Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
When you think of Ryan Giggs, you think of his hairy-chested goal celebration against Arsenal in ’99. When you think of Tony Yeboah, you think of him smashing home a thunderous volley against the underside of the crossbar. When you think of El Hadji Diouf, you think of spitting.
But what do you think about when you think of Andy Impey?
No need to answer that straight away - you were probably unprepared for the question. It’s likely that Andy Impey has become an irrelevance in your life since his last Premier League appearance, for Leicester in a 3-1 defeat at Newcastle in February 2004.
That day came in the twilight of a career that, if not glittering, was certainly accomplished. Andy - or Andrew, as he preferred in his more introspective moments - Impey played 289 games in the Premier League and almost 500 in English football. More than Yeboah and Hadji Diouf combined. You may have forgotten all those games, but there are others who haven’t.
One group of people who still think about Andy Impey, and always fondly, are fans of Queens Park Rangers.
“Imps was part of the only side that has come near to emulating the 75/76 side for style and flair,” gushed one fan on the WeAreTheRangersBoys website, while another pointed out that Hoops legend Les Ferdinand was heavily indebted to Impey for “the amount of chances he put on a plate for him”.
Impey was QPR’s player of the year for three seasons running between 1993 and 1995. Not even the great Sir Les himself could emulate that feat.
“Great winger, had a good cross on him both with the ball and his right hand,” said another Rangers supporter, referring to the time Impey planted a fearsome hook onto the jaw of Barnsley’s Adie Moses. It would probably be lauded as one of the sweetest punches in FA Cup history if Trevor Sinclair hadn’t upstaged his team-mate by scoring that overhead kick later in the same game.
By then Rangers had dropped out of the top flight, but Impey got the chance to return when West Ham signed him for £1.2m in 1997. His one season at Upton Park was described as “a bit of a non-event” by a fan on the Westhamonline website. Other Hammers were similarly underwhelmed, dismissing Impey as “a massive shrug of a player ” or as someone who “did a job - that was all”.
“He played a modest number of games without doing anything notable,” surmised another Irons supporter, while a more generous assessment was that Impey was “a potentially cracking player hampered by niggly injuries - basically a perfect West Ham player”.
The flying winger that thrilled Rangers fans had morphed into more of a solid wing-back under West Ham boss Harry Redknapp, but that was right up the street of fellow 3-5-2 merchant Martin O’Neill, who gave the Hammers their money back to take Impey to Leicester in 1998.
The Northern Irishman slotted his new signing onto the right of the Foxes midfield with Steve Guppy on the left, a combination described by one excitable fan on the Foxes Talk forum as “a wing-back pairing from heaven”.
While Guppy was the star of that duo, and probably still dines out on his solitary England cap, Impey is mainly remembered by City fans as “dependable”.
“In many ways he was unremarkable, but I liked him. He put in a shift and hit some great crosses,” said one supporter, while another agreed, “He was never the most talented player in our squad but he did his job well and rarely made a mistake.”
There were glorious moments too, such as the time Impey celebrated a rubbish deflected goal against Middlesbrough by literally kissing a woman in the crowd (a complete stranger aged at least 60). And after missing Sinclair’s famous scissors kick for QPR because he was having an early bath for punching someone, Impey made amends by providing the cross for an almost-carbon-copy wonderstrike by Muzzy Izzet in a match at Grimbsy.
The late 90s were a giddy period for Leicester, when top-half finishes in the Premier League became the norm. And although Impey would later describe O’Neill as “slightly weird”, he got his only taste of silverware when featuring as a substitute in the 2000 Carling Cup success against Tranmere at Wembley.
Seasoned Impey-watchers also remember his penchant for wearing gloves, his distinctive gold tooth and – especially – one other famous characteristic.
“My Mum, who knows nothing about football, still asks what ‘no neck’ is up to nowadays,” revealed one Leicester fan, alluding to the notoriously short distance between Impey’s head and his shoulders.
At all Impey’s former clubs, he is principally remembered as the player without a neck.
“I recall the big looping crosses, the slightly awkward running style and the lack of a neck,” said one City fan, with a fellow Fox estimating its length to be “a couple of cm at most” and another bestowing upon Impey the honour of “best neck in football”.
When Impey left Leicester in 2004 and joined Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest, the club’s fans were quick to point out the legendary foible while Impey was warming up as a substitute. The midfielder responded by revealing something just below his chin that was unmistakably some kind of neck. Not a long neck like a giraffe, but a neck nonetheless, thereby disproving the claims that he didn’t have one and simultaneously establishing himself as a Forest cult hero.
Perhaps it was this unflappable attitude that prompted a group of Impey’s admirers to launch a 2010 campaign entitled, 'Andy Impey for a Knighthood’. The honour is still not forthcoming, and even if it was Impey has stated he would not accept it because “there’s way too much bad history behind the whole empire”.
And so Andy Impey remains a simple footballer and a humble man, perhaps best captured by a tale from his days at Filbert Street, as recalled by a Leicester supporter.
“A ref gave a throw-in to us, when it was quite clearly a goal-kick right by the corner flag. So Impey stood on the by-line and pretended to take the throw-in from there.”
This is the memory I choose to retain of Impey: of a man wearing a baggy kit advertising Walkers crisps making a small act of defiance by taking a silly imaginary throw-in amid a highly charged Premier League match. What you opt to remember about Andy Impey is up to you, but for his sake, just remember something.
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