Top 10 Best English Full Backs of All Time

Is there a more underrated position in football than a full back? A player that gives it his all week in week out but rarely gets the plaudits for it.

That being said, England is a country that knows how to celebrate its heroes. And in the full-back position, there has been enough to celebrate for the Three Lions’ fans.

So, let us look at Ten of the Best English Full Backs of All Time.

Just in the spirit of justice, we have included five right-backs and five left-backs each so that both positions are represented equally.

So with that let us get our picks started with some honourable mentions at the end. Keep reading!

10. Jimmy Armfield

jimmy armfield
Jimmy Armfield was a legend of commentary as well as a player

When you have a terrific managerial career and a marvelous turn at commentary, people often forget how you got those gigs in the first place.

And for Jimmy Armfield that was exactly the case. The legendary BBC broadcaster was a Blackpool great and a World Cup winner in 1966 with The Three Lions.

Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t a starter in 1966 and famously did not receive a winners medal till 2009. But that did not take any prestige away from a glittering playing career.

As a full back, Armfield was exceptional in the 1962 World Cup and while he could not win any major honors with Blackpool, he made the most football league appearances for the club, a record that stands to this day.

9. Eddie Hapgood

Eddie Hapgood
Eddie Hapgood has gone down as an Arsenal icon

As an Arsenal great of the 1930s, not many people alive would have seen Hapgood play. But those who have, tell the tale of a full-back that changed the role forever.

After being signed for Arsenal by the legendary Herbert Chapman as a 19-year-old, Hapgood became an all-conquering defender.

He was part of the exceptional Arsenal team of the 1930s that went on to win five league titles and two FA Cups.

His commanding physique and exceptional game awareness at left-back changed the role forever making it glamorous and pivotal in the modern game. To sum it up, Eddie Hapgood was the first great English fullback.

8. Kenny Sansom

Kenny Sansom
Sansom represented England on 86 occasions

If there is one club with an exceptional history at the left-back position, it has to be Arsenal. From Hapgood to Winterburn to Cole, Arsenal have been quite blessed in this department.

And if you have to name the best all-round defenders of all these names, Kenny Sansom has to be top of the list.

After starting his career with Palace, he was already an established England international when he joined Arsenal.

And while the period in which he joined Arsenal was tough for the club, he remained a consistent performer for club and country.

When he hung up his boots, he had managed more than 300 appearances for Arsenal and 86 appearances for England. These numbers speak volumes about his consistency as a rock at the back.

7. Kyle Walker

Kyle Walker
Kyle Walker is known for his extreme speed and power

The only active player on this list, Kyle Walker has had a stellar career to date.

After starting off at Sheffield United, Walker became a household name at Tottenham winning the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2011.

After starting as a classic wingback possessed with pace and a mean cross, Walker has since become a right center back under Guardiola and continues to be a regular in the City lineup.

And as trophies eluded him at Spurs, moving to Manchester City was a good move for him. At his current club, he has won two league titles and one FA Cup already. Who knows he may add the Champions League to his trophy cabinet before calling it a day?

6. George Cohen

George Cohen
Cohen was a complete full-back, both attacking and defensive

The 1966 World Cup winning squad of England is full of legends.

Besides the obvious greats like Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, there were others that were influential too.

And on the flanks, England had a lethal pair of fullbacks who were pivotal to their success on the global stage.

Both George Cohen and Ray Wilson were heavily involved in the buildup for the English team while never ignoring their defensive duties.

The lack of a traditional right-winger meant that Cohen had the freedom to get forward and create chances for the likes of Bobby Charlton.

And in the 1966 Semi-Final, that is exactly what he did creating a perfect chance for Bobby Charlton to slot it in to take England to the final.

He was also the vice-captain of the side that memorably won the final against West Germany.

At club level, George Cohen was dedicated to Fulham and despite never winning any major club honors and suffering relegation with the Cottagers, he always remained loyal to them.

5. Stuart Pearce

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce had an unlikely talent for penalty kicks

Forest fans named him “Psycho” and at times he seemed to be playing to justify that nickname!

With the tackle to send shivers down the spine of wingers, and a rocket of a left foot, Pearce was a regular for Forest and England in the 90s.

While he did not win any Premier League medals, Pearce was a cult hero of Premier League fans showing aggression and passion that fans love to see.

And the fact is that there was a method to the madness, as Pearce would use his aggression as a weapon to perform better instead of earning suspensions due to it as many others have.

He was also an exceptional penalty taker which contributed greatly to his 63 goals for Nottingham Forest. He earned 78 caps for England which shows his quality and longevity in the game.

4. Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson
Ray Wilson managed 60 caps for England

England’s only World Cup win to date created several heroes. Heroes that became idols.

But none remained as low in profile but high in respect than Ray Wilson.

The then 31-year-old was not the most glamorous, but his stable defensive game made him a calming influence in the England side.

And going forward he made sure that England did not miss a natural winger.

1966 was already a special year for Wilson as he won the FA Cup at Wembley with his club Everton.

And the year became perhaps the best of his career as he became a World Cup winner at the same venue.

Overall, he managed 60 appearances for the national side and also remained a regular for Huddersfield and Everton in the first division.

3. Phil Neal

Phil Neal
Phil Neal is a historic figure at Anfield

Liverpool and United have quite the historic rivalry. Every team has greats of their own that they think are better than their rivals.

And like any other position, in the illustrious right-back slot, Phil Neal is to the Kopites what Gary Neville is to the Red Devils.

When you are a consistent part of a team that won eight league titles and four European Cups, you are bound to be special. And Phil Neal surely was.

Before Joshua Kimmich made scoring goals the norm from the right-back position, Phil Neal was scoring important goals at vital times for Liverpool.

In fact, he was nicknamed Zico by his Liverpool teammates for his knack of scoring at vital times.

Add to that his impeccable defensive skills, and the fifty caps he won for England also make a lot of sense.

2. Gary Neville

Gary Neville
Gary Neville was a one-club man, playing 400 times for Manchester United

Manchester United in the 90s and early 2000s were a trophy-winning juggernaut. A team that won everything in the game. And while many players came and went, one constant in the right-back slot was Gary Neville.

A dignified member of the legendary Class of 92, Gary Neville was the fan who made it to the pitch. And like any fan, his dedication to the club was unquestionable.

After replacing Paul Parker in the United team, Neville never looked back and racked up 400 appearances for the Red Devils.

And if there is someone to challenge Phil Neal in terms of trophies, it can only be Gary Neville.

He won eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and two Champions League titles in an illustrious period for United under Alex Ferguson.

The broadcaster you see these days has done it all and won it all in a career laden with silverware.

1. Ashley Cole

Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole operated at a high level consistently throughout his career

If there is one left-back from England that can challenge any great left-back of any era for consistency, it has to be Ashley Cole.

The legendary left-back had an extremely fulfilling career playing for Arsenal and Chelsea and was an integral part of both sides.

At Arsenal, he followed the likes of Kenny Samson and Nigel Winterburn to become the next great Arsenal left-back and in reality, outshined both of his predecessors.

He was a part of the Incredible Invincibles of Arsenal in 2003/04 and after a controversial move to rivals, Chelsea earned even more silverware.

His game was quite special being an ideal mix of defence and attack. He would regularly go forward but had the pace to recover into good defensive positions.

Moving from the attacking team of Arsenal to the defensively astute Chelsea under Mourinho, Cole transitioned seamlessly due to his exceptional all-round game.

On the international stage, Cole remains the most capped player in his position for England, playing for his country 107 times.

His career remains an inspiration for many emerging defenders and the respect his hard work gained from his peers tells you a story about how good he was.

Honorable Mentions

There are a few names that missed out making this list narrowly.

There is of course current BBC pundit Lee Dixon who was a regular for Arsenal and part of the famous back four that won several titles under Geroge Graham and Arsene Wenger.

The name of Alf Ramsey may be linked to the World Cup he won for England as a coach, but he was quite good as a right full-back for Tottenham playing over 200 times for the North London club.

And while Nigel Winterburn may not have been the most talented, his growth and improvement as part of the legendary Arsenal back four mentioned above shows his quality.

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