Shaun Goater’s strike-rate for Manchester City is very impressive but it’s also a long way from being mind-blowing. Across five seasons the forward scored 103 goals in 212 appearances in sky blue and while a one-in-two ratio over a prolonged period reveals a prolific consistency there are many other hit-men from that vintage era of out-and-out number nines who can boast similar numbers. To name but three: Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent and Robbie Keane.
That illustrious trio however predominantly hit the target in the top-flight whereas only 13 of Goater’s goals were in the Premier League. Just shy of a fifth were slotted home in the third tier.
Furthermore, the Bermudan had an erratic first touch to say the least. Ping the ball at him and it would bounce off at an indeterminable angle like a ray of light on a glitterball. Indeed, several of his goals derived from this failing, with defenders anticipating an orthodox control only to be left flat-footed by the ball spinning into vacated space. It was a handy trick even if it was unintentional.
It should also be remembered that Goater wasn’t immediately embraced by the City faithful. For close to a year he struggled to settle after a £400,000 move from Bristol City and his acclimatisation wasn’t helped by an association with Manchester United, where he began his career. On occasions, in those early days, his name announced on the Tannoy would be followed by a splattering of tepid boos.
Why, you may wonder, is this article beginning in such a negative fashion? Is this a celebration of a much-loved player, as alluded to in the title, or is it a hit-piece? And if it’s the latter, how strange a subject to dismantle: a man who nobody – absolutely nobody – in the game has a bad word to say about.
Rest assured, it is not the latter. We are merely adding a couple of layers of context to what follows. Because if what you’ve read so far is all true and undeniably so, here’s something else that’s gospel: Shaun Goater is utterly adored by Blues.
Perhaps it needs explaining just how adored, because in researching this piece the words ‘cult hero’ sprang up repeatedly, a description that does this unique and special relationship a major disservice.
Árni Arason is a cult hero to City fans, a goalkeeper who made precisely two first-team appearances for the club, one of which happened to be in a famous 4-3 FA Cup comeback at Spurs. The Icelandic stopper made a great double-save when a recovery looked beyond his side.
Goater by way of comparison is beloved; a hero in every sense of the word whose place in Blues’ hearts is diminished by no-one, not even the amazing talents who came later. So revered is the footballer in his native Bermuda that they have a Shaun Goater Day. In East Manchester every day is Shaun Goater Day and meeting him – because he is still closely connected to the club; championing their cause and doing City proud – brings two opposing emotions from supporters. On the one hand, they are star-struck, encountering their idol: a true Citizens legend. On the other they are at ease, as if bumping into a mate.
The reasons for this enduring love-affair are numerous and easy to identify, with some interestingly flipping the earlier negatives on their head.
While Goater initially struggled to make a mark he was soon banging in the goals and fans always hold a particular affection for players who battle through adversity and prove the doubters wrong.
More so, as stated at the top he was prolific and consistently so and this was during a time when Manchester City were rarely prolific and certainly not consistent. As United dominated English football and won European honours their neighbours plummeted through the leagues but at least there was pride to be sourced from possessing a lethal goal-scorer, one who gave the fans hope when times were bad. With ten minutes to go and City a goal down there was always Shaun, just needing that one chance; that one erratic bobble into vacant space.
Of his impressive tally it matters greatly that among them were some crucial strikes. In 1999 the Blues were endeavouring to escape their lowest ebb in Division Two and faced stubborn opponents in the form of Wigan in a Play-Off semi-final. It was naturally Goater who decided matters. In the final, down and out against Gillingham and with just seconds to spare, it was he who teed up Paul Dickov for a goal many acknowledge as being more important than even Aguero’s a decade later.
In 2003, in City’s final season at Maine Road and with Goater’s time at the club coming to an end, he memorably dispossessed Gary Neville in a Derby and found the bottom corner past Barthez. There have been an abundance of incredible moments enjoyed by the fan-base since yet this will forever remain in most Blues’ top ten.
Then there were his 32 goals in 2001/02 as Keegan’s City pulverised the Championship, entertaining and astonishing in equal measure. His partnership that year with Darren Huckerby is vivid a generation on but in truth, every attacking talent flourished around him, so unselfish were his runs and work rate.
His niceness is also a factor. It isn’t usually when it comes to heroes. Many heroes are out-and-out rotters. But then again, there are levels to this. Shaun Goater is arguably the nicest, most genuine person to ever take to a football field.
And lastly, it may seem flippant but it’s really not, there is his name to consider because had City’s most cherished player in the modern age been christened Shaun Wilson or Shaun Edwards, or something as banal, would he be measured in such esteem? Potentially not. As it was, Goater became ‘The Goat’ which led to two brilliant songs in his honour: the less travelled ‘Who Let The Goat Out?’ to the Baha Men classic and the nationally well-known ‘Feed The Goat’ chant, that became a Soccer AM staple when adopted by the popular programme.
When Sergio Aguero’s imminent departure from the Etihad was announced recently it brought up musings about the different kinds of love we have for different kinds of players.
Regarding City, Vincent Kompany was viewed as a leader so subsequently adoration, for the Belgian was respectful in tone. With David Silva it was all about aesthetics, the little maestro being a work of fine art. Like a favourite album or book there was this small, perfect thing in the world and it belonged to Blues. He was enshrined in kind.
Aguero meanwhile prompted gratitude. For a million moments of pure joy, one of which toppled the world off its axis.
So what kind of love is felt for The Goat? And is it greater than that reserved for all others?
Yes, is the short answer and why can be summed up thusly: he was the best of us. But he was also one of us.