A Different Week - From Bloemfontein to Bristol. But was David James’s move that much of a surprise?
Turning down moves to the Premier League and SPL to sign for Bristol City may seem an unusual career choice for an England goalkeeper to make. But this is David James and frankly he’s a rather unusual footballer.
The England No. 1 certainly does not fit the stereotype of your average footballer. Something of an academic, James is a lover of art and literature, who speaks thoughtfully and eloquently in interviews and regularly contributes a column to The Observer. He is a keen student of sports science who has studied the training and conditioning methods of American Football teams and is similarly interested in sports psychology - something he claims has vastly improved his game and is a key reason for his impressive penalty-saving record. His love of the creative arts, his willingness to break the mould and, of course, his penchant for bizarre hairstyles, has cemented James’ reputation as one of English football’s more unusual characters. He is very much his own man, who has taken enough knocks in his career to no longer fear criticism or failure, handy for someone who’s unpredictability in life is sometimes matched by his occasional unpredictability between the sticks. In fact, the more you think about it, the less outrageous this latest chapter in the James saga seems.
Despite originally expressing an interest in staying on at Portsmouth as player-manager, it always seemed inevitable that James would leave the troubled South Coast club. An initial offer of a new contract was withdrawn by penniless Pompey and James’s four year spell at Fratton Park came to an end, another key figure of the club’s brief success story gone to start afresh elsewhere. For a while it was expected that James would link up with another of those key figures, namely Harry Redknapp at Tottenham, who had courted him during the January transfer window, but instead it was another London club, Fulham, who, along with Sunderland, offered James an immediate return to Premier League football. However, Celtic had also registered their interest and were seemingly James’s preferred choice. You could have been forgiven for thinking David James’s top flight career was all set to continue, but he pulled out of talks with the SPL side over what was reported in The Daily Record as a ‘family matter’ and a week later was being unveiled at Ashton Gate.
So instead you could now be forgiven for taking this move as a sign that James was calling time on his England career, but again the Three Lions custodian has other ideas. ‘I’ll never retire from England’ he declared, causing this scribe to conjure up rather childish images of an elderly Jamo tottering about the Wembley goalmouth. He does of course mean, as long as he’s picked – he’ll play, and he hopes that dropping down into English football’s second tier for the first time in nineteen years will not stand in the way of this. ‘The reality is that you are as good as you play, so if selection is based on performance and I’m playing well, I would like to think that I would get another chance...Despite there being some lovely countryside around here, I haven’t come down here for a graze.’
A rare unfortunate choice of words perhaps, given the tabloids past likening of him to a particular graminivorous beast, but otherwise he makes a good point and you would of course only have to go back as far as 2007 for the last time a player from outside the top flight (David Nugent) played for England in a competitive match. Equally, James’s age (40) shouldn’t necessarily rule him out of selection. Indeed, Alexander Morten became England’s oldest ever debutant when he played in goal against Scotland aged 41 years and 114 days, although it's worth pointing out that this was back in 1873. James himself became the oldest ever World Cup debutant when he finally made his Finals bow this summer at the age of 39, but two decades before him, Peter Shilton was performing heroics at Italia 90 just seventy-three days shy of his 41st birthday. It was in August of that same year that James made his professional debut, in a league match against Millwall and almost twenty years to the day later, it is against Millwall that he is likely to make his City debut when the football league season kicks off this weekend.
Can a forty year-old goalkeeper playing in the Championship retain the England number one jersey?
Perhaps David James has one last surprise in store.
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