When one is tasked with conjuring up an image of Ian Rush in his playing days, it is normally the all-red kit of Liverpool that one’s mind is taken to and not the red of Wrexham or the red and white stripes of Sheffield United.
Similarly, memories of his Liverpool colleague, Peter Beardsley’s, career provoke recollections and images of him adorned in the same red kit or the black and white stripes of Newcastle. Either way, it’s certainly not the white shirts and dark shorts of Fulham or Bolton, or the royal blue of Hartlepool United that springs to mind.
Yet, Rush and Beardsley, like many other players before them, chose to not retire when at the very top but rather to bow out seemingly rather reluctantly and somewhat under protest. It is with this in mind that this week’s article takes a look at the latter parts of certain players’ careers after the sun had started to fade, so as to speak.
Rush, Barnes and Beardsley – a Liverpool Trio
Rush, Barnes and Beardsley were Liverpool teammates together from 1988 to 1991 before Beardsley was moved on by Graeme Souness to Merseyside rivals, Everton. All three had spells at Newcastle after Liverpool with Beardsley, of course, returning to where he had first made his name a decade or so earlier. Beardsley would play another four years back at St. James’s before becoming a footballing nomad with spells at Bolton, Manchester City on loan, and Fulham.
Unwilling to call time on his career even at the age of 37, and presumably not in financial need, Beardsley elected to finish his career in the basement division with Hartlepool.
Although Beardsley’s time at Newcastle was a success, for Barnes and Rush, though, their sojourns at St. James’s Park were short-lived and less successful.
Both Barnes and Rush were signed by their old Liverpool boss, Kenny Dalglish, and both had different expectations at the time. While Rush acknowledged the fact that he was signing as cover for the injured Alan Shearer, and knew that once Shearer had recovered from a long-term ankle injury, his first-team opportunities would be limited, Barnes had loftier ambitions.
For Barnes the decision to leave Liverpool had come suddenly, and rather than feeling his career was winding down, he had joined Newcastle intending to move into the next stage of his career rather than to enjoy an Indian Summer. It came as a surprise and was a sense of frustration, then, when he found himself in and out of the team under Dalglish.
When Dalglish was unceremoniously sacked three games into the 1998-99 season and Ruud Gullit appointed in his stead, Barnes could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps his luck was about to turn. If so, he was to be sadly mistaken, for rather than merely finding himself on the fringes of the first team, Barnes was almost completely ignored by Gullit and the following February signed for Charlton Athletic where he finished his playing career.
Meanwhile, after scoring just two goals, Rush left Newcastle and then spent time playing for old Liverpool team-mate Nigel Spackman at Sheffield United, before enjoying a final season in Division Two with Wrexham.
David O’Leary: A tarnished legacy?
In his fascinating autobiography, Addicted, Tony Adams wrote that he felt David O’Leary slightly spoilt his legacy by accepting a free transfer from Arsenal to Leeds United in the summer of 1993. Spending an injury-plagued two seasons at Elland Road, O’Leary only managed a total of 14 appearances. Adams contends that O’Leary would have been better off retiring when he left Arsenal and so protecting his reputation as a one-club man. Indeed, Adams used the case of his former Arsenal team-mate as his inspiration to know when to call it a day himself.
Gazza: An unbecoming end?
How many people can remember how many clubs Paul Gascoigne played for without looking it up? I can’t. I can remember Newcastle, Spurs and Lazio with ease. Glasgow Rangers springs to mind, but then things get hazy.
A trail through Google tells us he also played for Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley, Gasnu Tianma in China, and, finally, League Two side Boston United. As with the case of Peter Beardsley turning out for Hartlepool before him, whether or not it was unseemly for one of the greatest players of his generation to end his career in the league’s basement division is perhaps a moot point.
The sight of Gazza trying to have some influence on proceedings around him at the age of 37 was a sobering one, and although it could be argued that it was his own choice to play at that level, perhaps it wasn’t really becoming for him.
A host of others:
Other players are perhaps linked synonymously with a particular club but in fact played for relatively large swathes of their careers away from their spiritual homes, as it were. A good example here is Glenn Hoddle.
Hoddle will always be linked inextricably with the silky white shirt of Tottenham Hotspur but actually played for another eight years and three different clubs after leaving White Hart Lane in 1987. First, he played three-and-a-half seasons for AS Monaco under Arsène Wenger, winning a French league title, before moving to Swindon Town where he embarked on his managerial career as player-manager.
Two seasons at the County Ground brought about more than 70 appearances before Hoddle took over as player-manager of Chelsea, where he was to play intermittently for a further two seasons.
Liam Brady, whose career we looked at in detail a few weeks ago, is another who is linked with one particular club more than any other. In Brady’s case, it is, of course, Tottenham’s great North London rivals, Arsenal. However, what is often forgotten is that Brady left Highbury at the relatively young age of twenty-four and went onto play for five further clubs over the next decade.
Another Arsenal favourite who played on long after the Lord Mayor’s Show was Kenny Sansom. Signed in 1980 by Terry Neill from Crystal Palace, Sansom established himself as one of England’s best full-backs of all time over the next eight years.
Unfortunately, he then managed the far from difficult task of falling out with George Graham and his descent from grace was both quick and dramatic. Instead of going on to be part of the all-conquering Arsenal team that won titles and cups galore, Sansom found himself on the outside looking in at places such as QPR, Newcastle, Coventry, Everton, Brentford and Watford.
Hear the name Steve Bruce and what springs to mind from his playing days? The broken nose, no doubt, and the success-laden years under Sir Alex at Manchester United are the obvious contenders, but how many people remember his almost century of games for Birmingham City and Sheffield United at the tail-end of his career?
Somewhat cruelly dropped by Ferguson for the 1996 FA Cup Final, Bruce left Old Trafford that summer on a free transfer and joined Trevor Francis’s Birmingham City side. Two seasons followed with Bruce and Francis clashing repeatedly and Bruce supposedly being lined up to replace Francis as manager before he left to take over as boss at Sheffield United where he made a further dozen appearances as player-manager.
In more recent times followers of football have been treated to the weird sight of Frank Lampard playing a season at Manchester City.
I say weird because certain players just do not look right wearing a certain club’s strip. For me, and I think many others, Frank Lampard ‘is Chelsea’. To see him adorn the colours of any other team, let alone one of Chelsea’s main rivals of the time, just looks wrong. The same could be said of the sight of Peter Beardsley in the blue shirt of Everton from 1991-93.
Some players love football so much they just don’t know when to quit or have to be dragged from the game kicking and screaming, I guess. After all, the old adage could be true:
You’re a long time retired.