It’s Monday night, and Spurs are celebrating their 125th anniversary by proving how far they’ve fallen since the glory, glory years through the medium of getting beaten at home by Aston Villa (the question now is whether Spurs will be able entice Jorge Ramos or Jose Mourinho to sort through the rubble of the last few weeks – my guess is “no”, and they’ll end up with Steve Coppell if he gets the sack from Reading). Over the last few weeks, though, I have been thinking about footballers. I’ve said on here before that I don’t really notice whether a shortage of authentic left-footed players seriously affects England’s chances of winning or whatever (it doesn’t stop me expressing an opinion though, of course), but I do (like everyone else) notice players. So here (in three bite-sized portions) are my ten favourites of all time.
Note that I use the word “favourite” rather than “best”. I don’t believe that it is really possible to say with any authority whether Pele was better than Maradona, or whether Gerd Muller was better than Bobby Charlton or whatever, but we’re all entitled to have favourites. Looking down my little list, I note that there is a preponderance of “flair” players and non-league players in it (proving conclusively that I am indeed a “pretentiously anti-elitist, Conference/non-league football loving cunt” – not that I would ever have denied such an insightful statement). You can probably draw other conclusions from it, too. I’ll leave that up to you. Anyway, here’s the first three – the rest will follow later in the week (providing I don’t forget, which is something that isn’t beyond me by any means).
1. John Jacobs (Enfield): Nowadays, I’m fairly certain that there is a goalkeeper manufacturing plant somewhere, which churns out 6’4″ tall behemoths to a template designed by a board consisting of Sepp Blatter, Jimmy Greaves and TV Chef Rustie Lee. Back in the day, though goalkeepers came in all shapes and sizes. Paul Cooper knocked on the door of a place in the England squad (and was arguably only kept out because England had, in all honesty, a surfeit in top-class goalkeepers in the likes of Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence, Joe Corrigan and Phil Parkes). Down in the Alliance Premier League, Enfield had John Jacobs. From memory, Jacobs stood barely 5’7″ tall, but made up for what he lacked in height with extraordinary agility. He turned up at Southbury Road at the start of the 1980s, a period that coincided with the most spectacularly successful period in the club’s history. He was present in goal for the 1982 FA Trophy Final, and was the regular goalkeeper choice the next season as they won the Alliance Premier League championship. My favourite Jacobs moment (and anyone seeking to correct my booze-addled brain on this can feel free) came from the semi-final of the 1985 FA Trophy against Wealdstone. Wealdstone had already won the first leg 2-0 at Southbury Road, so most Enfield supporters made the short trip across Middlesex with fairly heavy hearts. Wealdstone were too good to let that sort of lead slip at home. Enfield took an early lead but had been unable to build on it. In the final minutes, Wealdstone striker broke clean through on goal, whereupon Jacobs ran out of his goal and launched himself at Cordice in the style of Bruce Lee, almost kicking his head clean off. He was, of course, sent off and Wealdstone went to Wembley, but it was a strangely satisfying moment. He was transferred to Dagenham that summer, to be replaced by the superior (and more orthodox) Andy Pape. On the last day of the 1985/86 season, he scored directly from a drop kick for The Daggers to keep them in the Conference and relegate Wycombe Wanderers instead.
2. Michel Platini (Juventus & France): I’m just too young to really be able appreciate Michel Platini in his first incarnation at St Etienne, but Platini might just be my favourite professional footballer of all time. He played with such grace, and such elan. The 1980s were the first time that foreign club football was ever shown in any depth at all on the television (and this was largely limited to grainy goal round-ups from Italy on “Football Focus”), and Platini featured heavily. He wasn’t merely a player, either. He was a leader, too. Any right-minded individual would have thought that he surely would have peaked at the 1982 World Cup, when he took a brilliant French team to within a whisker of the final. In 1984, though, he single-handedly won France the European Championships, scoring an astonishing nine goals in just five matches, including the winner in the semi-final against Portugal and the opening goal in the final. He also gains brownie points from me for, as the president of UEFA, overseeing the brave decision to award the 2012 European Championships to Ukraine and Poland. I could probably forgive him anything for that night in Marseille in 1984. Here’s a compilation of some of his best moments.
3. Ian Rush (Liverpool & Wales): I don’t know if I’m alone in this belief, but was Ian Rush one of the most under-rated of the last thirty years? I think he might have been. Maybe it was because his success came during the darkest period in the history of English football. It could have been because he was Welsh (this isn’t meant as a provocative statement – there’s every chance that Gary Lineker wouldn’t have played half as much for England if Rush had been English, and it also meant that he never played in the finals of an international tournament). Perhaps there was just something too anonymous about him (fair enough, he was tall and had a moustache, but the only thing that anyone can remember him saying was his comment – possibly apocryphal – that living in Italy was like living in a different country). For a couple of years in the early-to-mid 1980s, though, Ian Rush was awesome. He first sprang to most people’s attention when he bagged four goals in a televised 5-0 Liverpool win at Goodison Park in 1982, and for about three years that was it. Every time he played, he scored and (famously) every time he scored, Liverpool won. He seemed to have been computer-generated – tailor-made to dovetail with Kenny Dalglish. He was good enough for Liverpool to play a series of relatively mediocre players such as Craig Johnstone up front with him. He was the Ultimate Striker. I recall a live match against Aston Villa at Villa Park in about 1984 when he scored a magnificent hat-trick on a pitch so frozen that it looked like it was concrete that had been painted green and brown. After his disastrous sojourn in Italy, he was never quite the same. He managed over a hundred goals after his return to Liverpool, but was slowly being superceded by the likes of John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley (and his post-Liverpool career at Leeds and Newcastle was ill-advised, to say the least. For three or four years, though, the was the man, and that’s coming from someone that really hated Liverpool. Here’s a YouTube look at his Liverpool career.
Part two of this to follow tomorrow morning.
Edit: Wow. Spurs came back to draw 4-4 against Aston Villa. I still think Jol’s living on borrowed time, though.