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Where Have Football's Characters Gone?

Professional footballers have never been in such fine physical condition as they are now. Scientifically and sensitively fed, watered, massaged and toned, and financially rewarded as never before, the modern player's lot is almost unrecognisable from that of his counterparts even just 20 years ago.  The game has evolved rapidly and dramatically in those two decades and players have been the principal beneficiaries. Promoted by their agents, pampered by their clubs, better-protected by referees and paid well enough to lead privileged lifestyles, footballers are among the aristocracy of what has become a somewhat vacuous, celebrity-fixated milieu.

Yet some would argue that they, and we, have lost something along the way. Their talent, and being able to display it in front of thousands inside stadiums and millions beyond, has always set footballers apart from the rest of us. But while they were always a bit 'flash' and relatively well paid, they also used to seem accessible. Today, top-class players seem more insulated and detached from their fans, inhabiting a world we can only fantasise about. One consequence is that fans have become more judgmental; another is that many players appear more bland and anodyne because we are often forced to view them through a combination of the platitudinous post-match interview and the distorting lens of the tabloid gossip columns and so-called celebrity magazines.

Of course, you wouldn't describe a Joey Barton as particularly bland, though there are several adjectives you probably would consider; but his errant behaviour is all the more shocking partly because it is untypical of professional footballers, and partly because there seem to be no redeeming angles to it. Football has always had its flawed geniuses - not that I would accuse Barton for a minute of being a genius; but its bad boys tended to be more naughty than delinquent, more lovable rogue than ASBO case.

Indeed, Barton's latest headlines, this week, highlighted the demise of the genuine "characters" in English football - those whose indiscretions we were ready to forgive because they kept us entertained on the pitch and frequently off it, and because we secretly admired their irreverence and willingness to test the boundaries of authority.

So for the benefit of fellow nostalgia buffs, here's an appreciation of 15 cult-heroes, in chronological order, who brought welcome colour and texture to the English top-flight  and who seemed less two-dimensional than some of today's millionaire superstars.

(Bradford PA, Newcastle, Sunderland, England, 1946-57)

Shack was a one-off, a genuine maverick who could charm a football into obeying his every whim but was a constant thorn in the side of football administrators. He saw the game as entertainment; they as business. And he loved to prick their pretensions. On the pitch, with his outrageous and prodigious talent, Shackleton was probably too much of a showman to be considered a real team player, but then that was what the paying public loved about him. Eccentric and electrifying, his exploits were not based on genuine bravado because he genuinely didn't give a damn.

Thus in his autobiography, published in 1955 and appropriately titled 'Clown Prince of Soccer,' Shackleton headed a chapter "The average director's knowledge of football," above a famously blank page.

He scored 160 goals in six wartime seasons with Bradford, and after working as a coal-miner joined Newcastle in 1946 and scored six goals on his debut, a 13-0 victory over Newport County. But it was at Sunderland where Shack really excelled, especially whenever they played Arsenal, who'd rejected him as "too frail" when he was on their groundstaff before the war.

Usually overlooked by the England selectors as being "too good for the rest of the team", Shackleton also owned a barber's shop on Wearside and was a qualified boxing referee who became a sports journalist when he quit playing, which was forced on him by injury in 1957.

(Chelsea, Milan, Tottenham, West Ham, England, 1957-71)

The archetypal chirpy cockney, East Ham-born Greaves was one of the most instinctive goalscorers England has ever produced. He was nothing less than a goalscoring phenomenon after bursting on the scene with Chelsea in 1957, and by 1960, still only 20, had hit 100 League goals, the youngest-ever player to do so in English football.

After netting 124 League goals in only 157 appearances for the Blues, Jimmy left for Milan in 1961, one of the Anglo-Italian pioneers, but despite scoring nine goals in 14 Serie A games, he couldn't hack the then-regimented lifestyle of the Italian footballer and was pleased to return to London, and double-winners Spurs, within a matter of months for the symbolic fee of £99,999.  220 more goals in 321 games for Tottenham confirmed the iconic status of the pipe-smoker who had his own removal business in London in the early 1960s.

But Greaves will always be remembered as the man who missed out on England's 1966 World Cup triumph. Injured in the group game against France, his place was taken by Geoff Hurst, who went on to score a hat-trick in the final against West Germany. Hurst became immortalised; Greaves became an alcoholic. But after looking at life through the bottom of a glass for more than a decade, Greaves confronted his demons and hasn't touched a drop since 1978, becoming a successful TV pundit renowned for his wit and self-deprecating humour.

At the World Cup in 1962, when England met reigning champions Brazil, Greavesie came to the rescue when a stray dog ran on to the pitch and eluded every attempt to catch him until Greaves (England's third-highest all-time goalscorer), got down on all fours and enticed the mutt towards him.  He collared the dog, but it responded by peeing all over him, which amused Brazil's Garrincha so much he took the animal home as a pet.

Although he'd retired in 1971, Greaves made a comeback at the age of 38 with then non-league Barnet, playing in midfield and scoring 25 goals to be named player of the season. But asked where he'd played his best football, Jimmy famously replied: "If you ask Chelsea fans they'll say it was when I was Chelsea. If you ask Spurs fans they'll say it was when I was at Spurs. And if you ask West Ham fans they'll say it when I was at Chelsea or Spurs."

(Huddersfield, Man City, Torino, Man Utd, Man City, Scotland, 1957-73)

The Lawman who would later become King of Old Trafford was a skinny, squinting 15-year-old kid of whom Huddersfield manager Andy Beattie said, when Law travelled down from Aberdeen for a trial: "The boy's a freak. Never did I see a less likely football prospect - weak, puny and bespectacled." But he offered Law a contract, and his successor as manager, Bill Shankly, was so impressed that, on leaving to take over at Liverpool in 1959, he wanted to take Law with him. Liverpool couldn't afford him at the time though, and it is fascinating to ponder how different things might have been had Law gone to Anfield then and, probably, never represented the Reds' arch-rivals Manchester United.

Denis, the seventh and youngest child of an impoverished fisherman, didn't even own his own shoes until he was 14, but made up for it in fine style on the pitch, especially after an operation to correct the squint. He was sold for a then record £55,000 to Manchester City in 1960 and a year later went to Torino for another record fee, £110,000. He scored 10 goals in 27 games for Torino but didn't enjoy playing against catenaccio defences and soon asked for a transfer. He and his British team-mate Joe Baker were injured in a car crash when Joe drove the wrong way round a roundabout in Italy, but in a foretaste of future disciplinary problems back in England, Law was sent off against Napoli. He learned after the game that Torino coach Beniamino Santos had instructed the referee to dismiss him because he was annoyed that Law had ignored him by taking a throw-in. Law walked out, and when told he was being transferred to Juventus flew home to Aberdeen, refusing to play for Toro again. He was soon sold to Manchester United for another record fee of Juventus. £115,000 in July 1962.

At United he enjoyed the glory years of his career, worshipped by the Stretford End though frequently handed punitive fines and suspensions by the authorities when his competitive spirit - or fiery temperament - pushed him over the edge.  

Despite being happy to earn his living south of the border, the Scot loved nothing more than beating England, and counted Scotland's 9-3 humiliation by the Sassenachs in 1961 his blackest day. He preferred to play golf than watch England's World Cup triumph of 1966, and when Scotland then beat the world champions 3-2 in 1967 Law said it was more satisfying than winning the League title with United the same season.

The first Scot to be named European Footballer of the Year (1965), he missed United's European Cup triumph over Benfica three years later through injury. In summer 1973 Tommy Docherty gave him a free transfer and he returned to City, famously back-heeling the goal against United that condemned them to relegation from the First Division at he end of that season. He refused to celebrate the goal, walked off head bowed on being substituted immediately afterwards, and didn't play club football again.

(Portsmouth, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Peterborough, Leicester, Wolves, Northern Ireland, 1957-74)

The Doog, who died just over a year ago, was a larger-than-life character who famously handed in a transfer request to Blackburn on the morning of the 1960 FA Cup final, which Rovers duly lost 3-0 to Wolves. Dougan scored 222 goals in 546 matches in English football, 95 of them in 258 games for Wolves.

A political and highly opinionated animal, he was chairman of the Professional Footballers Association from 1970 to 1978 and played a key role in  establishing players' rights and free agency. He was a fierce opponent of sectarianism and bigotry in his native Northern Ireland, and consistently advocated an All-Ireland football team - a position that earned him plenty of enemies.  In August 1982 Dougan became chief executive and later chairman of his beloved Wolves, as part of a consortium that saved the club from liquidation; and in the 1997 election he stood as a parliamentary candidate for East Belfast, though he garnered few votes.

As a player, though, Dougan was the archetypal target-man, tall, powerful in the air and full of tricks with the ball at his feet.

(Leeds, Barnsley, Bristol City, England, 1961-82)

'Norman Bites Yer Legs' was the epithet given to Hunter by the Leeds fan who loved him, and it was worn like a badge of honour by a player who would have won many more England caps had fellow left-half Bobby Moore not been his contemporary; but he will always be remembered for his physical approach. The Leeds trainer, Les Cocker, informed  once that Hunter had gone home with a broken leg, replied: "Whose is it?"

Don Revie's Leeds team of the 1960s and early 1970s was certainly a formidable unit with few friends outside West Yorkshire (except, oddly, Wales) but unquestioning loyalty within its boundaries. For all their extravagant skills, they were branded cynical and dirty by the fans of other clubs, and Hunter was demonised as one of the chief hatchet-men. Yet Norman was an honest and engaging character who set about opponents with a smile. Team-mates like Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Allan Clarke had silkier skills but were seen as more cunning, blind-side operators. Hunter was tough, brutal even; but he took it as well as he handed it out, without complaint, and was a far better footballer than his reputation might suggest. His standing among his peers was confirmed when, in 1974,  fellow professionals made him their first ever PFA Player of the Year, and he has always been the complete gentleman off the pitch.

(Fulham, QPR, Manchester City, Tampa Bay, Fulham, England, 1962-76)

Marsh was in many ways the antithesis of Hunter - flamboyant, artistic, creative, a bit of a showman and, of course, a Londoner (though he was actually born in Hertfordshire).  He was a maverick player who probably never quite fulfilled his huge potential but entertained many along the way. He made his name with Queens Park Rangers, scoring 44 goals in 53 games when the club won the old Third Division title in 1966-67, a campaign in which they also won the League Cup, Marsh inspiring their comeback from 2-0 down to best top-flight West Bromwich Albion 3-2.

However, it was Rodney's transfer to Manchester City that will always define his career.  Malcolm Allison bought him in March 1972 for a then club record £200,000 with City four points clear at the top of the First Division table. By the end of the season they had slipped to fourth, and Marsh himself later admitted it was his arrival that cost the club the title. His style just didn't gel with the rest of the team.  

Yet he couldn't help but be a crowd-pleaser with his dazzling ball skills, and he later found acclaim and a successful career in the United States, most notably with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the old NASL.

Always outspoken, he became a popular football pundit for Sky Sports, and in 1999-2000 promised to shave his hair off if Bradford City managed to survive in the Premier League. They did, and as good as his word he sat in the centre-circle at Valley Parade while his hair was removed, raising plenty of money for charity in the process. His participation in last year's reality TV show, 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!' confirmed that the opinionated Marsh continues to call a spade a shovel with undiminished relish.  

(Arsenal, Fulham, England, 1962-77) 

Ice Eyes was a fearsomely hard full-back-turned-midfielder who became a key figure in Bertie Mee's double-winning Arsenal side of 1970-71.  Like Hunter, Storey could take it as well as give it, and rarely if ever shirked a tackle. His own tackling was bone-crunchingly uncompromising and opponents tended to know it was coming because Storey had one of football's most chilling stares.

Also known as Snouty, he was one of the quieter, more unassuming players in the Arsenal dressing-room, but his wilder side emerged after he left the Gunners. Although he ran a market stall and then a pub, he earned notoriety after repeatedly falling foul of the law. In 1979 he was fined for running a brothel, and later served three years for financing a plot to counterfeit gold coins. In 1990 he was jailed for 28 days for attempting to import 20 pornographic videos that he'd attempted to hide in the spare tyre of his vehicle.  But Arsenal fans still think fondly of him.

(Liverpool, Swansea, England, 1962-77)

Known as the Anfield Iron, Tommy Smith was as hard as nails. Legendary manager Bill Shankly said of him: "Tommy Smith wasn't born, he was quarried." Smith himself always insisted he was tough but fair, though not opponents shared that view. Merseyside mythology claims that mothers kept his picture on the mantelpiece to keep their children  away from the fire.

Leeds centre-half and fellow hard man Jack Charlton, something of a character himself, recounted: "Tommy Smith was easily the hardest player I faced. I ran into him once and he knocked every ounce of breath out of me. I tried to get up and look like he hadn't hurt me, but he had."

Tommy, who ran a pub near Wigan for awhile called The Smithy, has suffered from severe arthritis and had several joints replaced since he quit playing, and a year go suffered a heart attack that required multiple by-pass surgery, though he has made an excellent recovery. He has criticised the healthy diets of today's players, championing the traditional  three-course pre-match meal of soup, steak and a pudding.

(Manchester United, Stockport, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Ft Lauderdale Strikers, Hibernian, San Jose Earthquakes, Bournemouth, Northern Ireland, 1963-83)

'Maradona good, Pele better, George Best' is a popular saying in Northern Ireland, and the Belfast Boy was certainly one of British and world football's all-time greats, a genius blessed with outrageous talent, extravagant good looks and a self-destructive streak that ended his career - and then his life - prematurely. Best was the original playboy footballing superstar, in the opinion of many who saw him play the greatest player ever to don the Manchester United shirt. His record for United of 178 goals in 466 first-team games in all competitions was impressive enough, but does not begin to convey the  brilliance and breathtaking audacity of Best's play. He had the lot - pace, strength, exceptional balance, dazzling dribbling skills, the ability to beat opponents at will, then go back and beat them again, and a clinical eye for goal.

He won two League Championships, the European Cup, and was voted Footballer of the Year and European Footballer of the Year in 1968, as well as topping United's goalscoring list for six consecutive seasons.

Yet this was one Red Devil in whom the devilish tendency was strong. He epitomised glamour in the Sixties, was an idol of pop-star proportions, and attracted gorgeous women like a magnet, specialising in actresses and Miss Worlds. Unfortunately though, the champagne lifestyle exposed George to an addiction to alcohol that blighted the rest of his life.  Convictions for drunk driving and assaulting a policeman, public drunkenness on TV, allegations of domestic violence, the inability to give up drinking even after a liver transplant could not dent his popularity. He was such a rakish, loveable character that the public consistently forgave him those many drink-fuelled lapses, right up to his death, at the age of 59, in November 2005, from a lung infection and multiple organ failure.     

The self-deprecating Best famously summed up his own career in the immortal sentence: "I spent a lot of my money on booze, birds, and fast cars - the rest I squandered."

(Huddersfield, Leicester, Bolton, Birmingham, Leeds, Sunderland, Southampton, Brighton, Tranmere, Preston, Stockport, England, 1966-87)

Much travelled Frank, one of three footballing brothers, played into his 40s and made 757 appearances in the English League with a raft of clubs, scoring 234 goals. He also played in the United States, South Africa, Sweden and in English non-League football.  He was in his prime with Huddersfield, Leicester and Bolton, clubs whose fans particularly enjoyed the flash and flamboyance of the hirsute striker.

But Frankie had an even more legendary reputation off the pitch as a ladies' man, as the title of his autobiography - 'One Hump Or Two' - alluded to. His enjoyment of a good time  inhibited his career on one level, limiting his international appearances (eight for England) and dissuading the biggest clubs from taking a plunge.  He might have joined Liverpool, but Bill Shankly wanted to reduce his blood pressure first. Worthington went to a resort with that in mind, but his roving eye meant it was romantic rather than relaxing, the blood pressure staying up and the move to Anfield collapsing.   The invention and execution of his classic goal for Bolton against Ipswich (see it on YouTube) summed up his style.

(Arsenal, Derby, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Bulova, Bournemouth, 1969-81)

One of the iconic images of English football in the 1970s was that of Charlie George lying flat on his back on the Wembley turf, arms aloft, to receive the congratulations of his Arsenal team-mates after having lashed home the spectacular extra-time winner against Liverpool. The goal secured the Gunners' first Double, and George's place in football folklore.

Islington-born, he was the archetypal fan who leapt from the terraces to the first-team of the club he loved. With distinctive long, lank hair, sublime skills and more attitude than you could shake a stick at, George was a gifted rebel: at once the most creative player and biggest thorn in Bertie Mee's side. Rebellious and irreverent, he was worshipped by the North Bank at Highbury from whose legions he'd sprung, but was more often than not on the wrong side of authority. Arsenal disciplined him a couple of times, once for  flicking a V-sign at Derby County's fans after scoring away at the Baseball Ground.   

After a final fall-out with Mee he left his beloved Gunners in 1975 for Derby, where he proceeded to become a hero to the fans he'd once taunted. He memorably hit a hat-trick for the Rams against Real Madrid in the European Cup, and while at Derby earned his solitary England cap. He was given an hour out of position against Ireland and, on being substituted, fell out with manager Don Revie and was never picked again. Later in his career he lost a finger in a lawnmower accident, and following retirement from playing ran a pub in Hampshire and worked as a mechanic before returning to his spiritual home, Arsenal, where he is now one of the hosts of the club's "Legends" tours at Emirates Stadium.   

(Man City, Bury, Crewe, Carlisle, QPR, Nottingham Forest, Leyton Orient, Brentford, 1967-83)

It was said that Stan Bowles could not walk past a bookmaker's without going in to place a bet, and he even famously sent the FA Cup spinning through the air for a wager. The trophy was on display at the side of the Roker Park pitch when Bowles and his QPR team played 1973 Cup winners Sunderland. At the first opportunity he raced towards the touchline and let fly with a shot that caught the Cup fair and square. Apparently the Rangers players had placed bets on who could hit it first. Having enraged the Sunderland fans, he added insult to injury by scoring two goals in the match.

Bowles was something of a mess off the pitch because of the gambling, the booze and the women; but on it he was another showman. He began his career at Manchester City who recognised his talent but couldn't tame his wild temperament and got shot of him to Bury. But he was too clever a player to languish forever in the lower divisions, and when QPR signed him as the replacement for that other show-off, Rodney Marsh, Bowles had the stage he wanted on which to perform his tricks. He won five England caps but his was another case of unfulfilled potential, though he entertained royally.

(Fulham, Luton, Newcastle, Arsenal, 1968-78)

Self-belief was never in short supply for Supermac, the idol of Tyneside during his peak years  with the Magpies (1971-76). The Londoner began his career as a full-back but switched to centre-forward with staggering and immediate success. 49 goals in 88 games for Luton prompted Newcastle to buy him for £180,000 in the summer of 1971. He hit a hat-trick against Liverpool on his home debut and was the Toon's leading scorer for five successive seasons, netting 95 goals in 187 League games. He also scored all five goals in England's 5-0 win over Cyprus in April 1975.

Despite his bandy legs, the swashbuckling striker had pace to burn and a hammer of a shot, and was single-minded about finding the back of the net. He was so quick that during the popular TV show of the time, Superstars, Supermac ran the 100metres in 10.4 seconds, on cinders wearing heavy spikes. That could have earned him a place in Britain's 4x100m relay team for the 1972 Montreal Olympics, as the UK's third-fastest sprinter.

But he came unstuck in the 1974 FA Cup final, having boasted long and loud beforehand about what he was going to do to Liverpool. In the event, he was anonymous as the Kevin Keegan-inspired Reds eclipsed Newcastle 3-0.  Macdonald endured another dud of an FA Cup final appearance in 1978, by which time he had moved to Arsenal for the memorable fee of £333,333.33 after new Magpies boss Gordon Lee decided he was too big for his boots. Macdonald scored a hat-trick for the Gunners in his first game against his former club, as if to prove a point. Indeed, in 84 League games for Arsenal he scored 42 goals until a knee injury ended his career prematurely.

Forced to retire, he managed Fulham from 1980 to 1984, and later Huddersfield Town, but was declared bankrupt after a failed business venture, divorced his second wife, suffered painful arthritis in the injured knee and became an alcoholic before quitting the booze in 1997 and becoming a popular radio presenter back on Tyneside.

(Wigan, Stockport, Oldham, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Coventry, Plymouth, Watford, PAOK, 1979-96)
Liverpudlian Quinn entitled his autobiography 'Who Ate All The Pies,' in self-deprecating recognition of his ample physique and the good-natured banter his bulk always attracted from fans.

After turning professional with Wigan he fell foul of Social Security for continuing to claim unemployment benefit, arranging to pay back the money in instalments, but he earned a reputation as a consistent goalscorer in the lower divisions. Quinn joined Portsmouth in March 1986 and a month later was found guilty of drink-driving. He was fined and banned from driving for a year. But he twice flouted the ban, and in January 1987 was sentenced to 21 days in prison, being freed after serving 14 of them. Nevertheless he was Pompey's top scorer that season as they gained promotion to the top flight.

Newcastle bought him for £680,000 in summer 1989, just after their relegation to the old Second Division, and Quinn scored four goals on his debut, a 5-2 home win over Leeds United. He finished that season as the Football League's top scorer with 34  goals and became a much-loved figure on Tyneside. He was also a cult-hero at his next club, Coventry, where the fans christened him Sumo. Quinn described himself as being the Premiership's 'fastest player over a yard.'

After quitting football he became a professional racehorse trainer with stables at Newmarket, but in 2001 was suspended for two-and-a-half years after the RSPCA found that three horses in his care were being neglected. The suspension was reduced to one year on appeal.

In 2006 he took part ion TV's Celebrity Fit Club, weighing in at more than 18 stone but finishing the series as 'Mr Fit Club,' having shed 24 per cent of his initial body weight. He now combines horseracing with talking sport on the radio.

(Arsenal, England, 1983-2002)

An outstanding defender and exceptional leader, Tony Adams spent his entire career at one club - Arsenal, whom he joined as a schoolboy in 1980. Gunners' fans regard him as one of their club's greatest players and their best captain of all time. And his trophy-laden career was all the more remarkable for the fact that he was battling alcoholism for much of it.

Adams made his Arsenal first-team debut shortly after his 17th birthday in 1983, and became the club's youngest-ever captain, aged 21 - skippering the side for the next 14 years until retiring in 2002. Part of the renowned Arsenal back four, recognised as one of the best defences in English football history, his success on the pitch was accompanied by escalating problems off it. Frequently in the headlines for skirmishes in nightclubs, he memorably crashed his car into a wall near his home in 1990 and, when breathalysed, was found to be more than four times over the legal drink-drive limit. That December he was jailed for four months for the offence. Freed after serving half the sentence, a huge crowd attended his comeback game for Arsenal reserves, and Adams went on to lead the team to another League title.

However, the alcohol-related problems continued, and he admitted playing through a game in 1993-94 despite suffering from a hangover. He fell down stone steps outside a nightclub and had to have 29 stitches in a head wound, and let off fire extinguishers with Arsenal team-mate Ray Parlour in a Pizza Hut restaurant when taunted by fans of rival teams.

He was used to overcoming adversity, however. For years he'd shrugged off "Donkey" jeers at away grounds after the Daily Mirror printed a picture of him  with donkey's ears drawn on following a game at Old Trafford in March 1989 in which he scored at both ends.  And in September 1996 Adams admitted publicly that he was an alcoholic. In his 1998 autobiography, 'Addicted,' he pulled no punches in revealing the depths to which he sank and his subsequent battle to beat the booze. His recovery coincided with the appointment of Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager, the Frenchman helping 'TA" extend his career by several seasons and lift more silverware. In fact Adams became the only player in English football history to captain a League-winning team in three different decades (1988-89, 1997-98, 2001-02).

In 2000, his own victory over alcohol inspired him to conceive the Sporting Chance Clinic, because, he said: "Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is admitting you need help. Unlike an opposing centre forward, I finally realised my addiction wasn't something I could tackle on my own. The trouble was, I didn't know where or who to turn to."  Adams, still a trustee and now also assistant manager to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth, had identified the need for an environment in which sportsmen and women can receive "support and counselling for the kinds of destructive behaviour patterns that are all too common in the world of competitive sport, but all too often ignored."

There are other great characters equally worthy of a homage for the entertainment they brought on and off the pitch. Tottenham's lion-hearted Dave Mackay; Ron Harris, Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke from Dave Sexton's 1970 Chelsea side; Sheffield United's brilliant Tony Currie; Matt Le Tissier, Southampton's best-ever; flawed geniuses Paul Gascoigne and Paul McGrath; the imperious and enigmatic Eric Cantona; and the uncompromising Roy Keane, as brutally frank on the pitch as he was intimidating on it

Perhaps it's the money, or the unrelenting media glare, or the heightened intolerance of imperfection. Or perhaps it's the influence of more sober foreign coaches and players, wit their vaunted 'professionalism.' But for whatever reason, in today's climate it sometimes seems that footballers are from an identikit mould, I-pods in diamond-studded ears, acutely aware of their own 'value,' talking in clichés, and publishing banal autobiographies after just a couple of seasons in the limelight. Sometimes too it feels like we could do with a bit of the colour and character of an earlier generation of players...

Graham Lister