Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
Fans nowadays think nothing of filling their team with exotic imports from all continents of the globe. But back in March 1996, it didn’t get much more exciting than signing a dreadlocked Dutchman called Reginald.
That was the sensational breaking news that greeted Sheffield Wednesday fans when they read the morning papers in their pre-internet homes, a full day after the £275,000 transfer had taken place, and things quickly got even better.
Within 36 hours, Regi Blinker was pulling on a loosely fitting, blue and white striped Puma shirt with ‘Sanderson’ emblazoned across the front and stepping onto the pitch in an away match at Villa Park looking like a superstar footballer from another planet.
Within three minutes, he hammered Wednesday into the lead, then belted in another fine strike in the second half. The Owls ended up losing 3-2, but their fans had a new cult hero. A left-winger with skill, pace, a fearsome shot and dreadlocks so magnificent you wanted to reach out and grab them. The temptation to do just that was too much for Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who famously once yanked on Regi’s barnet during a game at Highbury - much to the Dutchman’s horror.
Before long, the Wednesday club shop started selling wigs in honour of Blinker’s long, luxurious hair. Hillsborough was peppered with South Yorkshiremen wearing fake afros, willing their Suriname-born talisman to score another goal. But he never did.
Not at Hillsborough, anyway. Blinker’s third Wednesday goal was netted a year to the day after his first, coming in a 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest. It proved to be his last strike for the club, with Celtic snapping him up at the end of that season in part-exchange for Paolo di Canio.
Blinker’s £1.5m valuation in the deal proved he had been an undoubted success in the Premier League, but still he left with Wednesday fans feeling a little short-changed.
“We thought 'what a player we’ve got here’ then he soon descended into mediocrity. Two goals on his debut then just one in his remaining 44 appearances sums him up really,” lamented one Wednesdayite on the OwlsOnline forum.
“He was a player that promised so much but looking back offered little,” concluded another fan, while a fellow Owl conceded, “Sorry to say he was OK, but no superstar.”
Unfortunately for Regi, things would not improve north of the border. Replacing the hugely popular Di Canio was a losing battle and Blinker’s three seasons in Scotland are not regarded fondly. Although he was part of the Celtic team that prevented Rangers winning an historic 10th league title in a row, he’ll be better remembered for conceding a penalty in a shock cup defeat to Inverness that sparked the famous “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious’ Sun headline.
Most regrettably, at some point during his time at Parkhead, Blinker’s name was converted into rhyming slang. To this day, players across Britain fear being described as "having a Regi” - otherwise known as a stinker. It’s a particularly unfortunate legacy for someone blessed with a name as excellent as “Regi Blinker”, but one feels there is affection - rather than malice - in the tribute. These days Blinker is a lifestyle magazine publisher in Holland and the dreadlocks are long gone, but perhaps it’s some comfort to know that his name lives on.