This Sunday, something beautiful happened. Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula One World Champion and, in doing so, gave the British public something to cheer about; the same which could not be said about our current crop of rugby league players carrying the flag down under. However, beauty is to the beholder, and I observed something that, although not obviously beautiful, brought a smile to my face, restored my faith in sport, and I believe eclipses Hamilton's achievement. This was the beauty that radiated from the the Reebok Stadium as Bolton ground out a 2-0 victory over Manchester City and, in particular, from one man: Ricardo Gardner.
At half time, the score stood at 0-0 in this mundane North-West derby, with the only real endeavour coming from those dishing out the pies and bovril to help keep those poor souls who turned up to this 'contest' satisfied. However, the second half proved to be a much greater spectacle, largely due to the introduction of the aforementioned Jamaican. Both of the host's goals can largely be accredited to the wide man, with him netting the first and providing the assist to Richard Dunne's own goal for the second. He sparked the contest into life and proved one thing to the millions no doubt watching the game from around the world: that you don't need the millions of a tycoon to win Premier League football matches.
Who better than to prove this point to than against Manchester City, the latest club to be bought by billionaire owners? In the 1998/99 season, Gardner was bought for a respectable £1,000,000 from the Jamaican outfit, Harbour View FC. Since then, he has gone on to clock up 292 appearances and 16 goals. Now, although his goals tally could be bettered, his service to Bolton spanning over ten years is refreshing in an age where money dictates so much, and players move to the tune of the big spenders.
He is approaching 300 appearances for a club who, at best, are seen as a stable Premier League outfit, but, more often than not, have flirted with the lower reaches of the division. Indeed, Bolton have plied their trade in what is currently known as The Championship for three of the years Gardner has stuck around. Quite conceivably, he may have asked for a transfer in this period, in the hope to better his career. However, far from in keeping with what a large number of Premier League footballers have done in recent years, Gardner has demonstrated a loyalty and a professionalism that more than merits the testimonial he will receive in the near future.
Gardner is not alone in his campaign demonstrating true allegiance to his football club. This summer, Joseba Etxeberria of Athletic Bilbao signed a contract effectively meaning he will play out his final season in professional football for free. Contracted to the Basque club since his transfer from Real Sociadad in 1994 at the age of 17, the midfield ace hopes to reach the landmark of 500 appearances for the club who only has players born in the Basque region on their books. Modestly, he remarked on signing, "I wanted to do this gesture but never did I want to set a precedent."
Both Gardner and Etxeberria are of course not alone. There are countless others who have demonstrated a dignity and an integrity whilst at a football club that have lasted less than ten years, or even beyond. Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes from Manchester United alone all fall into this category. However, they have received countless plaudits over the years which has seen United win 10 Premier Leagues, 4 FA Cups and 2 Champions League trophies. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I though I would leave these legends alone for now, and focus on a dread-locked Jamaican from Bolton. Much of his eleven seasons have been spent in the shadows, and very rarely has Gardner received the plaudits his play and loyalty deserves. Until now. Bravo Ricardo Gardner, the unsung hero of the Reebok.