Monday 23 April 2018

Obituary: Dalian Atkinson

Footballer beloved of Aston Villa fans had some troubled times off the pitch

Searing pace: Former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson, who died after he was Tasered by police in Telford, England. Photo: PA
Searing pace: Former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson, who died after he was Tasered by police in Telford, England. Photo: PA

Dalian Atkinson, who died aged 48 last Monday after being hit by a British police Taser, had a successful if ultimately unfulfilled career as a centre-forward in the 1990s, notably with Aston Villa.

Able to run at searing pace with the ball at his feet, Atkinson was a scorer of memorable goals rather than an accumulator of them like his contemporaries Robbie Fowler or Alan Shearer. One for which he will be best remembered came against Wimbledon in 1992. Collecting the ball in his own half, he brushed past half a dozen players before chipping goalkeeper Hans Segers from outside the penalty area.

The strike was voted the best goal of the Premier League's inaugural season. It brought much joy to supporters of Villa, which Atkinson joined in 1991, teaming up with Ron Atkinson, the manager who had kickstarted his career.

Acting as a foil to Dean Saunders, Atkinson helped Villa to their best finish in the last 25 years. This was in 1993 as runners-up to Manchester United, just starting their renaissance under Alex Ferguson. Supplied by Ray Houghton and Kevin Richardson, Atkinson scored a dozen goals in the first part of the campaign before injury ruled him out until April. 'Big Ron' claimed that had he stayed fit, the team would have won the title.

Atkinson had a reputation for making his mark in important matches, and in 1994 he scored the opening goal as Villa won the League Cup, beating United 3-1.

After the side began the following season poorly, Ron Atkinson left and was replaced by Brian Little, who sold the striker to Fenerbahçe.

Although he had only played 85 times for Villa, scoring 23 goals, Atkinson remained so popular with fans that recently he was one of the six former players chosen to have their photographs displayed at the team's training ground.

Dalian Robert Atkinson was born in Shrewsbury on March 21 1968, to Ernest, a church deacon, and Ambrozine. He grew up in Telford, Shropshire, attending Wrockwardine Wood school. By his mid-teens, however, he had enrolled in Ipswich Town's academy.

In 1989, Ron Atkinson brought him to Sheffield Wednesday. He quickly forged an understanding with David Hirst but his 10 goals that season could not save the Owls from relegation from the First Division. He was sold to Real Sociedad, whose fans were not used to having black players and nicknamed him "el txipiron" - the squid.

There he teamed up with Richardson again and with John Aldridge, scoring 12 goals in 29 matches and, in one notable encounter, tormenting champions Barcelona. He also won a solitary cap with England B.

Yet though fellow players testified to his generosity of spirit, the club was unhappy with his attitude off the pitch. This was also the case when he moved to Villa.

Atkinson's private life was sometimes troubled; he was banned from driving three times, had a crash when uninsured, was threatened with bankruptcy and rowed with the club over a missed tour.

His time in Turkey ended in 1997 when Fenerbahçe accused Atkinson of going missing for several months. Thereafter he drifted to France, briefly to Manchester City, then to Saudi Arabia and South Korea before retiring aged 33. He subsequently worked as a sports consultant.

Atkinson was unmarried and denied that he had fathered a child during a relationship when he was in his 20s.

© Telegraph

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