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
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea