Five Stars: Peterborough United's best players in the 21st century
Who are the five best players to have played for your club since the year 2000? As part of a new series covering every club in the Football League, Peterborough United fan John Verrall is first up to present five stars to shine at London Road in recent history. Stay tuned for your club’s selections.
For lower league clubs, the play-offs can only result either in jubilation or heartbreak. In 2000, Peterborough United entered the lottery of the play-offs and, fortunately for the Posh, David Farrell struck the jackpot.
After Posh had given themselves a slim advantage by winning 2-1 at Underhill in the semi-final first leg against Barnet, the tie remained in the balance. The second leg at London Road was to be a nervy affair, but the brilliance of Farrell shone through. He was a man on a mission: to get Posh to Wembley.
After collecting the ball just inside the Barnet half, Farrell went on a marauding run. Jinking, twisting, turning, he was momentarily thwarted by three Barnet defenders who swarmed around him, but Farrell quickly picked himself up. When he received the ball again, he would not be stopped. Richard Scott slotted a pass to him and, after taking one touch, Farrell swung his trusty left foot at the ball, which flew goalwards and into the top corner. It was a stunning goal that had been the cue for wild celebrations around the ground, but it was not the last time London Road would be celebrating.
Barnet knew of Farrell’s threat now. There was still no stopping him. He collected the ball from a Steve Castle pass and looked up. In front of him was a Barnet defender and the goal. A silky feint made room for the shot and after he cut inside, he crashed home another rocket from range. Lee Harrison, the Barnet goalkeeper, had seen one piledriver smashed past him but there was simply nothing he could do. No goalkeeper in the world would have saved either shot.
Farrell saved the best until last though. The game was over as a contest now but Farrell hadn’t finished. When he picked the ball up, he was in space. Free of the last Barnet defender, but a long way out from goal. Barnet had pushed men up in desperation, trying to find a route into the match. Farrell still seemingly had a lot to do, fully thirty yards away from goal. But whilst others may have got their head down and sprinted towards the Barnet goal, Farrell simply looked up, saw Harrison off his line and clipped the most delicate of chips over his head. Farrell had fired Posh to Wembley, where they would go on to complete promotion with a win over Darlington.
It may be doing Farrell a disservice to simply describe his finest moment, for he showed his craft, creativity and guile in over 300 games for the club. The play-off semi-final in 2000, though, fully encapsulated his skill. While having the ability to smash a shot from thirty yards, he also had the vision to do what he wanted with a football and his ability will not be forgotten quickly at London Road.
The hat-trick can be seen here.
It is rare that goalkeepers have as much effect on a football club as Mark Tyler did on Peterborough United. After spending the bulk of his career at Posh, making over 400 appearances in the process, Tyler is certain to become a Posh hall of famer in the not too distant future.
He stuck with the club through the good times and the bad times and his loyalty to Peterborough United could never be questioned. A wonderful shot-stopper, Tyler won Posh many games single-handedly and was told he would have played at the top level if he was marginally taller — at 5ft 11inch Tyler is particularly small for a goalkeeper.
When Joe Lewis took over as number one at the club in 2007, Tyler’s first team opportunities became sparse and he opted to leave the club in 2009 to join Luton Town where he has stayed ever since. Tyler’s impact at Posh was so great that there are still a section of fans who yearn for Tyler back in between the sticks in place of Lewis, who is regarded as one of the top young goalkeepers in the country. And while the opinion may not be fully justified, it highlights the level of affection for Tyler at London Road.
Over 9,000 fans turned up to see his testimonial game against Liverpool and Tyler earned the respect of every one of those fans at Peterborough United. He was a wonderful servant of the football club and will always have his name associated with the goalkeeper’s jersey at London Road.
When Peterborough splashed out £250,000 for a non-league hopeful, a record amount for any player in the Conference, eyebrows were raised. The sum was exceptionally large for a team that had spent a large proportion of its history simply fighting to stay afloat. It was the signing that announced the arrival of Darragh MacAnthony as chairman and highlighted the new-found ambition at the club.
As a result, Boyd had a fair amount to live up to. Big things were expected of the left-winger christened “The White Pele” by fans at his former club Stevenage. However, it wasn’t long before Posh fans realised Boyd had more than enough skill to fulfil this expectation.
A slight figure with a mop of hair, Boyd was particularly unassuming and didn’t look like your typical genius. It wasn’t long before he was drawing attention though. It had been a long time since a player with Boyd’s technical ability had graced the London Road pitch. A 35-yard dipping volley against Boston United, just a few games after making his debut, was the first of many brilliant acts Boyd has performed in his time at Peterborough.
Now in his fourth season in a Posh shirt, Boyd is still one of the first names on the teamsheet and has built a reputation as the one of the brightest talents in the Football League. His skill continues to astound and some now consider him to be the best player to ever play for the club. It’s fair to say “The White Pele” has written his name into Peterborough United folklore.
Mackail-Smith joined Peterborough as another non-league starlet looking for a chance in the Football League. A player looking for one opportunity to make it into the big time. And when he was provided with it, he wasn’t about to let it slip.
Mackail-Smith’s energy is second to none. Nothing is a lost cause while he is on the pitch. Too often are players called “a defender’s nightmare” but the clichà© doesn’t do Mackail-Smith justice. He isn’t just a nightmare – something hard to recall and quickly forgot about – Mackail-Smith is a 90-minute horror movie for defenders. A player whose presence comes to haunt his marker for a long time after the match has finished.
His energy, pace, desire and work-rate are rarely seen at any level and it is these traits that endear him to Posh fans so much. Although he has improved remarkably with the ball at his feet, Mackail-Smith remains a limited player technically. He makes up for this through sheer commitment, becoming a Peterborough United great and simply irreplaceable.
Some players take time to settle in at new clubs. For Aaron McLean, the opposite happened. In his first full season he became an integral part of a Peterborough United squad that achieved promotion from League Two in style. Smashing in 29 goals in just 45 appearances, McLean was not only the Posh’s top scorer during the campaign – he was the leading goalscorer in the whole division.
He didn’t slow down in League One either. 18 goals came in a second consecutive promotion season, a sizeable period of which McLean spent out injured. McLean’s game is based around his explosiveness around the box. A bundle of pace and power, he is always a potent threat. His giant leap means that he can compete with centre backs aerially, despite his lack of height, and in the box he is a real predator.
It is rare that a player is forgiven by fans for handing in two transfer requests but McLean, even when looking for a move, remained fully committed to Posh on the pitch and when his move to Hull City arrived, he left with every Posh fan’s best wishes. He has wasted little time making an impression at Hull either and is now part of a deadly partnership with Matty Fryatt that has seen Nigel Pearson’s side fly up the league of late.
Whilst covering Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean and George Boyd individually, it would be wrong not to summarise their achievements as a group. All signed in the same transfer window, the trio have become irrevocably associated with each other at London Road. When one of them is mentioned, the other two immediately spring to mind. Nicknamed “The Holy Trinity”, they have each secured their part in Peterborough United history and to see three players of their quality playing on the London Road pitch at the same time really has been a privilege.