Thursday, 23 December 2010
O Come All Ye Platefuls
Like people in all walks of life, footballers come in different shapes and sizes. If you wanted to classify them into types, you can normally stretch to something amounting to ‘nippy winger’, ‘commanding centre-back’, ‘powerful striker’ and ‘midfield terrier’. All are valid classifications. One other type though, is a bit more cult than all the others, inspiring affection and comedy in equal degree. At this festive time of indulgence, and given the evisceration of Levante’s Sergio Ballesteros on Twitter, we tip our caps to the ‘fat lad’ – a man who in Magic Spongers terms, is just as much brilliant shiny apples as he is stupid smelly onions.
Of course, in football, the term ‘fat’ is relative and ‘fat lads’ aren’t clinically obese. It’s an important disclaimer, because with it out of the way, we can go on to talking about footballers eating pies, drinking, and generally being such balloons that when they go down the beach on holiday Greenpeace try and chuck them back in the sea.
On a similarly anthropomorphic note, animals are a regular theme among the fat lad’s nicknames, especially if he’s a striker. Jon Parkin, Rob’s favourite ‘fat lad’, gained his nickname ‘The Beast’ at Moss Rose when playing for Macclesfield (though he probably would have got it anywhere), and shares it with the Zeppelin-esque Burnley goalkeeper Brian Jensen. Most big lads who are hard to handle up front (one of the biggest I’ve seen is Ade Akinfenwa when he was at Northampton) can be described as ‘a bit of an animal’.
Everton fans implore their players to ‘feed the Yak’. Yakubu is actually a great example. Remember when he bounced Raul Meireles off the ball at Goodison Park earlier this season? You have to say, if some run-of-the-mill muscular centre-forward had done it, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as funny. Plus he isn’t even that fat. It just seems you can never refer to him without witstfully remarking ‘if only he was fully fit’. That said, his cult ‘fat lad’ persona is probably born more just as much from his name (much like Shaun Goater was ‘The Goat’).
Nevertheless, names rarely lie. You say ‘Jan Molby’ out loud and tell me it doesn’t sound fat as hell. Just saying ‘Molby’ gives you a double chin and makes you sound like Harold Bishop. It sounds like a kind of chocolate mousse. So too Jon Parkin. The man’s surname is a kind of northern cake. It’s not quite genetic, but it probably doesn’t help. You try telling anyone that ‘Tony Fatbastard’ would be a pacy winger, or that ‘Keith Chunk’ would be a diminutive playmaker.
To imply that fat lads are only useless and hilarious, though, is to do them a tremendous disservice. They are mainly very useful footballers. Plenty of managers would love to have a big man in his side. The larger lad commonly has a splendid first touch (I find this true at every level of football), and inevitably, like a shit pretentious song title, he has ‘good feet (for a big man)’. They can be amusingly profligate – there’s nothing funnier than watching the big man miss from six yards because he can’t shift his weight quickly enough – but also quite prolific. Micky Quinn scored 228 in 515 games, while Lee Trundle has 165 in 405. Parkin, the epitome, has 88 in 325. Which is not prolific. But never mind.
If you’re in any doubt Molby was brilliant, then take a look at this because it is phenomenal. A modern day version of the Danish Scouser would be Andy Reid, sharing a lovely propensity for spraying balls straight onto a sixpence (long-range passing as opposed to something Stan Collymore would do in car park). Similarly, David Dunn isn’t your archetypal midfielder in terms of stature but is a very handy player.
Lardy defenders with a penchant for 40-yard passes to feet are always a treat too. Liverpool fans in the 90s were subjected to two in the same side: Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock. Both looked like the kind of bloke doing the doors at a Yates’s on a Saturday night but were also surprisingly cultured on the ball.
Finally, another defender to play the game in a diameter of about a metre was Neil Thompson, a journeyman left back who flitted around the north east for years. By the time he came to York in 1998, he was in the twilight of his years and the delights of York’s many bakeries were beginning to show. He may have been slow and looked like one of your dad’s mates, but his left foot was as cultured as Bushby and MacDonald when they had a pint of Erdinger each the other night instead of a Fosters.
Anyway, I remember going out to buy sweets with my cousin at half time in a game at Bootham Crescent, probably around 1999 and against whom I cannot recall, and for some reason we came back five minutes late. Running down the Grosvenor Road, we then heard the Longhurst Stand going mental. Completely pissed off, we got back to our place on the terrace behind the goal to listen to my uncle raving about a 35 yard free kick Thompson had just swept in with his wand of a left foot. Oh how I’d love to have seen it. A stunning free kick from a fat bloke. On that wistful note, here’s to the fat lad. Bon viveur.
(We’re fairly sure that translates as Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading this year. See you in 2011.)