Dan Coker's Match Preview
Welcome to the latest in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.
Today, as England prepare to face Iceland in the League A Group 2 Nations League match at Wembley, we look back at a West Ham United and England centre-back. Matthew Upson was born in Suffolk on 18th April 1979. Originally at Ipswich’s School of Excellence, Upson joined Luton as a trainee after Ipswich youth coach, and former West Ham United Academy Director, Terry Westley moved to the Hatters. Upson joined Arsenal in 1997 after just one league appearance for Luton. After a year out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, the centre-half spent a short loan spell with Nottingham Forest.
Upson moved to Alan Smith’s Crystal Palace on loan in the spring of 2001 but spent the 2001/02 season back at Highbury, making 14 Premier League appearances which earnt him a title winners’ medal at the end of the campaign. He broke his leg in February 2002 and joined Reading on loan in September 2002 to aid his recovery and return to action. He signed permanently for David Sullivan and David Gold’s Birmingham in January 2003 and spent four years with the Blues, winning seven England caps during his time at St Andrew’s – he made his Three Lions debut in a 2-1 win over South Africa in Durban on 22nd May 2003.
The 27-year-old Upson signed for Alan Curbishley’s West Ham United in January 2007 for an initial fee of £6m, rising to £7.5m depending on appearances. Birmingham boss Steve Bruce later claimed that he was forced to sell Upson by Karren Brady, Birmingham’s managing director at the time. Upson made his debut for the relegation-threatened Hammers at Aston Villa on 3rd February 2007, but had to be withdrawn with a calf injury 30 minutes into the 1-0 defeat. He lasted just 11 minutes of his comeback match a month later against Tottenham before again succumbing to injury in a match the Irons would eventually lose 4-3.
West Ham eventually pulled off the Great Escape without Upson but he was to have a much bigger impact throughout the rest of his career in claret and blue. He made 33 appearances in a 2007/08 season which saw West Ham finish tenth in Curbishley’s only full campaign in charge – his first goal for the Hammers was the winner in a 2-1 triumph over Manchester United at Upton Park on 29th December 2007. Upson also made a return to the England side under Fabio Capello in a 2-1 win over Switzerland in February 2008, becoming the first Hammers centre-half to wear the Three Lions since Rio Ferdinand eight years earlier.
In July 2008, Upson’s squad number of 6 was retired by the club in memory of Bobby Moore, after which he took the number 15 shirt. Gianfranco Zola took over early on in a 2008/09 campaign which saw Upson make 41 appearances in all competitions as the Irons finished ninth – he also won a further seven England caps, becoming a mainstay of Capello’s defence and making five starts. He was named Man of the Match and scored his first goal for his country in a 2-1 win in Germany in November 2008 – this goal can be viewed at the 0:47 mark of the video below. Upson was linked with a £10m move to Manchester City and Tottenham in the January window of 2009, but Zola and the board opted to cash in on Craig Bellamy instead.
The 2009/10 season began with Upson being appointed captain after the departure of Lucas Neill. Upson scored in the season’s opening match, a 2-0 win at Wolves, but bigger clubs had again been sniffing around, with a £15m bid from Liverpool reportedly rejected, while interest from Fiorentina, Arsenal and Aston Villa was also rebuffed. The club opted to sell James Collins instead. Upson made 35 appearances during the campaign, scoring a further two goals – in a 2-1 defeat at Stoke on 17th October 2009 and in a 1-1 draw at Avram Grant’s Portsmouth on 26th January 2010, which was to prove to be his final goal for the Hammers. The cash-strapped Irons avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth but Upson had still impressed sufficiently to travel to South Africa as part of England’s 2010 World Cup squad – he would end the tournament as the Three Lions’ joint-top goalscorer, thanks to his header in the 4-1 second round defeat to Germany. It was to be Upson’s second goal in his 21st and final cap for his country. His goal in this game can be viewed at the 1:33 point of the video below.
The 2010/11 season would be an unmitigated disaster for West Ham United. Grant joined the club as manager from Portsmouth, the first appointment by Upson’s former Birmingham employers Sullivan and Gold. He made 35 appearances as the Hammers were relegated in bottom position – his final match in claret and blue came in a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on 1st May 2011. The 32-year-old Upson left the club on a free transfer later that summer, opting to remain in the Premier League with Stoke. Upson had made 145 appearances for West Ham United, scoring four goals – each of these four goals can be viewed in my video below.
After a year and a half with Stoke, Upson dropped down to the Championship to sign for Brighton, initially on loan before making the move permanent in the summer of 2013. He returned to the top flight with Leicester a year later before signing for Championship side MK Dons in the summer of 2015. He retired from playing in 2016. Now 41, Upson is currently working as a pundit for the BBC – he has a son, Elijah, with his wife Ellie, a British runner.
England v Iceland
England face Iceland this evening in League A Group 2 of the 2020/21 Nations League – it will be the fifth meeting between the two nations. The most famous meeting between the pair came in the second round of Euro 2016 and resulted in a 2-1 win for the Icelandics in front of 33,901 in Nice on 27th June 2016. Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla was number one with ‘One Dance’, The Secret Life of Pets topped the UK box office while, three days earlier, the UK voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum – Prime Minister David Cameron resigned as Conservative Party Leader the following day.
Future West Ham players Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere were both involved on a night of ignominy for England. The Three Lions took the lead after just four minutes through a Wayne Rooney penalty but Iceland equalised just two minutes later when Ragnar Sigurdsson bundled home from close range following a long throw. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scored the game’s winning goal in the 18th minute when his shot slipped through Hart’s hand.
Manager Roy Hodgson resigned in the aftermath of the match. Iceland would bow out to Dimitri Payet’s France in the quarter-finals, the West Ham talisman scoring one and creating another in a 5-2 rout in Paris.
England: Joe Hart (Man City), Kyle Walker (Tottenham), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), Danny Rose (Tottenham), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (captain, Man Utd), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Man City).
Subs: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) for Dier; Jamie Vardy (Leicester) for Sterling; Marcus Rashford (Man Utd) for Rooney.
Iceland: Hannes Halldorsson (Bodo/Glimt), Birkir Saevarsson (Hammarby), Kari Arnason (Malmo), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Krasnodar), Ari Skulason (OB), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton), Aron Gunnarsson (captain, Cardiff), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Birkir Bjarnason (Basel), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Kaiserslautern), Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Nantes).
Subs: Elmar Bjarnason (AGF) for Sigthorsson; Arnor Ingvi Traustason (IFK Norrkoping) for Bodvarsson.
The previous articles in the series are:
Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne
Sir Geoff Hurst
Frank Lampard Senior
Sir Trevor Brooking
Frank Lampard Junior