Cod Almighty | Article
by Simon Wilson
31 July 2006
There was this lad at boarding school who was a mad Evertonian. He had this awful poster of Peter Beagrie, quite possibly the usual Match or Shoot! middle spread that kids used to cover their walls in. We're talking 1993ish here, before the internet and official football club publications, and before the Premiership turned into a marketing-driven behemoth. It was also probably the only other Everton poster he could find to go with Tony Cottee. Covering a wall with the whole Everton team by that method was more difficult than trying to finish a Panini sticker album. Support Liverpool and you could have the first XI and István Kozma above your bed in less than two months. Anyway, this poster of Beagrie – he was wearing this most awful yellow kit and sporting an equally unsightly and feeblemoustache.
Yet here in 2006 Town have a Peter Beagrie on their books. And no repeat of the John Lukic (Jr) situation from last summer. This is the real thing. And it is hard to accept. After all, it must be physically impossible for any footballer old enough to have had a moustache to still be playing today. Remember when the last famous facial fuzz heroes of the Buckley era – Gary Childs, Tony Rees – were bestriding the Blundell Park pitch in the early 90s? That's as recent as top lip fashion goes (notwithstanding Ashley Sestanovich's effort, which resembled the first attempt of a 12-year-old to look manly).
I've always thought of Beagrie as a Scouser, a misconception I've held from his time at Goodison Park. Researching this profile has put me right. "Of course he's not from Liverpool!" one wag exclaimed. "Have you not watched Soccer Night on ITV? He's always on that, and he's definitely from the north-east." Soccer Night, for the uninitiated, is a late night football programme on ITV presented by shouting Cockney Irishman Andy Townsend. Can you see why I've never watched it? And don't stop at one reason.
Beagrie in fact hails from Middlesbrough, and made his league debut for his hometown team in 1984. After 33 appearances, the club entered extreme financial difficulties. The reborn club (the reason '1986' is on the current Boro badge) had the commitment of all but two of its players – Beagrie and Don O'Riordan (who, coincidentally, moved to Town as a result, becoming player of the season and then assistant manager). Beagrie flew the coop for three and a bit seasons, playing at Sheffield United and then Stoke. His performances convinced then Everton manager Colin Harvey that £750,000 of his club's money would be well spent.
After a bright start, this wasn't to be the highlight of his career: injury, fleeting form, and changes of manager blighted his five years on Merseyside. His subsequent three seasons at Man City didn't go much better: Frank Clark's requirement for wide players who could defend effectively saw his £1.1m signing leave for just £50,000.
1997, and Beagrie found himself at Bradford City, part of Paul Jewell's revolution, and a surprise to many. And yet it proved a move that suited club and player perfectly. Beagrie's fruitful Indian summer was to be poetic. Never a prolific scorer nor a pacy player, Beagrie's talents lay in a perfect delivery of the ball onto the proverbial sixpence. His ability to beat a man consisted in a twisty, turny style, all feints, dummies, shimmies, selling defenders once-twice-three times, as he sought the space to cross the ball in from the left wing. Beagrie provided the team's invention, while the manager's busy midfield covered for the absence of defensive cover down his flank. Beagrie's value to the side was highlighted when he was absent: City were bereft of ideas without him. Such absences were rare: the team blazed to promotion with the player centre-stage.
The following season saw even more from their number 11. City defied the critics condemning them to instant relegation from the Premiership. Beagrie supplied a wonderful collection of memories for Bradford fans as they just about held on for a second season in the top flight. Even in games when they were outclassed, Beagrie provided some cheer, his continual skinning of England right-back Gary Neville during a beating from Manchester United a constant reminder of what pests he and his team were that season.
The Bantams eventually succumbed to relegation the next summer, Geoffrey Richmond's heavyweight signings (in all meanings of the word when it came to Stan Collymore) dragging them down. Beagrie moved on when Jim Jeffries arrived and introduced tactics that required no recognised wingers. A short stint at Wigan was followed by the start of a lengthy stint in Scunthorpe, coaching duties assumed for five years at the Laws Penitentiary, in a near-repeat of his days at Valley Parade – a lower-budget 'reimagining', if you will. Warm, fuzzy feelings towards the Beags also emanate from followers of the Iron.
The divs – sorry, I mean critics, are already out in force. "He can't have any pace at that age!" He never had pace in the first place. The deliveries are still as pinpoint-sharp as ever. His departure from Scunthorpe was over his request for a part-time contract so he could pursue his media career, and you have to presume Town yielded to such a request. Already some Town fans' ire is raised by his appearances on Soccer Night. People, why you getting worked up by something on rubbish ITV? Maybe it is something deeper and darker, memories flooding back of the way a paceless wing wonder was integral and so influential in Town's sound beating at Glanford Park a couple of seasons ago. Maybe that is the bloodaxe being grinded – the links with his previous club.
Sir Macca marches on to playing at a similar age and no-one is calling for his retirement. David Eyres played his last game, for Oldham, in May aged 42. Form is temporary, class permanent. And the 40-year-old Beagrie has class in spades. If he can reproduce that kind of performance on a regular basis, the unconvinced will relent.