9 May 2013 will see Royal Mail celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishing of the rules of Association Football, with the release of a set of stamps entitled ‘Football Heroes’. The launch also coincides with the 150th anniversary year of the Football Association and the 140th anniversary year of the Scottish Football Association.
The 11 1st Class stamps will feature individual footballers from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, all of whom were supremely gifted, talented players who stood out in their generation and beyond. The stamps have been illustrated by artist Andrew Kinsman, who took existing photography of all the players, then created a composite artwork, so when the 11 stamps are placed together, they form a traditional team shot.
The eleven players selected were chosen for their outstanding record on the pitch and representation of their home countries. All are in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.
Gordon Banks – England
Unquestionably the finest goalkeeper to have played for his country, Yorkshireman Gordon Banks was a supremely reliable and effective presence behind the England defence for almost ten years, including throughout the successful 1966 World Cup campaign.
His concentration, awareness and positioning ensured he kept the need to make spectacular diving saves to a minimum, but when he had to be, Banks was also a wonderfully athletic and instinctive shot-stopper. A truly astonishing save from the Brazilian striker Pelé during the 1970 World Cup Finals has gone down in sporting folklore as one of the greatest ever made.
Banks was voted Footballer of the Year in 1972, the year before injury forced his premature retirement from the English game.
Bobby Moore – England
With his blond hair, ready and engaging smile, and reassuring air of calm, Bobby Moore would have looked like a hero even if he hadn’t been one of the world’s greatest footballers.
The most composed of defenders, his ability to read the play and put himself in the right place to break up an attack was unsurpassed. With the ball at his feet, usually as a result of an interception made or a tackle precisely and cleanly won, his touch, vision and distribution were such that possession was rarely wasted.
A loyal servant at West Ham United for 16 years, Moore attained idol status at the east London club, while his place in the nation’s affections was cemented for all time when he captained England to World Cup glory in 1966.
Dave Mackay – Scotland
One of the most influential players of his time, Edinburgh-born Dave Mackay was an immensely strong, determined and notably hard-tackling midfielder whose relentless commitment in driving his side forward on the field became legendary. He was also a skilful and talented footballer, precise passer and regular goal scorer, with a boundless energy and prodigious work-rate.
Bill Nicholson, manager of the Tottenham Hotspur side which won the League Championship and FA Cup double in 1960/61, said the Scot was his greatest-ever signing, George Best described him as his hardest and bravest opponent, while Brian Clough called him the ideal skipper, who brought a swagger to his Derby County side.
George Best, Northern Ireland
When Bob Bishop, a Manchester United scout based in Northern Ireland, first saw the 15-year-old George Best he told the then United manager Matt Busby: “I think I’ve found you a genius.” His instinct would not let him down.
A darting, sublimely skilful player who could pass, shoot, tackle, head but above all dribble with the sort of insouciant brilliance that manifests itself no more than once in a generation, Best had the looks and charm to match his talent, a combination which meant he lived his life on and off the field under a permanent media spotlight.
Kevin Keegan, England
Energetic, brave, fast, strong, skilful and with a drive to succeed that led the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly to describe him as a born winner, Kevin Keegan was a vital force in the great Anfield team of the 1970s, forming a potent attacking partnership with John Toshack in a period when the club won seven major trophies.
Always enthusiastic and as quick-witted off the field as he was on the ball, for a time Keegan transcended football, becoming one of the symbolic figures of the decade before moving to Germany and twice being named European Footballer of the Year.
Bryan Robson, England
Possibly the most complete midfield player of his generation, Bryan Robson’s apparently inexhaustible stamina and readiness to give everything he had made him a manager’s dream for both club and country.
Fierce but clean in the tackle and a fine distributor in possession, Robson was noted for timing his runs into the opposition penalty area so well that he was often unmarked when he scored. His bravery and commitment sometimes resulted in injury, but his determined example made him a natural leader and captain for both Manchester United and England.
John Barnes, England
Signed by Watford from a local non-league side for the price of a set of kit before moving to Liverpool in 1987, John Barnes has been described by many of his former Liverpool and England teammates as simply the best footballer they ever played alongside.
A sublimely talented and extraordinarily graceful dribbler, Barnes was also strong and quick, a combination of qualities which at times made him almost unplayable. He was also a precise and creative passer and finisher who rarely gave the ball away and was comfortable anywhere in midfield or up front.
Playing for England against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium in June 1984, Barnes dribbled past four defenders and the goalkeeper in scoring a goal of stunning individual brilliance, judged by some to be the finest England goal of all time.
Denis Law, Scotland
The prolific Denis Law was nicknamed ‘The King’ by Manchester United supporters during his 13 years at Old Trafford, a tribute as much to the manner in which the Scottish striker carried himself on the field as his phenomenal goal-scoring record.
Outstanding in the air as well as with the ball at his feet, his awareness and speed of movement made him very hard to mark, but the slim frame and impish grin were deceptive: Law’s tackling skills as well as his creativity and passing ability made him as influential in midfield as he was up front.
Bobby Charlton, England
Quite possibly the greatest English footballer of all time, Bobby Charlton was an attacking midfielder who played almost all his football for Manchester United and England, setting goal-scoring records for both.
Possessed of a thunderously powerful and accurate long-range shot with either foot, Charlton was a committed, skilful and hard-working presence on the field, with an extraordinary ability to find space and create it for others. Manager Sir Alf Ramsey described him as the lynchpin of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, and he was subsequently voted the best player of that competition.
John Charles, Wales
Judged by many to be not only the finest Welsh footballer of all time but also Britain’s finest all-round player, the tall, strong John Charles was as brilliant and effective a centre-forward as he was a dominant centre-half.
Noted in particular for his heading ability, but possessed of a fine touch and powerful shot, Charles could also play at full-back or in midfield. Dubbed ‘The Gentle Giant’ during a ground-breaking and hugely successful spell with Juventus between 1957 and 1962, Charles refused to resort to deliberately fouling an opponent and was never cautioned, let alone sent off, in his 23-year playing career.
In 1997, 35 years after his last appearance in Italy, Charles was voted the best non-Italian to have played in the country’s top division.
Jimmy Greaves, England
One of the most instinctively gifted goal scorers in the history of the game, Jimmy Greaves played 57 times for England and scored 44 goals, an impressive international ratio that would guarantee him a place in any footballing hall of fame.
Having begun his career and enjoyed huge success at Chelsea, Greaves spent nine years at Tottenham Hotspur, where he scored 266 goals in 379 matches. But the brave, quick and elusive Londoner will be remembered for the manner in which he scored as well as the number of goal-scoring chances he converted.