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Football League Greats: Shaun Goater

28 August 2012

Exactly when the Manchester City faithful started singing 'Feed The Goat and He Will Score' is a moot point.

Maine Road began echoing to the sound of one of the game's immortal chants some time during the 1999/2000 season but the exact moment it first reverberated around the old stadium is lost in the fog of history.

But why City fans couldn't contain themselves was abundantly clear.

In some dark, dismal days for the club, Shaun Goater was a rare ray of light and whether it was his trademark grin or his predatory, if sometimes agricultural, instincts in front of goal, the striker gave the beleaguered City supporters something to smile about.

His first full season with the club may have seen them in the third tier of English football for the first time but when he left the Citizens five years later, they were back in the top flight.

Goater's journey to the blue half of Manchester ironically began with the team from Old Trafford. Born in the Bermudan capital of Hamilton in 1970, a 17-year-old Goater was spotted by touring Manchester United scouts playing as an attacking midfielder and was invited to England to try his luck in the Red Devils' youth set-up.

"Once I agreed to the trial I had forfeited my scholarship [at Columbia High School in the States] because I was deemed professional," Goater said.

"Looking back it was a huge gamble I took but I could have spent the rest of my life wondering what might have been."

His gamble proved partially successful. It got him to England but the youngster never made the breakthrough at United and, in 1989, he signed for Rotherham United in search of first-team football and in his seven years at Millmoor, Goater gradually made the transition from midfield to striker.

His goals helped the Millers claim The Football League Trophy in 1996 but a deterioration in his relationship with manager Archie Gemmill prompted Goater to broaden his horizons and, weeks after tasting success at Wembley, he headed south to play for Bristol City.

Two seasons at Ashton Gate saw the effervescent and affable forward continue to forge a reputation as reliable and robust goal scorer. Perhaps not the more elegant in the 18-yard box, but effective and dangerous nonetheless.

The Bermudian scored 43 times in 79 league appearances for the Robins and, after being named in the 1997/98 Second Division PFA Team of the Year, Manchester City were unable to resist and on deadline day in late March 1998, they stumped up £400,000 to rehome The Goat at Maine Road.

The fans were initially sceptical - three goals in seven games at the end of the season was not enough to save City from relegation to Division Two and, although Goater did not bear the brunt of the blame, the faithful were blissfully unaware that one of the club's most enduring cult heroes was already in their midst.

The 1998/99 campaign began to change that. Now in his late 20s, the irrepressible striker netted 21 times, including the winner in the Play-Off Semi-Final win against Wigan Athletic, to finish as top scorer and, with City eventually winning promotion via Wembley, the club and the man from a small island in the North Atlantic were both on the up.

The following season witnessed Goater being immortalised in song and he responded with 28 goals in 45 games. City were promoted to the Premier League as First Division runners-up and the love affair between the striker and the supporters was consummated.

The next three seasons saw City yo-yo between the two divisions and Goater's form fluctuated in parallel with the team's fortunes but one thing was unwavering - his relationship with the fans.

The 2002/03 campaign was his last but he marked his farewell season with a goal in a 3-1 victory against his old sponsors Manchester United, his 100th for City, and pulled on the famous light blue for the final time in mid-May at Maine Road against Southampton.

The Goat was gone but even at the age of 33, his no-nonsense services were still very much in demand and Alan Pardew took him to Reading, spending two seasons at the Madejski before one last hurrah in English football with Southend United.

Goater scored one in three for the Shrimpers as the team were crowned League 1 champions, and there was even more reason than usual to smile about in his last ever Football League appearance - Southend's game with Bristol City at Roots Hall - as 400 Manchester City supporters swelled the crowd on the Essex coast to pay a heartfelt tribute to the hugely popular striker.

He returned to his native Bermuda, where they celebrate 'Shaun Goater Day' each June, putting his body through the pain barrier in a handful of appearances for the Bermuda Hogges, the club he established with fellow Bermudan international Kyle Lightbourne, but at the age of 40 he finally called it a day.

He now numbers telecommunications, construction and aviation among his business interests but Goater is also taking his coaching badges, in the hope of returning to England. Manchester City may have dramatically changed since he left the club but, if it was down to the fans, there will always be a tracksuit waiting for him.

Career Statistics
Rotherham United (1989-96) - 209 Football League appearances, 70 goals
Nott County (1993, loan) - 1 Football League appearance
Bristol City (1996-98) - 79 Football League appearances, 43 goals
Manchester City (1998-2003) - 184 Football League appearances, 101 goals
Reading (2003-05) - 43 Football League appearances, 12 goals
Coventry City (2005, loan) - 6 Football League appearances
Southend United (2005-06) - 34 Football League appearances, 11 goals

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