Reading through the My Favourite XI series on the excellent Two Footed Tackle, I loved reading the reasoning behind various contributors' choices. Choosing your favourite players is such a rational affair, to like something about someone, be it the way they move, their skills, their tackling, their image, their achievements, it can be quite an easy decision. In some respects you see something, you like it. Narrowing down to an XI is the hard bit. Inspired, I offered to contribute, only for time to beat me before Chris called time on the series. The link above will take you to the series. It is well worth a read.
I thought about posting my Favourite XI on here, but then, being of a negative mindset (watching Sheffield United can have that effect), I got thinking about the players I really dislike. Now disliking a player can be for perfectly rational reasons, but football fans, by nature, tend towards the irrational in their beliefs and their thought processes. We all cling to hope until the very last moment, when to on-lookers it is virtually extinguished. We store up vendettas against teams or players for years and years. Maybe a series of Dislikable XIs might just pull a few of those seemingly ridiculous lines of reasoning out into the open and take the contributors through an irrationality cleansing process?
So over the next few weeks, you will see XI's determined by amongst other things foul play, foul behaviour, playground frustration, city rivalry, political leanings, sheer stupidity and sometimes just because of who they are. There was just one rule that I asked to be applied, no Savage or Barton et al. They make themselves just too easy a target for something like this. So with everyone's midfield pairing up for grabs. Here is my Dislikable XI to kick things off.
Look out every Friday and Tuesday for a new XI with Lanterne Rouge, from the supposedly impartial football league site The Two Unfortunates, choosing his XI next Tuesday.
If you would like to contribute, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Goalkeeper - Hans Segers
Once played for the Blades and cultivated a quality Kevin Webster 80's tache. However, my ire towards the Dutch custodian formed on the last day of the 1993-94 season and his performance at Goodison Park for Evert….sorry.. for Wimbledon v Everton. I was at Stamford Bridge watching the Blades get relegated after a last minute Mark Stein goal and results elsewhere went against us. Those other results included a 3-2 win for Everton which saved them at our expense.
Although subsequently cleared of all match-fixing allegations, I will never see the Everton goals that day without suspicion that something just wasn't right.
Right Back - Mel Sterland
Schoolboy fan, played for his club, capped by England, the archetypal hero if you support that club. If you support the cross city rivals a figure of hate. How can he top it off? Play for Leeds? Tick! Then to top it off he plays the Blades' club captain in the film When Saturday Comes, resplendent in the red & white stripes, albeit he claims he had a Wednesday shirt on underneath. Could Sean Bean not have found an ex-Blade to play the part? Let's be honest, it's a football film, ergo it's rubbish, so why not let some two bit actor take part, alternatively a plank of wood which would exude more personality and presence. Nicknamed Zico by Wednesdayites due to his dead ball prowess, Blades fans were shocked by the implication that Zico clearly translated to English as Shit.
Left Back - Mauricio Taricco
Blades' fans have long memories and a player whose play has led to red cards for five Blades players over the years deservedly makes my team. The feud dates back to 1995 when Dane Whitehouse was sent off in Ipswich's 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane, following a shove on Taricco who had blatantly dived to try and get Whitehouse into trouble. Then in the 1997 play-off semi final between United and Ipswich Taricco was at the centre of a spitting allegations, following the second leg at Portman Road. No wonder Jan Aage Fjortoft was seen standing over a crestfallen Taricco at the end, gloating at a Blades aggregate victory.
Spitting, fouling, cheating, nothing was out of bounds in Taricco's attempts to get a response from his opponents. Maybe you think that the players shouldn't respond yet the slyness of the Argentine's actions didn't just upset Blades fans/players. After an incident when Taricco theatrically tried to get Andy Impey sent off, then Leicester manger Dave Bassett described Taricco as "A bloody disgrace. a disgrace to the game". His provocation of El Hadji Diouf raised Gerard Houllier's ire.
Taricco was once quoted as saying "It does appear that Sheffield United fans do not like me, but that is up to them. I just want to play my football." The thing is, it was his idea of football that irritated us so much.
Centre Back - Phil Thompson
Part of Ian Porterfield's "Dad's Army" side of the mid 1980's, Thompson played in a relatively unsuccessful team alongside fellow veterans Ken McNaught and Peter Withe. With most fans feeling he was only with us for one last pay cheque, his injury laden spell of pedestrian defending didn't last long and he wasn't that popular amongst the Blades support. He went down even further in my estimations with his lack of magnanimity following the Blades two all draw with Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final at Bramall Lane in 2003, dishing out petty criticism of the Championship team's style of play and refusing to shake hands with Blades assistant manager Kevin Blackwell.
Centre Back - George Berry
A man who I knew little about until he, along with his tremendous afro, entered my 6 year old footballing consciousness through the medium of Panini's Football 81. He flooded my schoolyard swap pile and you just couldn't get rid of him. Everyone had him.
"Not Got, Not Got, Got *thumb through 6 George Berry's* Not Got, Got, Got"
Each day you bought a group of packets there the bearded, Afro'd stopper would be smiling back at me. ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!
Central Midfield - Gordon Strachan
I associate Strachan with a period where Leeds held the edge over the Blades on the pitch, pipping us to the 1990 Division Two title and then picking up the final pre-Sky Championship title at Bramall Lane on the last day of the season. In that period at Leeds, Strachan scored a goal that grates with me today, more for the smugness of his celebration and the circumstances of the goal. Leeds were one up and with the game stretched and the Blades chasing an equaliser, Strachan picked up the ball and ran a fair stretch of the pitch before tucking the ball away. He then proceeded to sit on the advertisement boards, suggesting he needed a rest after such a long run, arms aloft like a parading muscleman, all arrogant and smug. This celebration was seemingly (although the reality was probably a lot less) repeated on Leeds TV's news and sports programmes incessantly in the following days and weeks.
Central Midfield - Martin Kemp
21st September 1985; Melchester Rovers stars Jimmy Slade, Rob Richards and Kenny Logan (no, not the Irish Eurovision fella) were unhappy. I was unhappy. Aged 10 it was the beginning of the end of my love affair with Roy of the Rovers. Bringing Emlyn Hughes and Bob Wilson out of retirement was stretching the credibility somewhat, but signing Martin Kemp and Steve Norman of Spandau Ballet? That was too far. Next you will be telling me that half the team will be killed in a terrorist attack during a tour of Basran…………….oh!
Unfortunately, I had to choose between the two new romantics. Given the need to include Ainsworth on the wing (Norman's position) and the SCS Sofa adverts, Kemp wins.
Right Wing - Gareth Ainsworth
Ah the consummate professional, winning promotion with his club, the media friendly veteran still performing well at the grand old age of 38. Appearances on 5 Live and The Football League Show. Yet actually that could have equally been applied to another player, Dane Whitehouse. A local lad who had moved up through the Bramall Lane youth set-up, he made his debut at 18. After turning down big money moves to bigger clubs he was a Blades hero, until a crude challenge from Ainsworth at Vale Park in 1997 left him with a serious knee ligament injury and unable to play again. He was 27.
Whitehouse said afterwards that the injury was worse for the fact that he didn't see the tackle coming and couldn't brace himself for it. Surprising for an alert player with great peripheral vision and movement. Ainsworth claims it was a 100% tackle, no malice intended, but in coming in from the wrong side he certainly ran the risk of injuring someone.
What makes matters worse is that it took an age for Ainsworth to man-up and apologise, even when the full extent of Dane's injury was known. By the time Vale returned to Bramall Lane, that apology was still to arrive and Ainsworth yet again took the coward's route. Arriving and leaving by car, he saved himself from the wrath of Blades fans and Dane's father - Sid - who boarded the Vale coach to hunt him down and demand an apology, frightening the Bejeezus out of the rest of the Vale squad.
Left Wing - Marc Overmars
I was stood on the Clock End at Highbury on Saturday 13th February 1999. The ball had been put out of play by the Blades with our player Lee Morris injured. Arsenal threw the ball back in with the intention of returning play to the Blades, but Kanu thought differently. Picking up the ball he ran down the wing and squared it for Overmars to tap in past a disbelieving Alan Kelly. The media at the time, played the naïve young African- new to English football - card, which in itself borders on racism. Apparently Kanu wasn't to realise what was intended from the throw in, when he burst down the wing and crossed the ball. This is a view still perpetuated by Arsenal on their website to this day.
Maybe so, but Overmars didn't have to put the ball in the net either. What was his excuse?
Striker - Mark Bright
Scored the winning goal in the Sheffield Derby FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley in 2003, one of the bleakest days of my football watching life. The lesser contributing member of the Wright-Bright partnership at Palace has attempted to forge a media career like his former namesake. Unfortunately for him, whether he is intentionally doing it or not, he is finding that offering controversial opinion does not garner support. Whether he is using Tamir Cohen's tribute to his Dad as the initiative for a Metro article on "shirt off celebrations going too far", or blocking half of Norfolk on twitter for one man's idiocy, the man is a first rate idiot.
I’ve got to know some good football bloggers and football people on twitter, even some from the other side of the Sheffield footballing divide. Some of the people who saw Bright as a hero, yet they have been chastised (often without justification) during interaction with him on twitter. A sad man indeed.
Striker - Terry Curran
Some players cross the Sheffield Divide and make a success of their careers at their new club. From my perspective, Carl Bradshaw, Alan Quinn, Derek Geary are the three that immediately spring to mind, but few, if any, were Wednesday folk heroes. Terry Curran, aka Super Pig and scorer in the Blades 4-0 defeat at Hillsborough on Boxing Day 1979 was never going to be afforded a warm welcome. His goalscoring record (3 in 42 appearances) did little to appease the feeling that we had a Wednesday legend in our ranks and he was less than welcome.
Manager - Gary Megson
I know what you are thinking, Wednesday manager, a bit of an obvious and easy choice. But it runs much deeper than that.
Although both he and his Dad turned out in the blue & white stripes, I first started to dislike the man following the infamous Battle of Bramall Lane, when he managed West Brom. Without running over the details of what happened that day, Megson subsequently suggested that the Blades were cheating and trying to get the match abandoned. Suggestions that he, nor anyone else, subsequently corroborated. In fact we are still waiting for the autobiography where "it will all come out".
On taking over at Bolton Wanderers, Megson took the club down the table. Yet both he and his apparent friends in the media seemed complicit in portraying a manager achieving above his resources, aghast at Wanderers' fans misperception of their Ginger Mourinho. How dare Wanderers' fans not acknowledge his fine achievement of taking them into the bottom three. Megson, is more like his nemesis Warnock than he cares to admit. Smug, arrogant and not as good as he thinks he is.
Neil Warnock said in his autobiography that he wouldn't piss on Megson if he was on fire. Fine by me.