Football: Luther's lament for starved strikers

Nick Townsend finds famine is seldom the fault of the front men

THE ANGRY scars from collisions with a thousand opponents stand out like battle sites across the relief map that is Luther Blissett's forehead. The legs are, no doubt, similarly battered. But the pain he suffered during an era when the laws afforded significantly less protection to strikers was happily traded for those moments of ecstasy. Goals for Watford, Milan or England.

He recalls 15 December 1982, the day of his first full game for England at Wembley with the relish of a man who never tires of the memory.

"For me, on that day it all came right," says the now 41-year-old Watford coach of his hat-trick against Luxembourg in a 9-0 defeat of the perennial cannon fodder of European footballing nations. "I must have had five or six opportunities, and I scored three. I'll settle for any of our strikers next week to succeed with a similar ratio."

So too Kevin Keegan. He would delight in a similar total against the principality at Wembley next Saturday to help promote the team's self- belief just four days before England's final Group Five game against Poland in Warsaw.

But there are no such certainties these days. A record of eight goals in six qualifying games - and three of those came against Luxembourg in the away fixture and another three in a hat-trick from midfielder Paul Scholes against Poland - attests to the dismal state of England striking prowess.

Or does it? As an enthusiastic member of the Goalscorers and Allied Tradesmen's Union, Blissett believes the situation is a little more complex than that. "Unless you have got a couple of outstanding strikers, like a Ronaldo and a Michael Owen, that you must play, then you pick your forwards to complement the rest of the team, to finish the work they have started. They must fit into the overall structure and the whole mix has got to be right. At the moment it isn't right, particularly in midfield, possibly because players are not available. If it's not right then your front men can't do their job."

Nice theory. The problem is that it's still the forwards who tend to be censured for England's failures. As a player who received as many literary muggings from the critics as he did elbows and boots from opponents, Blissett can empathise with Alan Shearer, whose record since France 98 reads two England goals from run of play in seven games. "Alan will be as disappointed as everyone else," says Watford's top scorer over three periods with the club. "It doesn't matter what his overall performance is; as long as ball goes into the back of the net, then you're an asset to the team. When not doing that, people start to question you."

Blissett adds: "He's having a rough time at Newcastle, so to get away with England could be a good distraction for him and I hope he will do the business against Luxembourg. If he scored a couple, it would do wonders for his club performances when he got back." Pushed to elect his own selection to play alongside Shearer, the Watford man names a man Keegan has ignored, Dion Dublin. "Whenever he's played, Dion has not disappointed," he said. "He's always looked dangerous and capable. People say he's short of this and that, but that's rubbish. What he does is score goals, and always gives the opposition a hard time."

In his day, Blissett came into the same category, and endured similar carping from the pundits and some supporters. "You come to live with it," he says. "Do you know, in all my years at Watford I was never once player of the season? Even that year we finished second in the First Division and I made my debut for England I still never won it. People have got an expectation of you sometimes that's so high. They expect you to score 20-odd goals. They don't see it as any great achievement.

"But I've got no regrets about my career, except I was probably 10 years or so too early. I would love to be playing today. Overall my record was very good; people said I missed more than I scored, but so does every striker. For some reasons people pick on some players, like they do with Andy Cole today. With some players they just look at the negatives."

Ask him for an explanation and he pauses before responding: "It mystifies me. You could look at it and say, 'is it a colour thing?' But you don't want to cast that aspersion against people when you've got no proof."

Blissett, a garrulous and engaging character who is popular with everyone at Vicarage Road, broaches that particular issue not with any bitterness, but merely as an observation. Similarly, he prefers not to dwell on the dearth of black football managers in the British game, although if there is prejudice in football, as some of us suspect, it is clearly not going to stifle Blissett's ambition.

"Even at 23 or 24, I knew I wanted to stay in football," he says. "Management is where I want to be. In fact, Graham Taylor spoke to me on the same subject the other day and I said, 'Your job is the one I'd like'," Blissett says with a booming laugh, reminiscent of Kriss Akabusi.

It was Taylor who brought him back into the Watford fold four years ago from the obscurity of Fakenham Town, in the Jewson Premier League. "Having been out of the professional game, it was a great feeling to get that call from Graham," says Blissett. "He amazes me with the things he does and how much thought he gives to everything.

"We would all like to think that we could put a team together, and get it to play in a manner that reflects us. It's an opportunity that I think will one day come for me."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory