Name: Darren Richard Lorenzo Beckford
POB: Manchester, England
Clubs: Manchester City, Bury, Port Vale, Norwich, Oldham, Hearts, Preston, Fulham, Walsall, Rushden and Diamonds, Southport, Total Network Solutions, Bury.
Seventeen years on, the short spell of
Darren Beckford is still fondly remembered by those Hearts fans who
witnessed it. He was only at the club five months, wasn’t very good
and didn’t even score a single league goal in ten appearances. What
he did do was score twice and register two assists in the League Cup,
playing in all but one round as Hearts made it to the final and the
dramatic 4-3 defeat to Rangers; a match still regarded as one of
Scottish football’s most entertaining finals.
The Mancunian striker signed on with
Manchester City as a young boy but could not establish himself in the
first team at Maine Road. The young athletic striker had plenty of potential and already possessed the ability to be equally proficient at scoring goals both on the ground and with his head. Legendary Port Vale manager spotted the raw qualities in the
youngster and agreed to bring him to Vale Park in 1987. The club had
been promoted prior to the previous campaign and had looked to build
on their consolidation in the old Division Three.
The £15,000 spent on Beckford proved
to be a tremendous bit of business for the club. He finished as the
club’s top scorer for the next four seasons, helping them to a
mid-table finish in his first year before promotion to the second tier of English football in his second. Robbie
Earle was a member of the side and the future Wimbledon midfielder
scored the winning goal in a 2-1 playoff final win.
Despite their relatively small size in
the old Second Division the club were never in any real danger of
slipping back into the third tier with Beckford continuing to score
goals at a higher level. This alerted the interest of other clubs and
Norwich sought to sign the striker whose contract was about to
expire. Pre-Bosman the club still held the player’s registration and
the transfer had to be set by a tribunal. Port Vale wanted
£1.5million but had to settle for a fee just under a million. This
was still a record fee received by Vale and spent by Norwich.
The move was not a particularly happy
one for either player or club. This step up in class proved too tough
for the striker and Norwich were left with inconsistent form from
their record signing. He still managed a significant contribution by
grabbing a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Everton that was to prove
crucial in Norwich staying in the league. The next season manager
Mike Walker brought in Mark Robins from Manchester United and
converted Chris Sutton from defender to striker in order to lead the
attack. The Canaries were phenomenal that season, rocketing up the
table and briefly flirting with a title challenge en route to a third
place finish. Beckford spent the majority of the time watching from the stands but
did grab a goal in a 3-2 win over Aston Villa in a top of the table
Two years after purchasing him, Walker
decided to sell the forward to struggling Oldham Athletic who had
narrowly avoided relegation on goal difference. Again he failed to find consistency at the top flight level and it didn’t help being on a team who did likewise,
with Joe Royle’s side relegated at the end of the 1993/94 campaign.
They did reach that year’s FA Cup semi-final where they drew
Manchester United. The match finished 0-0 and went to extra-time.
Neil Pointon put Oldham ahead six minutes into the first period and the
Latics were a minute away from a Cup Final with Glenn Hoddle’s
Chelsea before this happened (with Beckford mentioned by John
They were hammered 4-1 in the replay and relegated a month later.
One curious tale about the striker’s
time at Oldham is that he was once again asked to play in goal after
Paul Gerrard went off with a facial injury. Beckford actually performed
well and the Latics were in line to win the game when they were
awarded a late penalty. Fearing a potential miss and subsequent
unguarded goal, Beckford (the regular taker) was instructed to remain in goal and the responsibility went to former Celtic striker Gerry
Creaney instead. His weak penalty was saved.
After the 1995-96 season he was
released and spent the summer as a free agent looking to find a new
club. He had his old teammate Neil Pointon to thank for finding him
work. The left-back recommended his former friend to Jim Jefferies.
The Hearts boss agreed to take the player on trial and play him in a
couple of reserve games. Beckford quickly made himself noticed by
scoring two hat-tricks against Gala Fairydean and Dunfermline
respectively. This did enough to earn him a three-month contract and
he was immediately put in the squad for a League Cup match with
Stenhousemuir. Hearts were toiling against their lower league
opposition until their new signing, and second half sub, created the
equaliser for fellow new boy Neil McCann. Beckford then endeared
himself further to the Hearts support by netting the winning penalty in the shoot-out.
Encouraged by the lively display
Jefferies decided to implement his new striker into the starting line-up
for an away match at Kilmarnock. At Rugby Park the player turned
enthusiasm into over-exuberance by getting himself sent off towards
the end of a 3-2 win. However, he still returned to the side for the
next League cup clash against St Johnstone, putting Hearts ahead in
extra-time as the Jambos won 3-1.
His inconsistent displays in the side
mirrored that of the club’s form. A 3-1 win over Hibs in which they
raced into a three-goal lead before half-time highlighted how
dangerous they could be when on form. The famous four men sent off at
Ibrox match arrived shortly after and the League Cup clash with
Celtic the following midweek was the only game in the competition
Beckford missed. Jefferies then went out and improved his striking
options further; signing Stephane Paille on a short-term deal.
With his position at the club under
threat Beckford put in his most memorable performance in a Hearts
shirt in the semi-final victory over Dundee.
As you can see from the video, the
striker scored the first goal, played a part in the build up to the
second and had an assist for the third. That very weekend he started
an away game at Dundee United and was particularly ineffectual in a
1-0 defeat. It was at this time it occurred to the club that the
August arrival was not going to be the answer to their problems. Jim
Hamilton was quickly signed from Dundee to provide attacking covering
and despite coming on as sub in the League Cup final, Beckford was
released in January. He then had a slide down the leagues with a
number of small clubs before deciding to hang up his boots in 1998.
Where is he now? Darren went back to
Moss Side, the area where he grew up, and became an attendance
officer at a primary school.
Show: Ruff Defending
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