My best eleven from over forty years of supporting Blues, now for the icing on top of the cake, the entertainers.
Du, du, Dugarry. My God, Le God, a French World Cup winner in Small Heath. Of course, not the first World Cup winner to play for Blues – step forward the tempestuous and hugely unsuccessful Alberto Tarantini.
Tarantini had entertainment value, but mainly off the pitch as he prototyped Cantona by wading into the crowd to take issue with a fan who had expressed his misgivings about the curly-haired one’s contribution. and commitment to the cause.
Dugarry was different. It was short but ever so sweet. Probably the best condensed period of quality, just a few months at the end of the 2002/03 season, 16 games in total, that I’ve seen, and an individual performance against Southampton that was the best I’ve witnessed by a Blues player. Almost lost in that halcyon period was a goal against Middlesbrough that ranks up amongst the best.
How Brucie managed to persuade Dugarry to spend the winter in Small Heath is still a mystery, as Blues languished in 15th place in the Prem and were decidedly looking over their shoulders at the bottom three. Let’s not question miracles though.
It would be unfair on the contribution of others who joined during that window, Clapham, Upson and Clemence, to say that Dugarry single-handedly saved us, but he certainly galvanised the whole team, including those already at the club, to finish 13th, well clear of any trouble.
“And he was the absolute master of the Gallic shrug. When he wasn’t running the game, he was refereeing it, quick to point out to the man in black how his performance could be improved and what decision he should be making next.”
For one month, April, Dugarry was outstanding, unplayable, scoring in four consecutive games; against Sunderland, an incredible flicked effort away at Charlton, two in that game against Southampton, and a Frankie Funtime Worthington-esque effort against Middlesbrough. It was a privilege to see this kind of quality at St Andrew’s. Generally, we’ve been a team of grafters, so this kind of icing on top of the cake was to be savoured and forever remembered.
And he was the absolute master of the Gallic shrug. When he wasn’t running the game, he was refereeing it, quick to point out to the man in black how his performance could be improved and what decision he should be making next. Goal celebrations were equally continental, with blown kisses lapped up by the hard-working Brummies who’d never loved a man so much.
It couldn’t last. A whack on the knee early in the next season after he joined the club permanently put him out of sorts and he gradually lost interest as his thoughts turned back to the vineyards of his homeland, but it had been the most delicious dream while it lasted.
I have a confession to make. When I first started watching Blues, in 1973 at the age of 10, my favourite player wasn’t Trevor. That feels almost sacrilegious.
My favourite player was Kenny Burns, Scottish, irascible, dirty, powerful, gap-toothed and versatile. Burns won England’s Player of the Year while at Forest as a central defender, played midfield for Scotland, and bagged twenty goals in one season playing upfront with Trevor for Blues. Four goals in a game at home to Derby, three on a frozen pitch at Filbert Street in front of the Match of the Day cameras (you can catch a glimpse of my twelve-year-old self jumping up as one of the goals goes in) which won him a TR7 donated by a local car dealer to any player who scored the sixth goal for Blues in any game. Kenny may or may not have kept the car to himself, rather than share it with his teammates who helped him achieve the feet. There was much for an impressionable teenager to like about Kenny Burns.
But this list is about best, not favourite, players. Was Trevor the best player to play for Blues? I can only pass judgment on those I saw play, so Bradford, Merrick, Hibbs, Hall et al don’t come into the equation, but Trevor was the best player I saw play for Blues.
A turn reminiscent of Cruyff, blistering pace to get away from defenders on to the ball over the top, particularly before the first Achilles injury, a snapshot with minimum backlift, a dribble and finish to leave Frank McLintock on his backside and Phil Parkes groping at thin air, a team player, a prodigy, scoring four in a game at 16. For the best part of a decade, whether we were doing well or otherwise, the main tactic was give it to Trev.
“Trevor was the best player I’ve seen down St. Andrew’s.”
It was a source of immense pride when Trevor became Blues first England capped player in decades when he played against Holland in 1978. It was a source of tears when we knew, after a few false starts, that he had to leave the club to achieve his ambitions. It was as much the realisation that we weren’t good enough for him as that we wouldn’t see him in a Royal Blue shirt again.
He went on to achieve those ambitions, with Forest after that famous first million-pound transfer and playing at a World Cup with England, but Blues was where his heart always lay, shown by his return as manager where he and we kept falling frustratingly short, repeatedly blowing it in a series of ‘typical Blues’ ways in the playoffs, before handing over the reins to Brucie to do it at the first attempt.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that for sheer talent Trevor is the best player I’ve seen down St. Andrew’s.
Elvis impersonating, fun-time Frankie. The great entertainer, Worthington had already had a colourful career with Huddersfield, Leicester and Bolton before joining Blues. There had also been an aborted move to Liverpool when the medical was failed due to a heart problem. Rumours always abounded that the blood pressure difficulty was a temporary state of affairs brought on by excess in a club the night before the test.
Frank was another of those skilled, flamboyant mid-seventies players so distrusted by England managers of the period. Eight caps in total.
Delightfully, Worthington’s flamboyance off the pitch was matched by his performances on it. Worthington’s game was built around a great first touch which allowed him the time and space to do his thing, which included ball juggling and a great left-foot shot. All of this came together in one famous goal for Bolton against Ipswich. So famous and great is the goal that if you start typing Frank’s name into Google, an autocomplete of “Frank Worthington goal’ comes up, and that is the Ipswich goal. Go see if you want to know what a baller looked like in the seventies.
In the days before regimented warm-ups, where the players just had a kick-in, we used to turn up early just to see Frank play keepie-uppie. Often this would be the main entertainment of the day. The difference with today’s freestylers was that Frank could take it on to the field and use it as an effective tactic, and all with some hairy hatchet man hacking away at him from behind.
Frank spearheaded the push for promotion in 1979/80, dovetailing well with the more straightforward, hard-working Keith Bertschin, until Jim Smith got a touch of the Don Revie’s and left him out of the crucial last game of the season against Notts County, distrusting Frankie when push came to shove and replacing him with the more solid citizenship of Don Givens.
“While it lasted, it was certainly a fun time with Frankie. “
Frank was good in our first season back in the top flight grabbing 18 goals. The following season he was again paired with his old sparring partner at Bolton, Neil Whatmore, but the magic wasn’t to be repeated.
When Sgt Major Saunders replaced Smith, the writing was on the wall for Frank. Stating the obvious, Frank was not a Saunders’ kind of player or person. He was soon swapped with Leeds for Byron Stevenson and the more Saunders’ friendly, but almost equally good, Mick Harford was bought.
While it lasted, it was certainly a fun time with Frankie.
The whole kit and caboodle …
Best Blues eleven
Lined-up in a 4-3-3 to fit the talent in, the best I’ve seen from over forty years of watching Birmingham City