This week’s Midweek ‘Player Focus – Close Season Special’ features a player we originally considered mediocre finally impress for a club beginning to accept its mediocrity, as Jason Mckeown recalls Andy Myers.
There is a famous – or should that be infamous? – own goal by Andy Myers back in 1996, when he was playing for Chelsea against Liverpool at Anfield. With the Blues already 2-0 down, a deep cross from a Liverpool winger presented the unchallenged Myers with the opportunity to crouch down and cushion the ball back to his goalkeeper, only for his misdirected header to bounce haplessly into the net.
It would be unfair to synopsise Myers’ Chelsea career on this rather unfortunate moment – the Hunslow-born defender made 85 senior appearances for the club he rose through the youth ranks of, which included being part of squads that won the FA Cup, League Cup and now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. But after making his Chelsea debut during the first ever Premier League season of 1992/93, the rise and fall of Myers represents a useful snapshot of the evolution of top flight football over this period.
For Myers ended up at Bradford City in 1999, as he and others were pushed out of bigger clubs like Chelsea by the growing legion of foreign players plying their trade in England. The following December, Chelsea made history by fielding the league’s first ever foreign XI. Only one Chelsea youth product has truly made it at Stamford Bridge since, as the English top flight have become an international industry. Famously, in the first ever Premier League season there were only 22 non-UK players, by 2006 that figure had grown to 280.
Which suggests one glaringly obvious fact – standards had improved immeasurably, meaning English players who might have in the past been good enough to forge a successful top flight career – like Myers – now had to fall down the football pyramid to get regular football. When Myers broke into Chelsea’s team they were a perennial mid-table outfit (even relegated to the second tier in the late 80s) and Stamford Bridge had a running track. By the time Myers hot-footed it to West Yorkshire in search of first team football, Chelsea were taking part in the Champions League, had Gianfranco Zola up front and were throwing up some impressive-looking stands.
But that wasn’t the end of it Myers, a drop from the upper echelons of the Premier League to the bottom rungs of the top flight wasn’t the happy conclusion. He may have been a Premier League player for a further two years at Valley Parade, but he was a bit-part figure struggling to make the grade. Just 15 appearances in 1999/00, and 24 the year after. City were relegated that season, with Myers having a punch-up with club legend Stuart McCall in the penultimate game – a 6-1 thrashing to Leeds.
Who would have thought then, that 12 months later Myers would be winning the club’s player of the season award? Not exactly flawless in Division One it must be said – who present for City’s 3-2 home loss to Burnley in September 2001 can forget the way Myers was badly out-thought by 38-year-old Tony Ellis? – but City’s drop down a level saw Myers find his true level.
Which is where English football had evolved to, at this point. That summer, there would be plenty of back-slapping for the Premier League reaching its 10th anniversary. Myers might not have been a true reflection of a player who suffered from those improved standards, but in the space of a decade he had gone from someone considered good enough to play in the top flight to a footballer just about good enough for the second tier. Myers was only 28-years-old during the 2001/02 season – in theory at the peak of his game. But his career was on the decline, and that was not entirely due to his ability.
Originally signed as a left back to play ahead of Wayne Jacobs, Myers only truly began to win over us supporters when injuries saw him move to the centre of defence at the start of the 2000/01 campaign. With City now back in Division One but with a considerable injury list, Myers began to establish himself as a first choice centre back and played a key part in a defence that improved as the season wore on (especially after manager Jim Jefferies quit and Nicky Law arrived). Reliable, trustworthy and steady, Myers was decent if not fantastic.
Which at this early stage of City’s steep decline made him a worthy winner of the player of the season award, if not a particularly memorable one. The Bantams finished 15th that season – a major disappointment considering we expected to challenge strongly for an instant return to the Premier League – and performances were patchy from the squad. The club’s top scorer (Eion Jess) was largely hated, defender Andy Tod was playing up front and Juanjo was the new flag bearer for exotic signing. Stuart McCall was still great, but 38. David Wetherall was going through a succession of injuries. Alan Combe and Matthew Etherington were impressing, but not around for long. In a 5 out of 10 type of season for the club, Myers was a consistent 6 or 7 out of 10 player – good enough to earn him the award.
Which provided some form of symmetry to Myers’ career. He began at Chelsea with English football in general at a certain level, which was to upwardly rise over the next few years and leave him behind. So Myers moved on, but still found himself falling short. However, this time the standards around him began to fall, and City had got worse. Suddenly Myers was up to the required level in order to impress. He was probably not a better player than he had been over previous years, but the landscape had shifted.
A victim and then a benefactor of circumstances, which helped Myers finally make an impression of sorts at Valley Parade that better players – at least relatively speaking – have struggled to do. His crowning was a very muted celebration of mediocrity, for a club which was soon going to fall below such depths that mediocrity would soon become something to aspire to.
The Midweek Player Focus – Close Season Special series