In today’s day and age of absolute dedication in the lives of professional athletes, it is impossible to imagine any of them playing at the top-level in more than one sport. However, there have been as many as 19 male cricketers who have also represented their country in football and scores of others who played the game professionally. In line with the football spirit created by the FIFA World Cup, here are 10 cricketers who were accomplished footballers as well, listed in an increasing order of their footballing skills.
10. Brian Close Represented England in cricket and played football for Arsenal
Brian Close remains one of the most charismatic and influential figures in English cricket. A child prodigy, Close was signed as an amateur by Leeds United in 1948 and went on to play for the England youth team that year. The following year, he made his first-class cricket debut for Yorkshire and soon became the youngest man to play Test cricket for England at the age of 18. Even though he could not solidify his place in the Test team, he became a regular for Yorkshire soon and tried balancing both the sports. In 1951, he was signed by Arsenal but despite good performances, was sacked by the end of the year as he wasn’t able to give enough time to the team. He played for Bradford United in 1952 before a knee injury ended his football career. Football’s loss was cricket’s gain. Close played for Yorkshire till 1977 and ended up with 34,000 runs and 1171 wickets in first-class matches. His England career, though, was largely unfulfilled. He played only 22 Tests from 1949-76 and averaged 25 with the bat and 29 with the ball. Even then, he captained England in seven of his 22 Tests, winning six and never losing.
9. Ian Botham Represented England in cricket and played football for Scunthorpe United
He might be one of the greatest all-rounders to have played the game but Sir Ian Botham could very well have been a footballer. Proficient in both the sports in his early days, Botham chose to focus on cricket and gave up football as a teenager. He began his first-class career with Somerset in 1974 before playing grade cricket for a season in Australia. He made his international debut for England in 1977 and within no time became a darling of the masses. His one tryst with football came in 1980 when he was recovering from a cricket injury. Beefy joined Scunthorpe United as a centre half and made 11 Football League appearances for the side. He also played briefly for a small team called Yeovil Town. Botham resumed his cricket career in 1981, winning the Ashes single-handedly, becoming the England captain the following year and dominating world cricket for years to come. By the time, he was finished in 1992, he had amassed 5200 runs at 33 and 383 wickets at 28 from 102 Tests.
8. Patsy Hendren Represented England in cricket and played football for Brentford
One of the most prolific batsmen in the history of the game, Elias ‘Patsy’ Hendren made his first-class debut for Middlesex in 1907, and played his first top-flight football game at wing forward for Manchester City in the same year. Before the war, Hendren balanced both the sports, establishing his place in the Middlesex cricket team and moving from City to Coventry and then Queens Park Rangers. In 1911, Hendren moved to Brentford, where he spent the remainder of his football career. During the war years, he side-lined cricket and concentrated on his football career. Making a comeback to Middlesex in 1919, the right-hand batsman made rapid strides and made his England debut the following year. He continued playing for Brentford sporadically till 1927 when he retired from the game. He played 51 Tests for England between 1921 and 1935, scoring 3525 runs at 47 with seven hundreds. With 57,000 runs and 170 centuries in first-class cricket, Hendren rivalled the great Jack Hobbs as the foremost player of his generation.
7. Vic Pollard Represented New Zealand in both cricket and football
A gifted athlete, Vic Pollard is one of the few men to represent New Zealand in both cricket and football at the international level. One of the finest all-rounders in New Zealand, Pollard started playing first-class cricket in 1964 and made his Test debut as a 19-year old a year later. During this period, he played club football as a forward. In 1968, he made his top-flight debut for the Rangers. Later that year, he played his first international football game against Fiji. He played seven internationals for the All Whites from 1968-72 part from turning up for Christchurch United. In cricket, he played 32 Tests, scoring 1266 runs at 24 with two hundreds and bagging 40 wickets at 46 with his off-break bowling. He was considered for the role of New Zealand cricket captain in 1972 but opted out due to his belief of not playing on a Sunday. Pollard retired from football in 1972 and cricket in 1975. He was only 29 years old when he quit both the sports.
6. Viv Richards Represented West Indies in cricket and Antigua in football
Before embarking on his career as one of the greatest batsmen ever, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards was an international footballer. Richards, like most other Caribbean kids, played both the sports as a youngster. He began rising in the ranks of Antiguan footballing circles in the early 1970s. In the meantime, he was also playing for some of the top clubs in the country. In 1973, he played his first international for Antigua and later, also took part in his side’s World Cup qualification matches. His footballing career ended when Richards relocated to England for professional cricketing opportunities and signed on with Somerset. He made his Test debut the same year and ODI debut the following summer in the inaugural cricket World Cup. This makes him, till date, the only man to have played in both the football and cricket world cups. Over the next 17 years, Richards played 124 Tests and 187 ODIs, establishing himself as the most dominant and destructive batsman in the game’s history, scoring over 15,000 international runs with 35 centuries across the two formats.
5. Tip Foster Represented England in both cricket and football
Reginald Foster, affectionately known as ‘Tip’, started his sporting career while attending the Oxford University from 1897-1900. He represented the University in cricket, football, racquetball, and even golf. He also began playing county cricket for Worcestershire while still in college and was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1901. During this time, he also began his football career, playing as a forward for Corinthians. In 1900, he played his first international for England and was elevated to the post of captain in only his fifth game. However, this was his final international for England. He scored two goals in his five appearances. The following year, he was appointed the captain of the England cricket team for the Ashes for his debut series. This makes him the only man to captain England in two different sports. On his debut, Foster scored a masterly 287 – at that time a world record for the highest individual score in Tests. To this day, it remains the highest score by a debutant. Due to failing health, Foster played only seven more Tests, averaging 46 with the bat and taking 13 catches in the slips. He died at the age of 36 in 1914, due to severe diabetes.
4. CB Fry Represented England in both cricket and football
Arguably the greatest all-round sportsperson the world has seen, CB Fry excelled in cricket, football, rugby, gymnastics, shot put, golf, ice skating, hammer throw, hurdles, sprint races, and also set the world record for long jump in 1893. Fry started his sporting career at Oxford University in 1892 where he played both football and cricket (among other sports). He first played in the County Championship for Sussex in 1894 and made his amateur football debut as a defender for Corinthians in 1892. He made his Test debut in 1896 and played 26 Tests over 16 years, averaging 32 with the bat and scoring two hundreds. Fry turned a professional footballer in 1900, debuting for Southampton, with whom he won the Southern League that season and played in the FA Cup Final in 1902. He won his only international cap in 1901 against Ireland. After relinquishing football, he continued to play cricket, switching from Sussex to Hampshire in 1909. He captained the England cricket team in the 1912 Triangular Tournament and was the first batsman to average 50 with the bat in first-class cricket over the course of his career. For good measure, Fry’s genius went beyond sport as well. He was a renowned politician, diplomat, academic, teacher, and journalist as well.
3. Billy Gunn Represented England in both cricket and football
William Gunn influenced cricket and football in more ways than many greats have. He made his first-class debut for Nottinghamshire and top-flight football debut for Nottingham Forest around 1880. A tall, strong man with a very powerful shoulder, Gunn played two internationals for England and was called “one of the most brilliant forwards in the country” but he sacrificed his football career due to his cricket commitments. His only international goal was scored in the 1884 British Home Championship. Gunn had the ability to throw the ball into the opponent’s penalty box from his own half, which prompted FA to amend throw-in rules. He made his Test debut for England in 1886, playing 11 Tests in all and averaging 22 with the bat, a creditable average on the uncovered pitches of that time. He was known as the best outfielder of his time, known for a powerful throwing arm. Gunn’s most lasting legacy to cricket was in the form of Gun and Moore (GM), the sports equipment company he founded in 1885, which is one of the leading makers of cricket equipment in the world today.
2. Denis Compton Represented England in cricket and played football for Arsenal
One of the best double internationals of all-time, Denis Compton is largely remembered as one of the best batsmen England have produced but he also had a very successful career with Arsenal and the England football team. Compton started playing football for Nunhead club in 1934, the same year when he joined MCC as a staff member. He made his first-class cricket debut for Middlesex in 1936 and first played for MCC in the same season. Later that year, he was signed by one of the biggest clubs of the time Arsenal, with whom he won the league title in 1937-38. In 1937, Compton made his Test debut and scored his first Test hundred while still a teenager the following year. The war intervened and put his cricket career on a hold. During the war, Compton continued to play for Arsenal as a winger and also made 12 appearances for England, but none of those were classified as official internationals. After the war, he won the league with Arsenal again in 19448 and the FA Cup two seasons later. In all, he scored 16 goals for Arsenal in 60 appearances. In the 1950s, he focussed mostly on cricket, establishing himself as one of the best batsmen in the world and ending his career with 5807 Test runs at 50 from 78 Tests with 17 centuries. He also scored over a hundred centuries in all first-class cricket.
1. Willie Watson Represented England in both cricket and football
A dashing left-hand batsman and a cultured wing-half, Willie Watson an England double international, representing the team in both cricket and football. He made his first-class debut for Yorkshire in 1939 and played the first league game for Sunderland soon after that. He spent seven seasons at Sunderland, playing 211 league games in all and earning his first England cap in 1949. In all, he played only four football internationals and was a part of the 1950 World Cup squad, even though he did not appear in any game in the tournament. In 1951, Watson made his Test debut against South Africa. Due to the abundance of batting talent in England, he only played 23 Tests over eight years, where he scored 879 runs at 25 with two hundreds. He quit football after 1953 to focus on cricket but managed teams like Halifax and Bradford City later. Watson joined Leicestershire as captain in 1958 and stayed with the club till his retirement in 1964. His biggest success in cricket was being adjudged one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1954.
Image: (The Mirror)