How Owen Hargreaves competed for England at the World Cup

Having an English father allowed the Calgary-born Owen Hargreaves to play for England's national team at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006.

Calgary-born midfielder's ancestry and on-field talents landed him a spot on English team

Owen Hargreaves never dreamed he'd play for England

22 years ago
Duration 0:10
In 2001, Owen Hargreaves talks about joining England's national men's team.

How exactly did a kid from Calgary end up playing for England at the World Cup?

  A few things worked out in Owen Hargreaves' favour to make that possible when he played for England during the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.
Owen Hargreaves moved to Europe as a teenager to pursue a pro soccer career. He signed with Bayern Munich -- the team he's seen playing for in this August 2000 photo. (Camay Sungu/Associated Press)

For starters, he was pretty good at soccer, obviously. 

As a teenager, Hargreaves moved to Europe to pursue a soccer career after signing with Bayern Munich. He then came up through that team's development system.

'Surprised that I'm here'

But being a highly talented soccer player wasn't solely what got his name on the back of a Team England soccer jersey — it was his ancestry that made that possible.

Hargreaves had a Welsh mother and an English father. He was thus eligible to play for England, even though he was born in Calgary. 

Former prime minister Stephen Harper is seen meeting with Owen Hargreaves outside London's Tower Bridge in 2009. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"I never really suspected I would end up playing for England one day," Hargreaves said in 2001, when speaking about his improbable path to the national team of a country he was not born in. 

"Once I got the opportunity ... I couldn't really turn it down," he added. "So, I'm surprised that I'm here and I'm happy that I'm here."

Talent spotted as teen

In 2001, Hargreaves, joined England's national men's team, and as this clip from The National shows, the soccer fans on that side of the Atlantic didn't initially know much about his Canadian roots — they cared only that he qualified to play for their team.

English fans talk Owen Hargreaves in 2001

21 years ago
Duration 0:19
English soccer fans react to the news that Owen Hargreaves will play for England's national men's team.

The year he joined the squad was not a World Cup year, but he would remain a part of that team as it played in the World Cup in 2002. In 2006, his performance in that World Cup led to him being named England's player of the year.

And while some Canadians were disappointed to see him playing for another country, it wasn't as if there was a World Cup-bound Canadian squad he could otherwise play for in 2002 and 2006.

Plus, lots of Canadians were just as thrilled to see a Canadian competing in soccer's biggest tournament.

The Calgary-born Owen Hargreaves (at right, wearing red) is seen playing for England in a 2002 World Cup match against Argentina. (Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press)

Outside of his World Cup career, Hargreaves would play for a handful of European soccer clubs including Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Manchester City.

He was part of two teams that won the Champions League — Bayern Munich in 2001 and Manchester United in 2008.

He battled difficult injuries during the latter part of his career and last played in 2012. Hargreaves has since worked as a TV sports commentator.

Owen Hargreaves played for a handful of well-known soccer clubs during his pro career, including a stint with Manchester City. (Jon Super/Associated Press)