As the quasi-famous and somewhat tedious football chant goes, “There’s only one (insert player of choice)”.
But is there? The quickest and most rudimentary of Google searches will confirm that this is simply not the case and even the most nondescript of us have dozens, if not hundreds, of namesake doppelgangers.
All well and good, I suppose, but what of the footballing fraternity that shares the same names? What of players, sometimes in the same team, that are similarly or identically monikered?
Let’s have a look back at some notable examples over the years.
A good place to start is with the England World Cup squad of 1986. Everton and Tottenham Hotspur had enjoyed seasons of varying success in 1985-86 in the build-up to the competition with the Merseysiders just missing out on league and cup honours while the side from North London had finished a disappointing tenth just a season after pushing Everton all the way for the league title.
The one thing they did have in common, however, was the services of a player by the name of Gary Stevens. While Everton boasted a solid and reliable right-back of that name and vintage, the Spurs equivalent was also a defender but usually played in the centre of the back four or in midfield.
While Everton’s Stevens would play 46 times for England and win league and cup trophies with both the Toffees and his next club, Glasgow Rangers, the Spurs vintage had to content himself with seven caps, a UEFA Cup victory and appearances in two losing FA Cup Finals.
The two did appear on the same side twice during the 1986 World Cup when Tottenham’s Stevens made it onto the pitch as a substitute in the group game against Morocco and the last-sixteen clash with Paraguay.
Having been rejected as a teenager by Sir Bobby Robson when he was manager of Ipswich Town, Gary of Spurs later joked that Sir Bobby picked both himself and his namesake for England to make sure he got the right one. Unlucky with injuries, this particular Gary was forced into retirement by the age of 30, while his ‘blood brother’ played until 35 with Tranmere Rovers.
Although this is perhaps the most famous of all cases, there have, of course, been others.
Growing up I was always slightly bemused by the fact that there were two goalkeepers of the same name playing in the top flight. Phil Parkes of Queens Park Rangers, West Ham, and, very briefly, England fame, was perhaps more renown than his namesake who performed between the sticks for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
However, this ‘Second Phil’ was talented enough to make over 300 league appearances for Wolves in a career that lasted almost twenty years. He was part of the Wolves side that reached the 1972 UEFA Cup Final and would have played in the League Cup Final two years later but for suffering a broken ankle in the lead-up to the match, after having played in all the earlier rounds.
After finishing at Molineux, ‘Lofty’, as he was nicknamed, played for a number of clubs in the NASL before finally retiring.
The ‘First Phil’ made his name at Loftus Road and was part of the QPR side that almost won the league in 1976. Ten years later, he almost won the league with West Ham, thus making it a unique double. In the time between these momentous events, Parkes was transferred between the clubs for a then world-record fee for a goalkeeper. What made his £565,000 transfer all the more remarkable was that both clubs were in the second division at the time.
After more than a decade at Upton Park in which Parkes won FA Cup and Second Division title medals he finally decamped for Ipswich Town where he made a handful of appearances under his former West Ham manager John Lyall. Making a single appearance for England while still a QPR player, he holds the honour of being the only player to make over 400 appearances for two separate clubs, evidently.
Next, and attempting to create a rather tenuous link, the goalkeeper Parkes was signed to replace at West Ham, Bobby Ferguson, also had a namesake present in football during his career. Ferguson was a goalkeeper signed from Kilmarnock in 1967 and played almost 300 times over the next dozen years or so. In his career, he saw off the challenge of a young Mervyn Day and won his place back in the team after five years in the reserves. The signing of Parkes finally spelt the end for Ferguson at Upton Park, and he left in 1980 to play out his career in Australia.
Slightly older than the West Ham man was Bobby Ferguson of Ipswich Town fame. He was from the North East and after a playing career that took in Newcastle, Derby and Newport County amongst others, he moved into coaching alongside Sir Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town. When Sir Bobby left Portman Road to take the England job, Ferguson stepped into the manager’s seat at Ipswich where he was to spend the next five seasons.
Next, Andy Gray was a striker at Aston Villa. So was Andy Gray.
The ‘first’ Andy Gray played for Aston Villa between 1975 and 1979 and again between 1985 and 1987, while the ‘other’ Andy Gray joined Villa from Crystal Palace in Villa 1987 and stayed until 1989 before going on to play for Queens Park Rangers, Crystal Palace again, Spurs, and England.
The original Andy played for Wolverhampton Wanderers after Villa and then joined Everton in 1983. In eighteen months at Goodison Park, he wrote himself into Everton folklore as an integral part of the most successful Everton side in modern times. An FA Cup, League title and European Cup Winners’ Cup were all secured in this spell and Gray even played his way back into the Scotland national side at one point.
Although his younger namesake only played for England on a solitary occasion, career highlights included scoring an 87th-minute equaliser in an FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool and appearing in a Scottish FA Cup Final with Falkirk in 1997.
If two players with the same name active in football is rare, then how about three? For a while, there were not one, not two, but three Alan Smiths all present in football.
The target man of Leicester City, Arsenal and England fame made his debut for the Foxes back in 1982 and went onto score 84 goals in more than 200 games. A big-money move to Highbury in 1987 followed, and Smith became an integral part of George Graham’s title-winning sides of 1989 and 1991. He also appeared 13 times for England before injury brought about a premature closing to his career.
A few years later and another ‘smudger’ was playing upfront for England. Leeds-born in 1980, this particular Alan Smith made his breakthrough at his home-town club as part of David O’Leary’s exciting Elland Road team. By the age of 19, he was in the England set-up and being tipped for the very top in footballing terms.
Following Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League in 2004, Smith signed for Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. A good start at Old Trafford was curtailed when he suffered a horrific broken leg in a match against Liverpool. Despite making a full physical recovery, Smith was arguably never quite the same player and although he would have a good career later at Newcastle, Milton Keynes Dons and Notts County, it is fair to say he never quite reached the heights anticipated at the outset of his career.
The third and final ‘AS’ plying his trade around this time was more well-known for his coaching and management skills, particularly at Crystal Palace where he had a long involvement as coach and twice as manager. Highlights of his first spell in charge at Selhurst Park included promotion to the Premier League in 1994 and reaching the semi-finals of both domestic cup competitions a year later.
Finally, in closing it might be prudent to give a couple of near-misses in the name stakes a mention.
Firstly there is the case of Phil Neal and his near namesake, Phil Neale.
Neal, of course, is a Liverpool legend having played over 600 games for the club and with eight league titles and four European Cups to his name, before moving into a career in coaching and management. Neale, on the other hand, was a multi-talented sportsman. As well as playing more than 400 games at lower-league level for Lincoln City and Scunthorpe, he also played almost 700 games of first-class cricket for Worcestershire before becoming the England team’s Operational Manager.
Another near miss is the example of 1970s Norwich City goalkeeper, Kevin Keelan, and two-time European Footballer of the Year, Kevin Keegan. While ‘Super Kev’ played for a host of clubs including Scunthorpe, Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton and Newcastle, Keelan played out the majority of his career at Norwich City where he made close on 700 appearances in all competitions. Keelan then went on to close out his career in the NASL.