31st March – Tommy Smith

Ipswich Town’s current longest serving player and Player of the season is 24 today and has already had a remarkable career.

Tommy Smith has proven himself at club level time and time again with brilliant performances and crucial goals but it is his time at international level that has made him standout from most Championship players.

Although he played for the England under 17s and 18s he decided to play for New Zealand. This gave him the opportunity to go to the 2010 World Cup and the All Whites were many fans second team at the tournament because of how well they played and the amount of commitment they showed. Smith was a major part of this and played every minute helping the team get three historical points which included draws against Slovakia, Paraguay and Italy. They even finished above Italy in the group however they did not do enough to qualify for the knockout stages.
Smith action
But back to Smith’s club career and it seems like he was always going to be a success as he was shortlisted for the Youth Apprentice Trophy which is given to the Championship’s best youth player. After this he went on loan to Stevenage and was wanting to progress his career quickly however he broke his ankle in a training session and missed most of the season. But Roy Keane was willing to give him a chance along with other promising youngsters like Connor Wickham.
Smith Ipswich
The defender has never been someone to just sit on the bench and wait for his chance he wants to play football and every time he was left out of the team for a spell either through injury or other players form he would go out on loan and show his potential.
Smith NZ
He seems like a player that loves playing football and being out on the pitch and the last word can go to his manager Mick McCarthy who commented on this and how professional the man is. “He travelled to China with New Zealand, played and then travelled back. I actually wondered if he had stayed at home and the rest of my squad had travelled to China.”

30th March – Emerson Thome

Some say that Brazilians do not settle well in England but there are a few that have succeeded and showed their true potential.

One player that did not quite do this was Emerson Thome but unfortunately it was not his fault and it was circumstances out of his control that stopped him being one of the best centre backs in the league. He is 42 today and he first came to England in the 1997-98 season joining Sheffield Wednesday and he quickly became a fan favourite and was given the nickname ‘The Wall’ due to his size and commitment to not conceding goals. One fan said: “I met him at Hillsborough once and shook his hand, he nearly crushed every bone in my hand, he was a monster of a bloke, but was really friendly and polite. On the pitch he and Des Walker formed a great partnership.”
Thome Wednesday
Unfortunately The Owls began to struggle in the Premier League and as relegation was getting closer they needed to get rid of some of their highest earners and those that could bring them in a decent transfer fee. Thome was one of these players and Chelsea paid £2.7 million for the centre back.

His time at Chelsea was when his career in England started to unravel and he could not become the player everyone had hoped. He only stayed at Stamford Bridge for nine months as he could not break the partnership up of experienced defenders Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf.
Thome Chelsea
Surprisingly Chelsea still made a profit on him and this just shows that he was still very highly rated and his potential was wasted at Chelsea. He signed for Sunderland for around £4 million and because of a clause in his contract he could not make as much of an impact as he hoped. Towards the end of the 2002-03 season as the club were heading towards relegation they could not play Thome as he was closing in on his 50th game which meant Sunderland had to pay Chelsea a considerable sum of money.
Thome Sunderland
So he left the club in the summer and joined Bolton Wanderers helping them to 8th in the table and the final of the League Cup but he did not do enough to earn a new contract and left for Wigan Athletic who he helped gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history. However he did not play much in the Premier League and went out on loan to Derby County.

When he returned to Wigan he was released from his contract and ended his career at Japanese side Vissel Kobe. Since retiring he became a scout and is working for Everton as their chief scout in Portugal.

The last word can go to Peter Reid who signed him for Sunderland highlighting his talents. “Emerson is a terrific acquisition for the club. He’s a very strong defender, has great pace and is good in the air.”

29th March – Marc Overmars

Marc Overmars is one of a few players to have announced their retirement and reverse their decision but not many wait four years to come back.

The Ajax Director of Football is 40 today and is one of the best wingers to have ever played in the Premier League. He won trophies throughout his career including a Premier League and FA Cup double and also the Champions League in 1994-95. He came to mainstream prominence when he joined Ajax in 1992. He was quickly seen as one of their main players and scored seven goals, this led to him being targeted by opposition players and this annoyed him. “If they keep kicking, I would sometimes give something back in return.”
Overmars Ajax
Over the next few years his performances improved further and he added more goals to his game and helped end Ajax’s three year wait for a title and then was part of the team that won it three years in a row. But his greatest moment in an Ajax shirt was winning the Champions League trophy by beating AC Milan in the final. Overmars has been critical of the competition. “When I won it with Ajax it was only the teams who finished first who took part. It’s not special anymore.”

He stayed at Ajax for a few more seasons and suffered an awful injury that causes him problems now. He joined Arsenal in 1997 and had one of the strangest seasons ever as opinions changed almost weekly on his quality. To start with he was seen as a great signing but then was criticised during the middle part of the season and his manager Arsene Wenger continually defended him. But in the end he won the double, scoring crucial goals against Manchester United and in the FA Cup final against Newcastle United.
Overmars Arsenak
After EURO 2000 he joined Barcelona for £25 million. But his time at Barcelona was hit by recurring knee injuries and he did not fulfil his potential and ended up not winning a single medal and because of this he retired in 2004 still with a year left on his contract which shows the pain he must have been in.
Overmars Barcelona
This was not the end though as he returned in a testimonial match and gave defenders such a tough time that professional clubs were asking him to come back. Eventually he did and played for first club Go Ahead Eagles but this only last one season after suffering discomfort in his knee.

After leaving Ajax his knee was seen as ticking time bomb and stopped a lot of clubs willing to take a chance on him but Arsenal did and he was voted as the 12th best ever player for the club by the supporters.

The last word goes to Arsene Wenger: “All of Europe thought Overmars was dead because of his damaged knee but in every important game, he scored. He has got great mental strength. He is a world class player.”

28th March – Steve Bull

Today marks the birthday of someone that has been awarded an MBE, holds a goalscoring record for Wolverhampton Wanderers including 18 hatricks.
Bull mbe
Steve Bull firstly is a Wolves hero and there is not a single fan that does not believe he is a legend. But he was also capped 13 times for England scoring 4 goals so he did at least let other fans have the joy of watching him celebrate. This is even more remarkable when you consider Wolves were not in the top division at the time but Sir Bobby Robson felt he could offer something to the team and took him to the 1990 World Cup where he played four times. One of his goals in the build up to the tournament has been voted as the 37th greatest England goal.
Bull England
At club level he was prolific and broke four of Wolves’ goal scoring records during his 13 year spell and went on to make 561 appearances scoring 306 goals. This includes 52 in 58 games during the 1987-88 season and 50 more in the following season. It was on the 9th May 1987 he scored his first hatrick for the club and incredibly he got another 17 more with his last coming on the 17th August 1996.

The amazing thing about his career is that he never managed to play top flight football with Wolves but it was not like he did not have opportunities to leave. The closest he came was in 1995 when Graham Taylor agreed a sale to Coventry City. However, there was an outcry from supporters not to leave and ultimately ‘Bully’ made the decision not to leave.
Bull Wolves
On the 13th July announced his retirement after battling a knee injury for a number of years, he did return as player-coach of Hereford United but this only lasted a season.

In 2003 he played in a testimonial for West Brom striker Bob Taylor and amused the fans by falling to the ground when the opposition fans sang ‘Stand up if you hate the Wolves.’

The last word can go to Sid Day the West Brom scout who discovered the striker but was ultimately let down by the manager of the time Ron Saunders who did not see his potential and let him leave for Wolves: “I noticed him, the smallest player on the pitch, buzzing around, he had a rocket of a shot and he wasn’t afraid to miss. He couldn’t play for toffee but he scores goals.”

27th March – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Being the manager of Antwerp in Belgium is not something that someone who has scored over 100 Premier League goals usually wants to do but that is exactly what birthday boy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is doing.

The man who turned out for some fantastic teams including Leeds United, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea is 42 today and he had a pretty amazing career. It did not start off too great with him failing to live up to his potential in Holland with only 5 goals in 50 league appearances for Telstar and AZ. Instead of wondering what could have been and falling into non league Dutch football he decided to leave for Portugal where his talents caught the eye. He spent one season at Campomaiorense and then joined Boavista a season later hitting an incredible 20 goals in 29 games.

Once again he was on the move and Leeds United needed a striker to lead the line and put away the chances. For £2 million he was a steal as he scored on his debut against Arsenal and continued this form by scoring a further 15 goals. A lot of foreign strikers need time to settle but not Jimmy who went even better in his second and final season by finishing as joint top scorer in the league with 18.
Jimmy Leeds
However he did not leave Leeds in the best way as he rejected a new contract and demanded a transfer request which allowed him to leave for £12 million to Atletico Madrid. But 34 league goals in two years and £10 million profit is good business.

Once again he adapted quickly to a new league scoring 24 goals but surprisingly this was not enough to stop the club getting relegated and meant he was on the move again. Hasselbaink came back to England for £15 million joining Chelsea. In his first season at the club he was unplayable at times scoring a brilliant volley against Manchester United and a four goal haul against Coventry City. He was at Chelsea for four years and finished top scorer for them three times but with Roman Abramovich’s money he was no longer needed.
Jimmy Chelsea
His next move was to Middlesbrough. When he signed he said the club could challenge for Champions League qualification and he almost followed through with this claim as he helped the club reach the UEFA Cup final which they ultimately lost 4-0 to Sevilla.
Jimmy Boro
After being released he was getting close to retirement but this did not stop him scoring 4 in 29 for Charlton Athletic and 9 in 44 for Cardiff City.

The last word can go to former Norwich City manager Glenn Roeder who spoke about Jimmy when there were rumours of him possibly signing for the club. “He only ever came here for training and people mustn’t make too much of it. If I was to sign Jimmy he wouldn’t be here on trial or a test or anything like that – I wouldn’t embarrass the man like that.”

26th March – Taribo West

Today’s footballer is someone that has had some remarkable hairstyles and also has an amateur Nigerian football club named after him.

That man is Taribo West, an Olympic Games winner with Nigeria, UEFA Cup winner with Inter Milan and a Ligue 1 winner with Auxerre in the 1995-96 season. But for someone that is so well known and has a few decent medals in his trophy cabinet he did not play that many league games throughout his career. He moved to Auxerre in 1993 and retired in 2008 but only managed 224 career games which is low for someone that at times was linked with some of the best clubs in Europe including Liverpool, Ajax and Juventus.
West
After winning the French league title he decided to move to Inter where he played a vital role in winning the UEFA Cup but then came a transfer that shocked a lot of people after clashing with the Inter manager as he joined rivals AC Milan. However this turned out to be a bad move as his career went backwards as he only played four times.

This did not stop him being a highly rated player and in old Championship Manager games he was one of the best free signings at the start of the game. Unfortunately his career did not quite mirror his progress in this fictitious football world as he ended up joining Derby County who were still a Premier League club at the time and in his 18 game spell at the club he helped them finish 17th and save them from relegation.
West Derby
After leaving Derby, he went on to play for Kaiserslautern (Germany) and Partizan (Serbia) and had one last chance to showcase his talents in the Champions League. 2005 was a crazy year for the Nigerian defender and he ended up in the Championship with Plymouth Argyle and this move did not work out but he was loved by English football fans and Derby County sent shirts to his hometown in a campaign backed by BBC Radio Derby.
West Plymouth
One controversy during his career was always his age and allegedly in 2013 former Partizan president said he lied about his age and claimed he was 12 years older than he is actually reported. So happy 40th or 52nd birthday to Taribo West.

The last word can go to the man himself who was always confident in his ability and felt AC Milan ruined his career referring to Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta. “There were three of us, but the coach would pick the Italians even though I was clearly the best.”

25th March – Alvaro Saborio

Costa Ricans have rarely came over to play in England and the most well known are Paolo Wanchope (Derby County, West Ham and Manchester City), Bryan Ruiz (Fulham) and Bryan Oviedo (Everton).

But today marks the birthday of Alvaro Saborio who is one of the most famous Costa Ricans but not many fans will remember his spell in England. He joined Championship side Bristol City on loan in the 2009-10 season. The fans were looking forward to seeing him play because of his international goalscoring record which he is still adding to today with 32 goals in 93 games and recently grabbed the winner in a 2-1 victory of Paraguay.
Saborio
He repaid the fans faith and optimism by setting up Nicky Maynard on his debut against Coventry City. However, the good times did not follow and he only managed two goals in 20 Championship appearances against Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United. Unfortunately he could not settle in England and his loan agreement was cancelled allowing him to join Real Salt Lake City in America.
Saborio MLS
This is where his career got back on track and has scored 52 times in 87 games including 12 in 15 in what was an injury hit season last year which shows his real quality. Some will argue that the MLS is not the strongest league but it is improving and it is good to see another international star is playing in their league.
Saborio Costa Rica
It is disappointing that he never managed to hit the heights in England but he did leave a mark on the Bristol City fans and a story from a Robins fan in America shows this. “I know he did not exactly pull up trees while at City but he is doing very well in the MLS. However it is not his footballing abilities I want to discuss, I just want to say he is a class act. During a warm up for his current club he was surprised to see me and my son wearing Bristol City shirts and came over and signed it for my son which made his day.”