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Football Stars Who Could Have Been Cricketing Heroes

When it comes to popularity, it would be fair to say that cricket has taken a battering over the past decade or two, especially when compared to football. The way the professional game has grown and evolved, most notably since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, should be used as something of a yardstick for those who run cricket in the UK.

Clearly, efforts have been made to make the shorter-form of the game more conducive to the masses, with T20 proving a genuine success, but in doing so, the county game and even test cricket have lost their way in spectacular fashion.

Even the Ashes, which took place over the winter and were the ideal time to make use of the great 888Sport welcome offer, was something of a damp squib in terms of the size of the audience who watched England fall to a somewhat inevitable thrashing at the hands of the Aussies.

Football and cricket have always enjoyed something of a connection, albeit in recent years this has vaned, but there have been many occasions when footballers (usually in their younger days) had the choice between pursuing a professional career in one sport over the other. 

Here are a handful of top footballers who were also very capable with a bat or ball in their hands.

Gary Neville

The former Man United man has most recently become a key part of the Sky Sports commentary set-up; after failing to make it in football management, and back in the day, he was a very handy batsman.

Indeed in the early 1990s, he played for Greenmount Cricket Club and famously shared a 236 stand with Matthew Hayden, who went on to play over 100 times for the Australian test team. 

Gary Neville was a very useful batsman, and his brother Phil also had the choice between football and cricket and both Neville brothers probably made the right decision to try their hand at football, the pair going on to win 15 Premier League titles and three Champions Leagues between them.

James Milner

The veteran utility player continues to play an important role with Liverpool, despite his advancing years, and the former Man City, Aston Villa, and Newcastle United man could well have also made an impact in the cricket arena.

In his early years, Milner played at the Yorkshire Schools level and was a useful batsman but opted to play football instead. Amazingly it’s almost 20 years since he made his Premier League debut for Leeds, and in doing so, became the second-youngest player ever to do so, aged just 16 years and 309 days old.

Gary Lineker

The former Tottenham and Barcelona forward is now the face of the BBC’s football coverage, most notably for the Match of the Day show, and prior to making an impact at Leicester City, the striker was also going great guns in the cricket world.

Lineker was captain of the Leicestershire Schools cricket team from 11 to 16, and many predicted he’d have a bright future in the game. However, he chose instead to represent his local club at football level, and after scoring 103 goals for the Foxes, he left for Everton, where he scored 38 goals in his only season before moving to Barcelona, where he enjoyed three successful years.

He then joined Tottenham in 1989, where he once again showed his prolific goal scoring skills before ending his career in Japan, retiring through injury at 33, having scored over 300 goals for club and country.

Joe Hart

Now the first choice keeper at Celtic, it’s fair to say that the England international keeper has had a lean time of it in recent years. After first bursting onto the scene at Shrewsbury, the 34-year-old earned his high-level move to Man City in 2006 and made 348 appearances for the club before Pep Guardiola phased him out of the starting eleven.

Spells at Torino, West Ham, Burnley, and Tottenham failed to get Hart’s career back on track, but now he’s proving himself all over again in Glasgow. Prior to making it in football, Hart was a very useful cricketer.

He played at Worcestershire’s academy level, alongside Moeen Ali, and could have turned pro, but instead, he sought out a career in football, and given he’s collected 75 national team caps and two Premier League titles, we’d say he made the right decision.

Geoff Hurst

The former England international remains the only player to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, having helped the Three Lions to a 4-2 win over West Germany in 1966, but the West Ham man could have ended up playing cricket professionally instead, such was his ability in both sports.

Hurst actually played a first-class match with Essex in 1962, three years after he made his first start for West Ham; he actually got a pair in his one outing (against Lancashire) but did play regularly for Essex second XI and was a decent wicketkeeper by all accounts.

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