Whatever happened to... Shaun Goater
May 1999. Two goals in stoppage time. Mancunians jubilant.
For the blue and red halves of Manchester, the memories of the 1998-99 season's climax will never fade; in the space of four days, both clubs enjoyed seminal results in their history, achieved in dramatic circumstances.
United's Treble triumph may have boasted a little more lustre, but City's victory in the Second Division Play-Off final was, unlikely as it seemed at the time, the first step towards the eventual toppling of their neighbours. As City's supporters and squad breathed in their dramatic penalty shootout victory at Wembley, the notion of winning a Premier League title would have seemed as laughably absurd to them as to the swathes of shirtless Red Devils fans drinking long into the Barcelona night just a few days earlier.
For City, promotion from the third-tier of English football began the process of restoring the club's shattered confidence and three years later, back in the Premier League, they celebrated a first derby victory over United since 1989. Their match-winner that day, scoring his 99th and 100th goals for the club in the last ever derby at Maine Road, was one of only three players -- Gerard Wiekens and sub Kevin Horlock the others -- to remain from that glorious afternoon against Gillingham. City partied like it was 1999 as Shaun Goater, the Bermudian Blue, completed his rise from football doldrums to derby day hero.
"I feel blessed to have been part of such historic moments," Goater tells ESPN. "I wasn't even aware I was on 98 goals for the club before the game and to be honest I was more concerned that United would fight back in the way they always did; I only celebrated properly when the final whistle went. It is remarkable that these things happened to me -- scoring my 100th goal in the last ever derby at Maine Road and then captaining City in the last ever match at Maine Road, these are occasions that stay with you always."
Goater's path to City idol actually had its foundations across Manchester at Old Trafford. Spotted on United's mid-season tour to Bermuda in 1988, Goater enjoyed a successful trial and left his Caribbean home for England at the age of 18. He shared digs with notorious wild child Lee Sharpe -- "Lee was actually very well behaved back then and we would only go to nightclubs on the odd occasion," Goater recalls -- but unlike his housemate, the striker would never get the opportunity to step up from the United reserves.
"I found it really very difficult to adjust, particularly to the weather," Goater says. "It was obviously very cold and more often than not wet in Manchester -- I didn't understand how people could live. The other thing was the pace and intensity of the game. It seemed like it was 100mph. I was labelled 'laid back' and though I denied at the time, I probably was.
"I remember training with the first-team one day, we were doing shooting practice, I missed an easy chance in a one-on-one and smiled to myself. Then it happened again and I smiled again, in disbelief really at how I'd not scored. Alex Ferguson turned to me and said: 'If you smile one more time after missing an easy chance, you'll be on the next plane back to Bermuda.' That really got me thinking it was no time for fun, it was the real deal. It really stuck in my mind: you get a chance, you put it away. Fortunately, I managed to score a few goals in the rest of my career!"
The first time I heard it I thought they were singing about Marc-Vivien Foe, but Gerard Wiekens said it was for me. 'Feed the Goat and he will score'. What an honour.” -- Shaun Goater admits his initial confusion over his iconic City chant.
After being unable to challenge the likes of Brian McClair and Mark Hughes for a first-team starting spot, Goater was released by United and found himself at unglamorous Rotherham United, where he really began to get to grips with the nuances, or lack thereof, in English football's lower divisions.
"At United you were taught to give the ball to a team-mate whether they were being marked or not, because you are a good player so you can handle the ball. It was encouraged and engrained. But I went from that to Rotherham, where you were never allowed to give it to a player unless they were in space. You just didn't do it. For about 18 months I was shouting 'give it to me, give it to me' but the coaches were telling me to keep quiet and encouraging the others to whack it into the corners. Rotherham taught me the English game -- my role, my position. They taught me the runs I should be making and though it was predictable, everyone knew what they had to do. That was part of my education, my apprenticeship."
The goals that had eluded him under Ferguson's glare at United began to flow in the lower divisions and in 1998, following another free-scoring stint at Bristol City, Manchester City came calling. Goater was brought in to provide the goals that would keep Joe Royle's struggling side in the First Division [now the Championship] but three goals in seven games was not enough as City went down. Cruelly for their new striker, it was former club Bristol City who replaced them in the division.
Manchester City were at their lowest ebb but Goater's sunny disposition and hardworking mentality were perfectly suited to help the recovery effort.
"Some people close to me were questioning whether I'd made the right move, but I knew I had. The expectation and the crowd at Manchester City was a different level. At Bristol City we'd get 18,000 on derby day; at City it was regularly 28,000 no matter who we played and even after we were relegated. Playing in front of that crowd, I always believed I could make it to the Premier League. I always had that vision, that goal.
"I can remember City chairman David Bernstein came in at the beginning of our season in Division Two and gave a speech. Usually as players you'd just switch off when the chairman started speaking but I particularly listened that day. He said: 'The club has never been this low -- some of you will go on to be legends if you put the work in and help us get back up to where we belong'. There were many in the dressing-room who heard the same words but didn't absorb them; I felt like he was talking directly to me and completely agreed with the sentiment."
In a season when every team was out to get City, who were expected to walk the division, Goater's tenacity was vital; he was top scorer with 17 league goals as Royle's side made it to the play-off final, a match that would go down as one of the biggest of his career, and City's history.
"We were 2-0 down going to the 90th minute and I have to admit a lot of us thought it was over," Goater said. "Gillingham had taken off one of their strikers, they were high-fiving, thinking the job had been done. Then Kevin Horlock scored and the board showed five minutes of stoppage time. Paul Dickov equalised in the 95th minute and from that point, we knew we were going to win. Nicky Weaver was incredible in goal and I remember being exhausted from chasing him around after we won the shootout. As a youngster in Bermuda I always had a dream of playing at Wembley. Admittedly I probably dreamed more of the FA Cup but it was still such an important game, and to win at Wembley was massive.
"It's easy to say now but I genuinely believe that day played a huge part in where City are today. Had we not bounced straight back up the club could have languished in the third tier for years. Playing in the derby games was amazing, all those big Premier League games were great too. But that day at Wembley was one of the finest moments for what it represented. City is now a global corporation but back then it was a family club. It meant everything to the fans and to see where they are now, where City are now -- I'm just incredibly happy for them."
Goater went on to be top scorer again for the next three seasons as City returned to the Premier League, were relegated, and then immediately promoted once again. During that time one of football's most likeable characters earned himself one of the game's most recognisable chants.
"I remember we were playing Fulham and I had scored, but I thought they were singing about the late, great Marc Vivien Foe," Goater recalls. "We went in at half-time and I said to Marc, 'they are singing about you, it's a great song'. But after the game, Gerard Wiekens came up to me and said 'that song's for you'. Then I realised it was 'Feed the Goat and he will score'. And it stuck. I loved it of course and the fact the fans still sometimes sing it is incredible. That they remember me and sing these songs, it's a really good feeling."
After five eventful years, Goater's love affair with City finally ended after he fell out of favour with manager Kevin Keegan. He left for Reading in 2003, before calling time on his English football career at Southend in 2006.
"I was promoted with Southend in my final season and they wanted me for another year but I knew it was time to call it a day," Goater explains. "You know when you are running full pelt and younger players are speeding past you that it's over. My game was about anticipation and pace -- not like Teddy Sheringham who could keep going until his 40s -- so without that speed, I wasn't the same player.
"After retiring I chose not to live in England because I loved the game too much -- I couldn't handle being in England watching games and watching former team-mates but not be involved myself. My wife, who is my high school sweetheart, wanted some sunshine and so did I, so we decided to go back to Bermuda. Football stayed a big part of my life, though, and I was involved in a number of grassroots football programmes I had set up in Bermuda during my playing career.
"At one stage I was bringing City's youth academy over to Bermuda. That happened on three occasions -- people like Micah Richards came, Nedum Onouoha, Kasper Schmeichel, Bradley Wright-Phillips, all these youth players. They would play against the national team, but would also coach young Bermudan kids. City liked it because it was a chance for the players to demonstrate maturity and represent the club on the other side of the world. That and the sunshine.
"With the help of one of City's directors at the time Dennis Tueart, I also worked to set up a Bermudian team to play over in America, the Bermuda Hogges. Myself and my business partner Kyle Lightbourne, who used to play for Stoke, entered us in the United Soccer League second division, the third tier in American soccer. Unfortunately it became a huge expense and was proving difficult to maintain but the Bermudan Football Association took it on."
After ending his association with the Bermuda Hogges, Goater pursued business interests -- including working with asphalt and telecommunication companies looking to improve the infrastructure of his homeland. But in a country where rivalries between fans of various Premier League clubs are as heated as those across the Atlantic, Goater just could not escape the draw of football. Now, just in time for the first Manchester derby of the season, the former City man has relocated permanently to the UK.
"I was working in an HR job but in the evenings was coaching my boyhood team North Village Community Club. When I finished playing in England I never thought I could be a coach -- I thought the job was too insecure and that worried me. But coaching North Village triggered the love and the desire for football, I got the spark back. I thought there was no way I could continue in an office for the next five to ten years -- every time a Premier League game came on I'd be wanting to be a part of it again.
"Now I'm back in England and on my coaching journey. I have had a few conversations with Manchester City and also players who I played with at the club like [Doncaster manager] Paul Dickov and [Brentford boss] Uwe Rosler, I'm just looking at getting some insights and observing sessions -- wanting to develop myself as a coach basically."
Goater's renown in Bermuda saw an explosion in the number City fans in the country during his time in Manchester, with his legend such that, 13 years ago, the date of June 21 was christened 'Shaun Goater Day'. Goater laughs it off -- "For me, every day is Shaun Goater Day!" -- but it is testament to his enduring popularity that despite the myriad business interests of the modern Manchester City, the club -- through their official website and social media channels -- focused significant resources and webspace to commemorating the day this year.
City's economic evolution since Goater left Eastlands a decade ago means that a fairytale return as manager is now impossible to conceive. But in the lower divisions where he made such a mark in his playing career, there may well be a club able to feed the Goat's insatiable appetite to return to English football in a coaching capacity.