We’re living in testing times at the moment as the world slowly comes to a standstill due to Covid-19. The sporting calendar has been decimated with all of us sports fans wondering when we will next be able to catch some live action.
Football has been hit harder than most with players being advised by their respective clubs to work-out alone at home, to try to maintain a modicum of fitness before they are allowed to return to full-time training. The lay-off will, of course, affect some more than others, but if we go back in time a little, the current recess would have been a blessing in disguise to these five players who never let an obsession for fitness get in the way of their sublime skills.
“TC” as he was affectionately known, had more ability in one toe than most players he came up against had in their entire bodies, during a career which took in clubs such as Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United and Leeds. Born in Edgware, Currie upped sticks and headed north in 1968 to join The Blades and became an adopted Yorkshireman during an eight-year spell at Bramall Lane where he enchanted fans of all ages. “TC’s” dislike for tough training regimes and his love of a night out ensured he became one of the original mavericks of the game along with players such as Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh.
Put Currie on the football pitch however and he could literally walk past defenders, such were his mesmerising ball skills. When he was photographed planting a smacker on the lips of another Wildman of early 70s football, Leicester City’s Alan Birchenall, it was obvious that the suits at the Football Association would have frowned upon his regular inclusion in the England side. Currie represented his country just 17 times, a criminal return for a player who, in his pomp, would not have looked out of place in any top European side.
MATT LE TISSIER
Because Sky Soccer Saturday star Matt Le Tissier opted to spend his entire career at Southampton rather than one of the Premier League’s heavyweight clubs, ensures he divides opinion when the subject of great English footballers hits the tap-room. “Le Tiss”, who was born on the Channel Island of Guernsey, preferred to stay close to home that’s all, rather than chase silverware and this decision was probably the reason he played less than ten times for the Three Lions -that and also the fact of having the next player on our list ahead of him in the pecking order.
Le Tissier, who had a languid style and looked as though he was always running with lead weights tied to his back, had a thing not too many players can boast – an amazing footballing brain. He was already two passes ahead of his team-mates and was certainly the yin to players such as left-back Francis Benali’s yang, who played the game like an Alsatian being let off the leash in a scrapyard. The only time “Le Tiss” ever got out of breath was after a round of golf with his pals and its fitting that this week marks the 27th anniversary of his only ever penalty miss for The Saints (27 out of 28) against Nottingham Forest.
“Oh, Teddy Teddy, he went to Man Utd and he won the lot” was the song reverberating around Old Trafford after Edward Sheringham had played a significant part in helping Sir Alex Ferguson’s side achieve an historic treble. After Eric Cantona’s departure in 1997, many people thought Fergie had lost his mind when he replaced him with the England frontman but once again, they were made to eat their words as Sheringham conducted the United orchestra to the sound of his tune which culminated in the glory night at the Camp Nou in May 1999. Teddy served his football education on the battlegrounds of South-East London where he formed a devastating partnership with Irish striker Tony Cascarino at Millwall. Sheringham was in the Le Tissier mould – a player with no pace but someone who read the game quite brilliantly to always be in the right place at the right time.
From The Den Teddy headed north of the river to join Spurs in 1992, where he formed a useful alliance with German star Jurgen Klinsmann. What Tottenham couldn’t give him however was trophies and when United came calling in 1997, Sheringham saw this as his licence to collect winner’s medals. The very fact that he formed a great understanding with striker Andy Cole was even more impressive when you consider that the two men couldn’t stand the sight of each other and never communicated on or off the pitch. When Terry Venables took over as England boss following their failure to gain qualification to the World Cup in the USA, he immediately formed the basis of his new-look side around Teddy which came to fruition when England destroyed Holland at Wembley at Euro 96.
Ask any player from around the world between 1980 and 1986 who they thought was the best footballer in England and chances are they would give you the same answer – Glenn Hoddle. The fact that he rarely ever lined-up against them for the national team says more about the way we played the game over here than Hoddle’s artistry on the field. For twelve years (1975-87) Hoddle was the darling of White Hart Lane having been recruited as a youth player at Spurs in 1970. In any other national side, Glenn, just like Sheringham, would have been the puppet-master, but because he didn’t run around the pitch decapitating limbs like some of his contemporaries, he was looked upon as a “luxury player” by the likes of Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson and his final haul of 53 caps, many as a substitute, is an absolute travesty.
The most energetic we ever saw Glenn was on Top of the Pops when he performed the hit single “Diamond Lights” alongside Spurs team-mate Chris Waddle. After a couple of FA Cup wins with the North London side, Hoddle departed for the Cote D’Azur joining Monaco. In the principality he was given the platform to showcase his abundant talents whilst taking over from Gary Lineker as England’s most suntanned footballer.
Nicknamed “The Crab” due to the fact that he liked a sideways pass, Ray “Butch” Wilkins may have had a turn of pace to rival that of a sloth, but he could read the game as good as any midfield player in world football. By 17 Wilkins was a first-team regular at Chelsea and within a few years he would become an integral part of England’s midfield, because he did the simple things correctly. By the start of the 1980s he’d secured a dream move to Manchester United and his goal in the 1983 FA Cup Final against Brighton remains one of the greatest ever scored in the Wembley showpiece and remains the only time Wilkins ever got out of first gear as he ran off to celebrate.
Ray was a player of intellect so it was no surprise when he jumped at the chance to join Italian giants AC Milan in 1984. What “Butch” hadn’t legislated for, however, was the fact that Italian clubs had strict training regimes so there was no chance of him being on the golf course by two o’clock every weekday afternoon. His footballing philosophy ensured a natural progression into management and his QPR teams of the mid-nineties played some of the most attractive football in the country. It’s still incredible to think that he’s no longer with us having suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in March 2018.