Date:Tuesday January 24 2006
Seeing Theo Walcott join Arsenal last week will stir up nostalgic feelings for Crystal Palace fans. Selhurst Park was once the hot destination for teenage prodigies. In 1994 the Eagles signed a then 18-year-old Bruce Dyer for a £1million plus fee. Like Walcott, Dyer was a striker who could also play on the wing. They both commanded seven figure transfer fees after playing a modicum of professional games, and scoring against Luton . . . and there the similarities end.
Dyer, if the rumour mill is to be believed, arrived at Selhurst Park after a typical piece of Ron Noades scouting. While watching the then prolific Paul Furlong at Watford, Noades’ eye was caught by the performances of his young strike partner. Dyer impressed during the 1993/94 season with his individual goal scoring ability and joined Palace for the closing stages of their promotion season.
After a number of substitute appearances for Palace Dyer was selected for the England Under 20 squad that travelled to the Toulon tournament. In a squad that contained a young Robbie Fowler, Dyer was England’s top scorer and regarded as the star turn of the team that lost to France in the final.
After this successful summer hiatus the 1994/95 season was not a good time for Dyer. As Palace floundered in the league, he struggled to get a game. It was not until Palace were back in the second tier that he started to make an impact on the first team.
One of the defining features of Dyer’s play was the imperfection of his technique. He had an unerring ability to miss hit the ball with both power and accuracy - something that had to be seen to be believed. He was also the master of a trick that can best be described as the ‘slow motion step-over.’ Facing a retreating defender Dyer would bring his right foot over a slowly moving ball. While his opponent continued to retreat Dyer would repeat this motion several times, and the ball would trickle on. Just before the ball became stationary Dyer would spring into action and the game would resume it’s normal pace. The ‘slow motion step-over’ left spectators wondering whether they had just witnessed an act of skill or a bizarre pact between attacker and defender to indulge in some mutually agreed mid-game rest time.
Highlights of Dyer’s time with Palace included a hat trick against Leicester and an FA Cup encounter with Leeds. Dyer caused the then Premiership side a multitude of problems and scoring one goal from the penalty spot. In a move that perhaps typified his time at Selhurst Park, Dyer later had the chance to win the game, but saw his second penalty of the match saved by Nigel Martyn. The ball rebounded off the legendary custodian to his feet, but with the goalmouth gaping Dyer side footed inexplicably, and agonisingly, wide of the post.
Popular with his team-mates, who nicknamed him ‘The Yardie’, Dyer was often infuriating but at times spectacularly effective. Dyer was never prolific, his most plentiful season bringing a haul of 18 goals. Despite this he maintained a fairly healthy relationship with the Palace supporters, who honoured him with his own immortal chant of: “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce Dyer.”
There were rumours linking him with a move to Athletico Madrid at one point of his Palace career, but Dyer eventually left Selhurst Park for Barnsley in 1998. While he may never have fully justified his transfer fee Bruce Dyer can feel proud of his efforts for Crystal Palace.
Theo Walcott meanwhile has the footballing world at his feet and can go as far as he wants in the game. His development will be exciting for all England fans, except maybe those who also share a passion for Southampton.
History will show whether Arsene Wenger is a better judge of a player than Ron Noades.
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