It’s difficult to describe Shaun Goater without using some of the more common clichés in football. The Bermudan forward’s career was predominately witnessed from the lower leagues of English football, however, during City’s time of struggle combatting football league life, Goater established himself as a cult-hero amongst the Kippax faithful.
Goater’s early years in Bermuda was typical of many Carribean athletes at the time as he dabbled in many sports during his adolescent years, having grown up with his mother, her two sisters and grandmother. His first introduction to the English sporting scene came when he was invited to join the football and basketball tour undertaken by his secondary school in 1987 – with Shaun aged 17.
Success in his school years saw him offered a scholarship in New Jersey with Columbia High School as Shaun became educated and trained within the American schooling system. As he settled into life in New Jersey, a winter break brought him home to Bermuda as Manchester United came touring the Carribean island. The scouting network at United were impressed by his attributes displayed for his local team during the week of United’s visit; he was offered a trial and short-term contract with City’s bitter-rivals.
Little opportunities for first-team football presented itself at Old Trafford, and the hungry Goater went in search of playing time – something he would find at Rotherham United. A far cry from the luxurious Carribean island he called home, the small Yorkshire town would be where Goater would settle into the English game and begin to thrive in front of a large crowd. Over the course of seven seasons at Rotherham (between 1989-1996), he gained a reputation as a reliable lower division striker, scoring 86 goals in 262 appearances for the Millers.
His first domestic success came in 1996 with a winner’s medal in the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley – a place that wouldn’t become a unique place of joy and triumph during Shaun’s career. Three months after the success at Wembley, a fallout with manager Archie Gemmill resulted in Goater looking elsewhere for a challenge and place to be loved an adored.
Quite surprisingly, Spanish club Osasuna offered Goater a move away from Yorkshire to a climate more suiting to his likes, but Goater opted for the west country, and Bristol City became the third permanent club of his career. It appeared Shaun was slowly moving towards his dream of playing top-flight football and as he reached the prime years of his career, his steps towards making that childhood dream a reality moved closer and closer.
Bristol City pushed for promotion into the First Division, and the dream was finally achieved as City moved to the second-tier of English football in his second season at the club, but Goater had already moved on to First Division football with Manchester City by the time promotion was secured. In under two years with Bristol City, he scored 45 goals in 81 appearances and was named in the eventually being named in the PFA Team of the Year during the 1996/1997 season.
Following Frank Clark’s dismissal as Manchester City boss in February 1998, and with relegation looming large, former City striker Joe Royle was appointed the manager with the unenviable task of keeping this giant club away from the third-tier of English football. In an attempt to steer the club away from relegation, Shaun was signed for £400,000 in the hope his goals could keep that relegation fear becoming a reality.
Goater scored three goals in the final seven league games, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the club from relegation at the expense of Port Vale – how times have changed. Initially, supporters were unsure whether Goater’s ability could be enough to push their side out of the echelon of the third-tier. Nonetheless, his goals ensured City secured a playoff spot at the end of the season, and he finished as the league’s third top scorer with 23 goals.
During the 1999 playoff run, Goater’s goal against Wigan in the semi-final proved decisive as City guaranteed a Wembley spot against Gillingham with the winner obtaining promotion to the First Division. The match would become a symbol of the new Manchester City as we headed into the Millenium, and one supporter, players, and management would never forget. Heading into stoppage-time City found themselves trailing 2-0 to Gillingham before two late goals from City – inspired by Goater’s constant goal threat – ensured City pushed for promotion via a penalty shoot-out. Victory in the shoot-out meant City were back in the First Division and the club, along with Goater, were on course for another attempt at cracking top-flight football once again.
Regularly players who have played the entirety of their career in the lower leagues struggle to combat the demands of higher quality football and pressure of 32,000 on watching supporters every week – not Shaun Goater. In 1999-2000 season, the Bermudian international thrived for Joe Royle’s side as momentum guided City to successive promotions and Premier League football. Contributing to 29 league goals in 46 games during their return to the First Division, Goater’s incredible form was rewarded with the prospect of playing Premier Leauge football for the first-time, at the right old age of 29.
Goater’s dream was put on hold though as injury and the presence of new signings meant it would be late October before Shaun made his Premier League debut for City. In a genuinely abysmal season, City’s weak squad was unable to compete at the highest heights of the English game. Despite many shambolic performances from the side in 2000-2001, Goater registered 11 Premier League and for the third campaign in a row, was City’s top scorer throughout the season. When reflecting upon that season, Goater was one of the very few shining lights in a troublesome season that saw City relegated with a game to spare after defeat to Ipswich Town in May 2001.
Following relegation, a mini-upheaval took place at Manchester City, with manager Royle departing to be replaced by Kevin Keegan – arguably the most attack-minded manager English football has been graced with – Goater had his best campaign for City. That season, Goater became the first City player since Francis Lee in 1972 to score more than 30 goals in a season. The second-half of the season saw Shaun feature less frequently as the form of Darren Huckerby, and the £6.5million arrival of Jonathan Macken meant Goater was pushed onto the bench for the close of the season, as City achieved promotion back to the Premier League once more.
In the pre-season of 2002, transfer speculation surrounded Goater and many believed the Bermudian would be moved onwards following the arrival of Nicolas Anelka for £13million. A long-term knee injury to Jonathan Macken during a pre-season friendly meant Keegan held onto Goater, Paulo Wanchope, Darren Huckerby and new signing, Nicolas Anelka as the club had ambitions to re-establish itself as a consistently present top-flight club.
In a successful season for the club, Goater started just 14 games in the Premier League but still managed to score seven times as the team finished an impressive 9th place. Ironically, Goater scored 3 of his seven goals that season against Manchester United with his 100th City goal coming against his former club in the final Maine Road derby in November 2002.
Goater announced his intention to leave Manchester City when the season finished seeking regular first-team football. In his final match for Manchester City, he was asked to captain the side in Manchester City’s last game at Maine Road – in typical City fashion, Southampton won 0-1.
A move to Reading soon followed, and Goater ended his career at Maine Road with 103 goals in 212 games. Since retiring, Goater has been critical of Keegan for providing him with limited opportunities in the first-team after his arrival at Maine Road in July 2001.
His move to the Madjeski Stadium was deemed the ‘biggest in the clubs history’ according to the chairman, John Madjeski. But, two turbulent years at Reading resulted in him moving away in 2005 where he found comfort at Southend.
One final promotion – a fourth of his career – followed as he guided Southend to the First Division in his last career game in May 2006. 11 goals in 34 games made him an integral part of the promotion winning side and wanting to join in the party, an estimated 500 Manchester City supporters travelled south to witness their hero’s final game in professional football. If that statement alone doesn’t ring home the affection this fan base has for Goater; nothing will.
Shaun Goater, 217 goals in 551 games over a fourteen-year career. My first footballing hero.