It has never been with much excitement that I humour the appeal to dwell in nostalgia. Yet, it can occasionally become a riveting revelry for the mind unimpressed by current affairs.
The plethora of live football that we witness three or four times a week from the comfort of our home has stunted the impetus to truly embrace LIVE football and its unique enthral. For those of you that visit more football grounds than dodgy online streaming sites, you will no doubt scoff at us – the armchair/barstool brigade, not real football fans blah blah blah – because of what you know we are missing; football at its visceral best. However, this is hardly going to be a forum investigating the considerable ‘genuineness’ of football fans. This debate is best left to those who care enough about who should or should not be allowed support a certain football team – about as asinine a conflict as I can imagine.
There is certainly something about the congregation of an enthusiastic audience – be it for sport, music, political debate e.t.c. – which I recently cannot but seem to cherish. It is a truly spectacular moment to be a part of. In brief moments of nostalgic submission I like to recall the wonderful footballers that I was capable of witnessing first-hand in such environments. Hopefully there will be many more to come, but, having seen the likes of an ageing Paul Scholes dictating a Spurs midfield with ease, or the ‘Invincible’ Arsenal side of the mid-00’s tear Aston Villa to pieces with a goal of incredible élan – for use of a better word – by Ashley Cole, or perhaps being there when Manchester City’s stars punished Manchester United’s mistakes and trounced them 6-1 at Old Trafford, these are moments – however occasionally painful – that deem nostalgia glaringly worthwhile. Moments when the opportunity was granted to witness first hand a great footballer or team play truly great football.
It was only when as I was carousing through Sky’s ‘Premiership Years’ that another wonderful player witnessed first-hand was deemed to have slipped my mind. In the 2000/01 season that was being reviewed, Alan Shearer netted his 200th Premier League goal in what must have only been August/September of 2000. Of the 60 more that would follow before his retirement, I am proud to say that I witnessed at least one first-hand – this happened to be as Newcastle turned over Leeds United 3-0 at Elland Road in 2003; Shearer scored a penalty.
This unusual scenario where Alan Shearer, perhaps the greatest English goal-scorer of the modern game (given that he only once played in a title winning side his goal tallies are all the more astonishing) completely slipped my mind is not I believe wholly as a result of poor memory. The reason behind this phenomenal footballer’s unusual absence from nostalgia’s rose tinted gaze arises due to contemporary feeling alone I believe. Attempt to gauge the general feeling of Alan Shearer the man and the pundit and the unanimous decision tends to present him as boring. Is it fair or just that this devastating goal scorer is the victim of his own decency?
Alan Shearer has never really been a pursuer of tabloid sensation. He will not generate revenue or space on the backs of any newspaper. Such is his disposition and his curse. The Mirror likens him to a ‘boring man in the pub’, The Independent, sparing nothing for brevity simply says he’s ‘just boring really’ and as such, we tend to agree. In the revolutionary studios of Sky the contrasting introduction of Neville, Redknapp, Carragher etc, tailored in their oft desired suits has always been a matter worth rejoicing. It is worth considering what it is of both accepted truisms that we actually accept as true.
In the case of the BBC and their usual Premier League duo of Hansen and Shearer the aura of the expected hangs over our impressions. Here is a studio that possesses little of the buzz that can be erected in one set to host an evening of live football. It is the same weekly. It does not possess a various backdrop of the stadium in which it stands. Alistair McGowan – he used to do The Big Impression and heavily dealt with various football figures of the day – once explained how his love of football began to fade. He’d come to realise that he would always start reading the paper from back to front, immediately starting with the football. It became apparent to him though that in truth football never began or ended. One season would commence, it would end and it would commence again to a continuous, monotonous degree. Teams may change, but they could never escape the same cycle.
It is Match of the Day’s duty to continually charter the beginning, middle and end of each Premier League season before doing it all over again. Now, it is completely wrong to even suggest that this perceived monotony sacrifices any chance of excitement and passion for those with an interest. However, that excitement and passion is not present consistently for the 380 games in total for a Premier League season. Unlike those pundits perceived as interesting and controversially frank, Shearer and Hansen will generally review on average well over 200 games in a season. Unlike their Sky counterparts or those who deal with live football primarily, those like Shearer at the BBC will often deal with fixtures that would be of such scant public interest at large that it would never be a Super Sunday fixture for example. Argue as one will that Shearer does little to ignite some substantial meaning to the games he must review but few are actually interested in watching, they should at the very least take into account the material with which he must toil as opposed to the computerised studio of Sky and its exaggerated evenings of epic proportion.
It is the peculiar nature of Shearer’s legacy that it simply seems to get overlooked. The English media – far from modest when concerned with the success of sporting progeny – do not really charter Shearer’s presence when considering English football in the 1990’s. Largely this is down to the success/dominance of Manchester United. It is thus worth considering whether the fabled will he/won’t they question of uniting the greatest goal scorer with the greatest team of the Premiership era and the ramifications it inadvertently had. Ultimately Manchester United didn’t need Shearer domestically – their success proves this – but one wonders what having Shearer may have done for United’s relatively poor European showings? (Relative to their dominant domestic success and prior to 1999 obviously). A goal-scorer of Shearer’s capabilities – he scored 422 in all competitions – could have been a clinical asset the like that Cole and Yorke would become. However, perhaps more interesting would have been the effect such a move would have had on Shearer and his standing today. It is easy to sustain a diminutive opinion of Shearer when one faces off his medal tally against those whom he usually shares analytical duties with. This is of course a ludicrous sentiment and not one worth tarring Shearer with. Perhaps most tellingly Shearer remains the only Englishman in a Premier League season to finish off the season as both title winner (Blackburn, 1995) and top goal scorer. While his subsequent move to Newcastle United signified a decision made by the heart, it is difficult to imagine that Shearer – had he gone to Manchester United – would not have extended that personal record over a couple more seasons.
On an interesting side note it is similarly worth considering that Shearer’s distasteful reputation among Manchester United fans – his confrontations with Roy Keane were scarcely forgotten – did not help his case either. Being as successful as they are, it is often quite easy to toe the line when presented with cases such as this. Of course United have their naysayers, but when push comes to shove it is certainly often easier for journalists and fans alike to push with the Champions rather than attempting to shove them back.
A final consideration of Shearer’s lack of adequate praise and his vilified nature as a boring man in the pub has not been aided by the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. How you may ask could they impact on Shearer’s legacy? In a nutshell, the phenomenal nature of their ease at acquiring a ludicrous number of goals on an even higher scale than the likes of Shearer and others has turned goal-scoring into a not quite as spectacular feat. It will take time for the achievements of Ronaldo and Messi to be fully processed, but, when you consider that Shearer’s 260 was acquired over around 14 years – he scored 23 more with Southampton in the days before the Premier League – it is startling to analyse the work of these two current behemoths of goal-scoring. Cristiano Ronaldo in around 10 years has already scored 244 league goals. Lionel Messi in less than a decade has netted 223. Combine this with their usual presence in the later stages of domestic and continental cup competitions and you soon discover just how astounding their records are. Shearer’s record it must be said is far from pathetic. He stands alone as a supreme goal scorer. However, the nature of Ronaldo and Messi has determined that those who simply score goals – and they are never to be scoffed – are none the less not to be revered in quite the same light ever again. The constant alteration in style and tactical precision in football means that the likes of Shearer – a one of two top men in a 4-4-2 – are a far less frequent element of the modern game.
Shearer’s presentation as a boring man and pundit are the aggrieved expressions of those faced with a deluge of football. It has never before been so abundantly exposed through every available medium as it is today. True enough Shearer is not a comedian or a great entertainer. He was however a sublime footballer. In an age where the competitiveness between providers of football is as fierce as competition on the pitch, the likes of Shearer and his subtle means of analysis are forever going to be tarnished not because of what he says but largely because of the manner in which he doesn’t say it. He was a footballer and he is now an analytical pundit with an incredibly perceptive eye for the game he ravaged individually for 14 Premier League seasons.
Do not expect to be entertained with whimsical or outrageous chat from one who dominated defenders as ruthlessly as he. Alessandro Costacurta compared him to Careca in so far as Shearer too had the ability to keep defenders awake at night. For those wishing to gain an insight into football they too should stay awake each Saturday night and take note of Shearer’s invaluable insights to a game he knows only too well.