Single success – The best of football’s ‘one cap wonders’

By Stephen Kelly

football's 'one cap wonders'

The term ‘one [blank] wonder’ has always been slightly disturbing. It seems a bitter attempt to create a pejorative term to describe a noteworthy and proud achievement.

But that’s enough pseudo-morality, here is TSR’s guide to some of the finest members of football’s ‘One-Cap Wonder’ brigade.

Seth Johnson (England)

Johnson is the one signing that summed up Peter Ridsdale’s shambolic reign at Leeds United more than any other. The story goes that he and his agent entered contract discussions with ambitious plans to secure a £15,000-per-week contract for the player. Straight off the bat Ridsdale offered £30,000 and when a speechless Johnson failed to respond immediately, the suave chairman, displaying King Solomon-like skills of negotiation, shouted: “OK, £38,000!” The agent accepted the offer as his client was passed out on the floor by that stage. Johnson made a substitute appearance in a friendly against Italy in 2000. He is currently club-less after being released by Derby last season.

Owen Coyle (Ireland)

Currently flying high with Bolton Wanderers, Coyle seems like your average fiery-Scot managerial stereotype. It’s easy then, to forget that he was capped by Ireland once. He was a late replacement for goalscorer Tommy Coyne in a 1-0 win away to Holland in 1994, arguably Ireland’s greatest ever completely irrelevant victory.

Chris Kirkland (England)

A regular at Under-21 level, Kirkland’s long wait for a full England cap became something of a saga in the media when it emerged that his father had placed a £100 bet on his then 11 year-old son to be capped by England at some stage in his life. Kirkland senior picked up a cool £10,000 when his son made a second half appearance against Greece in 2006. A nice story but it does make you wonder how many similar bets are lost every year.

Steve Guppy (England)

The former Leicester winger seems to have become a fixture in various England All-Time-Worst lists. It’s pretty unfair. Under Martin O’Neill at Leicester Guppy was one of the most effective wingers in the League. More importantly he was a left-footed Englishman, a rare commodity at the time. A superb crosser who didn’t need to beat defenders, he was something of a poor man’s Beckham. However, he made the schoolboy error of failing to marry a Spice Girl despite the public advances of Emma Bunton. His career went downhill rapidly, but not before he’d made a friendly appearance against Belgium in 1999.

Richard Sadlier (Ireland)

“The best young forward I’ve ever seen,” according to former manager Mark McGee. The Millwall striker was forced to retire aged 24 due to a hip injury caused by a training ground tackle. One struggles to imagine what sort of heinous tackle injures a hip. His one cap came in a friendly against Russia in 2002. Since retirement he’s completed a degree in sports management and worked as pundit on Irish television.

Francis Jeffers (England)

The ‘fox in the box’. An awful term, but Francis Jeffers’ tombstone will probably bear those four words. Originally coined by Thierry Henry, Jeffers has been haunted by it since his less than spectacular spell at Arsenal. Still, he’ll retire with a 100% scoring record at international level. He scored a superb header in his single England appearance, a 3-1 home defeat to Australia in 2003. He is currently foxing about in the reserves at Sheffield Wednesday.

Michael Ricketts (England)

After helping Bolton to promotion Ricketts started the 2001-02 Premier League season like a cross between George Weah and Usain Bolt. By February he’d hit 15 league goals and was rewarded with 45 minutes in a friendly against Holland. The term ‘journeyman’ hardly does justice to his career since. Ten clubs — including his most-recent employers Tranmere — with an average of around two League goals at each, and failed trials in Major League Soccer.

Joe Lapira (Ireland)

The Louisiana Outlaws. The Lafayette Swamp Cats. The Baton Rouge Capitals. No we haven’t purchased a random American team-name generator. Honestly. These were the only clubs on Lapira’s CV when he was called into a depleted Ireland squad for a US Cup game against Ecuador in the summer of 2007. Although losing 5-2 to Cyprus was strange, capping the amateur nephew of an FAI official must rank as the most inexplicable moment of the Staunton era. Currently playing for Nybergsund in the Norwegian 2nd division.

Erik Meijer (Holland) and Andrea Silenzi (Italy)

These two don’t deserve separate entries. They failed to score a single goal in a combined 36 Premier League matches for Liverpool and Nottingham Forest respectively. How they were capped by countries with such rich football traditions is completely beyond TSR. And sadly we can’t think of anything remotely interesting to add.

Lee Bowyer (England)

If we’re talking purely in terms of ability then this is one player who deserved more than one cap. During the 2000-01 season, a young Bowyer was one of the stars of David O’Leary’s young side at Leeds United that reached the Champions League semi-finals. However, during that period he was banned from international consideration by the FA. They apparently took exception to his extra-curricular fitness training which allegedly involved chasing Asian students through the city centre in the early hours of the morning. It seems unlikely he’ll add to the single cap he won against Portugal in 2002.

Paul Butler (Ireland)

Honest. Whole-hearted. Brave. Yes, Paul Butler was that type of central defender. In other words he had had all the mobility of a beached whale. Butler was a regular in the Premier League when he was picked to face the Czech Republic in 2000 and given the onerous task of marking Jan Koller. The giant Czech striker soon helped himself to two goals and Butler was hauled off at half time and never called up again. He had been eligible for Ireland because of his Irish wife.

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