He could have belonged to almost any era of English football.
EP Sheringham, the forward of the 1870s, who represented England in both football and cricket. Edward “Teddy” Sheringham, the great Wolves inside-right whose career was cruelly cut short by the war. Ted Sheringham, the prolific striker (and later successful manager) of the 1950s. Or perhaps Eddie Sheringham, the wayward talent of the 1960s and early 70s who was adored at club level but won only two caps for his country.
As it turns out, Teddy Sheringham’s subtleties stretched to three decades – the hard yards were put in at Millwall in the 1980s, and that ultimately equipped him to cruise through the 2000s, but the 1990s are where the complete Sheringham package can be studied.
Born in 1966, Sheringham is frequently filed under English football’s late developers, but that does little justice to quite how much water had gone under his bridge before he became part of the Premier League furniture. Not many 19-year-olds’ footballing CV includes the Swedish Division 2 (North) title, after all – Sheringham scoring the equaliser in the playoff final for Djurgarden in 1985, and then again in the penalty shootout at the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm.
That extra-curricular Scandinavian summer camp set him on course for a first-team place with his parent club back in London. 262 games for Millwall – nearly as many as in his two spells with Tottenham combined – produced 111 goals, setting a club record that would stand for 18 years at the Den. After a promising first taste of the top flight, Sheringham was relegated with the Lions, but – at 25 years old – he had finally completed his long apprenticeship. The 1990s began in prolific fashion in the second tier with 38 goals in all and – thanks to the Cocteau Twins’ Orange Appled – a real thinking man’s YouTube goals compilation:
There were glimpses there of the mainstream-appeal Sheringham – deft headers, awkward crosses turned into tidy volleys – but also a rocket of a right foot that would end up playing second fiddle to the finest English instep in the country.
If Millwall were the springboard, a £2m move to Nottingham Forest in 1991 proved to be a mere stepping-stone as Sheringham’s career gathered its momentum, but there was still time for a landmark: the first televised goal of the Premier League era, and therefore the first Premier League goal to be subject to one of Andy Gray’s imaginary conversations:
A week later, Forest had lost their previous season’s top scorer for a profit of just £100,000 and the second chapter of Sheringham’s story took him to north London.
While undoubtedly a reliably productive period in his career, Sheringham’s five seasons of his first spell with Spurs were very much the glamour years, and nothing screams “90s glamour” more than Hewlett Packard and Samantha Fox:
Samantha Fox and Teddy Sheringham, 1995. pic.twitter.com/a5HjvulmxR
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) August 27, 2014
Strike partners of all shapes and sizes came and went at White Hart Lane – your Duries, your Rosenthals, your Armstrongs – but his most notable dovetailing was with Jurgen Klinsmann, who left such an impression in one 1994/95 season that Sheringham described him as “my ultimate strike partner”.
With Sheringham nearing his thirties, his desire for silverware matched that of the perennially-underachieving Spurs, and their figurehead was certainly pulling his weight to secure some. 23 goals in 31 cup games still wasn’t enough, although it made for some indelible memories nonetheless. Sheringham and Klinsmann combined twice to overcome Liverpool in an FA Cup quarter-final at Anfield…
…only to be undone by Everton and Daniel Amokachi in the semi. Sheringham was now fully learned in the precise art of Spursiness.
As if his domestic so-near-yet-s0-farring wasn’t enough, Sheringham also positioned himself as the logical solution among England’s mid-90s embarrassment of striking riches to partner the immoveable Alan Shearer. Ian Wright, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Robbie Fowler were all forced to keep their international powder dry as Sheringham became the ultimate foil – defined as much by what he did have (vision and a deft touch) as what he didn’t (blistering, defence-bypassing pace).
Meanwhile, Sheringham’s penchant for letting off steam between matches lent itself rather well to England’s pre-Euro ‘96 bonding session in the Far East. Things started off tamely, although this visit to the Great Wall of China and a sheepish-looking Darren Anderton offered a small hint of what was to come in Hong Kong a few days later.
Good morning! pic.twitter.com/hZ6GHvy7zK
— One Ball For Gazza (@OneBallForGazza) October 11, 2016
The tournament itself – once the inevitable penalty heartbreak is set aside – enhanced the reputations of almost everyone in Terry Venaables’ England set-up. Sheringham’s stock was particularly sky-high, after unleashing his unique brand of second-striker subtlety against Holland, against whom he scored twice and set up Shearer with that most Sheringhamesque of heavily-disguised touches.
Despite continuing to feature under Venables’ successor Glenn Hoddle, Sheringham’s occasionally caustic moments of honesty suggests it was a surprise that he endured his childhood hero as his manager for both club and country:
Teddy Sheringham on Glenn Hoddle: pic.twitter.com/JgcWXd9zbz
— Alex Hess (@A_Hess) March 20, 2015
Nonetheless, despite the eventual emergence of Michael Owen to finally dislodge Sheringham from Hoddle’s starting lineup, the elder statesman was still popping up in some era-defining moments like, for example, Jonathan Pearce’s high-caffeine Channel 5 phase:
England away games on Channel 5 + Jonathan Pearce v1.0 = this pic.twitter.com/rVH8D1w0H5
— One Ball For Gazza (@OneBallForGazza) October 11, 2016
Back in the Premier League, however, Sheringham – now comfortably the wrong side of 30 – was finding his patience with Tottenham’s mid-table mediocrity wearing thin. Klinsmann, by now with Sampdoria, tried to persuade his manager to bring his trusted strike partner to Serie A, where he surely would have sat favourably among the gaggle of English exports in the 1990s – not quite David Platt, but certainly more settled than Paul Ince, Des Walker or Lee Sharpe, at least once had had mastered the social customs.
“You have to look at society. Italians, as a whole, don’t go down the pub and get drunk on Friday and Saturday night, but that is what we do. When you grow up in that culture you see it as right and do it to fit in with the social climate. I don’t know what the big thing is in Italy, but they’ve probably got their problems in other areas.”
Teddy Sheringham is greeted by Alessandro Nesta in ̶F̶a̶c̶e̶s̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶G̶a̶n̶t̶s̶ ̶H̶i̶l̶l̶ the Stadio Olimpico in 1997. pic.twitter.com/2j8VhFnJvB
— One Ball For Gazza (@OneBallForGazza) October 14, 2016
Despite Sheringham’s transfer request, Tottenham initially stuck to a £6m price tag for their 31-year-old perennial top-scorer, only for chairman Alan Sugar to strike a deal with Manchester United, who had an Eric Cantona-shaped void to fill.
“Who are we playing?” enquired Sheringham with a smirk on his unveiling. The fixture machine sent him straight back to White Hart Lane for his debut. United won 2-0, but not before Spurs sweetened their £3.5m deal with some schadenfreude. Justin Edinburgh gave away a penalty and up stepped Sheringham…
Not satisfied with the miss, the Spurs players compounded Sheringham’s brief humiliation by telling on him like schoolkids to the referee for the technical offence of touching the ball after it had struck the post.
United and Sheringham would end 1997/98 trophyless, and their new signing’s reputation as something of an acquired taste was enhanced by a fascinating relationship (or, rather, lack of) with his strike partner Andy Cole with whom he barely spoke. The genesis of this war of no words was apparently Sheringham’s refusal to shake Cole’s hand when the latter came on for his England debut in 1995:
An argument about a goal conceded against Bolton in 1998 further deepened the rift and, as the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor later discovered on a trip to the training ground, the two could hardly even look at each other by the end of their United careers:
“Teddy Sheringham is coming down the staircase as Andy Cole slouches past, through the double doors and outside to his top-of-the-range BMW. For a moment their eyes meet, but just as quickly they look away. Nothing is said, there is no nod goodbye. Just silence.”
Handily, Cole would later remove all doubt about the story when writing in the Independent in 2010:
“I would rather sit down and have a cuppa with Neil Ruddock, who broke my leg in two places in 1996, than with Teddy Sheringham, who I’ve pretty much detested for the past 15 years.”
If Sheringham was starting to form doubts that the elusive trophy would ever come, the weeks after his 33rd birthday would blow them away. With the Premier League title in the bag, Sheringham – as he so often did for United and, later, England – climbed off the bench to score a crucial goal in the second installment of their Treble:
Then, on Clive Tyldsley’s Night in Barcelona, he repeated the trick in rather more tense circumstances. Sheringham recalled that course of events to the Guardian with crystal clarity:
“I remember Sir Alex [Ferguson] coming up to me at half-time and saying, ‘I’m going to keep it the same but make sure you are ready because if it stays like this for 10 or 15 minutes you’re going to be coming on’. I didn’t want our team to score in the next 10 or 15 minutes. I wanted the team to stay 1-0 down so I would have a chance to play in the Champions League final.”
In the space of ten days, his medal collection has gone from zero to the full sweep – with the league title clinched at home to Tottenham, just to complete the tidy narrative. Sheringham’s decade had begun with a goal against Barnsley at the Den and had been crowned with a vital goal and flicked-on assist against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp.
40 – Teddy Sheringham scored 40 Premier League goals aged 35+, more than any other player. Evergreen.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 3, 2016
Seemingly immune to modern football’s wear and tear – he would go on to secure the double of PFA and FWA awards in 2001 at the age of 35 – Teddy Sheringham got there in the end, he just did it at his very own pace.
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