I played against the United States only once in my 73 appearances for England. It was in New York City 46 years ago and we beat them 10-0. Let's be honest, when we meet the Americans again in our first World Cup match next Saturday, we'll be happy with a 1-0 win.
In 1964 we played them on a dry, dusty baseball ground called Randall's Island. We knew they'd had a famous win against England in the 1950 World Cup when our manager, Alf Ramsey, played. But Roger Hunt scored four, Fred Pickering got three and we ran away with it.
I believe there was only one American-born player in their team. They were mainly émigrés from Eastern Europe who played for clubs like Ukrainian Nationals and New York Hungaria. It's very different now. They've got players who earn their living in Europe and several who have proved themselves in the Premier League, especially Landon Donovan and Tim Howard.
The big change in attitudes towards "soccer" began in the Seventies, and I was there to see it. A lot of supposedly finished players – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, George Best – moved to the North American Soccer League. I went out in '77 to join George at Fort Lauderdale Strikers, in Florida, and the interest the NASL created among the kids was fantastic.
In those days it was hard for them to carry it on into the universities and colleges. Now they've got a structure that produces some excellent players. They know all about our style and they're physically well-prepared. It won't be one-way traffic this time.
The States specialise in goalkeepers. They've got the reflexes and co-ordination of ball, hands and eyes that comes from their traditional sports. I like Howard and was surprised Sir Alex Ferguson let him leave Manchester United. He only had a couple of inadequate games and he was sold to Everton, where he's been terrific.
The competition for the England keeper's role takes me back to my own career. After that 10-0 win in New York we flew down to Rio de Janeiro to play Brazil in the Maracana and I was hoping to face Pele for the first time. I thought I'd had a great run but Alf dropped me – he reckoned I needed shaking up! – and put in Tony Waiters from Blackpool.
That was Alf. He didn't want you assuming you were an automatic selection. I think Fabio Capello may work in a similar way and I don't buy into this idea that whoever he regards as his first-choice keeper needs to be told so he can prepare mentally. Alf liked to keep us on our toes so we'd train hard in front of him.
David James may have the No 1 jersey but Capello is too canny to give away his thinking just like that. James played well towards the end of the season and wasn't making the mistakes he did before. There's little between him and Rob Green, but the way Green played against Mexico, he may have edged ahead. Joe Hart was the most consistent of the three last season and is a great one for the future. But at 23, with his lack of experience, there's just a chance he might freeze. After the World Cup, though, if I was Capello, I'd tell Hart and Ben Foster: "It's between you two now."
I feel for all the keepers in South Africa. When I first played for England there were only a handful of people with the skill to bend a free-kick or curl an inswinging corner. With today's balls, anyone can hit a shot that moves in the air. And with this new ball for the tournament, the Jabulani, I fear we'll see a lot of silly goals where the keeper has it covered and it swerves at the last second.
That said, I can't wait for it to start. The World Cup just sucks people in, even those who aren't interested in football in between times. I'll be watching as many games as possible. I love the way there's always teams you know nothing about who excite you with a different way of playing, like Peru in '78 or Cameroon in '90.
There are individuals who come out of nowhere and make their name. Then you get the big names like Messi, Torres and Rooney. Four years is too long to wait to see them all together. Every two years would suit me!
Talking of great stars, they don't come any greater than Pele. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of my save from his header when England played Brazil in the Mexico World Cup. I'm doing a show with Geoff Hurst in Stoke on the night. There's great respect between myself and Pele and I was thrilled to hear he has recorded a video message. To this day, when people stop me it's not to talk about winning in '66 but that save.Reuse content