A re-occurring theme of this blog almost since its inception seems to be more or less “was the past better/worse, or do we view it through rose tinted spectacles/with disdain”.
We seem to go back to it a lot and I can see both sides of the coin. On one hand footballers and indeed City now are infinitely fitter, tactically more aware, more athletic and largely more technically able than they were years ago, because of the coaching, the science, the nutrition, and many other factors. But on the other side of the coin, the players of yesterday did it, without those advantages, on pitches that were fit for cows to graze on, with balls that weighed a ton and rules that meant they could be chopped down repeatedly before even getting a free kick. To me it doesn’t really make sense to put one against the other, the context within just one generation is already so different. Jaden Philogene is a joy to watch and he’s headed for special things, but that doesn’t mean that Billy Askew is now rubbish, because he wasn’t and, in the world, he was part of, he too was a special player.
Which takes me to the darling of Tigertube © Mr Theodore Whitmore. So rather that ask whether Theo would be in the current team based on his talent (an ultimately flawed and impossible question) let’s just appreciate him for the infinite amounts of happiness he gave us.
Importantly here context is king. Theo joined City with fellow Jamaican Ian Goodison in 1999. A year after the “Great Escape” in what was an entirely inconsequential season. We were under the dodgy ownership of Hinchcliffe and Buchanan and we didn’t continue to kick on after the incredible turn around of the season before. We just sat in mid-table mainly, with manager Warren Joyce being shown the door a handful of games from the end of the season. Apart from perhaps the young talent of Adam Bolder (who would be gone too after just one year of meaningful first team involvement) there wasn’t a great deal of reason to watch City. We were just treading water, and some of Joyce’s attempts at continuing the upward trajectory really didn’t work out. Jason Harris and John Schofield won’t be inducted into our hall of fame any time soon.
I guess beggars can’t be choosers and even though Theo took a while to get used to the pitches, the weather and the physical aspect of the game in England, he began to give the fans reasons to be optimistic. He scored on his league debut at Rochdale, and although he wasn’t exactly prolific in the City shirt, he certainly was a goal threat as he showed against Macclesfield with an outrageous assist to lay the ball into the run of (I think) Jon Eyre. Much like Jay Jay Okocha would delight the City faithful nearly a decade later, it was the pure brilliance of Theo’s improvisation and outright refusal to play in the style of those around him that made him an utter breath of fresh air.
In a time when we had to eat stale bread the City fans were passed a fresh sizzling steak, it might not have been perfect, but it sure beat what had been served up for dinner for the best part of five turgid years.
I’ve gone back and found my favourite Theo goal and it probably won’t surprise you. Playing against Darlington in the autumn of 2000, City now under Brian Little were about to go into financial turmoil, but Theo played like he was taking part in Pele’s testimonial. A poorly hit corner is headed away and he nips in front of the hapless Darlington defender, and then advances, the speedy Clint Marcelle is on the same page and so he exchanges a languid one-two with him before slotting the ball under the keeper. It’s on you tube thanks to the official Hull City site at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32NN8diYYHA if you need a reminder.
It’s the outrageously ease of which he does such complex things, for want of a better or more eloquent term Theo “took the piss”. And that wasn’t city in this era and wouldn’t be for some time. Now as most of you good folk will know, Brian Little created a small miracle that year despite the finances and took us into the play-offs, with Theo a part of the success, but perhaps not a major part. City was now changing and as lots of bigger names came in for good money that summer he was perhaps even more lost in the shuffle. A real shame as the first two throws of the dice by new chairman Adam Pearson generally failed to improve the points on the board. I genuinely think Theo was better than a great deal of the players that came in during that era.
He still popped up on occasion, not least during the first game of the 2001-2 season when he scored a header (no really) to equalise at Exeter and then laid in a lovely assist for Mark Greaves to take the lead in a 3-1 opening day win. But he would return home that season and even though he returned to play for Little again in 2004, it would be with Tranmere Rovers.
I think we loved Theo so much because he was different and, in a time, when we really had nothing much to shout about he was something. His skills didn’t always work, but my word, when they did, he was worth the entrance fee alone.
Slight epilogue, I saw Theo and Goodison at Boothferry Park before a game in 2001. They rocked up in a Golf convertible with two ladies who looked like they were in a nineties hip hop video and it always stuck with me, that although they were both in the official tracksuit, Theo had one of the legs of his tracky bottoms pulled up, and one down. Twenty something me, tried in vain to replicate this coolness on multiple occasions and just looked like a general idiot. This summed him up better than I could. He was not like us mortals and if you tried to play like Theo, or be like him you’d fail miserably and look like a div in the process. I wasn’t a larker, but Theo definitely was.
Thanks for reading