Members of HMS Protectors Ships Company play football on the ice as the sun sets in Antarctica Credit Defence Imagery Royal Navy LA(Phot) Vicki Benwell
Football

Which Footballers Have Served In The Military?

From World Cup winners to all-time greats, a number of footballers have served in their country's military.

Members of HMS Protectors Ships Company play football on the ice as the sun sets in Antarctica Credit Defence Imagery Royal Navy LA(Phot) Vicki Benwell

After 55 years, England have reached the final of a knockout competition after being Denmark 2-1 after extra time at Wembley.

So, with chants of 'it's coming home' being heard up and down the country, it got us thinking which footballers have spent time in the military, both in the UK and internationally?

Here's a list of some of football's biggest names who have also had a stint in the military.

Heung-min Son

One of the most recent and famous footballers to have a spell in the military was South Korean footballer Heung-min Son who completed a compulsory period of national service in May 2020.

The winger, who plays for English club Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, was one of the top five recruits and was given an award for his performance.

Having originally had to serve 21 months, Son's service was shortened to three weeks after South Korea won the Asian Games in 2018.

Son Heung-min receives award for top five during military service 080520 CREDIT Republic of Korea Marine Corps Facebook.jpg
Heung-min Son finished in the top five recruits and was given an award for his military performance (Picture: Republic of Korea Marine Corps Facebook).

Sir Bobby Charlton

Sir Bobby Charlton, Manchester United legend, 1966 World Cup winner and England's all-time second-highest goalscorer, served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Shrewsbury due to mandatory military service.

He served in the Army in the same year he made his debut for Manchester United – going on to play for his club 750 times.

He was also England's record goalscorer – until he was overtaken by Wayne Rooney in 2015.

Duncan Edwards

Duncan Edwards, another Manchester United legend, joined Sir Bobby Charlton and served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps at the same time as his teammate.

Sir Bobby Charlton was part of England's 1966 World Cup winning team, but also served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Shrewsbury (Picture: Alamy).

Tragically, he died when he was just 21 after the plane carrying Manchester United players crashed in thick snow in Munich – on the way back from a football match in Belgrade in February 1958.

A total of 23 people lost their lives, including eight players – who were known as the Busby Babes due to their footballing success under manager Matt Busby.

Ferenc Puskás

Regarded as the greatest Hungarian player ever, Ferenc Puskás had a glittering career that now sees FIFA's award for the best goal scored globally each year named after him.

While playing for Budapest Honved, each player was given a military rank.

Ferenc Puskás earned the title of major without ever serving in a war and was later referred to as the 'Galloping Major' – as well as getting a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to a World Cup win in 2006, served in the Italian military as part of mandatory service (Picture: Alamy).

Paolo Maldini

Arguably one of the best defenders of all time, Paolo Maldini served in the military in Italy.

Military service was mandatory in Italy until 2004 and, as he was coming up through the footballing ranks, he served some time in the Italian army's ranks.

He went on to make more than 900 appearances for AC Milan, winning numerous titles and Champions League trophies.

Fabio Cannavaro

Another infamous Italian defender, Fabio Cannavaro also served in the Italian military due to the mandatory service.

He had a glittering football career, captaining Italy to a World Cup win in 2004 as well as winning multiple league titles in Spain with Real Madrid.

But Fabio Cannavaro also enjoyed footballing success in the military, winning the World Military Cup while serving his country in 1995-1996. 

Alongside him in the World Military Cup-winning team was also Italy and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero.