What does £400,000 get you at Manchester City these days? It would just about pay Sergio Aguero’s wages for a couple of weeks, or maybe get you Kevin De Bruyne’s left pinkie, given his current market value. Back in 1998, it was the transfer fee paid for the man that possibly saved them from oblivion and set them on the moneyed road they now find themselves on, that man was Shaun Goater.
Born Leonard Shaun Goater to a footballing mother in Bermuda on the 25th February 1970, the teetotal striker’s early years in England began on the other side of Manchester, scouts from United having spotted him and signed to him to a youth contract in 1988. Sadly, for him, he was never quite good enough to break through at Old Trafford but he didn’t give up. Prolific spells at Rotherham United and Bristol City followed, bringing him to the attention of the Blue side of Manchester. They were on the verge of relegation to the third tier when he arrived in March 1998 and whilst it was too late for him to save the Citizens that season he would soon become a cult hero for a set of fans long starved of anything remotely like success back then.
Goater wasn’t actually that good say City fans who remember him from that era. They tell me he had a poor first touch, no pace, ropey technique, but despite all that scored regularly and worked his socks off. The two most valued attributes in football are goals and work-rate, anything else is just a bonus: Goater had both, in spades, and for that they loved him. He got 21 goals in his first full season as City bounced straight back to tier two via the play-offs; he followed that with another 29 as they went straight up to the Premier League the next season. City were back down after one season but bounced straight back up under the charge of Kevin Keegan a year later. Goater bagged 32 that season for a manager who never really rated him but recognised – like the fans – he had the handy knack of sticking the ball in the net frequently. The following season was to be City’s last at Maine Road and would signal the end of Goater’s Blues career too but not before he sealed his cult status in the hearts of the City fans forever in what would be the last Manchester Derby in Moss Side.
Goater finished his City career with 103 goals, the last man to reach three figures for the club until a certain Argentinian passed that landmark. He reached his ton on the 11th November 2002 against the Blues hated cross-town rivals, with goal 99 being the one City fans still remember fondly now as the Blues secured a 3-1 win. The game was finely poised at 1-1 as a long ball forward by City seemed to be being safely shepherded out of play by a man much hated in the Blue half of Manchester, Gary Neville. He hadn’t counted on a rampaging Goater who hounded him into a mistake and left the Bermudan with just Fabien Barthez in the United goal to beat which he didn’t pass up. It summed up Goater, underestimated, hard-working, clinical. He sealed the win with an un-Goater like finish as he dinked the ball over an on-rushing Barthez after being put through by a sumptuous Eyal Berkovic pass. For a man known for his hard-work rather than skill it was a fitting way to reach his ton, and for the curtain to go down on this fixture at Maine Road.
Goater left Manchester at the end of that season for Reading, spells at Coventry City and Southend United followed before returning home to Bermuda whose government had, in 2000, granted him the freedom of the island and made the 21st June a national holiday for the work he had done in raising the profile and standards of the game in his homeland. For City fans, of a certain age, their Shaun Goater day will forever be that day in November 2002 which they remember with a smirk on their face before breaking out into song -’ Feed The Goat…’