Steve Bull, Division 3 champion and England international.

7 England players who were capped while playing below the Premier League

England normally pack their squad with superstars from clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United – but a few lower-league players have also managed to play for their country.

Whether those players had recently been relegated from the Premier League or they were a second-tier stalwart that simply couldn’t be ignored, this lot smashed the metaphorical glass ceiling.

We’ve picked out seven England internationals who won caps despite not even playing in the top flight at the time.

Sam Johnstone

The most recent player to turn out for the Three Lions from a sub-Prem division was Sam Johnstone in 2021. The big goalie was still a West Brom player in The Championship when he was called up to the England squad and made his debut in the summer before heading off to the Euros.

David Nugent

Big Dave Nugent’s England career is perfect — a work of art. Plucked from Preston North End in the Championship by then England boss Schteve McClaren, 11 minutes on the pitch, stole a goal from a goal-bound Jermaine Jenas shot, never played for England again.

Absolutely smashed it.

READ: An ode to David Nugent & a perfect England career we all dream of

Wilfried Zaha

Crystal Palace legend and current Turkish Super Lig star Wilf Zaha made his England debut under fellow Palace man Roy Hodgson when The Eagles were still down in The Championship.

Unfortunately for England, he only ever played in a couple of friendlies for the Three Lions and has since pledged his allegiance to the Ivory Coast — the country of his birth.

READ NEXT: Folarin Balogun & the players who rejected England to play for other nations

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name the 25 most capped players for England?


David James

James was already a regular in England squads before West Ham’s relegation in 2003, and the England setup stood by him. The big fella played every game for England at the Euros the following year.

Who needs the Barclays, man? Just hairdos, vibes, and really long limbs, that’s all we care about.

Kevin Phillips

Super Kev had just scored 60 goals in two seasons for the Mackems in the second tier. The Sunderland striker actually made his England debut under Newcastle demigod King Kevin Keegan in a friendly against Hungary.

He played eight times for his country but never managed to score, contrary to what he was doing at club level, which was scoring hundreds and hundreds of goals.

READ: Kevin Phillips: No English striker will match my European Golden Boot

Stuart Pearce

Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce was an England stalwart when his Nottingham Forest side were relegated at the end of the inaugural Premier League season in 1992. That didn’t sway Graham Taylor’s confidence in Shepherd’s Bush’s no.1 punk fan, though.

Well, that, or Taylor was too scared to drop him. We wouldn’t drop psycho. Too scared.

Steve Bull

Bull is the only player in the last 47 years to be capped for England whilst playing in the third tier of the English football pyramid. The third tier. To be clear, that’s the equivalent of Charlton Athletic’s Alfie May receiving a call from Gareth Southgate today.

Bully had just won promotion from what is now League One to the Championship when Bobby Robson called him up to the England squad.

He’d scored 50 goals in 55 games in all comps, and he didn’t let Bobby down. He scored four times for England in just 13 appearances, which, for a bloke who had been playing in Division Four (modern-day League 2) just over a year earlier, is pretty f*cking decent.

Surely there’ll never be another Steve Bull story.