Michael Connell looks back at the one that got away.
Friend: “Have you heard who we’ve signed?!”
Me: “No, who?”
Of course, we hadn’t, not really. ‘Bambo’ was a little known Portuguese U21 international striker Adrian Heath had taken on trial from Boavista during the Clarets pre-season tour of Northern Ireland in the summer of 1996. I was nine then. I barely knew who Luis Figo was never mind Bambo but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was simply that Bambo was called just that. That meant he was foreign and that in turn filled me with a giddy youthful wonder.
This was the mid ‘90s, pre-Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, when imports like Andrei Kanchelskis, Juninho, David Ginola and Eric Cantona were still tremendously exciting and exotic. At that time school friends in the playground would judge each other’s Merlin sticker collections or Championship Manager 2 teams not by their rarity or their fictional (in more ways than one) trophy hauls but by the number of syllables on the page or the pixelated team sheets.
I can still vividly remember playing football on the cricket field near my house on a glorious late summer day, my friend pretending to be Marlon Beresford in one of the many 1990s abhorrent Mitre goalkeeper jerseys and me pretending to be Bambo. Of course, I’d never seen him play but I’d seen the likes of Ginola and Cantona on Match of the Day and therefore by extension, I innocently just knew that Bambo would be a flair player of supreme natural talent. Suffice to say that my football that afternoon was all poorly executed skills and self assisted long range speculative half volleys. For me, the summer of 1996 will forever be remembered fondly as a heady blend of Britpop, Sunny Delight, Sega Megadrive and dreams of Bambo in a claret shirt.
Alas, however, it wasn’t to be.
Burnley and Boavista couldn’t agree terms and besides, my Uncle Mick had heard from his mate who’d gone on the pre-season tour that Bambo was crap anyway and before it had ever really begun, my brief love affair with an unknown Portuguese centre forward was over. The club eventually went on to sign the prosaically named Paul Barnes from Birmingham City instead for £400k. Barnes scored 25 goals that season and was later sold to Huddersfield Town in the swap deal that brought Andy Payton to Turf Moor so missing out on Bambo didn’t turn out too badly for the club.
Still, I would have loved to have seen Bambo play in front of the Longside and I’ve had a naive irrational optimism for every foreign signing since. Nik Michopoulos, Dimi Papadopolous, Arthur Gnohere, Jean-Louis Valois, Andre Bikey; I’ve loved them all however briefly. I suppose I’ll have to settle for Peter Doohan’s Sunday Mirror match report from August 4th 1996 on Burnley’s 0-0 draw with Irish league side Crusaders and wistful dreams of what could have been.
“Burnley’s Portuguese striker Bambo, a late sub, scooped the ball over the bar, and then with the goal vacant put it midway between the post and the corner flag.”
Who was your favourite one who got away? Comment below.