Our Swindon Town Hall of Shame continues with entry no.15 – Shaun Close, who is arguably the worst player ever to wear the famous red & white. Writes Matthew Fry.
In a time that seems only yesterday for me, Swindon Town trained pre match on a scrubby patch of land where the giant Tesco superstore on Ocatal Way now stands in the Town. The area was non-descript and entry was afforded by squeezing through a hedge or two. It was a bizarre sight to see a footballing legend - a man that graced World cups – Ossie Ardiles, pushing Tom Jones through that gap and preparing his team for a shot at promotion.
My younger Brother and I would follow the players through the foliage; creased autographed books held in sweaty palm, hoping, praying that we’d convince one of the team to scribble their signature in our book. I was privileged during that summer, standing awe-struck watching my heroes practise their trade, getting a first hand look and access to the team that I thought was beyond a little Herbert like myself.
The players more than lived up to my starstruck expectations, over the weeks they became chatty and would even acknowledge us, as we stood behind the goal fetching the ball back for Nicky Hammond or Fraser Digby as Steve White hit another one wide.
There was one player there, that I could not get a handle on. I didn’t even know what that expression meant at the time. That player was Shaun Close.
A short, stocky player that we’d signed in 1989; as a Town fan I always expected any player that wore the red shirt to deliver the goods, no matter what. These players were my ultimate idols. Rival players on other teams were, in my opinion were shocking and I relished the chance to holler at them at every opportunity. Swindon players were beyond my abuse. In my eyes, they were all footballing greats.
Shaun Close on the other hand was a player that confused me greatly. Watching him as he trained was an eye opener. He was actually quite good. Darting skillfully between defenders and rapping the ball past the ‘keeper. He would do it again and again. I wondered, why the hell couldn’t he do that in an actual match?
To see Close play like that gave me hope that one day, come the league, he’d unleash what was there, and nick a hat-trick and help stuff our next opponents. It wasn’t ever to be.
Signed by Ardiles, his first for the club, he arrived from Bournemouth and was something of an unknown quantity when he joined us. In those days there was no such thing as no-quibble refund for faulty or defunct goods. Shame as the South Coast side would have had a return on their hands instantly. Having shelled out for his services, it was common for fringe players from other teams to join us and then prove their worth. He started out with Tottenham then moved abroad to Sweden were he played for Halmstad before upping sticks and heading home to Blighty for Bournemouth. He lasted there for just one season before he joined the Town.
Close was the type of attacker that would charge toward the opponent’s goal at full pelt. Homing in on goal when the keeper would have it firmly in his hands and under control.
Once kicked upfield, Close would then chase the ball back up the park like a small child exposed to the delights of e-numbered fizzy pop and burn out. Small in stature, he looked like R2-D2 in a toupee, he could never climb well enough to win a headed ball and he could never seem to muster enough force to kick the ball with the required power should the rare occasion of him being actually in front of goal come occur. It’s easy to see why the strike partnership of Steve White and Duncan Shearer couldn’t be broken up. They must have been confident their starting spot would always be intact.
While Shearer and White contributed buckets of goals to the cause, Shaun Close was able to score twice. Not quite the hit ratio the masses crave.
Although an eager and energetic worker, Close could not translate that into crowd-pleasing. He liked to receive the ball in his midriff, back to goal, ready to turn and spin away. This is all well and good but when you can only turn like an uneaten cold sprout being pushed around a plate, you know you’re in trouble.
Holding the ball up by expertly trapping it with his shin and knocking it out for a throw-in was also another one of his preferred skills. He was also an expert in gaining a collective groan from the County Ground faithful when he was named on the subs bench. His first teams starts were, almost non-existent – 15 in four seasons. Even if he didn’t enter the field of play, the thought of having to rely on him, should the need occur, sent chills through the supporters.
I couldn’t fathom how this player I’d seen dazzle in training couldn’t score in a brothel. When I screamed at his incompetence from the terraces, I hoped my off key teenage voice would break soon so he could actually hear the abuse I shouted.
I did actually meet him properly once face to face at an open day at the club and had my photo taken with him. The Alan McLoughlins and the Ross McLarens of this world held all the attentions of the fans as we walked behind the scenes that day as my brother and I, came across a lonely figure by the bar without a single fan near him. I was panged with some sort of strange feeling that was later revealed to me as guilt and I asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving me an autograph and posing for a snap and he dutily agreed. He was pleasant and kind, asking if I was enjoying myself and if I was an avid fan. I’m glad he was blissfully unaware that I thought he stunk.
In my opinion he was the absolute worst player ever to grace the County Ground and that takes some sort of skill. Shaun Close take your place in the Swindon Town Hall of Shame!