When most people get to a certain age they reach for their cap, pipe and slippers or perhaps start to enjoy things like gardening or crown green bowls, but not these old-timers: they were too busy competing in the World Cup!
Roger Milla, Cameroon – 42 years, one month and eight days
The oldest player to play at the World Cup made his final appearance at the 1994 World Cup where he also became the oldest goalscorer when he netted against Russia. Famous for his elaborate goal celebrations, Milla was one of the truly great characters of the World Cup.
Pat Jennings, Northern Ireland – 41 years
One of a number of goalkeepers to make the list (they don’t have to move that much, after all!), Jennings won the FA Cup with both of the great North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal and he played his final World Cup game against Brazil on his 41st birthday. It would’ve been a great birthday, to be sure, had his side not lost 3-0.
Peter Shilton, England – 40 years, nine months and 19 days
England goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton was England’s number one for what seemed like half a century. His final match – the third place play-off against Italy in the 1990 World Cup means that as well as being the third oldest player in the tournament, he is also the oldest man to captain a side there.
Dino Zoff, Italy – 40 years, four months and 13 days
Another goalkeeper, and this one actually won the World Cup and became the oldest man ever to do so when Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final in Spain in 1982.
Ali Boumnijel, Tunisia – 40 years, two months and 10 days
Tunisia’s goalkeeping star is the last of the 40-plus players in the list and though he never enjoyed any real World Cup success he helped his side win the 2004 African Nations Cup.
Jim Leighton, Scotland – 39 years, 10 months and 30 days
Aberdeen and Manchester United goalkeeping hero Jim Leighton played between the posts in all his country’s World Cup finals matches in 1986, 1990 and 1998. Sadly for him – and Scotland fans – they only managed to win a single match from the three tournaments.
David James, England – 39 years, 10 months and 26 days
“Calamity” James was never going to become an England mainstay between the sticks due to his propensity towards dropping crosses, but the much-travelled keeper with a fine back-catalogue of fine and fiendish hairstyles was good enough to make this list so he must have done something right.
Angel Labruna, Argentina – 39 years, eight months and 18 days
This Argentine striker plied his trade in the rough and tumble era of the 1940s and 50s and scored 293 goals in just 515 matches for his main club side Rover Plate. Regarded by many as one of the true greats of South American football, the second oldest outfield player at a World Cup made his final appearance at the tournament in 1958, though he was clearly over shadowed by a certain Pele in that one!
Joseph Antoine Bell, Cameroon – 39 years, eight months and 16 days
Another player from Cameroon, goalkeeper Bell was in the squad for three World Cups, but didn’t play in 1982 or 1990, only making his tournament debut in 1994. Unfortunately they failed to win a match and were sent home after the group stage.
Stanley Matthews, England – 39 years, four months and 25 days
One of the greatest players England has ever produced, Stanley Matthews played for England from 1934 to 1957 and would have (and should have, in our opinion) topped this list had England selectors bowed to the pressure at the time to include the genius in the squad for the 1958 World Cup. As it was he played his last game for his country at the age of 42 years and 104 days in a 4-1 victory over Denmark in a qualification match for that tournament. Not bad going, Stan!