Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence – an elite group of England goalkeepers whose numbers haven’t grown much in recent times. David Seaman, undoubtedly a contender to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats, sadly had his international career blighted by his ‘flapability’ – notably against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup – leaving our favourite gypsy impressionist just out of contention.
But this evening, as Fabio Capello’s side take to Wembley’s (now much improved) pitch in the first competitive game since the World Cup non-showing, it could be the beginning of a new dawn for England’s number one shirt.
Joe Hart is set to make his competitive debut for his country as England host Bulgaria, following a fine 2009/10 season and a superb start to the new campaign for the youngster.
If you’re not Fabio Capello, you’re probably still of the firm belief that Hart should’ve gone to South Africa as number one in June, but bygones will remain bygones – now is Hart’s chance to shine in a position England have found almost as difficult to fill in recent years as left midfield. Now is Hart’s chance to show why he should have been selected ahead of Rob Green against the USA and to cement (or firmly iron) ‘Hart 1’ on the back of the green jersey.
Admittedly, the former Shrewsbury man has little competition on the international stage at present, but that shouldn’t detract from his quality and what he can achieve. He has not become first choice for a lack of alternatives, if anything he makes the alternatives look thoroughly non-league.
That’s not to say we should be swept up into a new ‘Golden Era’ frenzy. Yes, Kieron Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Hart himself should be the future of England, but so once were Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and John Terry…and look where that got us.
Hart is quick to say he is a long way off becoming a permanent fixture between the sticks for his country - he’s not yet certain of keeping Shay Given on the sidelines at Manchester City. But against Bulgaria tonight and Switzerland on Tuesday, the 23-year-old could take a big step to staking his claim for the shirt. His predecessors Scott Carson and Rob Green have both looked good in friendlies but crumbled under the pressure of a competitive situation. Let’s hope Hart doesn’t go the same way – I’d put a sizeable bet on him not.