Former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United star Palmer offers empathy as England stars are villified

Before his time: Carlton palmer was loved by the Sheffield Wednesday fanbase he represented twice, but not so much by England supporters, as he laments in his new book, inset. (Pictures: Steve Ellis)
Before his time: Carlton palmer was loved by the Sheffield Wednesday fanbase he represented twice, but not so much by England supporters, as he laments in his new book, inset. (Pictures: Steve Ellis)
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ON the subject of England players being singled out for stick in these social media times when every man and his dog professes to be an expert, it is very much a broad church.

View the country’s current best XI and it is perhaps only feted Tottenham Hotspur duo Harry Kane and Dele Alli and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford who find themselves immune from criticism when donning the white jersey, certainly when judging the past year or so.

Carlton Palmer in his second stint with the Owls

Carlton Palmer in his second stint with the Owls

In Carlton Palmer’s day, it was somewhat different. He bore the brunt of the barbs with perhaps his biggest mistake being due to sheer fate and timing, something which he could hardly avoid.

Proving people wrong again and again and defying the odds represented Palmer’s modus operandi in many respects in his playing days and anyone who reads his excellent autobiography entitled It Is What It Is would quickly reach that viewpoint. Not just in football, but in life.

That said, if anyone can empathise with the stick that many England players are currently receiving – with the fact that the Three Lions qualified for next summer’s World Cup finals on Thursday night seemingly incidental to some following their laboured win over Slovenia – it is Palmer. He has been there and got the T-shirt.

Read any footballing literature of that early nineties era and Palmer, capped 18 times for his country between April 1992 and October 1993, was the one player who unfairly categorised the infamous fallow years under Graham Taylor more than any other.

There was that ‘worst player to play for England’ programme. It is tongue in cheek, but it gathers momentum when people listen to it. The media play a big part. I have had this stand-off with the (national) media.

Carlton Palmer

Fashionably perceived by many at the time to be ungainly and lacking finesse and international class from an early juncture, with countless fanzine editors, columnists and wider figures in the media quick to reinforce that message, Palmer was viewed as everything wrong with the national side and even cruelly labelled as the worst player to ever represent England.

Mud sticks and plenty of it was thrown towards Palmer, more especially from an unforgiving national media.

It ensured, in his view, that his international days were numbered when Terry Venables replaced Taylor – and pot-shots have still ensued two decades on.

Palmer’s former Southampton team-mate Matt Le Tissier famously decried his international prowess on national radio, with the ex-Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United player aiming to redress the balance in his book.

But in his playing days, it was about not getting mad, but even – and he feels it should be for any present-day international players being pilloried and subject to bandwagons of hate.

Palmer said: “I like Matt and get on really well with him and funnily enough, Matt sent me a text when I had my heart problem wishing me all the best. But I was a bit upset he’d made comments in his book and on TalkSport and I just thought it needed addressing and the stuff about being the worst-ever England player.

“I had 18 England caps and played for England for a long time. I didn’t play for the schoolboys, but I played under-21s and England B. I was under-21 captain.

“For me, even if a player gets one England cap, it is a great achievement for that player.

“People are entitled to their opinions, I don’t have a problem with that. The problem I have is that I played with a lot of great players and I have never heard them criticise me. I have played against a lot of great players and not heard them criticise me.

“There was that ‘worst player to play for England’ programme. It is tongue in cheek, but it gathers momentum when people listen to it.

“The media play a big part. I have had this stand-off with the (national) media.

“I have seen it happen with Crouchy (Peter Crouch) and Emile Heskey with England. Both very successful footballers who have perhaps not had the credit they deserved.

“I knew I wouldn’t play for England when Terry Venables took over, but I still believe I should have. I honestly think that Terry didn’t pick me as he knew it would go against him with the media. I have nothing against Gareth Southgate, who got 70 England caps. But if we were available on the same day at that time, most clubs would go for me rather than Gareth. But it is what it is.”

That athletic, defensive midfield ‘screeners’ in the Palmer mould should become so in vogue in international and domestic football just over a decade on from his time representing England at least ensures that history should be rather kinder in viewing his career.

If Palmer had been playing today, chances are that he would be highly prized – and perspectives have certainly changed since he hung up his boots in the early noughties.

Palmer said: “I think what has happened is strange. Since I have finished playing, I think people have understood more from a supporters’ point of view. Certainly at Hillsborough, I don’t think it was ever in doubt.

“But I think at other clubs like Southampton and Leeds United, I think they realised after I finished playing how effective I was. I was a good player and those were the facts.

“When Leicester won the league, people say it was because of Jamie Vardy. For me, it was (N’Golo) Kante. He’s gone to Chelsea and won the league again and that is why they felt that they could let (Nemanja) Matic go. He will be significant for whatever Manchester United do and he is not your flair player. These are your bread and butter players. Your team wins 4-0 and people don’t want to talk about Matic, but they won’t realise the job he has. Same as Kante.

“You need the Chris Waddle’s and those type of players. But you need your Carlton Palmer’s.”

“It Is What It is”: Carlton Palmer with Steven Jacobi, Vertical Editions, £17.99