Peter Beagrie: Let me entertain you - and see the smile on my face

His 40th birthday, his 100th goal and his 750th appearance. The player behind this remarkable hat-trick talks to Ronald Atkin
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The Independent Online

In his 23 years as a footballer Peter Beagrie has unfailingly delighted supporters of the seven clubs he has played for. At Stoke City, for heaven's sake, he even edged Stanley Matthews into second place in a popularity contest. So Beagrie is certain to receive a nostalgically warm welcome from the "Blue Moon" brigade when he runs out for Scunthorpe United against Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday. It is a feeling he reciprocates.

Despite his three seasons there from 1994-97 being blighted by knee problems, Beagrie has nothing but fond memories of the place because of City's fans. "This will be the perfect chance for me to say a big thank-you to them, because they were tremendous to me while I was at the club.

"Even when City were in dire straits they got crowds of 33,000 or more. If anybody deserves success, it is those fans. As long as you were willing to take people on and get stuck in, they were with you. I have never been to their new stadium, not even as a spectator, so I am really looking forward to it."

Looking forward to a game of football has been the motivating force in Beagrie's life since he grew up in Middlesbrough, the son of a stevedore and a dinner lady. "I used to play five competitive games a week," he said. "Everything, from morning till night, was football. We knew no different, there were no computers or PlayStations then. Those humble beginnings make you appreciate the privileges that come with playing the best game in the world."

In the past month Beagrie has climaxed his enduring commitment to that game with a threefold celebration - clocking up his 40th birthday, scoring his 100th goal and making his 750th appearance.

It is an impressive hat-trick in a career which began as a 17-year-old with his home-town club, Middlesbrough, and moved on to Sheffield United, Stoke, Everton, Manchester City, Bradford and, for the past five seasons, Scunthorpe, with loan spells at Sunderland and Wigan along the way.

Acknowledging that as a 40-year-old still playing professional football he is "a bit of a freak", Beagrie ponders: "Obviously there must be something in my genes. Though people have made a massive deal of it, 40 to me is just a number. I don't feel any different from what I did at 35, and that's because my attitude to football and my love of it has always been the same, deeply passionate, and it will continue to be until I get out of bed one morning and ask myself why I am punishing my body to such a degree.

"But right now it's all worthwhile when you run across that white line. It's not the 4-0 and 5-0 wins that are an encouragement, it's the scruffy 1-0 win away from home where everybody has been in the trenches together. It's incredible, the camaraderie in football that has allowed me to make so many friends and share some great stories.

"But I have always said that as soon as I feel I can't have a bearing on a game I will retire. No one will have to put their hand on my shoulder, I'll know. My ego wouldn't allow me to get to that stage, either."

For now, though, Beagrie remains spry enough to be able to execute his trademark celebration somersault when he scores, although he has become selective in uncorking it. "I have had cause to do it just once this season, in the 4-1 win at Huddersfield. Unfortunately for me, my 750th appearance and my 100th goal coincided at Barnsley, and since we were losing 4-0 at the time there was no cause for a celebration."

Since joining Scunthorpe in the summer of 2001 from Bradford on a two-year deal, renewed subsequently on an annual basis, Beagrie has needed the commitment of which he is so proud. "When you've played at a higher level and then move down the leagues you are an easy target. The crowds wait for you to fall flat on your face, but the way I play, with a smile on my face, goes down well with the opposition fans when someone sticks the ball through my legs. But I am still really competitive, and the next tackle that comes in is going to be a hard one.

"I have developed tremendous respect for the people who operate at this level, because £50 makes or breaks a deal. We are not talking about £50,000. Scunthorpe is run on a tight budget and the manager [Brian Laws] does well to get players in on the money he pays them."

Having rejected offers from South Africa and America, as well as one-year deals with higher-profile clubs, Beagrie plumped for Scunthorpe, not only because Laws is a friend going back to their playing days at Middlesbrough, but because he was offered the incentive of adding coaching to his skills; he has already taken his Uefa B papers. "Until then I never saw myself going into coaching. But I have a good way with people, and our young players respect me for what I've done, so when I say something it carries weight. That is a big bonus."

Although he is busy expanding his media skills on a weekly Yorkshire Television football programme with Andy Towns-end which won an award last year, Beagrie would like to think the skills assembled over the years in dressing rooms could propel him into management eventually. "But you need a lot of breaks, simple as that.

"Man-management is 99 per cent of the job, and I have always been a pivotal part of the dressing room. That would be my strong point. If you get the opportunity to manage, you turn your back on everything else. I would like the chance because, if I don't, there will always be a part of me that says, 'What if...?' "

The "what if" factor has appeared in Beagrie's life before. What if, when he was playing some of his best-ever football at Everton in 1994, manager Mike Walker had not recruited Anders Limpar, in effect to replace Beagrie? Departing for £1.1m to Manchester City, fourth from bottom of the Premiership, he linked with Brian Horton - "who was fantastic. I played in a forward five with Nicky Summerbee, Uwe Rosler, Paul Walsh and Niall Quinn. Some of the football was scintillating. I remember beating a Tottenham side with Sheringham and Klinsmann 5-2. It could have been 15-8. Horton was a big advocate of flair play, attacking from wide areas, and for 14 months we played some fantastic football.

"But the club didn't see him as a big enough name, so they went for Alan Ball, a personal friend of the chairman, and he was followed by Phil Neal, Steve Coppell and Frank Clark. We lost our Premiership status and I could not have a bearing on it because, at the age of 30, I was fighting for my career after two operations for chronic patella tendinitis in my left knee.

"They were dark times. I even went to a faith healer. I had been playing with injections to help Horton, and shouldn't have done. The tendon ended up like a perforated teabag."

That sort of commitment, Beagrie feels, is what endears City's latest manager, Stuart Pearce, to the fans. "He is fantastic, you can see the passion. He is what City demand and deserve. I have been fortunate enough to play against Stuart a couple of times. He had this ridiculous reputation, but he was a gent. Yeah, he'd give you a kicking, but he picked you up!"

Beagrie compares Saturday's tie with the one Scunthorpe faced last season at Chelsea. "My big fear then was that we were going to get battered and that this would have an adverse effect on a good season for us. But it was a fantastic occasion. We scored first and ended up losing 3-1, and Chelsea were so magnanimous it was incredible.

"This is a similar situation. I watched City dismantle Birmingham 5-2 on the day of the third-round draw and thought, 'My God. Do we have a chance?' There is always a chance. If everything goes right for us, no one freezes and we play the way we can and we catch City not on top form, we can win, simple as that. If all their players perform to full optimum, then we shouldn't win. But without being derogatory, if their attitude is not spot-on, they could be on the end of an upset."

Whatever, there will be cheers for the man who says, "I have always had fantastic rapport with the fans. When I eventually hang up my boots, I can honestly say I have entertained people. If it was going to end after the next match, I have had a fantastic time and feel unbelievably privileged."

It is a sentiment which will be shared by all at the City of Man-chester Stadium on Saturday.

LIFE & TIMES

BORN: 28 November 1965, Middlesbrough.

NICKNAME: Peter Pan.

VITAL STATISTICS: 5ft 8in, 12st.

POSITION: midfielder.

CAREER: Middlesbrough 1983-86, 36 matches, 2 goals; Sheffield Utd (£35,000 fee) 1986-88, 98, 11; Stoke (£210,000) 1988-89, 61, 8; Everton (£750,000) 1989-94, 138, 15 - Sunderland (loan) 1991, 5, 1; Manchester City (£1.1m) 1994-97, 65, 5; Bradford (£200,000) 1997-2001, 148, 23, Division One runners-up 1999 - Everton (loan) 1998, 6, 0; Wigan (loan) 2001, 12, 1; Scunthorpe (free) 2001-present, 185, 34, as player-coach.

MILESTONES: 754 matches, 100 goals

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