“(He was the best striker I played with) just by the sheer number of goals he scored, just a phenomenal player. While lining up alongside him, I felt we could win every game, because I knew he was going to score.” — Les Ferdinand
There are some strikers who could be described as “breaking the mould”, Alan Shearer was not one of those players. If anything, the mould was built around him, he was the perfect version, the example of what the artist was going for when he set out to create the ideal striker for English football.
Born in Gosforth, Newcastle in 1970, Shearer was a keen player throughout his youth and he was spotted by Southampton’s scouts while playing for Wallsend Boys Club, an amateur side that has seen an impressive list of future stars pass through their ranks. Peter Beardsley, Steve Bruce and Michael Carrick, among many other top professionals, have all worn the club’s yellow and green kit but despite all of their collective honours, Shearer is possibly their most famous son.
He left the club when Southampton offered him a youth contract and aged just sixteen he made the move to the south coast. After two years in the youth team he was given a chance in the first team. He made his debut as a substitute against Chelsea but it was in his full debut, two weeks later at home to Arsenal, that he really announced himself to the football world. Playing in front of a packed Dell, Shearer bagged a hat-trick to help Southampton to a 4-2 win. The first two goals were, what is now, classic Shearer, getting in to a decent position in front of goal and bravely putting his head in the danger zone to nod past the ‘keeper. Both goals were celebrated with the now legendary one raised arm as he ran away from goal.
He was an instant hero and was soon rewarded with a full time professional contract. He continued to impress over the next few seasons and in that time showed that he was an intelligent player who could also bring the best out of his team mates, despite scoring relatively few goals his hard work earned him a fans Player Of The Year award in 1991, and this was a team that included Matt Le Tissier!
Things were moving fast now and a goal on his England debut only increased the interest in the young striker. A whole host of big clubs were calling. Young football fans may be surprised to hear that Blackburn Rovers were the original big spenders of English football. Their owner Jack Walker was a local businessman and he set out to turn Rovers in to the biggest club in the game, even going so far as to threaten to make Manchester United look “cheap” by comparison and Shearer was a big part of his plan. He broke the British transfer record to bring him in, paying Saints £3.3 million in the summer of 1992.
Just like at Southampton he made an immediate impact, scoring twice on his debut against Palace, but disaster struck just a few months in to his time at Ewood Park. He snapped his cruciate ligament in a game against Leeds in December. The Injury ruled him out for the rest of the season and would plague him for the rest of his career but he still managed an impressive 16 goals in his first 21 appearances for the club.
Returning with a point to prove the following season he hit the kind of form that has not since been seen from an English striker. His 31 goals in 40 games helped Blackburn to second and he followed it up with a league record 34 goals the following term, leading from the front and securing Rovers the league title in 1994/95. Shearer was lethal that season as a part of the famous SAS strike partnership with Chris Sutton.
While Blackburn were unable to match the accomplishments of their title winning season at the next attempt it wasn’t through any fault of Shearer’s, who once again managed to break the 30 goal mark, netting 31 in 40 games.
Though he was scoring goals for fun at club level, Shearer was struggling for England, he was on a twelve game baron run going in to Euro 96 and with the home crowds desperate for the team to progress in the tournament, the pressure was on. But as he has shown at every stage of his career up to that point, he thrived under the glare of the watching world.
The tournament was arguably the highest point of his career, despite going out in the traditional fashion, on penalties, but at least in a semi final, there was a huge amount of goodwill for the side and Shearer in particular, who finished the competition as top scorer, grabbing goals against Switzerland, Scotland, Holland and Germany along the way.
At this stage Blackburn had fallen away as title contenders and Shearer was again being courted by big clubs from all around Europe, there was a lot of speculation that he would join Manchester United who were just starting to tighten their grip on the English game at the time but instead, almost inevitably, he opted to move to his hometown club. Joining Newcastle for another record fee of 15 million pounds he was greeted by a (toon) army of fans who chanted his name. It was reminiscent of the scenes we see in Spain when a player like Ronaldo or Neymar is unveiled but in England, in the 90’s.
Shearer as usual started this latest chapter with a bang, once again finishing as the leagues top scorer with 25 goals, but soon the injuries started to impact his game, there were issues with his ankles, groin and that knee again. He stayed with Newcastle for ten years, going close to the title twice but ultimately never winning any silverware with the club. Despite the injuries he was still a regular goal scorer when he was fit, maintaining a record of (more or less) a goal every other game and in his final season as a player he scored his 206th goal for the club at the Gallogate End of St James’ Park where he had watched the Magpies as a boy, making him the side’s all time top scorer, breaking Jackie Milburn’s record which had stood for 49 years.
In the end it was that cruciate ligament that ended his career a few games short of the end of the 2006/7 season but he left the game setting standards for club, country and the league that have rarely, if ever been hit since. He had a foot like a traction engine, unrivalled heading ability, was nerveless from the spot and a true local hero. Ending his career as the Premier League’s all time top scorer with 260 goals, we may literally never see his like again.