There are football supporters, England supporters, who are old enough to accurately judge Alan Shearer – the latest in the England Greats series – by the quality of his punditry but young enough to not remember just how good a player he was. Sure, they’ve seen a few highlights and might be able to recall his last couple of seasons, but the extent to which he was arguably the last of his kind will be lost on more than a few Match of the Day viewers.
And while today’s Shearer is defined by bad shirts, limp punditry and that Hatem Ben Arfa moment, Shearer the player is unfairly caught in the crossfire. For all the stray elbows, the occasional boot in the face of an opponent and the fact that he was never universally popular, Shearer was undoubtedly one of the most emphatic, most effective strikers England has ever produced.
A Newcastle native and a graduate of the feted Wallsend Boys Club, Shearer first came to my attention as a promising striker with Southampton, where he played his youth football before emerging into the First Division and the England ranks in the early 1990s. In 1992 Shearer made his England debut and became a British transfer record signing for Blackburn Rovers, who were soon enjoying the prolific goalscoring of the young Geordie, the spending power of the late Jack Walker and the management of Kenny Dalglish. His first year at Blackburn was littered with injuries but in the second he fired Rovers to second in the Premier League, a taste of what was to come.
The following year, Shearer linked up with new signing Chris Sutton and fired Blackburn to the Premier League title. History would single out 1994/95 as a Premier League anomaly, but it was a stunning achievement and Shearer was unstoppable. Walker’s money means Blackburn’s title will never be seen as a fairytale but it was also no fluke. As a supporter of another Premier League club, I feared Blackburn and Shearer as much as Manchester United and their intimidating array of star players.
After scoring 112 Premier League goals for Rovers, Shearer became the most expensive footballer in the world. Despite “wearing” a Manchester United shirt in a doctored photograph in a national newspaper, he headed back to the north-east to sign for Kevin Keegan and Newcastle United. He would lead the line for the Magpies for a decade and retire a Newcastle legend with over 400 appearances and 206 goals to his name.
For England, Shearer started as he meant to go on with a debut goal against France at Wembley in 1992. He went to the European Championships that summer but made a very limited impact, not unlike England’s on the tournament as a whole. From then on, Shearer became a regular for his country and it was at UEFA Euro ’96 – on home soil – where he truly became England’s leader.
He scored five goals at Wembley that summer, three of them crucial and two of them in a wonderful 4-1 victory over the Netherlands. One of the goals he scored on June 18th 1996 is one of the very best England have ever scored, featuring the most irresistible of lay-offs from Teddy Sheringham – with whom Shearer formed a potent partnership at international level – and an uncompromising Shearer finish. By the time England began qualifying for FIFA World Cup 1998 Shearer was the captain and he proved more than worthy, scoring five goals in qualifying including the famous indirect free kick strike against Georgia at Wembley.
Shearer made his usual contribution to the team’s doomed effort in France in 1998, but was overshadowed by Michael Owen’s remarkable goal and David Beckham’s petulant red card against Argentina in a game that would prove the last of only a handful of World Cup finals matches in which Shearer played. Having missed out in 1994 and retired by 2002, England’s infamous defeat in St Etienne also marked the end of the captain’s painfully short World Cup career.
His last major tournament was UEFA Euro 2000, where a goal in a 1-0 win against Germany proved the high-point in an appalling tournament. Shearer scored England’s first goal against Romania in Charleroi but bowed out of international football defeated on June 20th, 63 caps and 30 goals after his debut just over eight years previously.
Whether you liked or disliked Shearer during his career, and whatever you think of his punditry or laughable foray into management, his quality as a player was almost entirely beyond dispute. So, credit where credit is due: he was a goalscoring phenomenon, perhaps the very embodiment of a dying breed of pure strikers. His record stands up to any scrutiny at every level, and he was responsible for some wonderful moments for both club and country.
As old-style strikers go, Shearer had the lot. He was reliable and ruthless in front of goal, brilliant in the air and able to form partnerships with the variety of characters and styles that played alongside him. He rarely finished delicately, tending to opt for the unerringly accurate blast that was every bit as much a Shearer trademark as the no-nonsense, no-frills celebration that he made his own. To cap it all off, he scored some absolute screamers, and who doesn’t love a few of those?
England career: 1992 to 2000
England caps: 63
England goals: 30
Major championship appearances:
European Championships 1992, European Championships 1996, World Cup 1998, European Championships 2000