On September 4th 1999 a kid barely out of his teens raced down the Wembley right before jinking inside two Luxembourg defenders and whipping in a dangerous delivery for his new Newcastle United colleague Alan Shearer. Wor Alan couldn’t miss and duly spun away, arm raised, to celebrate his first ever England hat-trick.
With only half an hour gone it was already an impressive international debut for Kieron Dyer.
After three seasons of tearing up the Championship with Ipswich this precocious youngster – one of our most promising finds for many a year – had finally secured his big money move to the top flight and was on the precipice of becoming England’s Next Big Hope.
But whilst his team-mates converged on the scorer the lad stayed down on the Wembley turf. The injury appeared serious as he lay motionless, clutching his lower leg. The TV cameras ignored the joyous high-fives in the centre-circle and zoomed in on the unfolding drama as the trainer rushed on to assess the damage.
In their homes and in pubs millions watched with baited breath, chewing fingernails. Please let it not be a leg break. This kid is potentially something very special indeed. We need him.
Thankfully, to the collective relief of the nation, Dyer gingerly rose to his feet and hobbled back into the action.
On August 13th 2011 a thirty-two year old man knocked a long clearance down the QPR right and promptly collapsed in a heap. With only seven minutes gone it was impossible to determine at that stage whether it was a successful debut or not.
Whilst play continued the man stayed motionless on the Loftus Park turf, clutching his lower leg. The injury appeared serious.
In their homes and in pubs millions guffawed and shook their heads in disbelief.
He was carried off on a stretcher to almost collective derision from the nation.
How did we get from there to here? From concern to cruelty? What happened in those twelve years that caused such a dramatic turnaround in public affection?
The player himself certainly hasn’t helped his own cause along the way. There was the dressing room ructions that led to Bobby Robson’s sacking; allowing himself to be filmed eyeing up sports cars in a showroom like we do bread and milk – which would be tolerated if not for the fact that this was the first occasion for several years we’d seen Dyer upright; and of course the Ayia Napa sex-tapes that found their way onto the News of the World’s front page.
The real reason Dyer is viewed with such borderline mockery in football is that – through absolutely no fault of his own – he has tested the threshold of people’s capacity for sympathy
The last example however illustrates an interesting point. Dyer was not alone in that ‘scandal’ (young footballers have sex on holiday shock horror!). He was joined in those sordid pics by Saint Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. Aside from rival supporters displaying tribal schadenfreude nobody laughed when the latter hobbled off with a hamstring injury this weekend to join Dyer on the crock list.
Bluntly, the real reason Dyer is viewed with such borderline mockery in football is that – through absolutely no fault of his own – he has tested the threshold of people’s capacity for sympathy and revealed the cruel streak that lies within most of us.
If you witnessed a person trip and fall you would rush to their assistance. If you saw that person do it again likewise. After numerous occasions however vexation kicks in. Why don’t they watch where they’re going? At some point from your throat you will eventually hear the sound of an exasperated snigger as they, once more, go arse over tit.
Throughout his career Dyer has suffered a biblical plague of injuries. From a recurring hamstring problem, that has never been properly addressed, to persistent groin strains, to a hideous double-fracture of his leg that kept him out of action for well over a year. Consequently his career stats make truly depressing reading – 215 appearances in 15 seasons. That equates to just 14 games a season in a decade and a half of being a professional footballer. In the past four years alone he has made the team sheet on just thirty occasions. Well, thirty one if you include the brief cameo last Saturday.
Lord knows how many tears have been shed along the way and the psychological impact of working so hard each time, only to yet again suffer another heart-breaking set-back, can only be imagined. All whilst wrestling with the ever-present frustration of his unfulfilled promise and seeing players with far less natural ability than he gain multiple England caps in the position that should have been his own.
Two years ago Dyer publicly contemplated retirement and it is hard not to think that perhaps would have been the correct decision. It is harsh to say this and we take absolutely no pleasure in doing so. But it is one thing to be known as England’s lost talent, it is quite another to be regarded as a punchline.