A Right Cult

I came across an interview with Brentford FC boss and former Manchester City striker Uwe Rösler the other day. I knew what was coming, and sure enough, there it was in the opening paragraph. Rösler was referred to as a ‘cult figure amongst Man City fans’. He’s always referred to as that. In fact, I typed ‘Uwe Rösler cult figure’ into Google and got 56,800 hits (I got 90,900 hits spelling Rosler without the umlaut over the ‘o’). I don’t know how he stands with the good folk of Brentford but should you have had any lingering doubts, Uwe Rösler is a cult figure to Manchester City fans.

Thing is I don’t know why he’s a cult figure, and if truth be told I don’t really know what a footballing cult figure is, except to say all clubs seem to have them.

Even just writing about Uwe and City brings to mind Shaun Goater, or should I say ‘Shaun Goater Cult Figure’, another former sky blue striker. I haven’t bothered googling it though I should imagine results would figure in the many thousands too.

These guys, undoubtedly good players and fine servants to their club, were hardly world beaters. And I think this is at the nub of what being a cult figure means. It’s rarely the star player who’s afforded this accolade. You have to be offering something a little more than merely being the best. In fact, it’s fair to say that in many cases, not actually being all that good is a prerequisite to gaining cult status.

Take for example your team’s hapless left back, the one who looks like he spends too much time down the boozer. He always waves a clenched fist to acknowledge the chants of the home fans and would run through a brick wall if the manager asked him to. He’s rubbish but he’s local. His personal life’s lived out in the tabloids, but he’s one of the lads. He’s prime cult figure material.

Then there’s that French striker. He’s one lazy twat and has the turning circle of a medium sized ocean going cruiser. You’ve seen continental drift move quicker.  And he’s paid way too much. Your dad hates him and so do all the other old timers who remember the glory years. However, ‘Eurotrash’ has somehow netted the winner in the last three local derbies. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it.

When I played footy (at a level somewhat lower than the Goaters and Röslers of this world) the teams I played for invariably had such characters too. Our cult figures though always seemed to be the goalkeepers. My first proper team, in Sunday junior league football (under 15s), had a great ape of a ‘keeper. He was an Irish lad called O’Brien. He was 14 going on 41, about six feet tall and around sixteen stone. He sported a full beard. He was a decent shot stopper but would make shocking cock-ups in just about every game. Opposition players would cheerfully take the piss out of him before each game.

One day as we were lining up to kick off he jumped up to twang the crossbar of his goal because Ray Clemence liked to do the same for Liverpool. For reasons unknown he then decided to swing on the said bar promptly snapping it in half. The goal collapsed. The referee suffered a sense of humour failure and booked O’Brien, a decision one can’t help viewing in hindsight as a tad harsh. The game kicked off with one goal minus its crossbar and net. Now, if we’d have had any fans our ‘keeper would certainly have been a cult figure to them, understandably so.

O’Brien was replaced the following season by Fergo, a lad who was tiny, athletic, incredibly brave, but only a few inches over four feet high. The flaw in his credentials was painfully obvious as goal after goal flew in over his head. I once knocked an own goal past him. It was Fergo’s fault (ahem, a positional error) but he’d quickly become such a talismanic figure, a cult, even though we didn’t use the term in those days, that I was always going to the one to take the blame.

As an adult I played in front of another cult goalkeeper; one who also doubled as player manager. His build was more O’Brien than Fergo but he was unfortunate to possess the talents of neither. Two games into the season we’d nicknamed him ‘The Juggler’. He also had a propensity for losing the plot during the game, the duel role of not being a very good goalie and being an even worse manager proving too much to handle. He once threatened to batter the opposition manager during the first half of a match we were losing. Cult hero? Check.

Which brings me back to Man City and a real goalkeeper of note, Bert Trautmann. Trauntmann, who sadly passed away this summer, was probably City’s first cult hero of the post war era. I think he managed this without ever snapping a crossbar in half. He wasn’t a bad ‘keeper either. I just googled ‘Bert Trautmann cult figure’ and got 105,000 hits, so there we have it. Goalies, they’re football’s real cult heroes. Eat your hearts out Uwe and Shaun.

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