I’ve begrudgingly accepted that during the month of October, it’s customary for supermarkets to fill their aisles with Christmas paraphernalia in order to milk every last penny out of the festive season. However, in my mind, those capitalist devils hit a new low when I heard ‘Fairytale of New York’ being blared out over the tannoy during the latter parts of September. I was so outraged I nearly dropped my mince pies. It did, however, get me all nostalgic about the best Christmas present I ever received.
I was about eight years old and, as I came hurtling down the stairs, I noticed a six foot tall figure covered in a large bed sheet. At first I thought it was Dad, hiding from the milkman again, but after moments of excited anticipation a life sized cardboard cut-out of my hero, Stuart Pearce, was unveiled before my popping eyeballs. It was signed by ‘Psycho’ himself … although some cynical folk have suggested his handwriting bears an uncanny resemblance to my Dad’s.
In most cases, by the time you’ve grown up you look back on childhood heroes with a degree of embarrassment or cynicism. You realise that Hulk Hogan was a piece of cold war propaganda with unnecessary facial hair and that Postman Pat was just a renegade public servant, who caused more problems than he actually solved. But with Stuart Pearce there is no question that he is, and always will be, a real-life hero.
Unlike the modern footballers who make it to the very top of the game, Pearce was not sculpted and refined in academies from an early age. In fact, he only turned professional at the age of twenty-one, having worked as an electrician (whilst playing for non-league Wealdstone United) prior to this.
In fact, when Stuart Pearce first signed for Forest in 1985, he advertised his services as an electrician in the match day programme. Imagine if you were to turn over the page in today’s edition to see Jonathan Greening plugging his carpentry business. It’s absolutely unthinkable and a mark of how much football has changed over the last twenty five years.
It was from these humble beginnings that Stuart Pearce established himself as the best left-back in the land. He achieved it because he oozed raw unquenchable passion. Don’t get me wrong, he was a player with great natural ability and a tremendous understanding of the game, but that isn’t what made him a hero.
A fearlessly committed and inspirational leader, one clenched fist from him would have an entire crowd buzzing with expectation. His combative tackles had fleet footed wingers counting their legs to make sure they were both still there. The mere sight of his name on the team sheet gave hope that victory was forever possible. That’s the kind of player he was.
During the twelve years that Stuart Pearce was at Forest, he scored an incredible 92 goals. Thunderous free kicks and penalties were only part of the repertoire; he delighted in playing intricate one-twos with forward players, getting into the box (and often getting his name on the score sheet) whenever he got the opportunity. They simply don’t make left-backs like him anymore.
Perhaps the moment that defined Stuart Pearce’s proud career came during Euro 96. Having infamously missed a penalty for England during the semi-final shootout at the 1990 World Cup, a lesser man would have skulked into the background when the opportunity to take a spot kick arose again.
Instead he bravely nominated himself to take the third penalty and mercilessly buried it in the bottom corner of the net. A whole nation let out a triumphant cry of relief and adoration, as Pearce unleashed a tirade of joyous roars for all the world to see. It was the moment that sealed his place as one of England’s best loved players of all time.
Despite having had his right foot chewed off by the dog, Stuart has been an important part of the family since the day he arrived. Even when I moved out and lived amongst rival fans, he stood imperiously in the living room. No one would dare desecrate this symbol of all that is great about our beautiful game. However, a few years ago I did something that I’m not at all proud of.
When I first got married, I managed to trick my wife into letting Stuart reside in the bedroom for a while. Unfortunately, I was consistently woken by the sound of terrified screams, as she thought we were being burgled. I had no choice but to relegate him to the loft … but he was never likely to stay there long.
Last Saturday morning, with the spirit of St. George coursing through my veins, I risked the wrath of my spouse and bravely brought him back down to where he belongs. No matter what guests think, I’ll be forever proud to have Stuart Pearce in my living room. There’ll never be another like him.