31st October – Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin may not spring to mind when thinking of Manchester United greats but there is no denying that he is one of the club’s most dependable and consistent full backs ever.

The 49 year old had a very good career and has been called Alex Ferguson’s pound for pound greatest ever signing which is a huge honour and just shows how important he was to the side during the 1990s. Irwin also got the honour of being named in the first Premier League Overall Team of the Decade and represented his country, Republic of Ireland, 56 times and was part of the World Cup 1994 squad.

Irwin started his career at Leeds United in 1983 and went on to make 72 appearances in the Second Division for the club, including 41 games in the 1984-85 season. But in 1986 he moved to Oldham Athletic on a free transfer and barely missed a league match over the next four seasons, featuring in 167 games and scoring four goals.

In his final season at the club he helped the club reach the semi final of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup before moving to Manchester United in 1990 for a fee of £625,000. He would spend the next 12 years at Old Trafford and would win seven Premier League title along the way, which is an incredible achievement. He can also add three FA Cup, a League Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a Champions League winners medal to his collection before he left the club.
Sport.Football. pic: 24th February 1990. Denis Irwin, Oldham Athletic defender, who won 56 Republic of Ireland international caps 1991-2000, while playing at Manchester United.
During his time at the club he also became a reliable goalscorer from the penalty spot and also was a real asset from free kicks, delivering great balls into the box. He would score 22 goals in the league all together for the club with his first coming on the 7th September 1991 in a 3-0 home win over Norwich City. Irwin’s best goalscoring season came in the 1992-93 season, as the team went on to lift the first ever Premier League trophy, hitting the back of the net five times.

He continued to be Manchester United’s first choice until his mid thirties and was rewarded with a testimonial against Manchester City on the 16th August 2000 but this was the beginning of the end of his time at the club as he was no longer an automatic first choice. Irwin made his last appearance for the club in a 0-0 draw against Charlton Athletic on the 12th May 2002 and was given the captain’s armband by Alex Ferguson on his 529th appearance for the club.
Irwin MU
After the 2001-02 season the Irishman joined Wolves and was a crucial part of their promotion to the Premier League, playing in 43 of the 46 league games and scoring goals against Burnley and Grimsby. Wolves then struggled in the top flight but on Irwin’s return to Old Trafford he received a warm reception but this was a personal high point in a poor season as the club were relegated. Irwin announced his retirement from the game at the end of the season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur
The final word can go to the former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson. “We called him the quiet assassin. He was a left back and he was taking penalties in a team full of Man United players. He’d take all of the free kicks – it just shows what a class player he was. He was tough and quick.”

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10th October – Lee Trundle

Lee Trundle is a legend at Swansea City, enjoying a very successful spell at the club and delighting their fans with his goals and his skills.

Although he was a striker, it was not just his goals that impressed the fans, it was his all round play and the way that he easily got passed players with skill. He is back at Swansea now after being appointed their Club Ambassador and Youth Coach on the 25th June 2013 which shows how important he is to the club and how highly they still think of him.
The 38 year old did not have the easiest starts to his football career and was a late comer to the professional game and had to have spells at non league sides Burscough, Stalybridge Celtic, Southport, Bamber Bridge and Chorley before moving to Welsh side Rhyl.

He only spent six months at the Welsh Premier League side and after scoring 15 goals in just 18 games, he caught the attention of Wrexham manager Brian Flynn. Wrexham signed the striker during the 2000-01 season and was an immediate hit, scoring eight times in just 14 games in the Second Division. His first goal was a crucial one for the club as on the 24th February 2001 he scored a bicycle kick against Walsall to kick start a comeback from 2-0 down and Wrexham eventually went on to win the game 3-2.
Trundle Wrexham
Trundle spent just over two years at the club and ended his time there with 30 goals in 78 starts which is a decent record, especially when you consider that they were relegated in his second season. But in the summer of 2003 he moved to another Welsh side in Swansea and teamed up once again with Brian Flynn. On his debut against Bury he became an instant hero by scoring and showed off his extraordinary tricks that began to get him mainstream attention, particularly on the TV show Soccer AM where he was regularly featured.

In four of his five seasons at the club he hit at least 20 goals. He was always linked with moves away from the club but he did stay loyal to Swansea and in October 2005 he became the first player outside of the Premier League to sign an image rights contract which offered a portion of revenues from merchandise featuring his image.
Trundle SC
After 78 goals in 146 appearances he eventually left Swansea on the 30th July 2007 and signed for Bristol City. It was believed that City had put in four bids for the striker before they eventually landed their target. Unfortunately he never really hit the heights at the club and only managed seven goals in 53 league games and had to go out on loan to Leeds United and back to Swansea to get some more game time.
Trundle BC
When his contract expired at Bristol City he wanted to rejoin Swansea permanently but they only offered him a coaching role which Trundle rejected. In July 2010 he joined Welsh side Neath but his time there only lasted two years as the club struggled with financial problems. After leaving the club, the striker went on trial with Preston and earned a one year contract, however a knee injury meant he didn’t get to play much and his contract was terminated on the 8th February. Short spells at Chester and Marine followed but Trundle retired from professional football at the end of the 2012-13 season.

The final word can go to Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins. “Lee was a great player and ambassador for this football club. I know what the club means to him and how much the fans adore him so we are all delighted to welcome him back in this new role.”

8th September – Gary Speed

Gary Speed would have been 45 today and is someone that the footballing world has missed because of how likeable he was and how much effort he put in every time he was on the pitch.

The midfielder was a fan favourite at every club he played for and his death shocked everyone as it was so unexpected and he had begun to change Wales’ fortune on the international stage and there were many people that believed he would be the man that took them to a major tournament. The 27th November will be a tough day for all his friends and family but today is one to celebrate his life and his career achievements.

Speed began his career at Leeds United and signed his first professional contract on the 13th June 1988 and was quickly recognised as a player with huge potential by the manager at the time Howard Wilkinson. He made his debut as a 19 year old in the Second Division against Oldham Athletic, this was his only appearance that season but in the following campaign he played 25 times and scored three goals, helping Leeds gain promotion.

He was quickly becoming the first name on the team sheet and played a key role in the 1991-92 season as Leeds won the First Division title. He played alongside Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty in the midfield and they are considered one of the greatest line-ups in the modern game. In the first two years of the newly formed Premier League, Speed hit double figures and was also named in the PFA Team of the Year at the end of the 1992-93 season.
Speed LU
He stayed at Leeds for eight seasons and because of his consistency and the fact he rarely picked up any injuries, he played 312 games before moving to Everton before the 1996-97 season for £3.5 million. He made his debut on the 17th August 1996 and scored against Newcastle United. He finished as the club’s joint top scorer with 11 goals, including a hatrick against Southampton in a 7-1 win. Despite being named the new club captain by Howard Kendall, their relationship turned sour and the midfielder was sold for £5.5 million to Newcastle on the 6th February 1998.
Speed NU
While at Newcastle, he helped them to two FA Cup finals in 1998 and 1999 but unfortunately they lost both. His performances at the club were exceptional and were a main reason why they rose up the table and started being considered as Premier League contenders and regulars in Europe. He stayed at Newcastle until July 2004 and many were surprised that the club were willing to let him go but after 285 appearances and 40 goals he joined Bolton Wanderers.

In December 2006 he became the first player in history to play 500 games in the Premier League after featuring in a 4-0 win over West Ham. He once again barely missed a game for the club and in his first three seasons he played 40 times or more and in the 2006-07 season he even managed to score eight Premier League goals.
Speed BW
Speed ended his playing career at Sheffield United but injuries stopped him being as influential for them as he had been for his previous clubs. So he ended his career having played 841 times and hitting the back of the net 136 times.

The final word can go to his former teammate and friend Craig Bellamy. “Gary Speed was a leader. He was the person I admired most. I looked up to him and I always took it as a great compliment he, in turn, looked out for me and valued me as a player. He was a mentor to me, someone whose advice I sought, someone I listened to. I was a little in awe of him. I adored him and looked up to him.”

11th June – John Dreyer

John Dreyer may not be the most well known Premier League players but he played a vital role in keeping Bradford City in the league while he was there and he became a bit of an expert of helping teams avoid relegation.

Dreyer, now 51, began his career in non league football at Wallingford Town but it was not long before he got a move to the Football League in January 1985 as he joined Oxford United. He did not get first team opportunities straightaway and had to move to Torquay United on loan, playing five times, making his debut in a 1-1 draw with Cambridge United. He returned to his parent club in January 1986 but he once again could not break into the team so left the club once more on loan, this time to Fulham for the rest of the season. He played 12 times in the league for the club and impressed for them. This meant that on his return he broke into Oxford’s first team at the start of the next season and over the next two years he played 60 league games and scored twice.
Dreyer Oxford
On the 27th June 1988 he joined Luton Town for £140,000 and quickly became a fan favourite. He stayed at Kenilworth Road for six years and played 214 times. Dreyer managed 13 goals in his spell at Luton but he was unfortunately released at the end of the 1993-94 season. It did not take him long to find a new club as he was signed by Stoke City in July 1994, where he played nearly 50 times, but he was not always seen as a starter and he eventually joined Bolton Wanderers on loan in March 1995. He was a part of the squad that got promoted to the Premier League through the playoffs, although he would have loved to have played a bigger part, it was still a great achievement.
Dreyer Luton
In November 1996 he left Stoke permanently for a Bradford City who paid £25,000 for his services and scored on his debut in a 3-3 draw with Huddersfield Town. He managed to add another three goals to his tally that season but none of them were league goals as they all came in the FA Cup – two against Wycombe Wanderers and another in a cup upset when Bradford beat Everton 3-2.

In the promotion season of 1998-99 he struggled to hold down a regular place in the side however whenever he contributed they were usually important. In their final win of the season he made a vital clearance in a 3-2 win over Wolves which made sure that they would be playing Premier League football the next season. In the next season he was in and out of the side but once again popped up when he was most needed. In a must win game against Sunderland he scored the only goal which helped Bradford to stay up by just two points.
Dreyer Bradford
Despite being offered a new contract he decided to leave for Cambridge United and he played a major role in keeping the team in the Second Division in the 2000-01 season. He left the club after this season and joined non league club Stevenage, where he was first teamed up with Graham Westley. After two years at the club and a brief spell as caretaker manager he left to pursue a managerial position.

He has only managed Maidenhead United up till now but he has been assistant at a number of clubs, including Stevenage and Preston North End, where he assisted Graham Westley and the final word can go to Westley who obviously liked Dreyer from their first time together. “I feel sure that the door will open somewhere for John. He played at the top level, but he started in non league football so he knows what it is all about. I wish him well and don’t expect it to be too long before I’m giving him his first reference.”

8th May – Jack Charlton

English World Cup winners and one club men are few and far between but today marks the birthday of someone that fits into both categories.

Jack Charlton helped England win the World Cup in 1966 and spent all of his playing days at Leeds United where he also had a lot of success. But it could have been so different for the older Charlton brother as he had at first rejected the chance to play for Leeds and then another opportunity at the club clashed with an interview to become a policeman. Charlton decided to go to the trial and was given a contract.
Charlton England
He made his debut on 25th April 1953 against Doncaster Rovers in a 1-1 draw and he would have played more in the following years if he did not have to serve two years National Service but he returned to the team in 1955 and became a regular as the team gained promotion to the top flight. The next few years were tougher for the player and the club with a relegation and a number of managerial changes. Charlton almost left the club on several occasions but the 1962-63 season was the start of an almost decade long defensive line up which included Charlton and Don Revie was getting the club back to where they belonged, challenging for top honours. They were promoted to the First Division as champions in the 1963-64 season and made an immediate impact by going on a 25 match unbeaten run and almost winning the title.

After coming close in many different competitions in 1968 they finally won a major cup by beating Arsenal in the League Cup 1-0 and then followed this up with their first European trophy the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. A season later Charlton helped Leeds to their first ever Football League title with the team only losing two games all season. In his penultimate season as a player he finally clinched the one trophy that had been missing from his collection by beating Arsenal 1-0 in the FA Cup final
Charlton Leeds
After being limited to 25 appearances and the signing of Gordon McQueen, Charlton decided to retire but he wanted to become a manager. In 2006 he was voted into Leeds United’s greatest XI.

On his 38th birthday he was given the Middlesbrough job. Strangely he never signed a contract and accepted lower wage demands but he did have a gentleman’s agreement in place that he could not be sacked.

It did not take him long to be successful as he won promotion for Division Two with seven games left to play and became the first manager outside of the top flight to be named Manager of the Year. He managed to keep the team in the league for a number of seasons but there was unrest in the boardroom and the board voted to sack him, however the chairman stepped in and overruled the decision. He did eventually leave the club at the end of the 1976-77 season.

His next job was at bottom of the Third Division Sheffield Wednesday and he turned them round completely and won promotion in his third season at the club. In the 1982-83 season he took the club to the top of the table unfortunately injuries struck and they slid down the table, finally finishing sixth. His greatest moment as Wednesday manager is still sang by their fans to this day as he was in charge when they beat arch rivals Sheffield United 4-0 which is known as the Boxing Day Massacre.

Charlton then went back to his native North East and first managed Middlesbrough again as a favour to the chairman and kept them in the Second Division after it looked like they were going down and then in 1984 he became Newcastle United manager. He only lasted one season but he did have to use a lot of young players and it was a difficult situation.

On the international he was also successful as a player and a manager, winning the World Cup in 1966 and then managing Ireland to their first ever World Cup in 1990, where they reached the quarter finals.
Charlton Ireland
The last word can go to his former Leeds United teammate Johnny Giles. “Jack turned it round for himself once he got his attitude right, he was outstanding: always competing and getting his foot in when it mattered. His contribution in the promotion season was vital; it was the start of something good for both him and the club