Blast from the Past no.66: Rory Allen

Kevin Darling
Manchester United’s Roy Keane (lying left) tackles Tottenham Hotspur’s Rory Allen during today’s (Sunday) FA Carling Premiership match at White Hart Lane. Photo by David Cheskin/PA.

Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

There is a fine tradition of footballing Allens playing for Tottenham Hotspur. Clive, of course. And before Clive, his dad Les. And after Les, his nephew Paul.

And then there was Rory. Everybody always forgets Rory.

This is not without justification. In his entire professional football career, Rory Allen played just 52 games – almost half of them as a substitute. He is unrelated to the other Tottenham Allens, either by blood or prestige. An anomaly in the great Allen dynasty. An Allenomaly.

But you’d be wrong to assume this makes his existence any less worthy than that of the celebrated family he was never a part of. For in his own way, Rory is the greatest Allen of all.

His is a story of rich promise, cruel luck, spectacular chutzpah, mysterious liaisons and – ultimately – tragedy, redemption and cricket. In no particular order.

It’s a sporting tale that starts in the normal way. He was born, then he scored goals – lots of them. Forming a deadly youth team strike partnership with fellow starlet Neale Fenn, some said the duo were the future of Spurs.

This claim appeared legitimate when, on Allen’s full debut in September 1996, he scored the Lillywhites’ only goal in a 2-1 home defeat by Newcastle (A goal created – you’ll note if you watch closely – by a spectacular David Ginola assist, a year before he actually moved to White Hart Lane).

A brace in a League Cup victory against Preston later that month confirmed Allen’s potential. Here was a young, talented man sporting a set of impeccable curtains, very fashionable at the time, being welcomed into the lucrative bosom of top-flight football.

In January, the future of Spurs was unleashed – as Allen and Fenn lead the line in a plum FA Cup third round tie at Manchester United. It was Rory of the Rovers stuff, but the future had come too soon.

The youngsters were no match for David May and Ronny Johnsen as Alex Ferguson’s cup holders ran out comfortable 2-0 winners. It wasn’t Rory and Neale’s fault – they were only playing because Ronny Rosenthal (among others) was injured. But to this day it’s a forward line that makes Spurs fans shudder.

“Dark days,” summed up one on the Fighting Cock forum.

“This was before playing weak teams in the FA Cup was on trend. It was genuinely the best we had available that weekend,” winced another.

“Allen was the best thing we had coming out of the academy at the time, which says more than enough about where the academy was at the time. Depressing times. He never looked like scoring ever,” opined a fellow supporter.

Which isn’t quite fair, because Allen actually scored in Tottenham’s next match, which was also against Man Utd (a 2-1 home defeat in the league).

But after that, it was true. He would never score for Spurs ever again.

Allen’s football upbringing had been a tough one. Aged 17, he broke his leg in a South East Counties league game against Gillingham. He bounced back manfully, but there would be more setbacks to come.

Following his first-team breakthrough, he spent the best part of a year on the sidelines injured, before sealing a loan move to third-tier Luton Town in March 1998.

Allen was a revelation at Kenilworth Road, smashing home six goals in eight games to help the Hatters escape relegation, but on returning to White Hart Lane he was unable to force his way back into the first team.

“Everyone was behind him as he was a youth team product, but ultimately he wasn’t anywhere near good enough. He turned in a few decent performances but he was thrust into the void left by Jurgen Klinsmann, so he had a lot to live up to,” said one Spurs supporter.

In the summer of 1999, second-tier Portsmouth paid a club record transfer fee of £1m for the 21-year-old Allen. It looked like money well spent when he scored twice in his first three matches.

Perhaps in another, kinder parallel world, the young whippersnapper fulfilled his potential and blossomed into an effective centre-forward.

But in this one, the football gods had a different path planned for him. Allen got injured, then he got injured again, then he got injured again, and again.

It would be eight months until Rory’s next goal – in a 3-1 defeat by Queens Park Rangers in May 2000. It was the last professional goal he ever scored, and the last professional game he ever played.

Allen missed the entirety of the next two seasons, undergoing a series of knee and ankle operations, until in November 2002 he decided to quit football.

And that was when things really started to get interesting.

Firstly, Allen still had eight months left to run on his £3,000-a-week contract – amounting to a substantial sum, especially for a man who had just lost his livelihood.

But he forfeited it. For cricket.

One autumn day, with Allen having failed to turn up for training, Pompey received his letter of resignation. By that point was Rory was already on a plane to Australia, plastic cup of Stella Artois in hand. Screw football, he was off to watch the Ashes.

As such, the legend of Rory began to form. Instead of robbing a living on the treatment table, he opted to spend the winter getting sunburned and repeatedly chanting the phrase “Barmy Army!” in a drunken stupor while watching Nasser Hussain’s England side get thumped by the Aussies.

As one fan on the Pompey Chimes forum remarked, “He was our record signing and he showed a lot of promise, but his best performance was probably the 152-glass beer snake during the 3rd Test at the WACA.”

And yet, football wasn’t quite finished with him yet.

In 2004, Weymouth player-manager Steve Claridge – Allen’s former Portsmouth teammate – revealed that a man claiming to be Rory had contacted him to arrange a trial at the non-league club.

But the man never appeared.

“I’m still not entirely convinced the call wasn’t a wind-up. Could have been Rory Allen, could have been Rory Bremner. Whoever it was they agreed to come for a trial,” Claridge said at the time.

Whether Weymouth had come a heartbeat away from enabling Rory’s resurrection, or falling victim to a footballing fraud of Ali Dia-like proportions, is not known. The mystery was never solved.

What’s clear is that, thereafter, the Rory trail went cold. The latest available information suggests he has forged a new life, working as a low-level civil servant in the Foreign Office.

When life gave Rory lemons, he became a mandarin.

And there ends Rory’s unique tale. He never scored 49 goals in a season for Spurs like Clive Allen, or won the double like Les, or the FA Cup like Paul.

But somehow, there’s an undefinable force that reassures us Rory is a man content in his own skin. He lived it, he loved it while it lasted and he’s the only professional footballer of his era who can say they watched Michael Vaughan’s 183 in the 5th SCG Test live. True, England were already 4-0 down in the series by that point, but sport doesn’t always have to be about results.

Follow @darlingkevin on Twitter

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