For someone who left an Anderton-shaped impression on the physio room beds at Tottenham it’s surprising to learn that Darren Anderton made 599 senior appearances before hanging up his boots this weekend.
Whichever wag came up with the nickname “Sicknote” many moons ago, it was well earned by the former England midfielder. As a Spurs fan I remember rolling my eyes many-a-time as news came through that Anderton wasn’t starting, a re-occurrence of the hamstring or Achilles injury once again restricting his on-pitch activities.
But at the same time, and certainly in educated retrospect, there isn’t much to dislike about Anderton. His attitude was always positive, his loyalty to be admired (he turned down Man United in 1995 – a move which may have facilitated Beckham’s development) and his skills cannot be ignored.
This weekend he made his final professional appearance for his home town club, Bournemouth, in the Fourth Division. It’s all a far cry from this brilliant goal against Colombia in the 1998 World Cup but he has stated in interviews that he doesn’t regret dropping down the divisions to finish his career.
He made his name in 1992 with some great performances for Second Division Portsmouth, culminating in a great display in the FA Cup Semi-Final against Liverpool. A few months later he signed for Tottenham. He had a slow start at the club – my “Tottenham 1992/93 Review of the Season” home video portraying him as a young player a little overwhelmed by his circumstances.
It all changed in February 1993, almost six months in to his nondescript Tottenham career. Trailing 0-1 at home to Southampton (his city of birth, ironically), Anderton whipped a cross in which was met by Teddy Sheringham for the equaliser. A minute later Nicky Barmby put Spurs ahead and then Anderton got on the score sheet himself a minute after that. You could feel the relief sweep through him as he went on a run behind the goal slapping hands with the fans. That was the moment that Anderton needed – the moment the weight of expectation lifted to be replaced by the lighter load of self-belief. (Never mind that a minute after that Spurs added a fourth, Teddy Sheringham netting his second: four goals in 4 minutes and 44 seconds.)
In the mid-nineties Anderton started to suffer recurring injuries. After making 126 appearances from 1992 to 1995, he accumulated just 31 from 1995-1998. He did seem, however, fit enough for starring roles in England’s 1996 European Championship and 1998 World Cup campaigns.
The England debate
His performances before his injuries were outstanding and it was understandable that England managers at the time were eager to feature him in their side. In 1996 it was argued that England boss Terry Venables – a former Spurs manager – was giving preference to Spurs players, the unfancied Anderton and Sheringham and even the enigmatic Paul Gascoigne presented as evidence for the charge. But they all delivered in the excellent Euro 96 tournament, none more so than in the wins over Scotland and the Netherlands.
But the debate became more fierce in 1998 when the golden boy of English football, David Beckham, was the unequivocal choice of the media for the right-wing position. When Anderton, having hardly kicked a ball in three years, was chosen ahead of him by England manager (and former Spurs player) Glenn Hoddle, there was little rejoicing. Eventually, in the third game, Hoddle chose Anderton and Beckham, both scoring super goals in the 2-0 win over Colombia.
Anderton made just 30 appearances for England in eight seasons despite being favoured by the respective managers. It is fascinating to learn that his last five appearances were for five different managers: Glenn Hoddle (1998), Howard Wilkinson (1999) Kevin Keegan (2000), Peter Taylor (2000), Sve-Goran Eriksson (2001). Without a doubt his England career was severely curtailed by his injuries.
Meanwhile, back at Spurs…
Still largely a first choice at Spurs as he moved towards 30, he made a steady number of appearances while still suffering numerous minor injuries. At the age of 32, Anderton was released in 2004.
He spent single seasons at both Birmingham and Wolves, making a combined 44 appearances for the clubs. He then dropped to the third tier of English football where he spent the final two seasons of his career at Bournemouth. Again he managed to appear in around half the league games each season but in spite of signing a one year contract at the start of this season he announced his intention to retire after this weekend’s game at home to Chester.
And what a sign-off it was. Anderton came on as a 56th minute substitute, volleying home an 88th minute winner as the curtain closed on his career. Possibly only outdone in recent memory by Matt Le Tissier’s late winner for Southampton over Arsenal in The Dell’s final match, Anderton possibly deserved a grander stage for the moment
But, on that note, I hope Anderton doesn’t hold many regrets about his career. He doesn’t seem the type of character to harbour bitterness, usually behaving in a respectful way on the pitch and always a good sport. He might look back at his decision to turn down Alex Ferguson as a regret but sometimes moving to a big club doesn’t always go the way you might hope (c.f. Robbie Keane).
I don’t think he was ever appreciated fully by the average football fan. He had a great shot on him, had vision, could pass the ball, had pace (with that patented gangly gait), could beat players and cross. He also tracked back (one of the reasons that Hoddle preferred him to Beckham, although Beckham became quite adept at covering every blade of grass later in his career). Indeed, I believe he was a more versatile player than Beckham even if he didn’t have that x-factor that Beckham had to do something super-human from time to time.
So I say goodbye and thank you to Anderton. Not a genius, per se, but a very talented, loyal and committed player who is remembered fondly at White Hart Lane.