Wednesday 4 June 2008 Shaun Goater article


With all the uncertainty and disarray following a mostly successful season for Manchester City, I decided to cheer City fans up by taking a trip down memory lane and resurrecting the legend that is Shaun Goater.

In the dark days of City’s demise, we were crying out for a predatory striker (still are); somebody who could score without even thinking about it, who would consistently net 20 plus a season and dig us out of the deep Division One hole we were in. At the time, Goater was scoring for fun at Bristol City; he had just been voted in the PFA Team of the Year and had netted 45 goals in 81 appearances for the Reds. Joe Royle had found the remedy to our striker headache, and scooped on transfer deadline day in March 1998, acquiring the services of the Bermudan for a paltry £400,000.

Every City fan should be familiar with Goater’s background. He was born and raised in Hamilton, Bermuda and football was always in his blood as his mum, Lynette, used to play the sport. At the age of 17 he was invited to Columbia High in New Jersey, America on a scholarship and it was during this time, on a thanksgiving break, that he was spotted by a scout from England. It was about the only thing that City fans have got to be thankful for from Manchester United. Goater was over the moon, so he moved transatlantic to pursue a career in the English football leagues- to initially play as a creative midfielder.

Inevitably Goater didn’t last at United, but he was signed up by Rotherham United and made his league debut in 1989, where he spent seven years learning the trade. He scored 70 goals in 209 appearances for the Yorkshire side before a fall-out with then-manager Archie Gemmill resulted in his transfer to Bristol City for £175,000.

It was during his career at Ashton Gate when he began to start netting goals and set a precedent for the future. He scored on his debut against Gillingham and continued to make a name for himself, scoring an impressive 45 goals in 81 appearances for Bristol City. With a tally like that it was only a matter of time before Goater was snapped up- and it was right place, right price, right time for Joe Royle to make Goater his first signing for City.

Goater made his debut in blue just two days after he signed, against Bradford City. We lost 2-1 in what was a completely dismal season for City. The Bermudan scored three goals in the last seven games of the season, two of which were at the Britannia Stadium on the final day of the campaign. Of course, the 502 result couldn’t save us and Goater, along with City, slipped into Division Two.

Despite his goal-scoring record, I remember my first impression of Goater being very different. He certainly didn’t appear to be a natural goal-scorer; his play was clumsy, he was quite gangly (not quite Wanchope!) and his first touch left a lot to be desired. But I put my personal opinions to one side and encouraged him in the 1998/99 season- and was rewarded for my loyalty. After scoring in the opener against Blackpool he never looked back, netting 21 goals in total during the season, including a hat-trick against Burnley. His most important goal during that campaign came in the Play-Off semi final against Wigan where he arguably hand-balled into the back of the net. The controversy was irrelevant; the goal stood and Goater’s goal saw us into the Play-Off final- and back into Division One.

By now, many City fans had many colourful and varied views on our Bermudan striker; clumsy was a word used a lot. Inept, lucky and unorthodox were further adjectives being mentioned amongst Blues. Goater was an unexpected find, a player who initially puzzled fans through his general appearance and style of play. He was a complete one-off- one minute sublime, the next shocking.

So when I went to a pre-season friendly in 1999 against Liverpool, I had the chance post-match to meet Joe Royle. I took the opportunity to quiz him about the rumours that at the time were circulating linking City with striker David Johnson. He was in a good mood seeing as City had won 2-1, but his response to my question was simple: ‘Keep the faith with Goater, he will come good’. That was it. From then on I put my trust in the City manager and anticipated Goater’s starring role in the 1999/2000 season.

I’m glad he did. That season saw Shaun emerge as what he became recognized as- a poacher. He began to score off most body parts other than his foot (!), became more skillful and much more of a rounded player. It was the home game against Nottingham Forest where I was finally converted. The mood in the crowd shifted- the sarcastic comments and jeers subsided as Goater scored the winner and was greeted to a standing ovation as he was substituted. A hat trick against Fulham and two goals at Ewood Park on the final day of the season sealed a hugely successful run for Goater- his tally was 29 goals, a figure that thrust City back into the Premier League.

By May Goater was a firm fan’s favourite: ‘Feed the Goat and he will Score’ was a regular terrace anthem and he had earned the faith of the fans. Even my brother went out and got ‘Goatistuta’ on the back of his shirt! He was voted Player of the Year by the fans and Bermuda announced it was to hold an annual anniversary to represent his achievements- June 21st in no longer an ordinary day. Forget Independence Day, Valentine’s Day- this was no April Fools. June 21st is forever known in City fan’s diaries as Shaun Goater Day.

Being promoted to the Premiership inevitably meant new players would be brought in, but not even the arrival of George Weah and Paulo Wanchope upfront seemed to affect Goater. The 2000/01 season began but Goater was injured until October- and boy was he welcomed back. A home game against Bradford saw Weah, former World Player of the Year, booed off the pitch to be substituted for Goater, who was greeted onto the pitch with a standing ovation. Although he didn’t score, the reception confirmed Goater’s popularity amongst the blue contingency. Even the arrival of Darren Huckerby at Christmas didn’t affect Goater. In fact, they worked together in an effort to save City from the drop.

Of course, the season didn’t quite go to plan and despite Goater’s 11 goals, City yo-yoed straight back down to Division One. Royle was out and replaced dramatically by KK- Kevin Keegan. A former England manager who was immediately linked with a plethora or big-name stars to rocket us back into the big time. However, Keegan had immediately tried to sell Goater to Wolves for £1.4 million before he had even played a game! Goater was determined to prove Keegan wrong- and once again he didn’t disappoint.

In fact, he excelled beyond anybody’s expectations. Goater became the first City player since Francis Lee (in 1972) to score more than 30 goals in a campaign, finishing the epic Championship-winning season on 32 goals. Highlights included hat-tricks against Burnley and Gillingham, plenty of braces and a sublime finish at the Priestfield stadium against the Gills. The 6-2 victory at Sheffield Wednesday was spellbinding and saw the Goat in unstoppable form. He had also earned a place in the PFA Nationwide Team of the Year. The Goat hadn’t just been fed- he was fit to burst and hungry for more in the Premiership.

Despite the record-breaking goal haul from Goater, there were still question marks over whether he could graze and be fed in the Premiership, or whether he would find himself out of his depth and be put out to pasture (enough of the farmyard metaphors!). Keegan was inevitably given money to strengthen with, and strengthen he did in the form of Nicolas ‘Le Sulk’ Anelka. A huge name with a huge reputation meant that Goater found himself sidelined as Keegan favoured a Huckerby-Anelka partnership (with Anelka playing the big ‘I am’ in the dressing room of course).

That season, 2002/03, wasn’t only the last season for City at Maine Road, it was Goater’s last season playing for City too. Keegan was aware of how well-loved Goater was by the fans but, at 33, he had enjoyed a prolific career at City, even though each and every blue would be sad to see him leave. He didn’t want to go, but it was blatantly apparent that he wasn’t to feature in Keegan’s plans for the future.

But he didn’t leave without creating what was his best performance in a City shirt- in the last Manchester derby at Maine Road, on November 9th 2002. He scored twice to see his overall tally at City past 100, and set up Anelka’s in what was a breath-taking derby match. Nobody will ever forget how he left Gary Neville scratching his head for his first then coolly chipped Fabien Barthez for his second- City’s third. City won 3-1, and Goater left Maine Road that day a bona fide legend.

This was further emphasized when Goater scored the quickest goal ever by a Premiership substitute; it took him all of nine seconds to score the equalizer at Old Trafford, and he would have scored the winner if it hadn’t have been cruelly disallowed for an alleged infringement. Although Goater had only managed seven goals all season, he had only started 15 games. The last game of the season, the final game at Maine Road, was Goater’s last in a City shirt. Keegan made him captain for the occasion, and in true City style we lost 1-0 to Southampton. It was a terful goodbye to two prominent figures in City’s history and perhaps quite fitting that we said goodbye to them both at the same time- Maine Road and Shaun Goater.

It certainly wasn’t the end of his career as a footballer though- Alan Pardew snapped the Bermudan up at Reading and he enjoyed a successful period, scoring 12 goals in 39 appearances. But when Steve Coppell took over as manager he was loaned out to Coventry. Goater made only four appearances under Coppell, so moved to Roots Hall for his final season as a player.

At Southend he scored 11 goals under Steve Tilson, helping them to achieve promotion to the Championship. His final game was ironically against his former club Bristol City and more than 400 blues travelled from Manchester to witness Goater’s final 90 minutes as a professional footballer. Southend also played a friendly against Bermuda as a mark of respect for Goater.

His international career was obviously limited due to Bermuda’s world ranking, but Goater still managed an incredible 32 goals in 36 appearances whilst representing his country. He is a national hero- in 2003 he became Shaun Goater MBE for his services to sport and young people in Bermuda. Following on from undertaking the UEFA B coaching license, rumour has it that Bermuda will be receiving a professional ‘soccer’ team that will play in the American ‘Soccer’ league. Goater is to be both a director and coach of the side, called the Bermuda Hogges. However Goater is currently putting all his efforts into a business initiative in Bermuda.

I had the privilege of meeting Goater a couple of times and I was both charmed and touched by how genuine and humble he was. He spoke with pride when it came to City and was so refreshingly loyal and passionate about all things blue. He had scored 103 goals during his time at City and been the top scorer at the club for four seasons. He is a true ambassador for the game and, in my eyes, will always be one of my heroes and a City legend. He, like the rest of City fans is ‘City Til He Dies’ and deserves to do well in whatever he does in the future. Who let the Goat out? City did- and I will be eternally grateful.

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