By Chris Deary
It is June 1996 and the crowd inside Wimbledon's Centre Court are giving a standing ovation. It is not for the defending champion Pete Sampras but for England goalkeeper David Seaman, whose penalty saves against Scotland and Spain at UEFA EURO 96™ have made him a national hero.
That proved the highlight of a career which had both highs and lows, but Seaman's retirement this week, at the age of 40, inspired universal tributes. England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson spoke for many when he said: "David has been a tremendous professional. He is respected all over the world and it was a pleasure to work with him. He has earned a place in England's history."
Seaman was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire in 1963 and he started out as an 18-year-old with Leeds United AFC. He moved on to Peterborough United FC and Birmingham City FC, but it was his performances for the successful Queen's Park Rangers FC side of the late 1980s that earned him international recognition in 1988.
His early England career was frustrating. Injury kept him out of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy and he missed out again four years later when England failed to qualify. At club level, though, Seaman's star rose further when he signed for Arsenal FC in 1990 and he conceded only 18 goals as the team won the 1990/91 championship. An FA Cup winner's medal in 1993 and victory in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup a year later helped establish Seaman as England's premier goalkeeper by EURO 96™.
Saving Gary McAllister's penalty to preserve a 1-0 lead against Scotland in that competition, and then blocking Miguel Ángel Nadal's effort to see the hosts past Spain in a quarter-final shoot-out secured Seaman's status. He was to remain first choice well into the next decade, playing in two World Cups, although he sat out England's decisive UEFA EURO 2000™ loss to Romania through injury.
At domestic level, the honours kept coming. Despite an influx of foreign players, Seaman retained his place as Arsenal's goalkeeper after Arsène Wenger became manager in 1996 and was part of their domestic double-winning sides of 1997/98 and 2001/02.
But 2002 proved a mixed year. The ageing Seaman was blamed for England's exit from the World Cup after Brazil's Ronaldinho looped a free-kick over his head, bringing back memories of the 1994/95 Cup Winners' Cup final, when Real Zaragoza's Nayim beat Seaman from 40 metres for an outrageous winner in the last minute of extra time. His 75th England appearance, at home against F.Y.R. Macedonia, saw him concede directly from a corner in a 2-2 draw that was to prove Seaman's international swansong.
Defying the critics
Still, he lifted the FA Cup for a fourth time in 2002/03 and in the semi-final made a point-blank stop from Sheffield United FC striker Paul Peschisolido which Peter Schmeichel described as the greatest save he had seen. But at the end of the season, Wenger decided it was time for Seaman to move on, and although he joined Manchester City FC, another injury this week forced his retirement.
Despite his occasional lapses, only a player of the highest quality gets 75 caps and makes over 1,000 first-class appearances. His contribution as a coach could well be invaluable to the future of English goalkeeping. Wenger declared: "
He will be remembered as a legend. Everyone in England will want to thank him for what he has done."
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