Horsfield hones his old-fashioned look

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The Independent Football

Not until the age of 25 did the Barnsley boy give up work as a builder, before which he had laboured on a part-time basis in the Football League with Scarborough, and outside it for Guiseley and Halifax Town. "Old-fashioned centre-forward" is how Horsfield describes both himself and Alan Shearer, whom he hopes to face up to in a home game against Newcastle United this afternoon that Albion need to win to improve their perilous position near the bottom of the Premiership.

His good fortune was to be on a hot run of goals for Halifax when Kevin Keegan was looking for just such a player to beef up the attack at upwardly mobile Fulham seven years ago. "I'd always got belief in my own ability," Horsfield says in his unreconstructed Yorkshire accent. "But when year after year passes and you're playing non-League and working, you always feel that chance has gone. You look at people like Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand or Kevin Phillips, who have come on at 24 and 25 and gone on to play for England and been fantastic players." All strikers, inter-estingly, which must be worth a thesis for someone on late development in footballers.

"It was an exciting time when I went to Fulham, because Kevin Keegan had just taken over and there were people like Chris Coleman, Paul Bracewell and Peter Beardsley there, so for me to come through from Halifax and be thrown into that was a fantastic thing for me."

A popular figure at Craven Cottage for his wholehearted endeavour, he found Jean Tigana's taste a little more sophisticated after Keegan progressed to international management (the tongue-in-cheek chant at Fulham for a while was "Horsfield for England"); yet characteristically he did not resent the toothpick-chewing Frenchman moving him on and claiming he was too aggressive: "If you look at how I play, yeah... He was bringing Louis Saha in, which wasn't a bad replacement because he scored 30 goals that season and they got promoted, so that was his decision and it worked. I hold no grudges, I wasn't his kind of player, so I got on with it and went to Birmingham."

Just getting on with it is typical Horsfield. Birmingham were delighted to take him, and after a stopover at Wigan, he moved back to the West Midlands for Albion's first successful promotion push. Last season was harder, with only three Premiership goals, though one of those was the first in the decisive home victory over Portsmouth on the season's final day that completed the Great Escape after being bottomat Christmas. And by the end of August in the new campaign he had beaten that tally, scoring all the team's four goals in their first four matches.

Albion's manager, Bryan Robson, blessed with half-a- dozen strikers to choose from on the rare occasions they are all fit, says of Horsfield: "He was a bit unfortunate because he scored four and was leading the line well and playing particularly well, then picked up a calf injury. He's always been classed as a hard-working journeyman, but he's got a bit more than people give him credit for. You know what you get with Geoff."

The player's own assessment of himself as a centre-forward of the old school is: "I put myself about a bit and get knocked about a bit and just try to hold the ball up and score goals. I just wish I'd scored as many as Alan Shearer. I've always looked up to Alan, who's played at the top since he was 17, always scored goals and come back from career-threatening injuries and gone on and played for England.

"I'd think every striker has the utmost respect for him. He gets stuck in, he's an old-fashioned centre-forward. There's pressure on Newcastle, because the fans expect a lot and they've spent a lot of money and should be doing a little bit better. I think Graeme Souness will turn it around and they'll start getting results - after this weekend."

Reminded that the unpredictable Newcastle defender Jean-Alain Boumsong has been given new boots for his size 13 feet, Horsfield cheerfully chuckled: "Yeah, I'll most probably feel them up me backside or down the back of me calf."

You give it and take it and get stuck in, just like at Scarborough and Guiseley and Halifax. Premiership or Unibond League, he seems to believe, it is only a matter of degree, and he is not likely to adopt any airs and graces: "I know where I've come from and I'll always go back to my roots. I'm not saying it's a bad thing being a professional from 17 because it isn't, but I've come from a totally different background and football's been good to me. I just love football but didn't play professional until I was 25, so I appreciate what I've got and the pleasures it's given me."