The first question is ‘what is a cult hero?’ Well for starters, here’s what it isn’t- a truly great player that’s admired by everyone both inside and outside his club. Someone like Eric Cantona could never be a ‘cult hero’ because all United fans love him while fans from other clubs may at least have a grudging respect- I stress the word ‘may’ and obviously Crystal Palace fans are not among them.
No, a cult hero is the sort of player that not all fans love but the ones who do, adore with a passion. They’re the players that many of the opposition fans hate, or the strikers who’ve turned out for you team and scored one goal in twenty games which happens to be a winner against your arch-rivals. They’re sometimes the comical figures that we love to hate, the panto villain types that a core of us actually admire.
Then there’s that other type of cult hero, the genuine, decent talented player that for some reason never gets the respect of admiration of the mainstream media, so its left up to us fans to let the world know just how great they are. Cult heroes more often than not play the game we imagine the way we would for our club- what they lack in skill they make up for in effort, never giving up and always leaving the pitch having given 100%.
Most of these players may only play a handful of games for your club, others may be there for their for slightly longer, but they will always be admired for making supporting our team that little bit better. All of the players have played in the Premier League but some made their ‘cult hero’ status assured in Division One.
Goalkeeper – Les Sealey RIP “Sealey!” “Sealey!” “Sealey!” Could be heard from the stands at Old Trafford every Saturday- before ‘Super Sunday’ became compulsory for Manchester United- in the early nineties. What made the chant even more surprising was the fact that Sealey was merely an unused substitute for practically every game following the arrival of Peter Schmeichel. So why was he so popular with United fans- arguably more so than Great Dane. Well his first appearance had brought the FA Cup -at a time when United rated it- then there was his temper tantrum throwing in the League Cup final when clearly injured he refused to leave the field. There were even stories of him threatening away fans who gave him stick during his warm-up. Sealey was a serious man and he may not have been the best of goalkeepers to stand between the Old Trafford sticks but he was definitely one of the most loved. News of his death from cancer left even the hardest of Stretford Enders with a lump in their throats. Sadly missed.
Left back- Julian Dicks -Arguably more fearsome than that other left backing ‘psycho’ Stuart Pearce, Dicks was the sort of player who could cause right wingers to feign injury before the game kicked off. A fearsome man who if he said it was Tuesday it was Tuesday but could also play a bit. Dicks scored an impressive amount of goals for a left back including 10 in the 95-96 season. Dicks may have accumulated almost as many red cards as he did goals at times, but he’s the sort of player that fans love, hard as nails, gets stuck in and and never gives up. Although his big money move to Liverpool didn’t work out and he never really threatened to break into the England team, there’s a lot of love for him in East London- as well as probably a lot of fear everywhere else.
Right back- Roland Nilsson– According to the Sheffield Wednesday chant numbers one to eleven were Roland Nilsson. Sometimes quietly going about your job in a consistent and unassuming manner gets you a mild respect but at Hillsborough it makes you a legend. While Nilsson is hardly likely to spring to the mind of most fans when naming the best foreigners to play in the Premiership, at Sheffield Wednesday he’ll always be top of the list. The Swedish international was a regular during the team’s ‘glory days’ of the early nineties which saw top five finishes and trips to cup finals as part of the norm. Men like Chris Waddle and David Hirst may have got the headlines, but no Wednesday player got as much affection from many of the fans as Nilsson. His managerial stint at Coventry was far less successful and his name certainly isn’t sung there. At Wednesday however he remains a cult hero.
Centre back- Brian “Killer” Kilcline– Although his only Premiership experience was playing for doomed Swindon, Kilcline makes this team for his time at St James’s Park. Kevin Keegan arrived at Newcastle with the team languishing near the bottom of the second tier and made the former Coventry hard-man his first signing. Never likely to trouble the England manager he did trouble opposing strikers who found the tough nut willing to stick his head in where most people would stick their boot. There have been may heroes at Newcastle and while men such as Shearer, and Macdonald may spring to mind as fan’s favourites there’s a core section who still thank ‘Killer’ for helping save the club from a trip to the third tier and not taking any prisoners in the process.
Centre back- David May – “David May superstar, got more medals than Shear-er” While that particular United chant may be more renowned for its accuracy than its rhyming shortcomings, it is still heard occasionally at Old Trafford. May joined United from Blackburn in 1994 and many were left confused as to why Sir Alex Ferguson played him out of position at right back. A switch to centre back left a few fans confused as to why Fergie played him at all as May struggled in his new surroundings.
May became a cult hero at Old Trafford by leading the celebrations following United’s ’99 treble winning triumph at the Nou Camp- he was an unused sub. There are some at Old Trafford who claim May was actually underrated and a fine defender but as someone who was a regular during his debut season through to his last, I’m inclined to disagree. May was at times abysmal which makes the fact that he won far more medals than Shearer that little bit funnier and helped assure his cult hero status.
Left midfield- Steve Morrow – Heard the one about the player who got his cup winners medal before the final? Morrow was the match winner in Arsenal‘s league cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, so what better way for Captain Tony Adams to reward the Northern Ireland international than by breaking his arm on the post match celebrations?! Morrow subsequently missed the FA cup final some weeks later due to his injury.
Morrow may have missed that final but he didn’t miss the Cup Winner’s Cup final a year later, where playing in midfield he produced a real barnstorming display against a Parma team that contained the likes of Gianfranco Zola and’Tino Asprilla, as the Gunners lifted the trophy. Morrow could play in several positions but for this team he’s left midfield. Morrow is now back at Arsenal assisting the clubs international academies- no doubt warning youngsters of the perils of over-exuberant celebrations.
Right midfield – Benito Carbone – The little Italian could play in a variety of attacking positions and could arguably be in this team for up to three teams. He was something of a fans favourite at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City. He amassed a staggering 17 clubs during his career and was accused of being troublesome for certain managers but the fans often loved him.
Villa fans appreciated his help in their 2000 FA cup run, which included some memorable goals. Bradford fans found him a small measure of comfort in an otherwise depressing relegation season, Wednesday fans could boast two of the leagues best entertainers when he and Di Canio lined up together. You couldn’t bank on him sticking around but when he pulled on the shirt of your club he could de devastating.
Centre midfield – Steffen Freund– A cult hero is often not the greatest player on the pitch but he might just be the one who puts in the most effort. Freund was and still is a popular figure among many Spurs fans. He may not have had the skill of a Ginola, the finishing of a Sheringham or the timing of the tackle that Sol ‘dont mention his name to Spurs fans’ Campbell had but in some ways Freund was superior to all of them.
A defensive midfielder who knew exactly what his job was, Freund was the sort of player you’d get fed up of playing against as he just would not stop harassing, tackling and making a general nuisance of himself to you. Spurs have had a lot of heroes over the years but Freund gains special place in many fans hearts due to playing the game with the sort of passion you’d see in the stands.
He may have been inconsistent and been part of the team that was relegated but on his day Kinkladze could be quite simply devastating. With a range of skills and low centre of gravity that was almost Maradona-esque the midfielder brought a smile to City fan’s faces before Arab Billions made them the force they are now. One goal against Southampton where Kinkladze seemed to take on the entire Saints defence polled second in the Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Season’ awards.
If ‘Kinky’ had the sort of players City possess now around him, then the clubs wait for a trophy would already have been ended. A true cult hero, that even a few opposition fans- myself included- had to admire now and again.
Striker Diego Forlan– I’ve already written an extensive article praising the man ‘from Uruguay’ so I’ll keep it brief. He may not have scored many goals but his two at Anfield cemented his place in United fans hearts. Add to that last minute winners against Chelsea and Southampton- including the infamous playing with his shirt in his hand incident and its no wonder just more than a few United fans were glad to see him pick up the Golden Ball in the World Cup this year.
Striker Carl Leaburn– Carl who? Well let me tell you something I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did actually see Leaburn score once at Old Trafford in a cup game. The former Charlton striker was so inept at scoring he actually made Emile Heskey seem prolific. Charlton fans even had t-shirts with ‘I saw Leaburn score’ printed on them- apparently they didn’t sell many as there weren’t a lot of people who had. Leaburn was so poor he actually scored his third goal in his 100th game.
Leaburn managed to win over fans by inexplicably bagging fifteen goals in one season. In 2004 he came third in a poll of Charlton fan’s ‘best player ever’ so you can’t ever accuse Addicks of lacking a sense of humour. Leaburn eventually moved on to Wimbledon where he helped the Dons on their way to relegation with an actually worse goal scoring record than he had at Charlton .
Subs bench: Bruce Grobbelaar, Shaun Goater, Vinnie Jones, Tony Yeboah, Peter Beagrie, Emmanuel Eboue, Ali Dia
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