David Seaman: Whatever happened to the safest pair of hands in football

David Seaman

David Seaman…David Andrew Seaman MBE, no less. Always an imposing figure between the posts during his long, successful and illustrious career, his legend lives on in the game in current day. They just don’t make goalkeepers like Seaman anymore. I mean for example, no-one has ever worn a ponytail in football so suavely before he played, nor since his retirement. But, lets review how he got to enjoy such a revered status:

Born in Rotherham, Yorkshire Seaman’s first club was Yorkshire’s largest club, Leeds, in 1978. Whilst contracted to Leeds, he never quite made the grade (always the understudy to John Lukic) and moved on without making a first team appearance.

Following that first, unsuccessful contract, Seaman never looked back; over the next 8 years and 307 career appearances during spells at Peterborough United, Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers Seaman grew in reputation, experience and stature as he moved swiftly through the four tiers of the old English football league structure.

It wasn’t just the English football league structure Seaman moved through like a knife cutting through butter. He also broke into the England National team structure, representing the Under 21’s ten times, the England ‘B’ side (more relevant at that time than any B side in today’s game) 6 times, before making his full England senior bow in 1988, in a friendly against Saudi Arabia. The game finished 0-0, Seaman was off and running with a clean sheet – of course.

Such impressive form for club and country led to Arsenal paying £1.3 million pounds to Queens Park Rangers for Seaman’s services in 1990. Ironically and in a strange twist of fate (that only seem to happen so often in football!), Arsenal’s number 1 prior to Seaman’s arrival was none other than John Lukic, who had kept him out of the Leeds team many years previous.

Seaman, with the blessing of then legendary Arsenal manager George Graham, quickly supplanted John Lukic and so started the greatest period of his career and perhaps one of the greatest goalkeeping careers the country has ever seen.

Arsenal

Over the next 13 seasons, Seaman experienced life at the height of English and European football. An ever-present in the Arsenal side in his first season, conceding an average of less than 1 goal every 2 games, Arsenal stormed to the league title in the 1990-1991 season.

 

Domestic league success would not come again for several years but in 1993 Seaman shepherded the Arsenal side to an unprecedented domestic cup double, winning both the League Cup and the FA Cup. Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal’s victims in both finals were no doubt pleased to see the back of Seaman, who had impressively kept them at bay over both finals and a replay.

European success was next and Arsenal won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994. Seaman’s career seemed to be on an unstoppable ascent.

Alas, just as someone seems unstoppable in of football, the game has a funny way of reminding you that you’re human after all. In 1995, as Arsenal sought to become the historic winners of two successive European Cup Winners Cup trophies, a goal was put past Seaman in the dying moments of extra time, as they were defeated by Real Zaragoza in the final.

But, that only tells half the story. The goal was scored by Nayim, an ex-spurs player (the arch nemesis of Arsenal) and from 45 yards out, as Seaman was poorly positioned far from him goal line. It was a career low-point. Ridiculed by fans and the press, criticism hit him hard.

Seaman did recover strongly however and his exploits at Euro 1996 for England meant it looked as though he had banished his demons. England of course made a famous and heroic effort in that tournament and Seaman’s spectacular saves, including vital penalty stops in the Quarter Final against Spain, meant he left that tournament widely recognised as one of the worlds leading goalkeepers.

2002 and beyond

Whilst he would reach the heights at Club level again, he would not at international level. England disappointed at major championships, none more so that at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, when England exited to Brazil, when a goal scored by Ronaldinho crept past Seaman. Again it was a long distance effort and a serious blot on Seaman’s copybook in an otherwise stellar international career.

 

Seaman took the blame himself but did not curtail his international career for another two years, when more criticism of a goal conceded – this time against the unheralded Macedonian team – saw Seaman finally hang up his gloves at international level, amid more criticism from the press and wider public.

As mentioned earlier, highlights at Club level continued and he remained an integral player for Arsenal as they won two league and cup doubles; first in 1997/98 (incredibly over turning a 12 point deficit from Manchester United) and secondly in 2001/2002.

Fittingly, Seaman ended his Arsenal career on a high; another clean sheet as Arsenal secured the 2003 FA Cup Trophy. If only his career ended there.

What followed was a brief, ill-fated (due to injury) spell followed at Manchester City under Kevin Keegan but Seaman’s advancing age and recurrent ailments meant he called time on his career. It was a shame. Seaman deserved to go out loud and proud, not with an injured, quiet whisper.

But after an amazing career, Seaman will always be remembered in the game for several things; being one of the world’s top goalkeepers, a bonafide Arsenal legend, a proud English lion and rare but spectacular errors. And the ponytail. Of course, the ponytail.

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