An Unassuming Hero: A Tribute To Ledley King

He departed in the manner that befits the man. News of Ledley King’s retirement slipped out on the official site, no press conference or media blitz, just a few heartfelt words in tribute to the club he served with unswerving loyalty, tinged with unspoken regret at what might have been.

King never sought to draw attention to himself. Rather, he preferred to get on with the job at hand, protecting the Spurs goal from all-comers. This is the main reason why he’s not better known throughout Europe and the world, not his injuries. Debilitating and cruel though they were, never could they fully diminish the talent of the finest centre half of his generation and unquestionably an all-time Tottenham great.

No fist-pumping exhortations to team-mates. Perhaps if he had, more kudos would have come his way. Just the example of do as I do, show your skill, demonstrate dedication and committment and Spurs will triumph. Such a shame only some chose to follow his lead. Neither did he possess any one single attribute to distinguish him from the rest. He was tough, strong in the air but without the physical presence of many top centre halves. To the causal observer he didn’t have lightning pace or perfect touch. That’s why other, inferior players were noticed, praised to excess, demeaning the language with the use of words like legend, greatness, words that belong not to them but to Ledley King, a virtuoso of the defender’s art who made strikers sing to his tune.

But we knew. Those of us who had the privilege of being there, close up, watching him work, we understood. Week in, week out. A forward would slip away, pull back his boot to shoot only to find the ball had gone. Darting at pace into the box but Ledley is first. Back to goal, surely now the striker is immune, then a nudge here, a toe there, and gone. Gone before they knew what was happening because when the strike came, it was clean and silent, the product of shrewd anticipation and impeccable, unrivalled timing.

Here are the master’s secrets. Anticipation: understand not just what is happening but what might take place. Be on the move: better to slip into place unnoticed off the ball than hammer hell for leather in pursuit, even though that might catch the eye of the uninitiated. Don’t commit too early: refuse to be drawn into tussles that can’t be won. Not too far away from the man he was marking or else lose him, not too close because risk being turned. Just the right place, right time. Turn quickly: superlative midfield maestros like Gazza or Modric drop their shoulder and are gone in the blink of an eye. Ledley did the same only in defence, on the move a fraction quicker than most, get ahead of the man, shoulder inside, make the tackle. Pace over five or ten yards: that’s what you need in the box. Quick off the mark, short jabbing strides like a sprinter out of the blocks, minimal clearance from the turf, all the effort geared towards one aim, to get their first.

No dismissals, only 8 bookings. Partly because he’s a decent man in the cesspit of the Premier League, mainly because he tackled clean and did not get caught out so had no need to foul. Henry: King was the only defender who got the better of me without resorting to foul play.

I weep at what might have been, shed tears for each time he hobbled off. Ledley fully fit along the way, yet his latter years will linger long in the memory because of his indefatigible determination to pull on a white shirt, navy blue shorts and play. Football is a physical game – he couldn’t train but still he carried on. Couldn’t run, had no sense whether he could last 9 seconds, 9 minutes or 95. Couldn’t play football with his son in the back garden, all because he wanted to, had to, play for the white shirt and navy blue. One club, our club, he’s my inspiration. I hope we deserved him.

His half a career eclipsed his contemporaries, the finest British centre half of his generation. Eventually, it had to end. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to stop the clocks for as long as he did. Look for mistakes in those later years and they are few and far between. December last and I wondered if the moment had finally come, but I should not have doubted him. Here’s what I wrote when we played Chelsea:

We mopped up many attacks but never quite picked up their runs from deep. Gallas rose to the challenge, becoming more assertive, while King was alert and quick. He and Sturridge set off on a chase. This was more than a dangerous throughball on the right wing. It was the old master versus the young pretender.

In the blink of an eye, it could have been the changing of the guard. Ledley has learned to turn quickly and maintain a chopped economical stride to coax the maximum effort from those battered, weary bones. He was ahead but the young man pressed from behind. Eager and willing, he sensed weakness and quickened. Shoulder to shoulder at full speed now, for a moment he eased ahead but Ledley stretched one last time and came away with the ball, the master still. Long live the King.

On the field, you never saw him moaning at refs or other players. Ian Wright: he made me mad because he never bloody said anything, all game, whatever I threw at him. Off it, no celebrity status, no transfer requests. Drunk once or twice, nothing more.

In fact, we know hardly anything about him but we understand the man because of the honourable way he played the game. That’s all there is to know. He carried himself with dignity, with the humble modesty of the truly great. My favourite, my all-time Spurs centre half, my unassuming hero.

Postscript:

This is a youtube video of King tackling Arjen Robben. You’ve probably seen it before but today I’m drawn to watching it over and over again. I was there. I recall the sinking feeling as Robben approached the goal. We were playing well at the time against opponents who always beat us, and in what seemed like endless minutes there was time to reflect on how we’d thrown it all away. Again. Ledley was in pursuit but he appeared as if from nowhere. Look again – at full pelt after sprinting 50 yards his intervention is clean and pure, no hint of a foul. Watch once more, this time focus on the crowd who leap joyfully into the air as if we had scored. Ledley could do that.

31 thoughts on “An Unassuming Hero: A Tribute To Ledley King

  1. fuck me! you,ve said it all, wot more can anyone say. it brings a tear to my eye, that we will never see that brilliant footballer play in a competitive game for us again . who ever comes along to take his place, has a lot to live up to. wen this testimonial does take place he WILL get a sell out at the home of football and deserves every acolade he recieves, and spurs payers past and present should join in with all of us and sing his name out LOUD!.AND PROUD. its bin said in messages all day, BUT ledley KING, U R a LEGEND!!. LONG LIVE THE KING!!.

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  2. Bang on.

    As I said on another piece by the Lust Doctor earlier today..

    King was the best centre back I’ve ever seen play, always making a difficult job look almost effortless.

    Am still puzzled and very disappointed that he wont be joining the coaching staff. A missed opportunity surely.

    Ledley King put so many of the shirt grabbing, play acting, modern day players to shame and into the shade.

    So disappointed for him, that his career is over. Have never felt remotely this emotional about a player’s retirement, and expect not to ever again.

    He made Spurs fans proud when they watched him.

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    • Well said. No doubt that although we were expecting this, when the moment came, it was highly charged, very emotional.

      And the lustdoctor piece is superb, he’s on fire after his return to blogging. Click the link on the sidebar, everyone.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. John Terry et al cannot hold a flame to The King. He was awesome for Spurs and England. No cheating, shouting, spitting, pulling shirts….. Just sheer class, blinding pace, astute awareness, and pure unadultered class. I consider it a privilege to have seen him play for Spurs. Long live The King

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    • you are 100% right there. if the king was fit today he would be england,s captain and probably be the most sought after centre half in the world. he is everything that racist overrated arseole terry could never be. ps how lucky for terry that the king had so many injuries other wise terry would just be another player.

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  4. Amazing Article…..Am totally gutted, this Guy gave everything for our club, a true old-school player JT is not fit to lace his boots.

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  5. Brilliant article, every time I saw him play he was outstanding, a class act,must have been a pleasure to play alongside him.

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    • Hope we realise just how good he was. Still not sure everyone does… and of course he never had the support of a team that matched his high standards, ironically until now, the moment he has to stop.

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  6. Just reading numerous articles about the King and it might be because it’s 5:30am in the morning and I’m still in bed knackered but I can’t help but shed a tear for our most brilliant ambassador for the game.

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    • Nope, it’s not because of the early hour. It’s because despite all that’s wrong with the modern game, Ledley’s retirement reminds us of the enduring attachment between fan and their club, it emerges only when a player shares that same bond.

      Regards, Al

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  7. Nothing much to add to the many fine sentiments expressed here and elsewhere. A special player in terms of performance and talent but most importantly for me and many others a Spurs man and one we can be immensely proud to call our own. Even playing within himself he was as good as anyone these past few seasons. I’m pleased he’s going to be a ambassador for Spurs, esp in the community, and that he’ll still be around the place. Though he’s always been an ambassador for Spurs and English football on the pitch. At least he’ll be able to have a kick about with his son now and hopefully be free of long term damage to his health.

    Lovely piece hitting the right notes as ever Alan.

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  8. Immense, yet i remember all the rubbish talked about him by fans when he got drunk a couple of times, saying he should be more professional…. well maybe now they will realise what a true pro. he was / is. Wonder if his ambassadorial will include working with theyoungster now and again. hopefully the club will highlight his efforts in his new job as they do with Mabbsey.

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