254: Steve Guppy, Leicester City, Merlin’s Premier League 99 Official Sticker Collection

Ahead of Wrestlemania 36 number one contender for the WWE Championship, and avid Glasgow Rangers’ fan, Drew McIntyre took to Twitter to call out former Celtic striker Chris Sutton. The winner of the 2020 Royal Rumble accused Sutton of hiding behind his more talented strike partner, Henrik Larsson, throughout his career in the SPL and wrestling and football fans alike waited with baited breath for a high profile match up. Sadly, McIntyre decided to take on Brock Lesnar instead in what was nowhere near as entertaining a match as one with BT Sport’s grumpiest pundit would have been.

This spat led me, and fellow contributor to this blog, Emlyn Jones, into a lengthy WhatsApp conversation about how good the Celtic team of the early 2000s was, on FIFA at least, and how many of that fabled side could cut in the squared circle. Emlyn’s suggestion of the TitanTron blaring out “WEEEELLLL…IT’S STEPHANE HENCHOZ” was a particular highlight. A brief visit to Amazon and 4-6 working days later, a copy of FIFA 2003 was once again mine for the princely sum of 79p and I was reunited with the all-conquering Bhoys and, to my surprise, Mr Steve Guppy.

Following the international retirement of John Barnes in 1995, legions of promising young midfielders were drafted in to solve the supposed ‘problem’ of England’s left flank. Rather than resolving the issue, managers such as Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson instead created a long list of obscure players to earn a full cap for their country including Jason Wilcox, Lee Hendrie, Michael Gray, Alan Thompson and, for one Sunday in 1999, Steve Guppy. This is not to mention attempts to play the likes of Paul Scholes and Nick Barmby out of position before Eriksson brought in the diamond system which brought England’s ‘Golden Generation’ so much success on the international stage. Ahem.

Steve Guppy was the first, and so far only, player to represent his country at under-21, semi-professional, ‘B’ and full international level and, in a game which also heralded the England debut of Frank Lampard, he played the whole ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland as England emerged 2-1 winners over Belgium. Guppy earned high praise for his performance from England manager, Kevin Keegan, who declared that the Leicester midfielder was “a little bit like a left-sided David Beckham”. Whilst Guppy was a decent crosser of the ball I think it’s fair to say that Keegan was indulging in a bit of misplaced hyperbole which becomes apparent when you consider that he was never picked for his country again.

Guppy racked up nearly 150 appearances for Leicester City before linking up with former Foxes’ manager Martin O’Neill at Celtic Park in 2001. He played 49 games in all competitions for the Bhoys, helping them to a Scottish Premier League title in his first season with the club, before returning to Leicester for the 2003/04 season. Following the club’s relegation from the Premier League, he struggled for game time during short spells with Leeds United and Stoke City, and rejoined his boyhood club, Wycombe Wanderers, in 2005 before heading across the Atlantic to D.C. United.

Guppy’s last contribution to English football was in his one season with Stevenage Borough in 2006/07 in the Conference National. When the club reached the final of the season’s FA Trophy, he became one of only two players to win medals at both the old and new Wembley stadiums as Borough triumphed 3-2 over Kidderminster Harriers, earning Guppy silverware to go with his League Cup winner’s medal from his Leicester days. Whilst his career never reached the heights of others from that day at the Stadium of Light, his accidental accumulation of obscure achievements suggest that he may have deserved another shot at solving the age-old left-sided problem.