Inside Blue Fri 10 Nov 2017
There are no less than three graduates from Chelsea's youth system in line to make their England debuts this week, but they are far from the first players to have trodden that path.
Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, currently on loan at Swansea City and Crystal Palace respectively, have both received their first senior call-ups from Gareth Southgate for the upcoming international friendlies against Germany tonight (Friday) and Brazil on Tuesday, with former Blues midfielder Jack Cork, now at Burnley, joining them in the squad after several players withdrew injured.
'It's going to be an amazing feeling for me at Wembley, just to get on that pitch even for a warm-up,' said Abraham. 'I just keep thinking about it, every time I go to sleep, it's in my head. It's a different feeling for me and it's one that I can't really describe.'
However, several of the 20-year-old's predecessors to have come through our youth ranks will know exactly how Tammy feels, whether he can describe it or not, having experienced it for themselves.
Peter Brabrook was capped by England aged 20, becoming the first Chelsea youth product to play for his nation, a feat of which he was immensely proud. He played three times for England including in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.
Ken Shellito graduated from our junior side to the first team in 1959, the full-back was one of the first and most promising of arguably the strongest group of young players ever produced by the club.
His England debut came in 1963, in a 4-2 win away at Czechoslovakia, and he earned another unofficial cap as a substitute against a Rest of the World side featuring the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Eusebio and Denis Law, in a friendly marking the Football Association's 100th birthday. However, his club and international careers were both halted by the same horrific knee injury, forcing him to retire less than two years after his international debut, and robbing him of the chance to compete for a place at the 1966 World Cup.
The Blues were represented in England's squad for that tournament on home soil, though. For Jimmy Greaves, who by this time was playing across London at Tottenham, it would prove to be the final stages of an incredible England career in which he scored 44 goals in 57 appearances and set the record of six hat-tricks, which still stands today.
Greaves played all three group games in '66, but an injury requiring 14 stitches lost his place to Geoff Hurst for the knockout stages and he would only feature on three more occasions for his country.
In contrast, Peter Bonetti was still relatively early in his international career, making his debut that year, and although he was regularly called up for a long period, the presence of Gordon Banks and later Peter Shilton meant he earned only seven caps, most notably when he was thrust into the action unexpectedly for England's 3-2 extra-time defeat to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals.
Like Greaves, Bonetti didn't receive a medal for England's World Cup win in 1966, as at the time only the 11 players competing in the final were given one. However, after a long campaign by the FA, Greaves, Bonetti and the rest were belatedly given theirs by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a small ceremony in 2009.
'People often ask me if I was disappointed not to get one in '66 and I always say “no” because there were no substitutes in those days, we just accepted that only 11 players got the medals,' explained Bonetti. 'But we went to Downing Street and each of us who didn't get medals at the time were given them and it was a great honour.'
Unfortunately, there was no medal for another Chelsea youth product, John Hollins, who was in the provisional 30-man squad for that tournament but was left out in the final cut by Sir Alf Ramsey. Hollins' solitary England cap came a year later, meaning he joins the likes of Barry Bridges, Peter Osgood, Bobby Tambling and Terry Venables in coming through the ranks at Chelsea but earning less than five international caps, finding their route to the national team blocked by the stars of '66. The more modern Carlton Cole sits just ahead of that group with seven appearances to his name between 2009 and 2010.
That didn't stop Venables from setting a unique record, though. His path to the England senior team was exhaustive by any standard, meaning he is the first and only person ever to have represented the Three Lions at schoolboy, youth, amateur, Under-23 and full international level. He also famously went on the manage England in one of their finest moments, reaching the semi-finals of the European Championship on home soil in 1996.
No Chelsea youth product has amassed more England caps than Ray Wilkins' 84, and he was also the first to be appointed as the Three Lions' captain. He was made Blues skipper as a teenager and was soon a regular in the England line-up, although he departed Stamford Bridge for Manchester United in 1979, three years before being handed the captain's armband at international level by Sir Bobby Robson.
Wilkins represented his country at the 1980 European Championship and two World Cups, although the last of those in 1986 earned him the unwanted distinction of becoming the first person to be sent off for England in that competition.
He isn't the only England captain to have started his career at Chelsea, either. Only four people in history have worn the armband for England more than the 34 times John Terry did. When Steve McClaren made him Three Lions skipper in 2006, Terry also became the first person to be England and Chelsea captain simultaneously since Vivian Woodward had done the same nearly a century earlier.
The honour of the best goal scored for England by a former Blues teenage player goes to Graeme Le Saux, though. He may have been playing for Blackburn, between his two spells at Stamford Bridge, when he smashed in a pinpoint long-ranger against Brazil at Wembley in 1995, but after missing Euro '96 through injury he returned to Chelsea and became a mainstay at left-back for the Three Lions, including at the 1998 World Cup.
'That was probably the best of my career,' said Le Saux when remembering his famous strike, which was later voted in the top 20 England goals of all time. 'I connected with it perfectly and it just took off. Playing against the world champions in a packed Wembley, I could have run around the stadium for about an hour after the game!'