Meeting the Real LUTHER BLISSETT
STEPHEN ROBERTS recalls the time he came face to face with one of his heroes – and the odd inspiration for hundreds of activists
THERE are many people who masquerade as him, but as the terrace refrain goes, “There’s only one Luther Blissett” and it was my pleasure to meet the genuine article quite a few years ago.
It was Sunday May 9, 1993. I was attending the FA Trophy Final between Runcorn and Wycombe Wanderers at the old Wembley Stadium. It was a final that Wycombe would win handsomely 4-1, to complete a Conference and FA Trophy Final double, as they headed into the Football League for the first time under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill.
This was all very much a postscript though. For me, the main event had happened before the game when I caught sight of the unmistakable figure of Luther Blissett. Well, having been a regular at Dean Court, the home of AFC Bournemouth, he was unmistakable as far as I was concerned. Not only did I meet him, but I had my picture taken with him too.
You may be wondering, why get so excited about this? Well, for many of us, Luther Blissett, or Luther Loide Blissett, to give him his full name is a bit of a cult figure. Born in Falmouth, Jamaica on February 1, 1958, Luther was to enjoy a football career that brought him a sack-full of goals, three stints at Watford, a spell in Italy, an England hattrick and then the “Luther Blissett Project”, of which more later.
I remember telling him that we were missing his goals at Bournemouth, which was very true. He’d harvested 56 goals in only 121 games for the south coast club, the best strike-rate that he achieved during his career, as Bournemouth briefly rode the crest of a wave in the old Second Division under Harry Redknapp. Blissett left at the end of the 1990-91 season though and it wasn’t long before life became a struggle without him.
Luther scored on his Bournemouth debut, grabbing one goal in a 5-2 away defeat at Barnsley on Saturday November 26, 1988. Three days later on a miserably wet Tuesday evening at Dean Court, Luther bagged four goals in a 5-1 thumping of Hull City. The first chants of “Loofer, Loofer” rang out around Dean Court and we had a phenomenon on our hands as our new No 11 contributed eight goals in his first five games.
There was an exciting FA Cup fifth round tie to come later in the season when Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at Dean Court and Blissett came perilously close to eliminating the First Division giants right at the death. We had caught Blissett towards the end of his career, yet he could still “cut it”.
He had made his name at Watford, where his prolific goalscoring helped a little known club rise from the Division Four to the First. In the process Luther set both club appearance and scoring records.
Blissett’s prowess around the penalty area secured a big money move to Italy, when he signed for AC Milan in 1983 for £1million. The “Italian dream” didn’t work out though and finding goals hard to come by in the defensively-minded Italian game, he returned to Watford the following year.
There were rumours that the Italians had mistaken Blissett for his Watford team-mate John Barnes.
When Luther pitched up at Bournemouth in 1988 to help the club’s Division Two adventure, he scored at very nearly a goal every two games. Sometimes he was mockingly lampooned as “Luther Missit”, yet there was very little sign of this misfiring Luther at Dean Court.
Although he was born in Jamaica, Luther played virtually all of his football in this country and he was to go on to make 14 appearances for the senior England football team, scoring three goals.
Rather typically of Luther, all these goals came in one match. He was making his full debut against Luxembourg, having come on as a substitute previously against West Germany.
In the process Blissett became the first
Blissett AC Milan