Forgotten Footballer: England’s James Beattie

Written by Nathan Shepherd

He was considered to be the next big thing in England, for clubs and country, scoring a century of goals in over 350 Premier League games for Southampton, Everton and Stoke City.

He was considered to be the next big thing in England, for clubs and country, scoring a century of goals in over 350 Premier League games for Southampton, Everton and Stoke City. He broke two transfer records to become the top scorer for his sides on more than one occasion, and bag himself player of the years. This is the story of James Beattie.

Name: James Beattie

Age: 36

Position: Striker

Clubs: Blackburn Rovers, Southampton, Everton, Sheffield United, Stoke City, Rangers, Blackpool, Accrington Stanley 

Country: England

The long road to success

Born in Lancaster, England, after impressing representing his schools a young James Beattie was picked up by local club Blackburn Rovers in 1995. He played his way through the reserve ranks to eventually break into the first team.

Although, during two seasons with the Rovers, having made several first-team appearances (mostly in cup competitions) and yet to score a single goal Beattie was sold to fellow EPL side Southampton in the summer of 1998.

Unfortunately, hampered by injuries, he failed to make an impact in his first two years with the Saints, this was shown with a rather lacklustre return of six goals in over 60 games for the club. However, in the 2000/01 season, Beattie started to make a name for himself in professional football, with a run of scoring ten goals in ten games.

His contribution lifted Southampton into a respectable tenth position, their best league finish compared to the past two seasons, Beattie was later awarded a new four-year contract in March 2001.

He more than made the most of his contract extension during his next three full seasons with the club. In the 2001-02 season Beattie scored 12 goals in 28 games, one in which he was out of action for two months with an ankle injury. Then even more impressively, in the following season he was named the clubs player of the season in 2003 scoring 23 goals in 38 games (his biggest league haul of his career).

His goals made him the clubs tops scorer, the third-highest Premiership goal scorer but the highest English goal scorer. His fine form also helped Southampton reach the 2003 FA Cup final, their first since victory in 1976, although they lost 1-0 to Arsenal and Beattie had to settle for a runners-up medal.

These achievements for his club led him to be called up to represent his country that same year, his first cap for England in a 3-1 friendly loss to Australia.

To credit his proudest part of his career, he’s a look back at his goals:

He went on to score a further 14 goals in 37 games in the 2003/04 season before having scored three goals in 11 games in the following season, Beattie eventually left Southampton in January 2005 to join Everton. During his six and a half year spell, in all competitions (FA Cup and League Cup), Beattie scored 76 goals in 233 games for Sheffield United.

Joining the Toffees for a then club record fee of £6 million, Beattie found it tough to get going at Goodison Park. A series of bookable offences but more so injures severely limited his contribution to the side during the 2004/05 season, scoring just one goal in 11 games. The next season however, silencing the critics, Beattie became Everton’s top scorer, with ten goals in over 30 games as the club finished 11th in the league table.

The fans and probably even Beattie himself thought he had cemented his place in the team, but his manager, then David Moyes, seemed to think otherwise. In the 2006-07 season, Beattie made 33 league appearances, but 18 of them were from the bench, only managing to score two goals (both penalties) in total.

Out of favour with his manager, Championship side Sheffield United expressed an interest in securing the striker’s services. During his three year spell, in all competitions (FA Cup, League Cup and Europe), Beattie scored just 15 goals in 86 games for Everton.

Short but sweet (success)

In the summer of 2007, James Beattie joined Sheffield United for another club record fee of £4 million, this big money led to big expectations from Blades fans. The striker instantly lived up to these expectations however, in the opening game of the season he scored on his home debut against Colchester United. He was even named Championship player of the month for September 2007 having scored five goals in five games that month.

Beattie went on to continue scoring for fun to end with a total of 22 goals in 39 games in the 2007-08 season. This included three braces, one each against Wolverhampton Wanders, Blackpool and Ipswich Town as well as a hat-trick against Leicester City. It made him the joint second-highest scorer in the division (with then West Bromwich Albion striker Kevin Phillips) and just one goal behind Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (who scored 11 for Plymouth Argyle and 12 for Wolves).

Sheffield United finished ninth in the league and James Beattie was voted the clubs player of the year by the fans for 2008.

In the 2008-09 season, Beattie consistently still found the back of the net, netting twelve league goals in 23 games before Sheffield United had to reduce costs and forced to sell their star striker in the January transfer window. 

During his year and a half spell, in all competitions (FA Cup and League Cup), Beattie scored an incredible 34 goals in 65 games for the Blades, he more than left his mark on the club and was going to take some replacing.

Beattie returned to the Premier League in January 2009 signing for Stoke City on a two-and-a-half-year deal for a fee of £3.5 million. He made an immediate impact, scoring his first goal for the Potters in a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, to then go on and score a further six that season, including goals against Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, West Brom and a brace against Portsmouth.

His goals helped his side retain their place in the top English division, finishing 12th in the league following promotion from the Championship the previous year.

However in the 2009/10 season, after a number of injuries troubled his pre-season training, Beattie left the field of play in September against Chelsea on a stretcher after only 10 minutes, with an ankle injury.

Whilst out of action, his fellow strikers filled his boots, and filled them well. James Beattie faced competition to win his frontman role in the team again with the likes of Dave Kitson, Tuncay and Ricardo Fuller showcasing their talents. He also reportedly had a dressing room argument with then manager Tony Pulis to which only further saw him fall down the pecking order.

That season he scored only two goals in over 20 games to then be sent packing his suitcases for a move to Scotland. During his two year spell, in all competitions (FA Cup and League Cup), Beattie scored nine goals in 40 games for Stoke City.

From player to manager

In the summer of 2010, Beattie signed for SPL side Rangers for an undisclosed fee on a two-year contract, with the option of a further year. However there soon became no option, the Englishman was unable to hold down a place in the Scottish side spending the majority of his time on the sidelines and once recovered his goal scoring credentials escaped him. Beattie was restricted to playing 10 games, just five of them first team starts, with no goals in the first half of the season.

The second half of the season saw the striker sent on loan to Blackpool until the end of the season, though he got no better there either. He only played nine games for the club and yet again failed to find the back of the net as The Seasiders slipped to relegation from the Premier League.

The end of the 2010/11 season saw Rangers win the Scottish Premier League title but also Beattie’s contract terminated and released from the Gers that summer.

Without a club, in his early thirties, lacking fitness and now confidence his playing days seemed over. Until he was then handed a lifeline to carry on with his professional career by old club Sheffield United, again.

In League One at the time, the fans hoped (and more or less expected) their former striker would rekindle the fantastic form he shown just five years ago in order for promotion. By the end of the season however these high hopes turned to mass moans and groans as Beattie spent most of his time on the bench, only making 19 appearances in the 2011/12 season with no goals to his name.

As the Blades failed to clinch promotion, the striker was released unable to replicate his previous spell.

For the 2012-13 season Beattie was with League Two side Accrington Stanley, and managed to get back on the score-sheets again with seven goals in over 25 games. This ended an 1130 day run of not having scored in a first team match, whilst playing for three different clubs – Sheffield United, Blackpool and Rangers.

Soon after, following the departure of then manager Leam Richardson, Beattie expressed an interest in taking the job. His interest was granted and in May 2013, the English striker became player-manager for Accrington Stanley.

So, James Beattie was once thought to be the next big striker in the Premier League and for England but a series of injuries blighted his progress and he never really lived up to his full potential at the highest level. It’s a shame he seemed to join teams at the wrong time, even if they were the right moves, he often faced competition for a place in teams and so this saw him in and out.

Since his debut in 2003, Beattie has just five England caps to his name, although he did have nine caps at U21 level, in which he scored four goals. His brief international career seemed to have come to a close when he was not selected for Euro 2004, as head coach Sven-Göran Eriksson preferred Emile Heskey as the main man up front.

When fit he’s a proven goal scorer, his record speaks for itself and that extra goal scoring edge is what any club wants nowadays. At 36 years of age now though, it’s clear to most Beattie supporters we will not see him feature in the Premier League again, especially not playing but maybe managing, just maybe.

He may well settle with this player-manager role for a while longer in lower leagues, to give that experience to sides, before bowing out altogether. However, in the end, James Beattie will most likely be remembered as an England hero fallen from grace. 

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Image: Zimbio