by Josh Clarke
I was just a confused 9-year old when a Ghanaian man stole my heart.
An impressionable young tyke, I just wanted to kick a ball around with the glory of being the one to stick it in the back of the net. Yet, as with most young fans, I desperately needed an icon, someone to emulate.
Alan Shearer was too obvious. I was too young to fathom why Robbie Fowler had those strips bridged across his nose (to be honest, I’m still not sure), and I couldn’t understand a word Peter Beardsley said for love nor money.
Then, in 1995, everything changed. Shipped across from Germany to sport a naughty, high-collared ‘Thistle Hotels’-sponsored shirt was a guy who didn’t just score goals, he dented crossbars.
How could any 1990s Premier League football fanatic not look back, shake their head wryly and smile at the exploits of cult hero and spectacular goal fiend Tony Yeboah? His foray into my life was regrettably short, but my god did he make an impact. The man did things on the volley that put him up there with Van Basten and Sparky, masters of the craft.
30-odd goals in a two season spell doesn’t signal the proficiency required to cement himself in Premier League history, but Yeboah was an icon nevertheless. An exotic import who endeared himself to fans through a series of jaw-droppingly obscene finishes and a self-professed penchant for Yorkshire pudding.
Of course, Yeboah will ultimately be remembered for only two things: THAT goal against Liverpool, followed in quick succession by THAT goal against Wimbledon. Indeed, Yeboah is the only man in history of Match of the Day to win back-to-back Goal of the Month competitions.
To use these goals to pigeon hole the great man though, is to show wanton ignorance to the formative figure Yeboah was during his brief spell in the Premier League. He was a powerhouse who combined his athleticism with predatory goalmouth instincts and flawless technique in a way that had never been witnessed on these shores before.
Then, as soon as it begun, he was off. A move back to the Bundesliga made him more or less untraceable for a young lad with limited internet connectivity. So I had to let Yeboah go. I was hurt, but I moved on, the blow softened by the like-for-like replacement with a certain Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Yeboah’s legacy, however, lives on. As with other greats who left their indelible mark on the game with the inventions of a particular piece of individualism – the Cruyff turn, the Maradona spin; so it was with Tony Yeboah.
To score a ‘Yeboah’, wheeling away with index finger wagging after leathering the ball off the underside of the crossbar, the ball nestling in the roof of the net having bounced a fraction of an inch over the goal-line, is just about the greatest feat attainable in the casual kick-around.