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11th Nov 2015

5 unheralded footballers who achieved cult status in the Premier League

Tom Victor

Fans of every club will have their favourites, and it’s not always the most talented player.

Sure, a top scorer or a captain/leader/legend will often be popular with supporters, but plenty of lesser lights have endeared themselves even more.

Here are some of those unlikely figures who still enjoy cult status with supporters of Premier League clubs.

Denis Irwin

When you think back to Alex Ferguson’s swashbuckling Manchester United side of the 1990s (no ‘Sir’ back in those days), a few names spring to mind.

Cantona. Giggs. Beckham. Scholes. Cole. Yorke. Schmeichel. Robson. Ince. Solskjaer. All memorable for various reasons.

Denis Irwin is outside the top 10, fishing for crumbs along with the likes of Paul Parker and Lee Sharpe, but that’s not the case when you talk to United fans who remember his part in the monumental 1993 title win.

When quizzed about his all-time best XI in 2013, Sir Alex made Irwin the first name on the team-sheet. And the Irish full-back’s consistency and dead-ball poise means many United fans have very fond memories of his time at Old Trafford.

Shola Ameobi

The best thing about the ‘local boy come good’ concept is that the definition of ‘good’ can be as broad as you like.

Shola Ameobi had highs in his time at Newcastle, scoring a goal at Camp Nou which gives him a better record at the ground than Luis Suarez or Neymar (sure, it’s one goal in one game, but still…).

He also played a vital role as the Magpies returned to the Premier League in 2010, scoring 10 goals – including a crucial clincher in the win at Peterborough that all but clinched promotion.

But he was never the most prolific, ending his time in the North East just shy of 50 Premier League goals despite playing close to 300 top-flight games.

His legacy lives on through younger brother Sammy, currently on loan from Newcastle to Cardiff.

John Jensen

In the early years of the Premier League, Arsenal were not the top-four staple they are now.

Under George Graham and Bruce Rioch they were known for their defensive solidity, brought by the Dixon-Adams-Bould-Winterburn axis and holding midfielder Jensen just in front.

The Dane arrived in England off the back of a goal in the final of Euro 1992, leading many to believe he could chip in at the other end of the pitch as well, but appearances can be deceptive.

Ask any Arsenal fan who remembers Jensen what they thought of him, and his lack of attacking threat will be right up there.

He scored just once for the Gunners – the equaliser in a 3-1 defeat to QPR in December 1994 – prompting ironic cries of ‘shoot’ for the remainder of his Arsenal career…and an iconic t-shirt.


Vladimir Šmicer

The broad narrative of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League comeback victory centres around the inspirational part played by Steven Gerrard throughout the run, and the heroics of Jerzy Dudek in the final.

There’s even a widely-circulated counternarrative that Didi Hamann’s introduction at half-time was the most crucial factor, but another substitute had just as important a role to play.

Vladmir Šmicer was never the sort of player whose name Liverpool fans would get on the backs of their shirts, but his input is held dear for one crucial reason.

The Czech winger replaced the injured Harry Kewell in the first half, watching on as Milan extended their lead, but his speculative long-range strike slipped through Dida’s fingers to spark the comeback.

Carlton Cole

The final entry is more of a personal one – as a West Ham season ticket holder I’m aware our love for Carlton Cole might not have gone much further than East London, but what is the definition of a cult hero if not that.

I was there for Cole’s debut, when he scored less than 10 seconds after coming on as a substitute against Charlton, and while that didn’t lead to the sort of goalscoring stats he’d enjoyed for Chelsea’s reserves, his hard work endeared him to the fans.

As a long list of strikers came and went – Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy, David Di Michele Fredi Piquionne, John Carew – he was just…there.

Even when he left in 2013, it seemed as though the connection between club and player was too strong. He couldn’t go elsewhere, so West Ham brought him back for 18 more months.

He was both a bad goalscorer and a scorer of bad goals. But he was ours.

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