The scoreline popped up upon the Sky Sports goal ticker, much like any other goal that day. Except “Bournemouth 1 Chester 0 D Anderton 88” wasn’t just any goal. It was a fairytale ending to an illustrious career in English football.
Darren Anderton’s last goal in his last ever game in football was a classic goal, befitting of the script for the day. Just inside the area, he caught the ball sweetly and it flew into the back of the net to secure a late, vital, winner for the Cherries and send Dean Court into raptures and bringing down the curtain on a fine career.
The consummate pro
Some may be surprised that Anderton was not only still going but plying his trade in a team that sits one place off the bottom of the football league. But then Anderton’s not the type of player who has ever been in the game to boost his own ego.
This is, after all, a man who turned down a move from Spurs to Manchester United out of loyalty to the club and would have no doubt stayed at White Hart Lane longer had the club not rather abruptly cancelled his contract in 2004 after 12 years of service.
It’s also telling that Anderton has been rated by so many England managers over the years and had it not been for a succession of injuries, he would have no doubt added to the 30 caps and seven goals he won between 1994 and 2001.
Indeed, in a top piece of trivia, his last five caps all came from five different managers: Glenn Hoddle in 98, Howard Wilkinson in 99, Kevin Keegan and Peter Taylor both capped him in 2000, and finally Sven gave Anderton a last international hurrah in 2001.
It was Terry Venables that gave the winger his England debut and Glenn Hoddle wrote in his diaries that he thought Anderton could cross a ball as well as David Beckham, and was better defensively. It was also Hoddle who played the two together in the 1998 World Cup, where they combined so deliciously against Columbia.
Before that, Anderton was a key part of the Euro 96 England side that so very nearly ended 30 years of hurt for the home nation. While Gazza’s goal against Scotland, the 4-1 demolition of Holland and, ultimately, that fateful penalty by Gareth Southgate stay in the mind, it’s easy to forget that Anderton was at the heartbeat of most of England’s play. He very nearly had the chance to get the winning goal against the Germans, as well, but his shot hit the post instead.
Despite struggling with injuries for the next two years, he was again a key player in the 1998 World Cup. There’s also a certain kind of irony that the player dubbed “sicknote” due to his injury record, should be the last of the Euro 96 team to hang up his boots, outlasting the evergreen Teddy Sheringham by six months.
Not quite a one-club man, but almost
When Darren Anderton’s name is mentioned, it’s tempting to think of him as just a one-club man, even though he started his career with Portsmouth. The teenager was given his debut in the league cup by the late Alan Ball and became a fixture in the side soon after, before securing a £1.75m move to Spurs, where he would remain for 12 years.
While Anderton could just as frequently be found on the treatment table rather than the pitch, there was no doubting his quality, and it’s no surprise Sir Alex Ferguson tried to lure the midfielder to Old Trafford.
That the sum total of silverware he earned in football amounts to just one league cup winners medal is surprising, but says more about the underachievement of Spurs in the past two decades than it does about Anderton’s ability.
It also says a lot about the state of modern football that 12 years of service to one club – a club where he was revered by the fans – could be terminated in such inglorious fashion. While receiving treatment in America in 2004, Anderton received a fax telling him his contract would not be renewed.
In pure footballing terms, it makes sense that a club would decide to get rid of an aging, injury-prone star, but it was the manner in which it was done that still seems somewhat heartless, especially given the all-too-rare loyalty Anderton displayed to Tottenham. Without so much of a thank-you or a testimonial, he was out the door and off for a season a Birmingham City.
Let’s not also forget that he’s played with some of the best players in the world – including Klinsmann at Spurs – and has fought back time and again when people have written him off, largely at Spurs but also at Bournemouth.
He may have spent most of his time battling relegation with the Cherries, but there’s no doubting the affection fans of the south coast club hold him in. After his first season at the club he was named Supporters’ Player of the Year and recently Harry Redknapp said he believed Anderton could still do a job in the Premier League.
Lower league retirement: a dying tradition
At 36, going on 37, the ability may have still been there but the body wasn’t. Anderton took the decision to retire after admitting he found the daily training ground routine too hard on his body, and knew it was the right time to call it a day. Bournemouth manager Jimmy Quinn has joked he’ll keep hold of the player’s registration “just in case”.
But as well as being the last of the Euro 96 squad, he’s also one of the very few pros who’ve made it to the top that still have the hunger to keep playing much lower down the pyramid, and it’s a site that will no doubt become even less common as well-paid players decide they’d prefer the comfort of the pundit’s chair to a wet Tuesday night at Huddersfield.
Andrew Cole only made it down to the Championship, as did Sheringham. Dwight Yorke, another big name from Anderton’s era, is still just about going with Sunderland. Others, like Beckham and Ljundberg, have decided America is a better retirement home than League 2.
The likes of Marcus Stewart at Exeter and Julian Jochachim at King’s Lynn, while not quite in the same class as Anderton, are still rare insofar as they’re ex-Premier League players who established themselves in top-flight sides on merit and whose names still evoke recognition with supporters.
There’s rumours that Robbie Fowler may be tempted to take on a last job with Grimsby. Fowler is another of that rare breed – a man who certainly doesn’t need the money but just wants to keep on playing until his body says “no more”.
If Fowler does join Grimsby, he’ll also be joining a relegation battle at the bottom of League 2. Bournemouth have just made it into positive figures following their points deduction in the summer and are seven points off the Mariners, who sit precariously above the relegation zone.
Bournemouth still have a huge battle on their hands to stay in the football league but, for one weekend, all problems on and off the pitch at Dean Court can be pushed to one side in hour of a fairytale ending for a true England legend.