David James's career will be remembered unfairly
Keeper's mistakes overshadowed his talent
21 October ~ That David James has signed for Bournemouth at the age of 42 is testament to both his enthusiasm for football and superb physical conditioning. It was the latter that made him one of the most naturally talented of English goalkeepers but even he concedes that, to some degree, he will always be remembered as a liability. "It's not nice going into the supermarket and the woman at the till is thinking 'dodgy keeper'," James once said. "Calamity James" came to prominence as one of Liverpool's Spice Boys.
This was a period of underachievement for James; he had the ability to be a key man in a team that challenged for titles but instead failed to convince. In two FA Cup finals – 1996 for Liverpool and 2000 for Aston Villa – James's failure to deal with crosses led to the opponents' winning goals. When David Seaman was unavailable for England's crucial 1998 World Cup qualifier at home to Italy it was Ian Walker, not James, that manager Glenn Hoddle trusted.
There was no question that James had the talent – his world-class shot-stopping ability, reflexes and athleticism underlined that – but he could no longer even make it into the England squad as third choice. At Liverpool his place was deservedly taken by Brad Friedel, until James produced some of the finest form of his career to reclaim a starting spot, before the errors returned.
His spell at Villa was underwhelming but at West Ham, perhaps due to the pressure being off, James was far more reliable and as Seaman declined he became England's first choice. Errors caused him to lose his national team place again but at club level his most impressive form would follow in spells at Manchester City and Portsmouth. Away to Chelsea, managed by José Mourinho at the time, Kevin Keegan's City team somehow escaped with a draw, helped by James being at his imperious best.
Three years later in 2008, with Portsmouth leading 1-0 in an FA Cup quarter-final against that year's Champions League winners Manchester United, James was again largely responsible for their clean sheet and subsequent final victory.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa James, nearly 40, was again England's first choice but last season was spent fighting Championship relegation at Bristol City and after one too many errors he ended it on the bench behind Dean Gerken. James made his professional debut with Watford in 1990 and was in the Premier League with Liverpool just two years later. Whether Bournemouth will be his final club or just the latest chapter in an unpredictable career remains to be seen. Declan Warrington