Wembley - History of Schoolboy Internationals

Over One Hundred years of Schools' Internationals

by Mike Simmonds

B/W Photograph of Len Grant in cap and shirt holding ball next to trophy

Len Grant of
Reading Schools’ F.A., a
member of the England
side in the first
international against Wales
(Ack.: David Downs)

Early in 1906, less than two years after the founding of the English Schools’ F.A., it was agreed that enquiries should be made in Wales, Scotland and Ireland about the possibility of an International Schoolboy match. There was no response from Scotland or Ireland and a less than positive one from Wales so the matter was shelved for that season. In the following year, however, the first ever schools’ international match was played thanks to the efforts of the ESFA Council at the time. As there was no Welsh Schools’ F.A. in existence then, it was agreed at an English Schools’ meeting that the Wales team would be left in the hands of the ESFA Secretary. As his name was the very Welsh sounding Thomas P. Thomas, he was obviously well qualified for the task! The game was eventually played in the West Midlands, at Walsall’s Hillary Park ground, later to become Fellows Park with England beating Wales 3-1 in front of a crowd of 2,500.

From such uncertain beginnings, an annual programme of international matches was slow to develop although regular matches against Wales were played after 1907 and against Scotland from 1911. In 1923, the Victory Shield was presented to the Schools’ International Board for annual competition between the three countries and, after 1934, Northern Ireland and this became the schools’ equivalent of the Home International Championship at senior level.

England Schools' at Wembley

Although some of the internationals before the 2nd World War attracted large crowds with 40,000 seeing England beat Scotland 5-1 at Villa Park in 1936, nothing did more to raise the profile of schools’ football than the Wembley internationals which began in 1950 and continued to the closure of the stadium in 2000.

53,049 saw England beat Scotland 8-2 in that first Wembley fixture, in a game that showcased the talents of Johnny Haynes and Ray Parry. Haynes went on to become captain for both his club (Fulham) and country at senior level, while Parry found fame at Bolton Wanderers and aged just 15 years 267 days, became the youngest player to play in a Division 1 fixture (today's Premiership) on 13 April 1951 at Burnden Park against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Six days earlier, on the 7th April 1951, the great Duncan Edwards whose life and career was tragically cut short by the Munich air disaster, made his Wembley debut in an England Schools' match against Wales - a game which England won 3-0. Over the next 15 years, gates of 90,000 were the norm while of the 76 matches played at Wembley, 33 had crowds of more than 50,000.

Photograph of Julio Cesar leaping to catch the ball

Julio Cesar makes a fine
save to foil England’s
Aaron Brown during
England’s game v Brazil
at Wembley in 1995.
(Ack.: Paul Dennis)

Not only did these large crowds bring financial stability to the English Schools’ F.A. and lead to an increase in sponsorship income but the Wembley matches had another impact relevant to the international story. Wembley became a magnet for countries outside the United Kingdom who wanted their young players to have the opportunity of playing there and it was a major, if not the only, factor in the expansion of schools’ international football after 1950.

West Germany and later the reunified Germany, together with Scotland became the most frequent visitors to the national stadium making 20 appearances each while other European countries in addition to Wales and Northern Ireland to play England schoolboys there at Under-15 level were France, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. The three visits of Brazil were, of course, highlights, in the late 1980s and 1990s while as the table below shows, several other European countries also visited England or hosted them at this age group.

In season 1998-99, the Football Association, as part of the “Charter for Quality” took over the control of the Under 15 international team but, at least, 91 years of history had a happy ending as the final English Schools’ Under 15 match in the Olympic Stadium, Berlin brought a 1-0 victory over their German hosts.

England Schools’ Under 14/15 record 1907-1998

PldWDLFA
v Wales9976158309108
v Scotland102462432194144
v Northern Ireland59525221035
v Republic of Ireland26154710442
v West Germany/Germany67281425105105
v Netherlands2922616718
v France156452718
v Switzerland171421439
v Australia110020
v Austria210151
v Belgium6510236
v Brazil531172
v Hungary210133
v Italy5320115
v Spain100123

England Schools' post 1998

Since the Under 15 side was taken over by the F.A., the banner of the English Schools’ F.A. has been carried on the international scene by the Under 18 squad selected only from those players still in full-time education. After the demise of the Under 15s, the Under 18s played two matches at Wembley, losing 2-1 to the Netherlands and 1-0 to Hungary but games at this age group have been played since 1965, first under the auspices of the Conference of English Senior Schools’ Football Association and after 1972, the English Schools’ F.A. They compete in the Centenary Shield which has been played in a number of different formats over the years and was won by England last season.

Like the Under 15s, their programme has expanded over the years, embracing new opponents in Slovakia and, in recent seasons, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2004, the Under 18 international squad drew 2-2 at Villa Park with a Rest of the World team selected by the Schools International Board (SAFIB) at Villa Park; this game was staged to celebrate the centenary of the English Schools’ F.A.

One Hundred Years On

Action Photograph of England and Welsh players tackling for the ball at Molinuex

England v Wales
at Molineux
4th May 2007.
(RWT photography)

Much has changed in the world of football since Len Grant of Reading Schools’ F.A. played in the first Schoolboy International in Walsall back in 1907. While the Hillary Park ground (Fellows Park), thick cotten shirts and heavey leather balls and boots may be long gone, 100 years on, schools' football is still alive and kicking!

To celebrate 100 years of Schools' International fixtures, England and Wales met in a friendly fixture billed as the Centenary Celebration International on 4th May 2007. The venue was Molineux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, seven miles from the original venue where the same teams met one hundred years before.

England could not repeat the same winning score line, both teams sharing the spoils in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Molineux.

England Schools' Continues to Provide Opportunities

Photo of Michael Owen in celebration

A jubilant Michael Owen
scores at Wembley for
English Schools'.
(Action Images)

Schoolboy international matches at both age groups have provided opportunities for hundreds of players to achieve a pinnacle in the game. Some such as World Cup winners, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters, Ray Wilson and Nobby Stiles, Trevor Brooking, Ray Wilkins, Peter Shilton, Kenny Sansom, Terry Venables and, in the modern era, Michael Owen, Ryan Giggs (formerly Wilson), Danny Murphy, Jermaine Defoe, Jamie Rednapp, Andy Cole and Phil Neville went on to achieve further success at full international level. Many others including at least six from the squad which played in that first ever schools’ international, Sherwin, Grant, Musgrove, Denyer, Lockett and Tomkins have gone on to represent professional League clubs. Far more either did not make the grade in the professional game or have achieved success in other careers; whatever path they followed, the experiences they had with England Schools will remain with them and their families for the rest of their lives.

The English Schools’ F.A. is proud of the achievements of its international teams over a hundred years and hopes that their successors will continue to uphold the standard of play and sportsmanship which have for so long characterised those teams.

ESFA Publications

The History of the ESFA 1904 - 2004

by Colm Kerrigan :: Buy online from the ESFA shop

book cover : The History of the ESFA 1904 - 2004

Colm Kerrigan has penned the first attempt to write a comprehensive history of the organisation that, next to the Football Association itself, has done more to promote association football as the national game. His book traces the origins of schoolboy football, which was introduced in elementary schools in the late 19th century; the formation, and success of many local schools' football associations, which led to the formation of the ESFA in 1904 following discussions at the NUT Annual Conference in Llandudno; the growth and development of the ESFA; the commitment of the ESFA to promoting the game for all children in an educational context and the development of the schools' international sides at Under 15 and Under 18 age levels. A book to grace any School library.

England Schoolboys' International Players' Records 1907-1999

edited by Gavin Wilicay :: Buy online from the ESFA shop

book cover : England Schoolboys' International Players' Records 1907-1999

Published by the English Schools'F.A. This booklet is the most comprehensive record of English Schools' International Football ever printed, with every match and player from the first game against Wales in 1907, to end of the 1998/9 season.

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