History of the Football Writers’ Association Football of the Year Award

No history of the Football Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year award would be complete without first understanding what the FWA is.

The FWA was formed in September 1947 by a group of English journalists with the following aims:

– To maintain the prestige of football writers.

– To obtain higher standards of facilities.

– To maintain a friendly liaison with all football associations, leagues and clubs, as well as FIFA.

– To welcome and entertain overseas football writers carrying out their duties in this country.

– To be a medium for all grievances in London and provinces.

– To promote social intercourse.

Throughout its history the FWA has maintained these standards and evolved from its four founder members to an association of over 500, including broadcast media and supporting student journalists.

The aims have grown to include naming both a men’s and women’s Footballer of the Year and to act as the representative body for those involved in the football media industry.

The start of the FWA

The FWA was founded on board a ship returning from an England fixture in Belgium. Frank Coles, Roy Peskett, Archie Quick and Charles Buchan were the founding writers’ and the minutes record that it was Buchan who suggested an award “to the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the footballer of the year.”

Membership was invitation only to begin with and Ivan Sharpe was nominated as the first of the to date 38 Chairs of the association.

Nowadays membership is open to anyone aged 18 or over who “is employed in the football media industry as a journalist, broadcaster, blogger or is a student studying football or sports journalism.”

The first Footballer of the Year was voted on by 42 members and was awarded to Sir Stanley Matthews at the Hungaria restaurant, London.

The past winners make up one of the most impressive lists of who’s who in the English game, with the list of notable players who never won the award testament to the prestige of the award.

Up until the mid 1990s the award was dominated by English, Scottish and Irish recipients. However, with the introduction of the Premier League and the migration of world class talent to England, the past 25 years have had a more global feel to the award.

The FWA Footballer of the Year award is the oldest and most prestigious award in the men’s domestic game.

In 2018 the FWA added a women’s award to honour the best female player for each season, with Chelsea’s Fran Kirby the inaugural recipient.

From Stan to Fran the FWA continues to recognise as Charles Buchan wished “the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the Footballer of the Year.”

Footballer of the Year 1948 & 1963: Stanley Matthews, Blackpool and Stoke City

One of the greatest footballers England has ever produced, and arguably the greatest. In 1948, at 33, Matthews was remarkably only approaching the midway point of his career.

Matthews began his incredible career at Stoke City, making his debut as a 17 year-old and was an England international at 19. Between 1933 and 1957 Matthews represented England 54 times despite losing six of his peak years as a 24 to 30 year-old to the Second World War.

Upon the resumption of his career post-war Matthews transferred from Stoke City to Blackpool. He represented the Seasiders more than 400 times over the course of 15 seasons, with his most famous game the victorious 1953 FA Cup final, one that has since been christened the ‘Matthews Final.’

This was to be Matthews’ only top flight honour in the game, although he did win two Second Division titles with Stoke 30 years apart in 1933 and 1963.

The latter of which saw Matthews impress to such an extent that despite playing in the second tier and aged 48 he was named Footballer of the Year for the second time.

Matthews’ reputation in the world game was as high as it was in England and in 1956 he was voted the first winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or.

Sir Stanley Matthews, The Wizard of the Dribble, professional footballer from the age of 17 to 50, a truly remarkable man and deserved recipient of the inaugural trophy.

What Stan said:

“Winning the Footballer of the Year award for the second time at the age of 48 was a big moment for me, but could not match my first win in 1948.

“To be the first winner was marvellous and still to be around and invited to the 1997 dinner as guest of honour to mark the 50th anniversary underlines what I mean about the significance of that award to me.

“When I look back over my career, those two Footballer of the Year awards mean so much to me. They represent what I achieved over a long period, and I am very, very proud of them.”

 

What the Writers said:

Footballer of the Year 1956: Bert Trautmann, Manchester City

Bert Trautmann has one of the most unique stories in English football history.

The German was transported to the UK during the Second World War as a prisoner-of-war after being captured on the Western Front.

Upon his release from the POW camp in Lancashire, Trautmann refused the offer of repatriation to Germany and settled in England. He played one season in goal for Liverpool County Combination club St Helens Town, before a move to First Division Manchester City.

Anti-German sentiment was rife at the time and a crowd of up to 25,000 turned out to demonstrate against a former-Luftwaffe paratrooper representing City.

Over time Trautmann won the fans around through his heroic goalkeeping performances, one in particular away to Fulham leading to a standing ovation from home and away supporters alike.

The goalkeepers most famous game was, of course, the 1956 FA Cup final, just two days after becoming the first non-British or Irish player to receive the FWA award.

With 17 minutes left to play Trautmann dived at the feet of Birmingham City forward Peter Murphy and suffered a broken neck from the collision. He was later told that ‘according to all medical know-how he should have been dead’, as it was Trautmann was revived with smelling salts, played out the remainder of the game and even enjoyed the victors banquet before finally going to hospital.

Trautmann played more than 500 games for City establishing himself as a club legend and was admired throughout the country going on to be awarded an honorary OBE in 2004 for his work in Anglo-German relations.

Trautmann received an Iron Cross in Germany during the Second World War for bravery on the Eastern Front and in later life an Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

It is highly likely Trautmann is the only man to have ever been awarded both a British OBE and a German Iron Cross, a truly unique man beloved in his native Germany and adopted England.

What Bert said:

“It was my great honour to be the first foreign player to be elected Footballer of the Year. How could I forget it? Just two days after receiving the award I broke my neck in the FA Cup final at Wembley!

“I played for the rest of the game in a daze, with my head tilted to one side to try to ease the pain. Of course, I had no idea then just how serious the injury was.

“I returned to action halfway through the next season and continued to play for City for another eight years.

“I had watched the Hungarians beat England 6-3 in 1953 along with several of my city team-mates, and we decided we should try the Hidegkuti style, of a deep lying centre-forward. Don Revie played the role to perfection, and we reached two successive FA Cup finals and I followed Don as Footballer of the Year.”

What the writers said:

 

Footballer of the Year 1968: George Best, Manchester United

George Best was so much more than a footballer. His talent on the field, good looks and lifestyle earned him the nickname the ‘fifth Beatle’. At his peak, Best was a sensational player, spending ten seasons at Manchester United for whom he lifted two First Division trophies and the 1968 European Cup.

1968 was the height of Best’s career. Not only was he the youngest winner of the FWA award at 21, but he scored in the European Cup final and was named the European Footballer of the Year.

Best is widely regarded as the greatest Irishman to have played the game. He only turned out 37 times for Northern Ireland, but when he graced the pitch of Windsor Park the whole country stood still to watch.

Best made 466 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 178 goals, and was thought of as the outstanding British talent of his generation and one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.

His dribbling skills were second to none with Sir Alex Ferguson describing him as “naturally athletic, tough, confident and blessed with genius, his career was one of the brightest stars of its generation. His gifts were legendary.”

Off the pitch, Best lived the life more of a pop star than a footballer, often described as the first ‘celebrity footballer’, with his every action scrutinised by the media.

During the latter part of his career Best’s dedication to football often came below drink, sex and gambling and it was his alcoholism that caused him so many issues in later life before his death aged just 59.

Best had his problems off the pitch but on it there was no disputing his genius, as Sir Matt Busby said: “George had more ways of beating a player than anyone I’ve ever seen. He was unique in his gifts.”

(George Best at Old Trafford 1968 – PA Archive)

What George said:

“The month of May 1968 was, to say the least, pretty special for me. I collected my Footballer of the Year award two days before the FA Cup final, helped Manchester United beat Real Madrid in the European Cup semi-final the following week and, on 29 May, played in the European Cup Final against Benfica at Wembley.

“That was the match of a lifetime, and our victory after extra time meant so much to everybody because we knew it was the one thing that the boss, Matt Busby, wanted above all else.

“It was during that season of 1967-68 that I played what was probably my finest game for Northern Ireland. We beat a very good Scotland side 1-0 at Windsor Park and everybody was telling me afterwards that it was the greatest individual display they had ever seen. I think that must have played a big part in getting me the vote of the football writers in a year when there were a lot of outstanding candidates.”

What the writers said:

Footballer of the Year 1973: Pat Jennings, Tottenham Hotspur

(Pat Jennings with the 1973 Footballer of the Year trophy – PA Archive)

Jennings is a rare breed in that he is idolised by supporters of both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, a legend in goal for both clubs.

The Northern Irishman played just shy of 600 matches for Spurs and 327 for the Gunners on his way to becoming the first British man to play 1,000 games.

He even registered a goal in the 1967 FA Charity Shield as his clearance bounced over Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney and into the back of the net.

Jennings’s Northern Ireland career stretched 22 years, with his final professional match coming in the 1986 World Cup when aged 41 he stepped onto the pitch for the 119th and final time. He is currently still the record cap holder for his country.

(Cyril Knowles (left) and Pat Jennings carry the FA cup, after Tottenham Hotspurs 1967 victory over Chelsea at Wembley – PA Archive)

Described by the great Gordon Banks as “the perfect goalkeeper: safe hands, razor sharp reflexes, an acute understanding of angles and positioning, brave without being foolish and a master of intelligent distribution. Above all he had a marvellous temperament. No matter how great the pressure, he was always calm and in control.”

During his 13 seasons at Tottenham, Jennings won the FA Cup, two League Cups and a UEFA Cup. However, despite reaching four cup finals with Arsenal, he only managed one FA Cup triumph with the Gunners.

Post his playing career, Jennings spent 25 years on the coaching team at Spurs and is still a regular at Tottenham Hotspur matches more than 50 years on from joining the club.

What Pat said:

“The FWA announcement of my award as Footballer of the Year in 1972-3 cited my ‘many years of consistency at club and international level’. “The highlight of my season came on the morning of the Grand National when I saved two penalties at Anfield against Liverpool, who later went on to win the Championship. When I collected my statuette I said : ‘How could I avoid the award playing behind our defence?’

“That year Spurs won the League Cup with a Wembley victory against Norwich and became the first team to have their name on the trophy for a second time.

“But for me and the side it was another statistic in a remarkable cup record, the ninth senior final and the ninth win, the sixth under manager Bill Nicholson. Following the League Cup triumph in 1971 and the UEFA Cup in 1972 – we beat Wolves 3-2 on aggregate – it brought Spurs a remarkable hat-trick.”

What the writers said:

Footballer of the Year 1988 & 90: John Barnes, Liverpool

(John Barnes with his second Footballer of the Year trophy for the 1989-90 season – PA Archive)

Barnes was elected the Footballer of the Year at the end of his first season with Liverpool on the way to collecting the first major honour of his career, the First Division title.

At Liverpool, Barnes first excelled from the left-wing, adding creativity to the already dominant side of the decade. Both his Footballer of the Year awards came from that position, however, later in his career Barnes would move into midfield and become the orchestrator of the side.

In the 1987-88 season Barnes scored 14 goals as Liverpool romped to the League title and were only denied a double after their surprise loss to Wimbledon in the FA Cup final.

(John Barnes in action for England against Argentina in 1991 – Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport)

He would go on to win the FA Cup the following season and again three years later, Barnes also lifted a further League title in 1990 and the League Cup in 1995.

Barnes collected 79 caps for England having chosen to represent the country he grew up in from the age of 12 rather than Jamaica the country of his birth.

He scored 11 goals for England and none more memorable than his first, an incredible mazy dribble taking on half the Brazil team, before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting in. Manager Bobby Robson said of it: “Nobody who was in the Maracana Stadium when John scored his wonder goal for England will ever forget it.“

Barnes won all his major honours as a Liverpool player, but he is fondly remembered by fans of his first club Watford, for whom he made more than 200 league appearances. He also represented Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic in his later career, before spells as manager of Celtic, Jamaica and Tranmere Rovers.

What John said:

“I reckon that any three or four of the Liverpool side in 1987-88 could have won the Footballer of the Year award. Kenny Dalglish had taken over from Joe Fagan as manager in 1985 and, when I signed from Watford, I thought we were set for a transitional period that clubs go through when new signings arrive. But we all clicked right from the first kick.

“Perhaps I earned the votes ahead of the others because I was more flamboyant than some of my team-mates and caught the eye more, but I honestly feel I collected the trophy for being part of a superb team performance.

“Liverpool were runners-up in the League championship when I won again in 1990 and I remember being linked with those all-time greats Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney as the third of three wingers among the select band of players who have won the trophy for a second time. I never had the pleasure of seeing Tom Finney play, but I was flattered when he commented that I was bringing wing skills back into the game.”

What the writers said:

Footballer of the Year 1995: Jurgen Klinsmann, Tottenham Hotspur

Klinsmann’s move to Tottenham Hotspur came somewhat out of the blue and was a remarkable coup for Spurs to sign a player who had just scored five goals at the 1994 World Cup.

The German settled into life in the Premier League quickly and instantly became a fan’s favourite after scoring on his debut and celebrating in what became his trademark ‘diving’ style.

Klinsmann netted 30 goals in all competitions in his only full-season with the club, forming a formidable strike partnership with Teddy Sheringham.

Klinsmann scored in his first seven successive appearances for Tottenham and added many more across the season, including some fabulous goals.

It was this goal scoring ability, combined with the link up play with Sheringham that saw the striker elected Footballer of the Year for 1995. Later that year he was to come second in the voting for Ballon d’Or winner, missing out to AC Milan’s George Weah.

After only one season in England Klinsmann moved back to Germany to play for Bayern Munich. He went on to win the Bundesliga title and the UEFA Cup with Bayern, scoring an impressive 15 goals in just 12 matches in the European competition.

In late 1997 Klinsmann returned to Spurs for the final months of his playing career. Tottenham were involved in a relegation battle and the German’s nine goals in 15 games made all the difference in their fight for survival. None more so than the four he notched against Wimbledon in the penultimate game of the season to ensure the club’s survival in the Premier League.

Klinsmann had an exceptional international career scoring 47 goals in 108 caps for West Germany and Germany. This made him both the second highest scorer and second most capped player at the time of his retirement.

His three goals in the 1990 World Cup for West Germany helped them lift the trophy for the third time.

What Jurgen said:

“It was my 28 goals during the season that helped me clinch the Footballer of the Year award and I was thrilled to become the second German after Bert Trautmann to be honoured with the selection. Bert made a special trip to see me collect the award, and we had a long talk about the way the game has changed.

“When I accepted the trophy, I had mixed feelings because I knew that I would be shortly leaving a club that will always have a special place in my affections. I made a point of thanking Teddy Sheringham for his contribution. He and I had a great understanding, as the 38 goals we scored between us in the Premiership proves.

“It was an extremely satisfying way to end my stay in England that I will always look back on with pride… and fond memories.”

What the writers said:

Footballer of the Year 2003, ’04 & ’06: Thierry Henry, Arsenal

Henry was not only the first man to win back to back Footballer of the Year awards, he went on to win it an unprecedented three times.

At international and club level Henry won the lot. A World and European Champion with France by the age of 22, Henry added two Premier League titles and two FA Cups to his name at Arsenal, before transferring to Barcelona in order to fulfil his ambition of a Champions League title, something he achieved in 2009.

By the time of his retirement Henry was the all time top scorer for both France and Arsenal, with 51 and 228 goals respectively.

Henry won the Premier League golden boot a record four times during his career, with one of those coming in 2003-04, the first unbeaten league season since Preston North End in 1888-89.

In Henry’s three FWA winning seasons he scored or assisted an astonishing 158 goals in 151 appearances. Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Henry:

“During his career with Arsenal, Thierry won the FWA Footballer of the Year three times, and each was justly deserved because during those seasons, there was no better player in the Premier League.

“Thierry was really special. During his best period with Arsenal, he could make the difference at any time, and score anywhere at any moment.

“When he really had decided ‘now I will do it’, he always did it. Nobody could stop him.”

A fitting tribute to a phenomenal player.

What Thierry said:

“As I always say in football it is all about the team and without my team-mates I would not have won this award. What I am especially proud of, though, is that I am the first person to win the Footballer of the Year trophy three times.

“It’s always pleasing to be the first to achieve something – it’s a little piece of history. I would like to thank all of the Football Writers’ Association members who voted for me. It’s a wonderful honour and I feel very privileged.”

What the writers said:

Footballer of the Year 2014: Luis Suárez, Liverpool

English football has been graced by South American greats such as Ardiles, Villa, Agüero, Juninho, Tevez and Coutinho, yet only one has ever been named FWA Footballer of the Year: Luis Suárez.

Suárez has long been a controversial character with three bans for biting during his career alongside a suspension for racially abusing Patrice Evra, an accusation he denies.

(Luis Suárez celebrating a victory for Liverpool over Arsenal in 2011 – Nick Potts/PA Images)

There is an argument to be made that Suárez’s behaviour has not lived up to the standards Charles Buchan first set for the award to be presented “to the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the footballer of the year.”

However, his skill on a football pitch cannot be denied and it was this that was rewarded with the FWA Footballer of the Year award for 2014.

Suárez scored 31 goals in 33 league games finishing the season as the top scorer and became the first non-European winner of the FWA award. He was also voted by his fellow professionals the PFA Player of the Year.

(Luis Suárez celebrates during the 2013-14 season – Owen Humphreys/PA Images)

Despite his personal success Suárez was unable to lead Liverpool to a trophy that season as the Reds fell agonisingly short of a first League title in 24 years, finishing 2 points behind Manchester City.

Suárez’s career began in his native Uruguay making his first team debut for Nacional aged 18, after only one season the teenage Suárez was transferred to Gronigen in the Netherlands.

Suárez spent just one year at Gronigen before signing for Duth giants Ajax where he excelled over the following three and a half seasons winning the Eredivisie title and the KNVB Cup.

There had been disciplinary issues throughout Suárez’s career but Liverpool looked past these and in return they got the services of a phenomenal striker.

At the end of his first full season in England Suárez had helped Liverpool to the League Cup. It was the only trophy he won in England but that does not take away from the impact he had at the club.

Suárez was pipped to the 2013 FWA trophy by Gareth Bale but by 2014 he received over 50% of all votes as he scooped up the award.

This turned out to be one of his final acts in England as just a few weeks later Suárez moved to Barcelona for £65million, at the time the third highest transfer fee in football history.

A controversial character no doubt, but also a wonderfully gifted goalscorer.

What Luis said:

“It is amazing for me and the club as well, for many years, there have been a lot of big players who have won this prize.

“Thank you so much to all the Football Writers who voted for me because they recognised my work on the pitch, and they know that I try my best to help Liverpool.

“I know that it was a difficult time for me one or two years ago, but I accept that criticism, but then if you concentrate and focus to help the team, everything can be perfect.

“I am an easy guy outside the pitch, and on the pitch I know I changed, but because I love the football, I have fought so hard to stay at this level.”

What the Writers said:

Footballer of the Year 2020: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool

Henderson joined his local club Sunderland aged eight and progressed through the youth ranks until he made his first team debut ten years later in 2008.

The 2009-10 season was Henderson’s breakout year, establishing himself in the heart of Sunderland’s midfield and receiving his first international call up for England. Henderson became a regular international squad player under Roy Hodgson and by the time of the 2014 World Cup was a nailed-on starter.

After three seasons with Sunderland, Henderson was transferred to Liverpool with whom he won his first major honour in 2012, the League Cup. Despite featuring in the majority of Liverpool’s matches that season Henderson was told he was free to leave the club with Fulham keen to sign the player. He decided to stay at Anfield and fight for his place in the side, how grateful Liverpool must be for that now.

Henderson made a mockery of those at the club who wanted to sell him, becoming a key player in the side and the natural successor to legendary captain Steven Gerrard in 2015.

Under Henderson’s leadership and Jürgen Klopp’s management the two have led Liverpool to European, World and domestic success. In a little over 12 months Liverpool have defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the 2019 Champions League final, gone on to win the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and ended the Reds 30 year wait for a League championship.

(Jordan Henderson celebrates with the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League in 2019 – Martin Rickett/PA Images)

Henderson’s leadership has been vital throughout this success, joining fabled captains Hughes, Thompson, Souness and Gerrard as a club legend and European Cup winning skipper.

Henderson was the first Liverpool captain since Alan Hansen in 1990 to lift the League title and did so in extraordinary circumstances during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic also shined a light on another side of Henderson that previously the public had not seen, this was his charitable work.

Henderson was vital in rallying fellow club captains and establishing the #PlayersTogether collective that raised millions of pounds for the NHS and led the way in the Black Lives Matter campaign in football.

(Jordan Henderson lifts the 2019-20 Premier League trophy at Anfield – Phil Noble/PA Images)

The original voting criteria stated that the award would go “to the professional player who by precept and example is considered by a ballot of members to be the footballer of the year.“

Henderson most certainly lived up to this.

What Jordan said:

“I’d like to say how appreciative I am of the support of those who voted for me and the Football Writers’ Association in general. You only have to look at the past winners of it, a number of whom I’ve been blessed to play with here at Liverpool, like Stevie (Gerrard), Luis (Suárez) and Mo (Salah) to know how prestigious it is.

“But as grateful as I am I don’t feel like I can accept this on my own. I don’t feel like anything I’ve achieved this season or in fact during my whole career has been done on my own. I owe a lot to so many different people – but none more so than my current teammates – who have just been incredible and deserve this every bit as much as I do.”

What the writers said: