The tragic, shocking death of 48-year-old former Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town striker Dalian Atkinson early on Monday morning carries deep resonances. Tom Simmonds remembers Dalian Atkinson, the footballer.
It’s a sopping wet day at Selhurst Park in October 1992. The pitch is rutted, the ball greasy. Atkinson picks it up deep into his own half and takes off on a diagonal run. It takes him past three Wimbledon challenges and to around 23 yards from goal, where he shifts the ball onto his right foot and measures a perfect chip over Hans Segers’ head into the net.
Only 6,849 people were there to witness the episode of skill, balance and technique, which Atkinson will most readily be remembered for.
Looking at Atkinson’s goals for Villa and Wednesday – while the eye for the spectacular is not restricted solely to the goal voted the goal of 1992-93 season – it’s notable he was an expert at scoring other types of goal.
There are ‘fox in the box’ moments where he gambles and wins on being in the right place at the right time for tap-ins and brave headers.
Perhaps more notable was his sureness of touch when in shooting range. It’s striking how many of his goals involved a deft little manipulation of the ball to take it past the goalkeeper. Be it in a poaching scenario (his goal in the 1994 League Cup final, for example), or from a one-on-one where he placed the ball beyond the keeper’s reach.
His spell at Villa, where he won the 1994 League Cup and collected a Premier League runners-up medal in 1992-93 under Ron Atkinson, was the longest he spent at any club in what became a peripatetic career.
Initially, his moving around was a consequence of his status as one of England’s hottest young footballing properties.
Atkinson began at Ipswich Town, emerging in 1987 into a side containing luminaries such as ex-Liverpool midfielder John Wark and fellow young stars Jason Dozzell and Chris Kiwomya, which never achieved what it could have done given the quality of their squad.
18 goals in two seasons earned him the move to Hillsborough, where he stayed for just one season. Wednesday were relegated in 1989-90, despite pairing Atkinson with the lethal David Hirst up front.
From here, Atkinson’s career took an interesting turn. Real Sociedad had not long opened their ranks to non-Basque players. Following in Kevin Richardson (who would later captain Atkinson at Villa) and John Aldridge’s footsteps, Atkinson spent 1990-91 in San Sebastian, racking up 12 goals before Villa came calling.
In 1995, Atkinson’s next move took him to Turkey’s Fenerbahce. Two seasons in which Atkinson played only 21 times preceded the nomadic end to his career, which saw him take in Metz, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, a brief return to England to Manchester City and winding up in South Korea in 2001.
There was always a sense while Atkinson was in his pomp at Villa, he was a little unlucky to be playing when he was – his path to international honours was a crowded one.
The likes of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler and Ian Wright were ahead of him in the pecking order and, gifted as Atkinson was, he never quite managed to jostle ahead of them when it came to England squads being named.
Who knows what his flair might have given to England were he given the chance to show it at the highest level. That ‘might have been’ now seems insignificant compared to the fact a 48-year-old man, who should have had many more years of life, has lost that life in such a violent manner.
Dalian Atkinson should have had years to point at those videos of him waltzing through defences and dispatching the ball he carried with him into the net and say, “that was me”.
Instead, football fans everywhere will have to take up that duty on his behalf to say, “What a player Dalian Atkinson was”.
What are your favourite memories of Dalian Atkinson?
With thanks to Ian Clark for uploading these to You Tube, you can enjoy Dalian Atkinson’s goals for Villa here:
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