TOP OF THE CLASS: Footballers who aren’t just a pretty face

Posted on September 20, 2010

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BY LAURA BURNIP

Sadly, this weekend injury has befallen Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, the man most famous for playing understudy to Shay Given for over a decade. It seems a cruel fate that, just as Harper gets his chance in the Premiership in a number one shirt, he will be sidelined for what I’m sure will be a number of weeks if not months. And to add insult to injury, literally, there is talk that Man City reject Given could be coming back to Newcastle in January on a free transfer.

In light of all this, I decided to investigate the man behind the mystery, the real Steve Harper. What sort of footballer has the loyalty and commitment to stay as number two at a club for such a long time? He’s obviously a Geordie, born in Easington which, for those of you not in the know, is a little town near Whitley Bay on the coast. Perhaps more notably, Harper hasn’t just spent his time warming the bench: as well as being a qualified referee, he has been studying for a social sciences degree from the Open University.

I don’t know why but it is genuinely surprising to hear about footballers being academic, regardless of how few first team minutes they’ve clocked up. Generally, it is an accepted fact that footballers are stupid, ignorant, uneducated or all three. And listening to the post-match interviews this weekend, it’s sometimes hard to disagree. Most of them seem to have a very limited vocabulary which focuses on over-use of the phrases “unbelievable”, “y’know” and “at the end of the day”; dreary monotone from which it can be hard to tell if they’ve just won or lost a game. Perhaps it is unfair to latch on to this stereotype but footballers certainly aren’t known for their quick wit and stimulating prose. But, as always, there are exceptions to the rule, and here are a few secret geniuses who have showed their intelligence on and off the pitch…

Ryan Giggs

Giggsy's degree might just be honorary but he still looks damn sharp in the cap and gown

SHAKA HISLOP

Yet another Toon keeper who kept Harper on the bench, Shaka also beat him to number one in the classroom. With an honours degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University in Washington DC, Shaka (first name Neil) spent time as an intern at NASA! A stellar achievement.

GRAEME LE SAUX

Probably the only footballer famous for his “intellect”, Le Saux was abused by players and fans alike for reading The Guardian, which apparently made him a bit gay. Funnily enough, despite being accused of having a degree, Le Saux never actually finished studying Environmental Studies at Kingston University. A poor effort!

FRANK LAMPARD

The Premiership’s gain is the academic world’s loss. It is speculated that Frank’s IQ is 150+, putting him in the 0.1% most intelligent people in the world, even above the mighty Carol Vorderman. Hard to believe, but former public schoolboy Lamps had once wanted to study Law, and gained 12 GCSEs with an A* in Latin! Perhaps even more surprising is that the reported IQ score was taken during a test of the whole team’s IQ, and John Terry came “in the top three”. “Unbelievable”, you could say.

IAIN DOWIE

Now this really IS unbelievable. But apparently, despite appearances, Dowie is our most qualified candidate so far, with a Master’s in Engineering from Southampton University. Dowie even worked for British Aerospace while playing for non-league side Cheshunt. Perhaps he should have stayed on that career path instead of trying his hand at management.

NEIL MACKENZIE

The former Stoke, Mansfield and Notts County midfielder might not have the most illustrious footballing career, but MacKenzie made history when, in June 2008, he became the first professional footballer to appear on Channel 4’s Countdown. Despite the show’s inescapable links to football, with a list of hosts including Des Lynam and Jeff Stelling, MacKenzie won five shows in a row, which I’m led to believe is quite an achievement.

SOCRATES

The Brazilian legend, who made a slightly odd return to football a few seasons ago for non-league Garforth Town, also has degrees in Medicine AND Philosophy. The enigma, whose full name is Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, currently resides in hometown Ribeirão Preto, writing political comment columns for several newspapers and working as a sports practitioner. Definitely an A* for diversity.

ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

The longtime Juventus forward, whom I vividly remember being my favourite player when I was about eight, is quite the accomplished fellow. Along with three awards for “gentlemanly conduct”, he has appeared on stage with both The Rolling Stones and Oasis, even appearing in a music video with the latter. Somewhat less rock and roll, he also has a degree in Accounting. Magnifico!

STEVE COPPELL

Former England winger and Reading manager Coppell shunned interest from bigger clubs and instead signed for Tranmere Rovers so that he could study economic history at Liverpool University. He later signed for Manchester United but this didn’t stop him completing his studies.

BARRY HORNE

While captaining Wales is undoubtedly the most impressive honour that any man can receive, Horne is also quite the intellect. North Walean Horne studied chemistry at Liverpool University, receiving first class honours. In contrast to our other football geniuses, Horne has continued his academic interests in his retirement and currently teaches sciences at a school in Chester. However he has not forgotten his footballing days and also serves as director of football for the school, and presents a local radio football chat show. Dal ati, Barry.

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