liverpool-born talisman captained England at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups – and scored 21 goals in his 114 appearances.

6. Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer captained England between 1996 and 2000

Alan Shearer
  • 34 captaincies
  • Won 16
Shearer took over the captaincy following Euro 96 after new manager Glenn Hoddle handed him the armband for the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Moldova in September 1996. He remained captain for the remainder of the programme. 

He scored five goals in what became England’s most successful qualification campaign. In what would become Shearer’s only World Cup Finals appearance, England were knocked out by Argentina – despite Shearer netting on the night in Saint-Etienne.

6. John Terry

John Terry during the friendly against Sweden in 2011

John Terry
  • 34 captaincies
  • Won 22
Level with Shearer on 34 captain’s appearances is Chelsea stalwart John Terry. 

He made his international debut as a substitute in the June 2003 fixture against Serbia and Montenegro – and started his first game two months later in the 3-1 friendly victory over Croatia at Portman Road. His first feel of the armband came in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Poland after replacing Michael Owen as captain when the latter was substituted.

8. Kevin Keegan

Kevin Keegan wore the armband on 31 occasions

Kevin Keegan
  • 31 captaincies
  • Won 17
The only member of the list to have also managed his country, Keegan made his international debut in the 1-0 victory against Wales during the qualifying phase of the 1974 FIFA World Cup. It was a doomed campaign, in which Keegan was only selected twice. 

Fast-forward two years and he was handed the captaincy by Don Revie after falling out with Gerry Francis. Keegan would keep hold of the armband until his international retirement following England’s elimination from the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

9. Emlyn Hughes

Emlyn Hughes in action against Argentina in May 1974

Emlyn Hughes
  • 23 captaincies
  • Won 11

Emlyn Hughes captained England during 23 of his 62 caps - including the infamous Jan Tomaszewski-inspired World Cup qualifies against Poland at Wembley, which ended their hopes of reaching the 1974 Finals.

He replaced Bobby Moore as captain in 1974, handed the responsibility by caretaker boss Joe Mercer. He first led England out during the Home International against Wales in Cardiff – a game England went on to win 2-0.

10. Bob Crompton

Bob Crompton leads England out against Scotland in 1911

Bob Crompton
  • 22 captaincies
  • Won 12
A plumber by trade, Bob Crompton – or ‘Burly Bob’ as he was affectionately known – captained England on 22 occasions between 1903 and 1914. His tally would have undoubtedly been higher had it not been for the outbreak of the First World War. 

Crompton was a one-club man, remaining at Blackburn Rovers throughout his 24-year career. He made his England debut in 1902, before being handed the armband for the first time a year later. He also holds the unfortunate record of being the first captain to score an own goal after putting through his own net in the first minute of a game against Scotland in 1907.

10. Johnny Haynes

Johnny Haynes pictured in 1957

Johnny Haynes
  • 22 captaincies
  • Won 12
Born in the north London district of Kentish Town, Johnny Haynes stayed at Fulham for most of his club career, where he played between 1952 and 1970. 

His England career would span eight years – from 1954 to 1962 – and he was captain for two of those, making a total of 22 appearances with the armband on. His most memorable appearance in an England shirt was undoubtedly in 1960, when he led England to a famous 9-3 victory over Scotland at Wembley.

In 2018, Harry Kane is the Three Lions captain. Find out more about how he's leading the current squad here.

By Jamie Reid Senior Writer