WORDS: DOMINIC BLISS
For all the national team’s woes when it came to solving the “left-sided problem”, the English actually boasted an enviable collection of educated left feet in the Nineties. Leaving aside the famous names, we take a look at five fan favourites of the Nineties and the wands they wielded on their left limbs…
Supporters of the English national team spent most of the Nineties bemoaning the fact that their team was one player short of being truly competitive.
The media talked about a “left-sided problem” as we saw a host of players step into the side for one or two games before being cast onto the scrap heap.
The thing is, England was actually packed with sweet left feet in the Nineties – they might not have been attached to international superstars, but they had those lost arts of taking corners and crossing from the touchline down to a tee.
So what if they weren’t the quickest, or the most skilful! When they wrapped their left boot around the football, you could bet your house they would hit the mark. Remember this is not a run-down of the best left-sided players of the Nineties, rather a celebration of those unheralded possessors of left feet more cultured than Brian Sewell…
One half of a pair of wing heroes who starred for Nottingham Forest as they won promotion to the Premier League and then took the top flight by storm in the mid-Nineties, Ian Woan was blessed with a dream of a left foot. With him guiding crosses from one flank and Steve Stone running himself into the ground on the other, Forest were always likely to create chances for their strike partnership of Stan Collymore and Bryan Roy. No wonder they finished third in their first year after promotion, earning a European spot in 1995.
Woan had also been part of the side that reached the 1991 FA Cup Final and would remain at the club until 2000, earning himself cult hero status at the City Ground. Ask Forest fans what they remember him for and they will almost certainly tell you about his long-range belters that soared into the net, whether from set-pieces or open play. Many a Goal of the Month competition was livened by a Woan special, but his most memorable came in 1996, when a brace of free kicks at home to Spurs in the FA Cup earned Forest a replay which they won. The following season, another FA Cup double sunk Newcastle and saw Woan become a playground hero for lefties all over the country (for at least one day).
Seven England caps and a career that took him from Manchester City to Everton and then-Premier League Sheffield Wednesday would suggest that Andy Hinchlciffe was far from unheralded. In fact, were it not for regular injury troubles and the fact that he coincided with Stuart Pearce and Graeme Le Saux, he may well have enjoyed more international honours.
However, unlike Pearce and Le Saux, you are unlikely to find a young person today who knows much about Hinchcliffe and, for someone who grew up revering his set-piece deliveries, that is a crying shame.
Unsurprisingly for an all-action full-back who loved to fire curling crosses towards the edge of the six-yard box, Hinchcliffe benefited greatly from the mid-Nineties trend for wing-backs, a system pioneered at international level by Glenn Hoddle. Then at Everton, he started Hoddle’s first game in charge of England, but a cruciate knee ligament injury and the persistence of those two big name rivals for a starting spot meant that Hinchcliffe’s opportunities were ultimately limited. That, of course, didn’t stop the men with the moulds at Corinthians from making a big-head Hinchcliffe figure in England colours.
Apart from his perfectly parted blond curtains, Simon Rodger had Crystal Palace fans cooing for one reason – his perfectly placed set-pieces. Surely one of the best deliverers of a corner in the game at his peak, Rodger used to get great pace on his crosses, making them particularly tricky to defend against, while the likes of Eric ‘Ninja’ Young and Chris Coleman were the happy recipients.
His cultured left foot was the immediate draw, but Rodger was a dogged player too – a tenacious, hard-running left-sided midfielder, he never gave up. Add to that his loyalty to the Eagles – and he remained at Selhurst Park for 12 years between 1990 and 2002 – and it is easy to see how Rodger became a firm favourite with the Palace faithful. Like others in this list, he may not have provided the answer to England’s left-sided problems but in terms of the pure quality lying within his left boot, Rodger was up there with the best.
A quietly effective member of two great overachieving teams and a key part in both his clubs’ relative success in the Eighties and Nineties, Alan Kimble was – in all honesty – a fairly rudimentary left-back. What made him so important was his ability to deliver a perfect long ball into the box, whip in a tempting cross and hang up a deadly corner.
Having made his name providing the ammunition for Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge, as they took Cambridge United to within touching distance of the Premier League, Kimble made the move up to the top-flight when he was signed by Wimbledon in 1993, becoming a regular fixture in Joe Kinnear’s latter-day Crazy Gang.
During his nine-year stay at Selhurst Park, Dons fans became familiar with the site of Kimble’s pre-corner signals before he stepped up to swing in a left-footed swirler. Raising his hands (sometimes right, sometimes left, sometimes both) above his head to let the big boys in the box know where to expect his delivery, he was like a quarter-back organising his team-mates on the gridiron. And, with the likes of Marcus Gayle, Robbie Earle and Dean Holdsworth wreaking havoc in the mixer, Kimble was spoiled for choice when picking his mark.
The only man on this list I remember being seriously touted as the answer to England’s problem on the left, Steve Guppy was feted by Leicester City supporters during his prolific spell with the club between 1997 and 2001.
His ability to put in equally dangerous crosses whether or not he had taken on his opposite full-back meant that Guppy was a lethal weapon for Martin O’Neill’s direct, yet effective, Foxes side.
Between 1996/97 and 1999/00, Leicester finished in the top half in four consecutive seasons and, with Guppy’s crosses, Emile Heskey’s aerial power and the likes of Tony Cottee picking up the pieces in the goalmouth – not to mention the late runs from midfield Muzzy Izzett made his trademark – this was a team who could pull a game back from the brink through their tried and tested attacking combination play. In the late Nineties, it became increasingly common to see the line, “Guppy’s corner was headed home by Matt Elliott” in the newspaper match reports.
However, his England career failed to take off and, after making his international debut against Belgium in October 1999, Guppy never played for his country again. Fans of his left-footed wizardry felt that he deserved at least a second chance.