John Terry is the latest in a long line of central defenders whose strength of body and soul has helped characterise England’s football down the years since Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman and his inside forward Charlie Buchan devised the “stopper centre-half” system back in the early 1930s. Buchan and Chapman wanted to find a way of stopping the goal glut which had followed the change in the offside law. Thus they withdrew the old-fashioned “attacking centre-half” into the middle of defence and created an iconic role which even the advent of the sophistications of a four-man defence have not changed – at least not in the English game. The enduring value of the long ball into the penalty box means that every team and every manager prefers to have a strong, tall individual ready to take responsibility in the air and be brave enough to defy any and every challenge.
Oddly, one of John Terry’s most outstanding predecessors in the centre of England’s defence, Billy Wright, was not especially tall but he did possess a spring that could take him above lankier centre-forwards. Wright, of Wolverhampton Wanderers, was the first England player to claim a century of international appearances and he ultimately won 105 caps. He was succeeded by Tottenham Hotspur’s Maurice Norman, whose height often saw him sent up into attack to scare opposing defenders in Spurs’ successes of the early 1960s when they won the League and FA Cup double and then became, in the Cup Winners’ Cup, the first British side to win a European trophy. Norman played briefly for England but was succeeded to greater effect by Jackie Charlton, nicknamed “The Giraffe” because of his ungainly style but, with his height and ruthlessness, he was a perfect foil for the classic defensive intellect of Bobby Moore alongside him.
Since then, England managers have searched long and hard to try to recreate such an effective defensive partnership but individuals who can bring such power and drive out of league football into the international arena are not easy to find. Two of the most outstanding were Terry Butcher and Tony Adams. Butcher played for Ipswich Town, Rangers, Coventry City and Sunderland. His 17-year career encompassed 77 England appearances including an inspirational performance against Sweden, which he completed with a blood-stained bandage wrapped around his head. Adams, eight years younger than Butcher, scored five goals in 66 games for England in a career made exceptional not only because he played all of his 504 league games for Arsenal but also because he led club and country magnificently on the pitch while fighting alcoholism off it.