5th June – Stephen McPhee

Stephen Mcphee is one of the few British players to have tried to have a successful career abroad which a lot of pundits believe would improve football in the UK.

The forward started his youth career in Holland with Vitesse Arnhem which is probably part of the reason why he didn’t fear going abroad and trying out different cultures and playing styles. He never played for the Dutch side and in 1998 he joined Premier League club Coventry City.

In 2001, he joined Scottish side St Mirren on loan and was an instant success, winning the SPL Young Player of the Month. During his spell he played seven times but he did not convince parent club Coventry that he deserved a place in their team and on the 31st July 2001 signed for Port Vale.

His first season was good as he began it with a goal on his debut against Notts County and ended it as the club’s top scorer with 14 goals. This led to him being linked with moves away and Wigan Athletic had a £300,000 bid accepted, however, he could not agree personal terms. It seemed to be a poor decision as he struggled in the following campaign as he went 21 games without a goal until he scored against Oldham Athletic. He hoped this would kick start his season but only two goals followed.

McPhee PV

The 2003-04 season saw McPhee bounce back and Vale narrowly miss out on the League One playoffs with the striker scoring 27 times. With the club failing to gain promotion, it meant once again that other clubs were looking at him and Leeds United had a bid rejected. As he was out of contract he could join any foreign club for free.

Portuguese club Beira-Mar, managed by Mick Wadsworth, decided to take a chance on the Scotsman. Unfortunately the manager was sacked after just four games and many thought the striker would struggle for games. However, he proved to be a bright spot and despite relegation his consistent performances meant he was singled out for praise.

McPhee Hull

On the 19th May 2005 he returned to England, signing for Hull City. After just four games he suffered an injury and missed the rest of the season. He never fully recovered from his injuries while at the club and in his three seasons he only played 40 times. In January 2008, he signed for Blackpool, and scored three times in 19 games before the end of the season. He played his final game on the 4th April 2009 and for the next 18 months he could not get fit and announced his retirement less than a week after his club had been promoted to the top flight.

McPhee Blackpool

The final word can go to his agent David Manasseh. “Stephen thoroughly enjoyed his time at Vale, however, clubs playing at a higher level have come in for him. Stephen is an ambitious, young footballer and is keen for the chance to play at a higher level.”

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31st May – Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi may not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of the best goalkeepers but he proved to be one of the most consistent in the United Kingdom.

The Finnish international proved himself as a great shot stopper and consistent performer throughout his whole career, beginning it professionally in Finland with HJK Helsinki, where he made 101 league appearances for the club before making the move to Copenhagen. At the Danish giants he played 47 league games and after impressing over the next two years, he was once again linked with moves to bigger clubs and it was Glasgow Rangers that signed him in 1997.

He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show his true abilities, only making 13 league appearances, at the club but he had settled well in Scotland and wanted to stay in the country. In December 1999, Hearts signed him and he became a fans favourite very quickly with his impressive performances. After three seasons though it was once again time to move on and this time to England, where he joined Southampton in 2002.

Niemi Hearts

There were many ups and downs while at Southampton, including helping the club reach the FA Cup final in 2003 but he made history by becoming the first goalkeeper to be substituted in a final after he suffered a calf injury. The team would ultimately go on to lose the game 1-0 against Arsenal. His ability was never in doubt in England and over the next few seasons there was a lot of speculation about him leaving for one of the teams challenging for the title. In 2005, however, Southampton were relegated from the Premier League and despite staying on, they never looked likely to return so Niemi felt it was time to leave and test himself once more in a top league. The player, himself, described this experience as his first bad one in British football.

Niemi Soton

Niemi returned to the Premier League in January 2006, signing for Fulham. And was their first choice keeper until March 2008 when an injury led to him losing his place to Kasey Keller. After 62 league games for the club, Niemi announced his retirement from the game. However, he did sign a one year contract with Portsmouth to provide backup to David James. He left the club without making a single appearance for the club and once again announced his retirement.

Niemi Fulham

On the international scene he was first choice for almost a decade, being capped 67 times by Finland and he kept his place ahead of fellow Premier League goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen and Peter Enckleman, which just shows how much quality he had.

The final word can go to former Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe when signing the stopper. “He has a good character. He is the Finnish number one and he played an absolute blinder to keep out Germany so that England qualified for the World Cup. We are confident he will be a tremendous addition to our squad.”

23rd May – Stephen Glass

Stephen Glass is one of those players that if it wasn’t for injuries could have become one of the most exciting wingers in the early 2000s.

The Scottish international showed a lot of talent in his early years, starting his career at Aberdeen and was regarded as one of Scotland’s hottest prospects. He was an instant success in a difficult season for Aberdeen during the 1994-95 campaign, scoring important goals in their final league fixture and also in both legs of their relegation playoff which helped secure their place in the top flight. He was also influential in the League Cup final against Dundee setting up both goals in a 2-0 win and earning himself the Man of the Match award.

In 1998, for a fee of £650,000, Glass signed for Newcastle United and despite making 29 appearances in his first season his injuries started to hamper his progress. His second season was blighted with injuries and new manager Bobby Robson saw him as a solid squad player. In the following two campaigns he only made six starts but his best moment came in December 2000 when he scored an equaliser against Manchester United.

Glass Newcastle

After his contract expired, he joined Watford and was seen to be a key player in Gianluca Vialli’s side. Unfortunately, the club had financial issues and, despite the club being keen to keep the midfielder, he was released after just two seasons.

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He returned to Scotland and joined Hibernian on a three year deal. After a promising start, once again, injuries took their toll and during the first campaign he missed the final of the 2004 League Cup. During the 2004-05 season Glass would only miss two league games and this would be one of his most successful as he helped the club finish third and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

Glass Hibs

The 2006-07 season was a difficult one as he found himself playing out of position and after Tony Mowbray left the club, he was further down the pecking order under new manager John Collins. After just two starts in the following season, Glass joined Dunfermline in January on loan until the end of the season and in the summer he was given a permanent deal.

He showed his influence on the younger players in the squad and would go on to be named club captain but injuries struck and after an early knee injury he was released at the end of the 2009-10 season. After an unsuccessful trial at St Mirren, North American Soccer League side Carolina Seahawks offered him a deal but a hip injury limited him to just seven appearances and would soon announce his retirement.

The final word can go to former Newcastle great, Bob Moncur. “What I really like about him is that he goes either side to take on his full-back. And he doesn’t drift across the park. He goes straight at his man. He gets the ball in early too, which is going to benefit Alan Shearer so much.”

12th November – James McCarthy

When Roberto Martinez left Wigan Athletic for Everton it was inevitable that some of his former players would join him at his new club and arguably James McCarthy has been one of their most consistent players in the last few seasons.

The holding midfielder does a fantastic job for the side as he allows the full backs to press forward and give the team a lot of width whilst not leaving his own goal overexposed. There are few better in his position at the moment and it is strange that he is still seen as underrated as he is one of the most important players in the squad and has so far never let anyone down.

McCarthy is now 24 and will be hoping that he can continue to improve at the rate he has already and go on to get more plaudits in his career. The midfielder started his career in Scotland with Hamilton Academicals and made his debut as a substitute against Queen of the South on the 30th September 2006 becoming the youngest player to play for the club in the 21st century. His full debut would come just over a month later, a day before his 16th birthday, against Airdrie United. He would then also go on to become the club’s youngest ever goalscorer when he hit the back of the net in a Scottish Cup game against Livingston, aged just 16 years and 55 days.
McCarthy HA
In the 2007-08 season McCarthy’s quality was clear to see and he helped his side gain promotion to the SPL with six goals in 35 games and was rewarded with a new three year contract. He had quickly become one of the best young players in Scotland and many were interested to see how he would do in the top flight. McCarthy made the step up comfortably and was named the SPFA Young Player of the Year after yet another fantastic season which saw him score a further six league goals.

It was always going to be difficult to keep hold of the midfielder and on the 21st July 2009 he made the move down south to Wigan. His debut was one to forget, however as his side were defeated 5-0 by Manchester United. It did take him a little while to find his feet but this was expected and he would go on to score on his first Premier League start against Wolves on the 16th January 2010. This seemed to give him confidence and his performances steadily improved.
McCarthy WA
He began the 2010-11 season very well but a serious ankle injury kept him out of action for three months. On his return to the side he scored against Aston Villa and then followed this up with two goals against Blackburn Rovers in a 4-3 win. His reputation was once again on the rise and he was given a new five year contract by Wigan to make sure if he did have to leave they would get a good transfer fee for him. He remained consistent for the club and was part of the team that won the FA Cup in 2013 before Wigan were relegated in the same season.

After relegation it was unlikely that he would stay at the club but he did feature five times for them in the Championship showing his commitment but on the 2nd September 2013 he joined Everton for £13 million. McCarthy was brilliant in his first season and forged a very good partnership with Gareth Barry which was a key reason why they reached a club record 72 points in the Premier League. He had to wait until the final day of the season to score his first goal for the club in a 2-0 win over Hull City.
McCarthy Everton
The final word can go to Roberto Martinez. “James is one of those players you sometimes don’t appreciate but he’s always there making sure the team has the right balance. He allows others to shine. He can adapt to different situations during a game when you need him to because of the tactical awareness that he has.”

27th October – Rhys Weston

Rhys Weston may not be the most recognisable name but he has had a very interesting career and if it wasn’t for injuries he may have played at a higher level for a prolonged period of time.

The defender will be fondly remembered by Cardiff City fans as he helped them climb from the bottom division of the Football League to the Championship and even took a pay cut in 2005 to help the club. The 34 year old can also say that he played at the highest level as he featured seven times for Wales between the years of 2000 and 2005.

Now 34 he doesn’t have a club but has played in a few different countries and experienced some different cultures so he can at least take that from his career. Weston started his career at Arsenal and made his debut on the 30th November 1999 in a League Cup game against Middlesbrough after coming on as a substitute. Later in the season he would go on to make his only top flight appearance as he started the final game against Newcastle United on the 14th May 2000.

In total he played three times for Arsenal before joining Cardiff in November 2000 for £300,000. He made his debut in a 3-2 win over Lincoln City and would go on to play another 31 times as the club gained promotion to Division Two after finishing 2nd. In the following season Weston was a more important member of the team and showed his quality in the 43 games he played, unfortunately the club missed out on back to back promotions after being beaten in the playoffs by Stoke City. The 2002-03 season was successful for the player and the club as they managed to gain promotion after beating QPR 1-0 in the playoff final. During the season Weston also scored his first professional goal after scoring in a 4-0 win over Tranmere Rovers on the 26th October.
Weston CC
Despite adapting well to the First Division, Weston struggled with injuries and would only play 24 times after suffering a knee injury and then damaging cartilage in his other knee in March 2004. In the following campaign he returned to his consistent self but again his season was ended by injury. At the end of the season he accepted a substantial reduction in his wages and was placed on the transfer list by new manager Dave Jones but still managed to play 30 times during the 2005-06 season. However, he was left out of the club’s pre-season tour and was released.

Weston then joined Norwegian side Viking but his only match for the club lasted 12 minutes as he dislocated his shoulder. Four days later the manager was sacked and the incoming manager could not speak English so Weston returned to the UK. In February 2007 Weston signed for Port Vale. He would go onto play 15 games for the club before being released. On the 16th July 2007 Weston signed for Walsall and went on to play 50 games for the club during the 2007-08 season earning himself a new deal. He would continue to be a consistent player but at the end of the 2009-10 manager Chris Hutchings decided not to give him a contract and after 111 games he joined Dundee.
Weston Walsall
He spent two seasons at the Scottish side and in both seasons they finished 2nd in Division One but at the end of his contract he decided to join Icelandic side KR Reykjavik. Due to financial problems he left the club after just 16 appearances and made the move to Malaysia to sign for Sabah FA. He only played six times and joined AFC Wimbledon on the 7th August 2013. Once again he did not get much game time and after a loan spell at Sutton United he was not offered a new contract.
Weston Dundee
The final word can go to Richard Money. “Rhys has become an important member of the team. His performances have become more and more consistent as the season has progressed and we hope that he will continue to be an important player for Walsall.”

2nd October – Michael Ball

A lot of people say that more British players should go abroad and learn how football is played in different countries and that is exactly what birthday boy Michael Ball did.

He may not be the most famous to go play abroad but at least he took the risk and decided to give it a go, a lot of British players are criticised because they take the safe option and would rather stay in a league that they understand. So the 35 year old left back definitely deserves credit for deciding that his football would improve by leaving England and trying to adapt to a new culture.

The one time capped England defender started his career at Everton and made his debut in April 1997 as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur and then started the match against West Ham a week later. He developed into a very solid full back and could also fill in at centre back when it was required and in his five years at the club he played 121 Premier League games, scoring eight times. His form at club level impressed England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and was included in his squad for a friendly against Spain in February 2001. Ball would come on at half time for Chris Powell to get his one and only England cap.
Ball at Everton
In 2001 Everton had to sell some of their better players, including Ball who joined Rangers for £6.5 million. Ball had a difficult start at Rangers as he was fined £10,000 by the club for swearing at manager Dick Advocaat in the Old Firm Derby against Celtic after being substituted and then in only his 11th game he suffered medial ligament damage that would keep him out for 18 months.

After missing the entire 2002-03 season he regained his fitness and became a first team regular in the following season and in his first month back he scored his first goal against Dundee United and also won the Player of the Month award. In all competitions he played 43 times during the season but this caused problems as Rangers would have to pay more money to Everton after he played a certain amount of games so they were reluctant to use him at the start of the 2004-05 season.
Ball Rangers
This was eventually solved in December 2004 and Ball helped the club win the Scottish League Cup and the SPL title but at the end of the season Rangers wanted to get rid of some of their highest earners and after 55 SPL games Ball joined Dutch side PSV. Unfortunately the manager Guus Hiddink and the PSV fans could not see the best of the defender because of injury problems that ruined his time at the club but he did still help them lift the Dutch title in his first season.

Injuries meant he did not even play a game in his second season at the club and joined Manchester City on the 31st January 2007 on a six month deal after impressing on a trial. He quickly regained his form and became a dependable defender for City and in his first season and a half at the club he captained the side on a number of occasions. But in January 2009 he needed an operation on his knee which would keep him out of action for nine months and on the 1st July he was released by the club.
Ball MCFC
To get back to match fitness he joined several clubs on trial but none of these led to contracts and he had to wait until the 8th August 2011 to get signed to another club. Leicester City signed him but he only made three appearances for the club in his only season at the club.

The final word can go to Sven Goran Eriksson who was also his manager at Manchester City. “Michael’s experienced, having played in Scotland and Holland as well as England and it’s good he is staying with us as he’s going to be very useful. We had to build on what was good here, so I’m happy that he’s signed.”

1st October – Ricardo Vaz Te

Ricardo Vaz Te may not be getting much game time at West Ham at the moment but the club definitely owe a lot to him and may not even be in the Premier League if it wasn’t for him.

The forward scored a late winner in the Championship playoff final against Blackpool just a few months after signing for the club and the fans, board and manager should not forget his achievements. This season West Ham are definitely a more attacking team and have certainly played a lot better football and maybe the fans would have seen more of Vaz Te’s talents had he been in a side that played this style of football. Now 28 he should be in the best years of his career but he is sat on the bench probably getting more frustrated.

Vaz Te started his career at Bolton Wanderers in 2003 when Sam Allardyce was in charge and quickly rose through the youth teams and made his debut in an FA Cup tie against Tranmere Rovers in January 2004. Two months later he made his Premier League debut in a 2-0 defeat against Middlesbrough and started his first ever game away to Manchester United later in the year.
Vaz Te Bolton
Over the next few seasons he was involved regularly but most of his appearances were from the bench and injuries ruined his time at the club. On the 11th May 2010 he was released by Bolton after playing 78 times and scoring seven goals, while at the club he also had a loan spell at Hull City.

On the 30th June 2010 Vaz Te joined Greek side Panionios on a three year deal, however the club suffered financial problems and after just six months agreed to cancel his contract. He feature eight times for the club, scoring one goal but it must have been difficult for a young player to continue playing when he had not received any pay for four of the six months he was at the club.

His next move was to Scotland after a trial with Hibernian, they signed him on the 28th February 2011 and made his debut in a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone. Although his time at the club was short, he did become a fan favourite after scoring in the Edinburgh derby against Hearts, however this turned out to be his only goal. At the end of the season he joined Championship side Barnsley in July 2011 on trial and impressed enough to earn a contract with the club.

He had to wait a while to score his first goal but will go down as one of the club’s best strikers in recent years after hitting a fantastic run of form. His first goal did not come until a 2-0 win over Burnley on the 18th October and afterwards he scored some important goals that will make the Barnsley fans never forget him. On the 6th December he scored the fastest goal in Barnsley’s history after scoring only 8.5 seconds into a match against Crystal Palace and then scored a hatrick against Leeds United in a 4-1 win on the 31st December.
Vaz Te Barnsley
After 10 goals in 22 games he was being linked with moves away from the club and joined promotion chasing West Ham on the 31st January 2012. Over the course of the 2011-12 season Vaz Te scored 24 goals, including 12 in just 18 games for his new club, including the winning goal in the Championship playoff final.
Vaz Te WH
Since promotion to the Premier League, he has suffered from injuries and has never really been given a run in the side.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “Ricardo Vaz Te: what a signing. He’s one of my best signings ever and I’ve had some bargain buys in my time, he deserves a lot of credit. He was down and out in his career, and I brought him back.”