Whilst watching a recent Ipswich game on the television a name was mentioned that made me splutter out my cereal. It was a name that seemed incongruous to the others spoken of during a short bout of possession for the Suffolk side. It jarred coarsely against the likes of Leadbetter and Priskin, modern-day players who I expected to hear.
Mark Kennedy; a guy who once roamed the left flanks of numerous clubs to varying effect and someone who I assumed had retired several seasons back.
Shouldn’t he be running a pub by now, calling out last orders in his thick Irish brogue, whilst offering a sly wink to the regulars to suggest a lock-in was imminent?
Yet here he was, holding together the midfield. Pulling the strings with experience garnered from previous decades.
More surprising still, a quick glance at Wikipedia revealed that Kennedy was still only 34, which prompted another shower of chewed-up Cheerios to splatter the lap-top screen.
Christ! Not only had I prematurely pensioned him off but he was younger than I was!
Maybe my mistake was due to his naturally craggy features that had always given him the appearance of being older than he was. He probably looked weather-beaten at his first day at infants.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been taken aback at all because there have always been such players who appear like phantom teaspoons in the sink after you’ve done the washing up. You grope around beneath the suds and feel nothing. Yet when the plug is pulled there it is gleaming up at you, making you wonder how the hell it had managed to remain undetected for so long.
Notts County’s recent FA Cup tie against Man City produced another forgotten figure synonymous with the past – left-back Jon Harley. Still fresh-faced, with the panicky eyes of a teenager making his debut. Still a bit shit.
In fact, a trawl through the lower leagues exposes a plethora of supposed relics from a by-gone age continuing to ply their trade, avoiding the clammy clasp of the retirement reaper by donning their boots for just one more season.
Last week’s transfer deadline day produced some genuinely jaw-dropping moments as crazy money was exchanged between clubs in high-profile, headline-shattering moves. Yet it was a barely mentioned name that flashed only momentarily across the Sky Sports banner that caught my eye – Danny Cadamerteri, and his switch back to Huddersfield.
Cadamerteri is representative of a rather sad type of figure quite common to the game – a player who once showed great promise as a youngster but then struggled to fulfil such potential. The player then slides down through the divisions and out of the spotlight for the remainder of his career, occasionally popping up with a late winner in a crucial promotion/relegation six-pointer to remind the general public of his existence. See also Luke Chadwick, currently playing for MK Dons and presumably still not being marked too closely by opponents for fear of getting spot-puss on their shirts.
Marcus Stewart at Exeter, Frank Sinclair at Wrexham, and, until a couple of weeks ago, Lee Hendrie at Bradford are other notable, former household names, now suffering the ignominy of having to wash their own kit.
Such an occurrence is even more commonplace with keepers. Evergreen stalwarts like Neil Sullivan at Doncaster (who didn’t miss a single game last year) can avoid trudging round Homebase on Saturday afternoons until they nudge forty.
A few years back people laughed affectionately at the sight of an aged, overweight Mark Crossley lumbering across the goal-line for Sheffield Wednesday.
He still throws his significant timber about for Chesterfield.
A former top-class player drifting away from our collective awareness at Southend or Stockport is one thing. Where it gets depressing is when this retreat from the public eye is forced upon a player through a long-term injury.
In recent times Michael Kightley was a revelation at Wolves. Plucked from non-league obscurity he burst into the big-time with a series of dazzling displays that had Spurs and United sniffing around. Tragically a broken metatarsal followed by ankle complications curtailed his rise and perhaps has even finished his career.
Michael Johnson meanwhile was as important a driving force for Man City as Gerrard remains for Liverpool. A gifted box-to-box midfielder his future was lined with England caps and glory. Hernia and abdominal problems has meant that he’s now overly familiar with every fixture and fitting at the club’s medical centre instead of being known and admired by every football supporter in the country. The latter was his destiny. The former is his reality, for the present at least.
Less sombre, and perhaps more interesting, are the players who – for whatever reason – simply fall away from prominence. This is sometimes known as ‘Michael Rickett’s Syndrome’.
Barely three seasons back David Healy was banging in goals with Leeds and Northern Ireland for fun. Then unsuccessful spells at Fulham and Sunderland respectively faded his star somewhat. In 2010 both Ipswich and Doncaster had long looks at him on loan before baulking at the prospect of a permanent deal.
Now he’s at Ibrox, the retirement home for Premiership failures, and a mere season or two away from bagging a goal in the Champions League and becoming the errant teaspoon in the bowl.
Until his recent move to Birmingham defender Curtis Davies looked like he too was ploughing a similar course to anonymity. A once-propitious career as a sort of poor-man’s Rio Ferdinand had grown utterly stagnant at Villa, and his reputation would be considered diminished if only people remembered he was still around.
Breaking into a solid back-line at Brum will be difficult so who knows? That might still prove to be the case.
Newcastle’s Danny Guthrie is also on his way to joining this union of the forgotten, a club nobody wants to become a member of.
And let’s not forget (no, seriously, let’s not forget. That’s the whole thesis of this article) Tom Soares who desperately needs a move away from Stoke if he’s to ever leave some sort of mark in the professional game after a long and promising apprenticeship at Palace.
Another aspect to all this is the young starlets who made headlines through their sheer potential but made the mistake of joining a bigger club far too early in their development. Connor Wickham should take note here.
John Bostock at Spurs has thus far failed to break through and, although still a teenager, it is looking increasingly likely someone will ask in the future ‘whatever happened to him?’ before seeing his name flash up on the vidiprinter with a consolation goal for Brentford.
Football’s vast graveyard is littered with such examples of dreams unfulfilled. The engraver would carve their headstones if he could only remember their names.
There is one final cause for a teaspoon player, and it is arguably the most saddening of all. Sometimes – occasionally – there is a guy so average and forgettable that he can play continuously at the highest level and still prompt a jolt of surprise whenever you are reminded of his existence.
The archetypical example of this type of player was Mark Pembridge who nobly represented several clubs in the top flight, and even played for the country of my birth on fifty-four occasions. Yet I can barely recall his face.