Footballers who served time in the military


Winning the Asian Games in 2018 may have saved Son Heung-min from lengthy military service. But even exempt athletes still have to complete a three-week training course.

Taking advantage of the hiatus in football to complete his duty, Son has apparently earned acclaim for a different kind of shooting – even earning the ‘Pilsung’ prize as a top performer.

The Spurs forward isn’t the only high profile footballer to have served his country however. Here are some other examples of stars who donned the camo…

Eric Cantona

Oh, Eric. Collar up high, studs on the body of a Crystal Palace fan even higher. Think you’d get away with that sort of behaviour in the military?

Cantona actually delayed the age at which he turned pro, because he first took part in national service.

Two years later, the former Manchester United star was representing his country in a totally different way — as a senior international.

Raymond Kopa

From one supremely talented Frenchman to another, Raymond Kopa was perhaps the first true world star to come out of the country.

Born with the surname ‘Kopaszewski,’ although it was later shortened, he served the French nation in World War II, later going on to score at two World Cups and one European Championship.

Ferenc Puskas

For many, the greatest poacher that football has ever seen, Puskás was the best Hungarian player ever — a nation that, during his time especially — produced some truly world class talents.

The Real Madrid legend had been signed from Budapest Honvéd. The team’s players were all given military rank while representing the club, and Puskás went on to earn the title of major (later in his career he was known as the Galloping Major), without ever serving in a war.

Gary Holt

A long-serving midfielder at Norwich City, Holt would have become a professional footballer much sooner than he actually did, but for his role as a chef at the Army Catering Corps. He then competed for the British Army’s football team, before joining the Celtic youth setup.

He went on to represent Scotland ten times and currently manages Livingston.

Teemu Tainio

After a successful trial for Sir Alex Ferguson’s mighty Manchester United side, a 16-year-old Tainio found himself unable to sign for the Red Devils, as his native Finland had enlisted him for national service. Ah.

Having completed his service, Tainio then signed for Auxerre in France. He eventually made it to the Premier League, but to represent Spurs, Sunderland and Birmingham, not United.

“Things change,” he said. “I went to France and the rest is history.”

Sir Bobby Charlton

Probably the greatest footballer ever to play for England, Sir Bobby Charlton couldn’t get out of camouflaged clothing and shiny shoes either.

In the same year that he made his debut at Old Trafford, he and the late great Duncan Edwards served the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Shrewsbury.

He went on to play over 750 times for Manchester United and held the England goalscoring record for 52 years, until Wayne Rooney took it off him in 2015.

Brent Trautmann

Manchester City’s legendary keeper served in the Luftwaffe as a paratrooper during World War II, before he was captured by the Brits.

After refusing an offer of repatriation, he settled in the UK, marrying an English woman and went on to play over 500 times for City – winning the 1956 FA Cup despite famously breaking his neck in the second half.

While the signing of an ex-paratrooper from an enemy nation sparked protests at the time, Trautmann left a club legend and his public post-war career served to help change perceptions about Germans.

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