Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating the special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a thoroughly modern wide-man saddled with a reputation he ill-deserved.
With a great deal of reluctance let’s begin with the nickname. The cruel, disrespectful, undeserving nickname of ‘Sicknote’. Until his last of twelve seasons in North London, Darren Anderton averaged 40 games per season for club and country. In that timeframe Duncan Ferguson – to offer one of several examples – averaged 25 games. I guess folk were too afraid to call the intimidating Scot a crock so went for the nicer, less threatening target.
Not that Anderton was a pushover anyway for all his civility and middle-class upbringing. He rightfully detested the moniker and would think nothing of fighting fire with fire as brilliantly illustrated in 2015 when BBC journalist Conor McNamara mistakenly believed he could mock at will.
During the half-time break of a league encounter at the Lane the Tottenham legend assisted with a crossbar challenge and as he walked off to warm applause the stadium announcer made a tongue-in-cheek remark suggesting that Anderton was supposed to participate but couldn’t due to a niggle.
McNamara couldn’t resist tweeting it out as fact only to be greeted with this robust response shortly after – ‘Pathetic. Well done you lying piece of s***. I went onto the pitch to hand out prizes. You should be ashamed of yourself’.
As we all should really because when even the most affectionate nicknames for players are diminishing to their talents (to condense the majesty of Roberto Baggio to his ponytail is truly galling) that is nothing to when it’s anything but well intended and solely a barb. Think Darren Anderton and you think ‘Sicknote’ and that is little short of a disgrace.
Because what we should conjure up are memories of an elegant winger-cum-midfielder who floated across the turf with continental élan. Versatile and blessed with a game-intelligence of rare astuteness the Southampton-born star quickly proved himself an outright bargain after Spurs bought him for £1.75m from Bournemouth in 1992 and thereafter he showed commendable loyalty in batting away serious overtures from Manchester United in 1995.
Around that time he made up one fifth of Tottenham’s ‘Famous Five’ as Ossie Ardiles went all out attack and soon after he struck a German post as England came unstuck in the Euro semi-finals on home soil. Anderton played 30 times for his country and scored seven goals. Unlike many of his peers he seemed to reserve his best performances for major tournaments.
In all the likeable star made 364 appearances for Spurs – all enhanced by his stylish foraging and class distribution – and perhaps it’s fitting that his debut took place on the very first day that the newly formed Premier League showcased its wares. Why? Because as English football looked to the future while still firmly embedded in the past here was a thoroughly modern player instilled with traditional values. A combination like that is worth far more than £1.75m. And it’s worth infinitely more than a stupid, demeaning nickname.
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The year is 1999 and the venue White Hart Lane. The visitors are Leeds in a FA Cup 5th round replay. It has so far been a bizarre campaign for Spurs and there is no suggestion it’s going to improve. They began the season with Christian Gross in charge, inept and unsuitable. He was replaced by George Graham, hated and probably wearing Arsenal underwear in the dug-out.
Tottenham ultimately finished a lowly 11th with a squad sprinkled with stonewall brilliance – Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Anderton – but elsewhere bloated with mediocrity. It is February, it is cold, and the Lane faithful really need something to believe in at this point in time.
Enter stage right Anderton. The ball is shuffled across to him in bags of space, enough to set his sights from a full thirty yards; enough to steady himself and take a run up. The Leeds defence realise all too late his intentions and break from their stubborn bank of four. Where the midfield resides at this juncture is anyone’s guess.
Nigel Martyn in nets concentrates on getting his footwork right. That’s how much time he has. It is important to know too that he clearly sees every split-second of what follows. And what follows is a fizzing, swerving thunderbolt. A shot that transformed instantly into a goal from the very moment it leaves the winger’s boot. It’s struck sweet and true. It’s struck perfectly.
The distance from which its hit has Martyn believing he can reach it. It’s why he flings fully committed to a lost cause, making the rocketed trajectory that diverts off the post all the more aesthetically satisfying. Satisfying too is the noise as White Hart Lane erupts in rediscovered belief and pure joy. Anderton meanwhile simply raises his arms, his celebration as understated as his genius.