As an Arsenal fan, certain figures from my youth will forever hold a special place in my heart. Henry, Pires, Bergkamp, et al. But I’m not a London boy by any stretch. I grew up in a town pretty far from the bright lights, thumping beats and intoxicating pleasures of the flesh which I was led to believe the capital guarded jealously. Turns out it’s just a load of Pret A Mangers; you can’t move for them.
So, whilst I had my Highbury idols, it would be remiss of me to forget about my heroes at the Bank. I’m not a London boy, I’m a Lincoln one.
Of course, we had our Butchers, Futchers and Taylor-Fletchers. Then came N’Guessan, Forrester and Kerr. I was even briefly enamoured with one Derek Asamoah. A furious flame that burnt itself out all too soon.
But…Simon Yeo was always the one for me.
Yeo was undoubtedly a great City striker. I’m even more certain however that I remember him as something far more than he actually was, in football terms. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of the Yeo goals I’m currently ‘recalling’ are instances I’ve just plain made up. But isn’t there something beautiful about that? About a footballer who I’ve not seen kick a ball in nearly 15 years, but still invades my consciousness from time to time?
And why Yeo? Yes, he was our best striker for a time, but there were other good players in that side, and many who were also particularly easy to love.
Well, I guess it’s Yeo for me because it always had to be. It’s because he went off to New Zealand of all places for a bit, and then came back and scored a banger on the first game of his return. It plays in my mind now as unfurling celluloid. The balls drifts to Yeo, outside of the box, in the left-wing position. For some reason the keeper is way off his line, scrambling now to get back. Yeo stabs it. The balls streaks. High and oddly flat. A gloved hand flails; but the ball’s gone. Top corner. It clips the stanchion as it goes in, ricocheting down into the turf, rebounding up again into the net.
Again, I might be making that up – I genuinely don’t want to find out if I’m wrong.
It’s because he looked like the manager of a local garden centre, or like your best mate’s dad. Except, in this scenario, your best mate’s Dad was a bloody good League Two poacher.
It’s because he actually was a postman.
But ultimately, I think it’s because Simon Yeo was the player who occurred at the perfect time in my life for me to be able to remember that I loved him, but not much more. He’s essentially become a blank canvas for me to project the genesis of my love of football onto. That sense of something mattering a great deal, but not being able to articulate exactly why.
This all comes to mind now, following a heroic play-off failure (something of a specialty of Lincoln’s in Yeo’s time), because I get the sense that in another 15 years’ time there’ll be someone who feels about Matt Rhead, or Luke Waterfall, or any of the current Imps crop, the way I feel about Simon Yeo. And I like that thought.
So, to all the Simon Yeo’s out there, I salute you. May there be many more footballers who look like supply teachers but in fact inspire the adoration of wide-eyed young dreamers to come.
All together now: Yeo! Yeo! Yeo!
Thanks to Will at Foul Throw – well worth a read.