05 November, 2007

John Hartson, We Salute You

There are some characters in the game that can just never be replaced and will never fail to put a smile on your face. Big John Hartson is one of them, and seeing him scrap it out in this weekend’s Old Farm Derby reminded me what an absolute legend the man is. And this is one of the key points: he is a MAN, and not a fake tan wearing, prancing haircut in a skin-tight shirt. You can tell he likes the beers, doesn’t give a shit what he looks like, always fancies the physical side of the game, and quite possibly, has to have his shorts tailor-made to be large enough for him. A quick glance at his Wikipedia entry will tell you he has “exceptional agility and amazing balance on the ball.” This is simply not true, but do you think he cares? Hell no! But you best believe he’ll put you through a window if you laughed at him about it.

In his early days at Luton, the Big Guy was nearly kicked out of football when his gambling addiction got the better of him, but back on the straight and narrow, he secured a dream move to Arsenal in 1995 as one of George Graham final signings. The highlight of his two years in North London was undoubtedly scoring for them in the 1995 UEFA Cup Winner's Cup Final against Real Zaragoza, despite Arsenal actually losing the game 2-1 following that famous last-minute wondergoal by Nayim. However, two years later and things at Arsenal were different. This French bloke called Arsene Wenger had strutted in and wanted to play ‘football,’ so Hartson was sidelined in favour of some no-hoper called Dennis Bergkamp.

Looking elsewhere, Big John secured a move downtown to West Ham where he averaged almost a goal every other game for the Hammers. There was however a slight incident on the training ground where Eyal Berkovic tried to headbutt his foot, hurt himself in the process, and then cried about it like a little girl for about a fortnight. In a bizarre twist of fate, this was somehow all caught on camera, and Big John was castigated profusely by the media for what he now calls an error of judgment.” No charges were pressed, but suffice to say Big John didn’t want to get mugged off any further, and started to look for a move away from East London.

After a couple of years in the wilderness (well, at Wimbledon and Coventry), Big John really found his level north of the border, where a successful five years at Celtic led to numerous titles and accolades. In April 2005 he even shared the Scottish PFA Players' Player of the Year award with Fernando Ricksen, and a short time later in May, was rightly voted the Scottish Football Writer's Association Player of the Year.

Deciding that the Scottish First Division was actually a bit too easy for him, a move back down to England came in 2006, when West Brom snapped him up for a cut-price £500,000. Bagging two goals on debut against minnows Hull City, Big John was an instant cult-hero at the Hawthorns but after various displays of hardman bravado on the training ground, fell out of favour at the Midlands club, playing only half of last season’s games in the end. Rumours of a temporary move to hometown club Swansea were heard this summer, but instead Big John chose to rescue struggling Norwich City in a loan spell hopefully lasting to Christmas, claiming that he “loved a challenge.”

Internationally, he is also a mythical figure, holding 50 caps for Wales and the ninth highest goal tally (14) of all time. Unfortunately he actually retired from international football early in 2006, but in August that year, due to severe pressure from the public, he stated that he would come out of retirement to play if John Toshack needed him. The fact that his retirement was brought on because he threatened to eat Ryan Giggs has sadly turned out to be nothing more than conjecture.

This is what John looks like when you try to mug him off.

So please, everyone, STT emplores you to acknowledge a true British footballing hero; a man’s man who has given everything to the game for over 15 years. Blood, sweat, tears, saliva, vomit, bile, mucus, aqueous humour, earwax, cowper’s fluid, chyle, chyme, interstitial fluid, lymph, pleural fluid, pus, sebum, piss, shit, and yes, even semen. You will respect him.

P.S. For all those readers currently on the look-out for a perfect stocking filler this year, look no further than ‘John Hartson – The Autobiography,’ available from Amazon. I’d hurry before stocks run out though, I suspect girls especially will like it.