On 13th January 2004 former England international David Seaman retired from professional football.
The self-proclaimed “Safe Hands”, or “Goalie” to his mates like Ian Wright and Paul Merson, called it a day after over 1,000 senior professional matches – including 344 in the Premier League and 75 caps for England.
His final appearance lasted just 13 minutes, for Man City against Portsmouth, before his recurring shoulder issue forced him off – and told him enough was enough.
Seaman is though, by many, to be one of the best England goalkeepers of all-time – part of the iconic Arsenal backline that was miserly under George Graham and then enjoyed an Indian summer under Arsene Wenger.
In his long career, which started back in 1981 with Leeds United, Seaman won plenty – all with Arsenal. His haul included the league title three times, four FA Cups, a League Cup, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Cup.
Announcing his retirement, Seaman said;
“I have reached this difficult decision after much discussion with my family and those in the game whose views I respect,”
“It has become clear to me that this type of injury will not quickly disappear and I think now would be a good time to hang up my boots, rather than at the end of the season as planned.
“I believe I have had a fantastic career playing at the highest level.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those people who have stood by me and supported my career, especially during the tough times, the players who I will miss for their professionalism and friendship and the fans who have inspired my enthusiasm for the game.”
His final game for Arsenal was the May 2003, FA Cup Final win over Southampton – 1-0 and Seaman captain for the day, making a top stop in the dying moments. He joined Kevin Keegan at Man City in the July of 03.
But, for a top-class goalkeeper, Seaman was also involved in some infamous goalsÂ against.
Let’s refresh our memory on a few of them – whilst maintaining a bit of balance and recalling a couple of famous saves too.
Exhibit A – Gazza, Wembley in 1991
FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley in the early-90s? No thank you. Unless, of course, you can guarantee me a Gazza masterclass.
Five minutes into the game, Spurs were awarded a free kick about 35 yards out.
“Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know!” uttered the immortal Barry Davies.
David Seaman was in goal, of course. An England international in an FA Cup semi-final – a player having a pop from 35 yards. That can’t go in, can it?
Well, er, yes – it can.
â€œOh, I say! Brilliant! That is schoolboyâ€™s own stuff. Oh! I bet even he canâ€™t believe it. Is there anything left from this man to surprise us? That was one of the finest free-kicks that this stadium has ever seen. Seaman got his hands, couldnâ€™t hold. Spurs have the lead. Paul Gascoigne, the scorer” yelled Davies on the BBC.
Seaman got his hand to it – but couldn’t keep it out. Should a keeper ever be done from there in that situation?
No, Barry – no they should not.
If you look closely, the ball didn’t even really hit the postage stamp – it was just kicked a bit too hard for “Safe Hands” to keep it out.
Exhibit B – Scotland, Wembley 1996
As I said, balance – I am not here to tarnish the rep of Mr Seaman.
Let’s head to Euro 96 and the match versus the Auld Enemy and, possibly, one of the finest two-minute passages of play you could have as a teenage England fan.
Terry Venables’ side led 1-0 when Gary McAllister placed the ball on the spot.
What actually happened next? Let “Safe Hands” himself tell you;
“I knew the form because I’d saved penalties from Gary before while he was a Leeds player. I knew he was a good penalty taker because he didn’t just keep to one side, he swapped his sides a lot. I always knew that he hit it with pace. That’s what happened.
“When he stepped up to hit that one at Wembley, the ball did start to move a little bit, whether he’s aware of that I don’t know, but then he hits it so hard, that’s why instead of putting my hand out, all I had time to do was hit it with my elbow. And as we all saw it hit the end of my elbow and flew over the crossbar and there was a very relieved Tony Adams!”
So, nothing to do with Yuri Geller then…?
A great couple of minutes to be an England fan from on this day in 1996 – David Seaman saves Gary McAllisterâ€™s penalty before Paul Gascoigne scores his famous goal in the 2-0 win over Scotland during #Euro96 @thedavidseaman @Paul_Gascoigne8 #ENG #OTD pic.twitter.com/YblWqlBhdg
â€” England Memories (@EnglandMemories) June 15, 2019
Exhibit C – Nayim, from the halfway line
What’s worse than losing a European final in the last minute of extra time?
How about a goal scored by a player who used to play for your biggest rivals?
What’s worse than that?
That goal being scored from the halfway line.
Real Zaragoza’s Nayim, formerly of the White Hart Lane parish, took it on his chest and had a go from 50-yards out.
Time seemed to slow down as Seaman realised he was completely in the you know what and started frantically back-pedalling.
It looks like he’s got there. But, he’s mistimed that dive, hasn’t he…?
Not according to the ex-Spurs midfielder who came on for Gazza in the 1991 FA Cup Final;
â€œI had played against Arsenal for five seasons and I knew the way they played,â€ he told Sky Sports.Â â€œI knew that Seaman was always off his line because Tony Adams and Martin Keown werenâ€™t the fastest centre-backs in the world and he would always sweep up behind them.
â€œI had told Gus Poyet and Santi Aragon, my midfield team-mates, to look out for it during training that week. Santi tried it in the first half but didnâ€™t shoot very well, so when the ball came to me in the last second and I saw Seaman off his line, I thought, â€˜This is my chance.â€™”
Alan Smith, Arsenal’s striker that night, fancied Arsenal if it had gone to penalties;
â€œSeaman had been our hero against Sampdoria we would have fancied ourselves on penalties again with him in goal,â€ said Smith. â€œHe was always confident facing those shots from 12 yards. He had a decent method for judging which way takers were going to place it and he studied them in the way goalkeepers do now.â€
Just not as confident from anything between 35 and 50, eh Smudger?
Exhibit D – Sheffield United, FA Cup Semi 2003
Big goalies make big saves at big moments (sometimes).
“Safe Hands” was at his absolute best at Old Trafford in the 2003 FA Cup Semi against Sheffield United.
Seaman was 40 at this point – this was one of his last big games for the Gunners before heading to Man City in the summer and then that retirement.
A cross comes into Paul Peschisolido – better known for being Mr Karren Brady. Let Pesch take it from here…
â€œIt should have gone in,â€ Peschisolido toldÂ The Sheff United Way podcast.
â€œItâ€™s just going a little bit behind me, in my defence. So Iâ€™ve got to pull my head back to get the power. Iâ€™ve done that, got contact on it â€“ maybe a little too much â€“ and itâ€™s going into the back of the net.
â€œWeâ€™re going to win this game, guaranteed. But instead this big massive hand somehow claws it out. Still to this day I donâ€™t know how heâ€™s done it, because it was in.â€
Paddy Kenny was in goal at the other end:
â€œAt the time, I didnâ€™t appreciate how good the save was – I probably had the worst view in the ground, from the other end of the pitch. But Iâ€™ve obviously seen it a million times since, and I donâ€™t think there are enough words to do it justice. It was ridiculous.
â€œWhat a time to pull off the best save I have ever seen in my life. He did well enough to even get to the ball, never mind having the strength to claw it back from the line with his fingertips.
â€œItâ€™s tinged with a bit of regret when I see the save, because if Pesch gets a better contact on the ball he does not give Seaman a chance. But, with Seaman hanging in mid-air and his ponytail flapping all over the place, it was still a freak of a save.â€
Best FA Cup Semi save of all time?
Judge for yourselves. And watch Jagielka’s follow-up – centre-halves, eh?
Exhibit E – The 2002 World Cup
Everyone thought we were going to win the 2002 World Cup – well, everyone other than Sven as we learned yesterday.
We even led Brazil – that Brazil – in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final.
It’s 1-1. Brazil have a free-kick 50-yards away to the right of the pitch.
Ronaldinho is standing over it. Who is he going to try and pick out in the box?
According to Ronaldinho – nobody.
“I saw he was off his line. About five metres off. I really aimed at the goal,” Ronaldinho told FourFourTwo years later when asked if he meant it. â€Although not exactly where [the ball] went.
“All I wanted was for Seaman to be desperate and maybe trip on his way back. It was a great goal in my greatest match for Brazil in that World Cup.”
This is from a guy who entered another country on a false passport when he didn’t need a passport to enter the country. I’m not so sure I believe him.
Seaman was broken after this one – making a tearful apology to the fans after the game. You can understand his pain (see exhibits A and C).
Eriksson spoke after the defeat;
“He looked a broken man afterwards,” said Eriksson. “I talked to him in the dressing room, or at least I tried to. It was difficult, I don’t think he listened to me very much. I tried again when we got back to the hotel. I told him: ‘If you go on thinking about that goal you will break yourself down. You must stop it, it is over. You saved us in Germany, you saved us in many games here, you should not think about it any more.'”
That was nice, Sven. We’ll try not to think about it anymore, either.
You’d have to be very, very cruel to say that David Seaman is not a legend of goalkeeping.
Over 1,000 games and more, he did a lot more right than he did wrong – it was just unfortunate that some of the biggest clangers came in such high-profile games. But, on the other side of the same coin, some of his finest saves also came on the biggest stage.
You don’t get 75 caps for England if you are not top-class (even if Calamity James is your rival for most of it).
You certainly don’t survive in that Arsenal backline unless you are the best keeper around and then stick around for many years unless you truly do have safe(ish) hands.
And, if you can pull off that ponytail and tash for that many years – you’re good enough for me.