Foster: Tanks, pinball and being last Pompey-born player at a World Cup

Steve Foster, back row, third left, with the England squad in 1982
Steve Foster, back row, third left, with the England squad in 1982
Tom Naylor arrived at Fratton Park last Friday. Picture: Portsmouth FC

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It has been 36 years since an unbeaten England were eliminated from the World Cup finals.

And among their ranks was the last Portsmouth-born player to feature at the celebrated tournament.

Portsmouth-born Steve Foster

Portsmouth-born Steve Foster

Steve Foster was affiliated with Brighton when called into Ron Greenwood’s squad for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

The central defender’s presence was something of a surprise, having been granted an international debut just three-and-a-half months earlier.

Nonetheless, the former St John’s College pupil served as understudy to Terry Butcher and Phil Thompson for the World Cup finals.

Foster was born in Southsea, raised in North End and featured 130 times for Pompey before he was recruited by top-flight Brighton in August 1979.

We had tanks by our hotel and the training ground 10 minutes away, while security came with us on the team coach

Steve Foster

He went on to make a third and final England appearance in the group game against Kuwait.

The 2014 World Cup finals saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain registered with England’s squad, only to be sidelined by a knee injury without featuring.

And as the tournament kicks off today, Foster remains the most recent Pompey-born footballer to appear.

He said: ‘Playing in the World Cup is what everyone dreams of, they can’t take that away from you.

‘It was a surprise to be included, even though I had played in Wembley friendlies against Northern Ireland and Holland in the months building up to it.

‘Alvin Martin had dislocated his shoulder so suddenly there was a gap and I flew to Spain as the third or fourth centre-half.

‘When Terry Butcher was booked in our second game against Czechoslovakia, it was decided they didn’t want to risk him getting another and being banned.

‘So I played against Kuwait for what would prove to be my last England appearance.

‘Back then there was a second round of groups, which we qualified for.

‘Then we collected goalless draws against West Germany and Spain and were eliminated.

‘It was very disappointing but you need to score goals – and we failed to do that.

‘England went out undefeated, while I never played for my country again – but I was still happy with those three caps.

‘There were so many good centre-halves around that time such as Butcher, Martin and Thompson, while Dave Watson and Russell Osman were not selected for the World Cup.’

At the age of 24, only Kenny Sansom was younger than Foster in England’s 22-man squad for Spain, while nobody had fewer caps.

The central defender made his international bow in February 1982, starting in a 4-0 triumph over Wembley against Northern Ireland.

Bryan Robson, Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins and Glenn Hoddle netted in that victory in front of 54,900.

Foster’s next England outing would be a 2-0 success over Holland in May 1982, once again starting the fixture.

Shortly afterwards he was named in the 1982 World Cup squad, sharing a room with Hoddle at their Bilbao training base.

Greenwood’s men topped Group 4 ahead of France, with Czechoslovakia and Kuwait completing their opposition.

The third match yielded Foster’s outing against Kuwait on June 25, 1982, partnering Thompson in the centre of defence.

England won 1-0 through Trevor Francis and became the sole side from the group to collect more than one victory.

As was the format at the time, it was then onto Group B, where they would claim second spot in a pool containing West Germany and Spain.

Skippered by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the table-topping Germans automatically qualified for the semi-finals, where they defeated France.

But it was Italy who claim the World Cup, with a 3-1 success in the final.

Foster added: ‘When you take into account friendlies, we had five weeks away for that World Cup.

‘We stayed in Bilbao and I hung around with the younger members of the squad such as Glenn Hoddle, Graham Rix and Kenny Sansom.

‘The older players were Trevor Brooking, Kevin Keegan and Phil Thompson, while the goalkeepers of Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton and Joe Corrigan were also senior players.

‘Bilbao is in the north of Spain and at that time the Falklands War was going on, with the Basque people of Spain backing Argentina in the conflict.

‘The separatist group ETA were associated with them and the authorities were worried something could happen to us, but there was no trouble.

‘However, we had tanks by our hotel and the training ground 10 minutes away, while security came with us on the team coach.

‘We spent our time in the hotel using the games room, which had pinball and table tennis, while there were horse racing tapes to watch and we played cards.

‘It was a fantastic experience, I can still remember it. I have a good memory – even though it’s half a lifetime away, isn’t it!’

Overall, Foster is the fifth Pompey-born player to have represented England.

The others are Reg Flewin, Peter Harris, Ray Crawford and Oxlade-Chamberlain.