Journeyman: A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding
The team bus is filling up. But whilst the Journeybus is coming, not everybody is jumping, as we’re a few players short of a team ready to take on the world. We’ve done a lot of work on the defence recently, but I’ve got a thirst for goals. When that thirst couldn’t be quenched, I did what so many managers in the 90s did: Looked up Nathan Blake.
Tell you what though, that in itself was an eye opener. Blake is deeper than a so-so striker, but we’ll get on to that later. Our tale begins in 1990, where Blake had been released by Chelsea and snapped up by his hometown club Cardiff City, then a Division 4 side. This is of course before the Premier League, when Division 4 literally meant the fourth tier. Anyway, Blakey helped Cardiff win Division 3 in 1992-93, which was then the fourth tier after the Premier League launched in 1992. Bloody hell man. Blake was in good form in Division 2, and even found time to knock out the comparatively mighty Manchester City with this humdinger in the FA Cup 3rd round.
Blake the Blade
By now, Blake was a marked man and Premier League Sheffield United came knocking. In February 1994, big Nath became a Premier League player for the sum of £300,000.
Despite Blake netting 5 Premier League goals in the 93/94 season, it wasn’t enough to save the Blades from relegation. He had joined a club in relegation trouble to begin with, so we won’t blame Nathan on this one. Despite two seasons as Sheffield United’s top scorer, the club weren’t really threatening a promotion back to the big time but his form did catch the eye of another Premier League club. In December 1995, Blake was on the move again.
Bolton boss Roy McFarland shelled out £1.2m for Blake’s services, hoping the striker could fire The Trotters to Premier League safety. Presumably coincidentally, two weeks later McFarland was sacked with Bolton marooned at the bottom of the table. Colin Todd took over, and although Bolton’s form improved, it was still nowhere near enough and his side were relegated with games to spare. Blake scored one goal, in a 4-1 win at Middlesbrough. Not to be deterred, Blake stormed back with 19 goals in Division One as Bolton returned at the first time of asking. Surely now was to be Blake’s time to shine?
Well, sort of. Blake scored 14 goals in all competitions (including 12 in the league) but Bolton suffered relegation on the final day of the season. It had looked like Bolton were going to pull off a remarkable escape with a late run of form, including a 3-1 win at Aston Villa where our man applied the icing on the cake
Anyway, the penultimate match of the season is covered in a bizarre amount of detail here: Bolton won 5-2 and Blake opened the scoring after a ridiculous error from Kevin Miller
It meant Bolton went into the final day of the season a point outside of the relegation zone, ahead of Everton. Everton secured a point whilst Bolton lost at Stamford Bridge, suffering the indignity of having relegation sealed by the outside of Jody Morris’ right boot. That’s not cool.
Back in the First Division, Blake carried on his good scoring form with 6 goals in the first 12 matches. Could he be tempted back to the Premier League?
Roy Hodgson, remember him? He saw fit to spend £4.25m on Nathan Blake in October 1998, and we still gave him the England job. That’s perhaps a tad unfair, but either way, Hodgson was sacked in November not long after Blake had signed to be replaced by Brian Kidd. After a brief upturn in results, that soon dissipated and Blake was to suffer his third Premier League relegation. Blake made only 11 Premier League appearances, scoring three goals.
A non-descript season in Division One followed, where Blake barely featured before Graeme Souness was appointed towards the end of the 99/00 season. This proved to be a catalyst for promotion, as Blackburn sealed promotion in second place with Blake scoring five times.
Although he started the season in the team, scoring at Derby on the opening day of the Premier League season, it wasn’t long before another First Division hopeful wanted some of the Blakester once he lost his place.
A Wolf at the Door
Wolves manager Dave Jones spent £1.5m to bring Blake to Molineux, but 11 goals in 40 games could only help Jones’ side to 3rd, losing in the playoffs to Norwich. The following season Blake struck 12 times in 23 games in an injury threatened season, helping Wolves to fifth and the playoffs again. This time, Wolves made no mistake, beating Reading in the semi finals to set up a clash with Blake’s former club Sheffield United in Blake’s home city of Cardiff. In a match with so many connections for our man, it was only right he scored as Wolves won 3-0 to secure promotion. Oh, and here it is!
Sadly, that was as good as it got for Blake. He scored one Premier League goal (against Newcastle, obviously) but struggled with injuries and Wolves were relegated. His fifth Premier League relegation.
Spells at Leicester and Leeds were fairly unproductive, and Blake was a free agent by the Summer of 2005. A sixth month ban for testing positive for a recreational drug all but ended his professional career, though he did play for non-League Newport County for a few months in 2006.
Blake did play 29 times for Wales, but has the dubious honour of scoring the first goal at the Millennium Stadium – an own goal against Finland. Sadly, that isn’t on Youtube. Blake scored four times for Wales.
In a bizarre twist, in 2014 Blake won an award at a Welsh film festival for his work as an actor. He won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Homing Bird where he played…a football coach. Presumably Blake learned this skill from Graeme Souness, who spent many years pretending to be a football coach.
So that’s that then, another member signed up. I have a new found respect for Blake – every relegation was followed up with a strong season, though that is possibly down to dropping down a division. Anyway, he’s clearly a bit of a lad, which makes him a key member of my team. Welcome aboard, Nathan.