Nostalgia, with all its coy glances and soothing noises, is a capricious creature with no interest in consequences – and English football hasn’t been spared her irresistible charms. The list of her victims is a long one and features Manchester United fan Dan Poole who, at the age of 12, won a season-review book covering 1993/94 which was signed by a mystery player.
Nostalgia, with all its coy glances and soothing noises, is a capricious creature with no interest in consequences – and English football hasn’t been spared her irresistible charms.
The Nineties was, for some reason, a particularly fertile period for Mistress Good Old Days. For example, she stood in the Gallowgate End and beckoned Alan Shearer back to the Newcastle motherland in 1996 – then promptly dumped him into retirement with no silverware and dodgy knees. (That’s not to mention his return to the club as manager for eight games in 2009 – ample time to oversee them getting relegated.)
She persuaded Howard Kendall to return to manage Everton for a third time in 1997 after hundreds of games as a player, a glorious first stint as manager in the Eighties and a slightly disappointing return in the early Nineties. Bad move: he left after a season that featured a torturous relegation scrap and a massive fallout with the board.
In 1998 she whispered sweet Italian nothings in David Platt’s ear when he agreed to take over as Sampdoria manager, with happy memories of his time there as a player but none of the requisite qualifications. She then waved “ciao, ciao” when he was sacked 48 days later. She’s also had her wicked way with Stuart Pearce, a legend at Nottingham Forest who didn’t learn anything from being appointed caretaker player-manager in 1996 and watching the team get relegated: he came back in July 2014 and was sacked seven months later.
The list of her victims goes on. Less well known, though just as dramatic, there’s my tale of woe. Aged 12, I won a Manchester United season-review book covering 1993/94 and it came signed by a mystery player. When it arrived I rushed to make out the first name of the squiggle and established that it was Paul; because the surname wasn’t long enough to be Parker that meant it had to be Ince.
I was content with this state of affairs for the next 20 years. Then I happened across the book one day and, in an idle moment, decided to have another look at that signature for the first time in a long time. Realisation struck like a Mark Hughes volley to the brain: this was not the signature of Paul Ince at all. It belonged to Paul Scholes.
Yes, the man has since become a club legend but my first reaction was crushing disappointment on behalf of 12-year-old me. Scholes hadn’t broken into the first team when I won the book – and who wants the signature of a small ginger person they’ve never heard of?
And that was it: nostalgia had me in her seductive clutches. Her first mellifluous murmur came with the suggestion of asking Paul Ince to sign the book, seeing as I thought I had his scrawl all along. And hey, maybe Paul Parker too, then I’d have all the Pauls. Then she really got stuck in and now I’m left with an overblown project to rekindle the magic of those glory days and hunt down the signatures of that season’s entire first-team squad.
So far it has taken me nearly three years to get 23 signatures – and there are still another 10 to go. But for all that this is a trumped-up autograph hunt to appease my inner child, there is a worthwhile element to proceedings. Tragically, there is one signature that will be beyond me: goalkeeper Les Sealey died of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 43. As such, once all this is over, the book will be auctioned off to raise money for the British Heart Foundation in Les’s honour – and the last two signatures will be those of his sons George and Joe.
The means of getting the signatures of the 23 ex-players who have signed so far have been many and varied (the link to my blog is at the bottom if you would like to explore the specifics). But one signatory who deserves particular mention is the latest one: Mr Andrei Kanchelskis. Why? Because Bwin’s very own Toby Grainger, content strategist extraordinaire, played a key role in helping me find the Russian dynamo. (How? You only need to read the latest post on said blog to sate your curiosity. And there are some nice pictures. Go on.)
But who’s left? As mentioned, the Sealey boys will be last to sign but there are eight players to account for first:
Made his debut against Port Vale in the League Cup in September 1994; went on to become quite a well-known player who scored a few decent free-kicks. Pretty sure he married a pop star.
Made his debut in 1992 but didn’t establish himself until the 1994/95 season. Went on to become Pele’s favourite player of all time; now Head of Academy at Manchester United.
1994/94 was when the Frenchman cemented his iconic status, not least because it was the first season that squad numbers were assigned – and he got 7. Served him pretty well.
Was already an old hand by this point, having made his debut in 1991. He’d eventually become United’s oldest ever hand, retiring at the age of 72. Roughly.
Unfortunately the aforementioned Kanchelskis got in the way of Gillespie’s United career. He made his debut the previous season but was eventually a makeweight in the transfer that took Andrew Cole to Old Trafford in 1995.
This was the Irishman’s first season at the club, having made the move from Nottingham Forest for £3.75m as a replacement for the increasingly hobbly Bryan Robson. Forged a terrifying reputation that makes me nervous about essentially asking, “Please Mr Keane sir, can I have your autograph?”
Chances are you won’t have heard of Colin: he only made one appearance for United before heading off to Kilmarnock. That said, if you have heard of him – to the point of being able to give me his mobile number or email address – please get in touch with me immediately. Don’t even read this next bit about Peter Schmeichel.
If you know Colin McKee you shouldn’t be reading this. If you don’t, I’m happy to tell you that Schmikes signed for United for a mere £505,000 in 1991 and left eight years later with his reputation sealed – as a very grumpy man.
And if all of that has made you feel even slightly nostalgic, take heed: have a cold shower and go and do something resolutely future-based. In fact, considering our surroundings, you could probably do worse than responsibly betting on the outcome of a sporting event.
To read Dan’s blog head to 33signatures.wordpress.com.