Chris Kirkland England One-Cap Wonder Liverpool Wigan

The story goes that when Chris Kirkland was 14, his dad Eddie put on a bet that his son would play for England before turning 30.

He staked £98.10 and won nearly £10000 (several family friends also won similar amounts) after Kirkland, then 25, won his first England cap off the bench against Greece in August 2006.

The game, a 4-0 demolition of Greece, was England’s first under new boss Steve McClaren.
The Three Lions were returning to Old Trafford for the first time since before that year’s World Cup in June, the home of Manchester United and one of a series of grounds England played at whilst Wembley was being redeveloped.

McClaren made a raft of changes to the England setup after being appointed, his first major decision being to axe star man David Beckham from the squad and name John Terry the new full-time captain.

Terry headed home the opening goal in this contest, following an excellent Stewart Downing corner.

Frank Lampard then added a second before his deflected shot rebounded to Peter Crouch, who put the ball away then scored a fourth.

Remarkably, England led 4-0 against the reigning European champions by half time.
McClaren made just one switch at half-time, that being Paul Robinson off, Kirkland on – the substitution that led bookmakers William Hill to pay out a large sum of money.

With England four up and completely in control, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Kirkland would have little to do.

However, Greece were more of a threat in the second half, Ashley Cole making two goalline clearances.

Kirkland was then called into action, making a fine stop diving to his right to save an effort from Giorgios Karagounis.

Kirkland then returned to Wigan, on loan there from parent club Liverpool, signing permanently in October 2006 for around £2.5m.

His rise to the top had been clear to envisage ever since he turned professional at Coventry City in 1998.

Coventry, then in the Premier League under Gordon Strachan, trusted Kirkland to be the club’s number one in the 2000/01 season, and he was eventually named the club’s Player of the Year, despite only making 24 appearances.

This form, when aged just 20, alerted bigger clubs and Liverpool swooped to take him to Anfield for a fee of £6m in the summer of 2001.

He initially served as back up to Jerzy Dudek the following season, but was given his opportunity in the first-team in November 2002.

Kirkland made 14 appearances that season, keeping six clean sheets, but a succession of injuries over the next few seasons limited his chances.

He missed Liverpool’s infamous Champions League win in Istanbul in 2005, being replaced on the bench by Scott Carson.

Despite the number of injuries Kirkland suffered, he still had plenty of talent and began to prove his undoubted potential at Wigan.

He kept his first clean sheet in just his second game against Steve Coppell’s Reading, Emile Heskey scoring the only goal of the game to give Paul Jewell’s side a 1-0 win.

He was named the club’s Player of the Year in 2007/08, and continued his form into the season after.

Then Wigan manager Roberto Martinez called Kirkland “up there with the best in England,” although by this time, he still hadn’t added to that sole England cap earned in 2006.

Kirkland conceded nine goals in a game against Spurs in November 2009, but that was the only real blot on what was an impressive career copybook up to then.

He was linked with a move to Sunderland to be reunited with ex-Wigan boss Steve Bruce in the January transfer window, but that move never materialised. The season after, however, was when Kirkland’s injuries began to catch up with him.

He started the first two games of the 2010/11 season, but Wigan suffered two heavy defeats in those games and Martinez replaced him with on-loan Bolton ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi.
Al-Habsi kept his place in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season, eventually being named the club’s Player of the Year before joining the Latics permanently in the summer of 2011.

That spelled the end of Kirkland’s Wigan career, the then-30-year-old spending time on loan at Leicester City, where he made three appearances.

He suffered a back spasm in December although made all of his appearacnes after that, before returning to the DW Stadium for treatment on the injury.

Kirkland was called into first-team action when Wigan played Bolton, with Al-Habsi ineligible to play against his permanent club, but was stretchered off after a collision with Swedish striker Johan Elmander.

The following season, he joined Dean Saunders’ Doncaster Rovers on loan, but suffered another back spasm which ended his loan spell.

His next move was to Sheffield Wednesday, on a permanent basis, where he was finally able to find some consistency again in terms of his starting time.

He did suffer some more bad luck that season and was attacked by an opposition fan who had ran onto the pitch during a game against Leeds United in October 2012.

He had to have stitches as a result of the incident but he recovered and remained first-choice at the Owls until the 2014/15 season, when the club signed Keiren Westwood, and he joined Simon Grayson’s Preston North End for the 2015/16 campaign.

He made only two appearances, one against local rivals Burnley where conceded a Joey Barton free-kick, and also appeared in the final game of the season against Leeds, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

More recently, Kirkland has spoken out about his battle against anxiety, which began when he joined Sheffield Wednesday in 2012.

It led to him leaving Bury in 2016 to take time out of the game, and he announced his retirement from playing soon after.

It is great to see him now back in football, serving as goalkeeping coach for Neil Redfearn’s Liverpool Ladies team. He also does occasional media work, and has appeared on Sky Sports and LFC TV.

Kirkland’s playing CV is one of the most distinguished and impressive of most modern day English ‘keepers, making it a surprise that although he continued to improve after his first England cap in 2006 until a barrage of injuries, he was never handed another one.