With Republic of Ireland legend Damien Duff’s move to Shamrock Rovers finally completed, Pundit Arena will be, over the next few weeks, delving into the archives to find transfers that also raised eyebrows across the League of Ireland.
In the first of four instalments, we’ll be bringing the story of how a former AC Milan striker signed for Derry City – but we start with the man who once replaced Diego Maradona at Barcelona, and how he ended his career at Home Farm.
Steve Archibald to Home Farm, 1996
Readers of a certain age may remember a young, dazzling striker by the name of Steve Archibald banging in the goals for Tottenham Hotspur as they lifted two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup throughout the early 80s.
All this before the Scottish international transferred to Barcelona for a lucrative fee of £1,150,000, where his rich vein of goalscoring form continued, helping the Catalans to the La Liga title in 1985.
Though how exactly, 10 years after playing in a European Cup final with Barça, did Archibald end up lining out for Home Farm in 1996?
Dermot Keely’s side, struggling at the foot of the Premier Division, were in the midst of an injury crisis coming into a home match with title-chasing and eventual champions Derry City on November 30.
Desperate for points, Keely plucked the 40-year-old Archibald from obscurity and showed immediate faith by putting him in the starting line-up against Derry.
The gamble backfired however, with Archibald’s League of Ireland career lasting just 45 minutes, as former Home Farm player Owen Heary recalled:
“Every time we got the ball we gave it to him thinking he’d wow us, but every time he’d try and dribble it around the Derry boys they’d rob him and stick it in the back of the net.”
Home Farm lost the match 2-0 and were eventually relegated to the First Division, and Keely was far from impressed with Archibald’s contribution on that particular night.
According to Heary, the Home Farm manager stormed into the dressing room at half-time, shouting the following at Archibald:
“Get your gear, get on your flight and f@#k off home!”
It proved to be the last ever match in what was an otherwise illustrious career for Archibald, who was last spotted heading for Dublin Airport.
Luther Blissett to Derry City, 1993
We’ve all heard the myth that AC Milan signed Luther Blissett by mistake, thinking he was in fact his Watford teammate John Barnes.
Plausible? Maybe not – Blissett had won the English First Division golden boot after scoring 27 goals, which helped Watford push Liverpool all the way for the title prior to his £1m move to Milan in 1983.
However, after flopping spectacularly, he returned to Watford after just one season but how did Blissett go from playing in front of 80,000 people at the San Siro to just 800 at St Colman’s Park?
Blissett had signed for Derry City on a loan deal from Third Division side Bury and despite scoring a debut goal away at Galway United, his stint in Derry was as much a shambles as his spell in Italy.
In his fifth and final appearance for the Candystripes, the former England international missed a hatful of chances away to Cobh Ramblers before eventually being substituted by manager Tony O’Doherty.
Afterwards, the 35-year-old was on his way back to Bury and reflected on his time in the League of Ireland a few days later:
“It’s a very competitive league. It’s hard and physical, and no one gets the time to put his foot on the ball. The players all seem to feel they have to make contact with the man they’re marking, whether he has the ball or not. But I enjoyed it. It’s probably as good as our Third Division. And the fans are enthusiastic.”
Blissett, who holds the Watford club records for most appearances (415) and most goals (158), finished his playing career at Fakenham Town of the Eastern Counties Football League in 1996.