BY MARK GODFREY
Having reached the grand old age of 37, I realised that had I been a professional footballer, and if I’d been savvy enough to lead a clean, healthy life throughout my career, then I’d potentially still be playing at some level. More likely is that I’d be recently retired and that got me wondering – what would my time in the game look like?
Researching articles consistently draws writers to the default source of good (and often erroneous) information, Wikipedia.
The online encyclopaedia is a gold mine of facts and figures that has furnished me with oodles of need-to-know info. So, what would my Wikipedia entry look like? Here’s how I imagine my career panned out.
MARK GODFREY is a former English footballer who is currently a coach for Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
Having been an integral part of successful local sides Bedlington Juniors and Ashington Welfare Juniors from 1988 to 1992, Godfrey was scouted by the late Harry Routledge for Sunderland AFC in 1990. He attended their School of Excellence for two years until signing schoolboy forms in May 1992. During his days as an apprentice, his tally of 18 goals in 22 youth team games persuaded manager Terry Butcher to give Godfrey his first team debut aged 17 on September 28th 1993 in the First Division game against Grimsby Town at Roker Park. The game ended 2-2 with Godfrey creating a goal for Don Goodman after a mazy run and cross on the right wing. Having impressed in his first appearance, Godfrey remained part of Butcher’s first team squad until the manager was sacked in November 1993. The highlight of those early games being the two goals he scored in the 2-0 home win over Luton Town.
MICK BUXTON AND THE LOAN SPELLS
After Butcher’s exit from Roker Park, Godfrey’s first team opportunities were limited under the new boss, Mick Buxton. He made just two more substitute appearances before the end of the 1993/94 season. During pre-season for the 94/95 campaign, Buxton decided that the 18-year-old should go on loan to gain more experience. This came amid rumours of a dressing room bust-up between Godfrey and Buxton over where they thought his best position was. The headstrong youngster thought he was a centre forward while the manager insisted he would be better on the right hand side of midfield.
On the eve of the 94/95 season, Bradford City swooped to take Godfrey on a one month loan. Bradford started their Division Two season well and Godfrey scored five goals in five starts, including a hat-trick in the 5-1 at Plymouth Argyle. A second loan spell quickly followed at Preston North End but that coincided with a seven game losing streak for the Deepdale club. Godfrey returned to Roker Park for the rest of the season and made just three substitute appearances before a 3 month loan took him to Tranmere Rovers. Godfrey formed a lethal partnership with Tranmere’s top scorer, John Aldridge, as they reached the First Division play-offs. In the semi-final home leg, Godfrey had a goal disallowed for offside and in the ensuing argument with the referee, was sent off just before half time. TV replays showed the goal was chalked off wrongly and Godfrey was clearly five yards onside. Tranmere lost the game and subsequently the tie 3-1 on aggregate.
PETER REID, PROMOTION AND THE LIVERPOOL BACKLASH
By the time Godfrey returned to Sunderland, Peter Reid had taken over the manager’s role. Having impressed in pre-season training, Reid chose Godfrey as his first choice striker alongside Craig Russell. The Black Cats romped to the First Division title and secured promotion to the Premier League. Godfrey started 34 of the 46 league games, scoring 12 times and creating countless other goals for his team mates. The highlight of the season came when he scored both goals and earned a Man of the Match award in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in the FA Cup 3rd round. Off the back of this performance in particular, Godfrey earned his first call-up to the England under-21’s by manager Dave Sexton, for the U-21 international with Croatia at Roker Park on April 23rd 1996. Following Sunderland’s promotion party, several tabloid newspapers reported that Liverpool had tabled a £1.5million bid for Godfrey and that Sunderland had accepted. When asked about the rumours in an interview with BBC Radio Newcastle, the self-confessed Everton supporter responded, “Liverpool, no fucking chance will I ever play for them!”. That comment sparked much furore and made the national media. Liverpool withdrew their bid for the player immediately. Peter Reid chastised Godfrey publicly and Sunderland fined him £4000 (two weeks wages). He was also made to apologise for his comments in both the Sunderland and Liverpool Echo newspapers.
In a pre-season warm-up game at Sunderland’s training ground against the youth team, Godfrey tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was ruled out of action for the entire 1996/97 season. Following three reconstructive surgeries, his first attempted comeback was in September 1997, but after just two appearances in Sunderland’s reserves, further surgery was needed to remove troublesome cartilage and repair the ACL once more following a drunken fall down stairs at his home. However, due to complications with the procedure, Godfrey was forced to sit out the rest of the 1997/98 season.
RETIREMENT, BANKRUPTCY AND REDEMPTION
On medical advice, Godfrey retired from professional football in September 1998 aged just 22 years old. He received an insurance settlement of £625,000. Godfrey invested this cash in the Lastminute.com share flotation of 2000, but, having been given poor financial advice, failed to sell the shares at the right time and subsequently lost the majority of his pay out. Further misery ensued in May 2005, when Godfrey placed an online wager with Betfair at half time of the Champions League final between AC Milan and Liverpool. With the Italian club leading 3-0, Godfrey put an £82,000 bet on Milan to win the game on penalties. The odds were such that he would have won over £1million. Liverpool won the penalty shootout and within three months Godfrey was declared bankrupt at Newcastle Magistrates Court.
In the summer of 2005 Godfrey began training with his former club Sunderland in an attempt to win a short term playing contract. However, manager Mick McCarthy didn’t believe Godfrey could play professionally after seven years out of the game. By the end of the 2005/06 season, Godfrey was almost ready to quit the game for a second time until a chance meeting with Stockport County boss, Jim Gannon, in a Premier Inn near Milton Keynes. Gannon offered him a one month contract for the final month of the campaign. Stockport were fighting relegation to the Conference and on the final day of the season, defeat to champions Carlisle United would have sent Stockport down. The game finished 0-0 thanks to a last minute goal-line clearance by Godfrey following a Carlisle corner kick. Hailed as the hero of the day, Godfrey was offered a one year contract for the 2006/07 season.
THE MLS YEARS AND RETURNING HOME
After being released by Stockport in May 2007, Godfrey joined the new Toronto FC franchise in the MLS league. Despite finishing in bottom place in their division, Godfrey scored five goals in nine appearances alongside fellow British striker, Danny Dichio. The 2008 season saw Godfrey sacked by Toronto for disciplinary issues. Rumours on Twitter suggested he fell out with former Newcastle United and France winger, Laurent Robert, and was responsible for defecating in the Frenchman’s boots before a training session on a particularly hot summer’s day. At 32 years old and needing further surgery to his troublesome left knee, Godfrey announced his second retirement in October 2008.
Having completed his UEFA Coaching badges, Godfrey now divides his time between coaching youngsters at Northern Premier League side Blyth Spartans and taking part in the World Poker Tour where he has competed in tournament final tables alongside fellow ex-sports stars Boris Becker and Shane Warne.