David James arrived at Anfield as one of the most promising goalkeepers in the country. The 21-year-old was hailed as the next big thing and was expected to emulate the likes of goalkeeping legends Ray Clemence and his hero Bruce Grobbelaar.
The new prodigy didn’t have it easy as the outgoing king of the six yard box decided he didn’t want to hand over the reins easily. A rejuvenated Grobbelaar began to enjoy an Indian summer, leaving the young starlet to wait patiently for a first team berth. With the pressure of a hefty price tag beginning to weigh heavy many a detractor began to dismiss the new boy's chances.
Then there was opportunity and lady luck. When the Zimbabwean legend went time out, reserve man Mike Hooper was handed centre stage and James had to bide his time again. By the start of 1994 James had seemingly established himself as the Anfield custodian of the nets as he accumulated 213 games in succession.
A dip in form led to being replaced between the sticks by an unknown American named Bad Friedel. It is a measure of the competition at Anfield and testament to the ability and longevity of Friedel that still sees the veteran going strong at Tottenham, keeping Hugo Lloris, one of Europe’s out of the starting XI.
Some high profile errors didn’t help the cause. James was cruelly nicknamed 'Calamity James' and critics had a field day after his admission that a dedication to Nintendo games did not help his concentration. He has described this as the worst period of his career.
James, who was a part of the Liverpool team that won the Steve McManaman League Cup final, broke Gary Speed’s Premier League appearances record in 2009. England’s first black goalkeeper’s appearance record has since been surpassed by Ryan Giggs. The 6ft5in giant appeared for England at Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2010.
James was part of the Armani suited Spice Boys brigade that lost the 1996 FA Cup Final to Manchester United, and again lost with Aston Villa when he fumbled Gianfranco Zola's free-kick to present Roberto Di Matteo with the winner. A winning medal followed with Harry Redknapp’s Pompey, followed by another loser’s medal against Chelsea in 2010.
Speaking to Four Four Two Magazine James reminisced about the cream suits: “The story is quite simple. The suits we were going to wear were shown, someone asked me whether I had any contacts with Armani and I said ‘yes’ and passed it on.
"I didn’t choose the suits and I didn’t care what people thought – I was playing in the FA Cup final and that’s the thing: had we of won they would have been the most fashionable suits. It was just the fact that we lost and didn’t play particularly well on the day.”
James featured in one of the Premier League's greatest matches when Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3 at Anfield in 1996. Reflecting later he recollected that amazing night: “To end up 4-3, and getting the goal in the last minute, was just a tremendous relief.
“In the match there was a moment when we thought we weren’t going to do it.”
The feat was repeated the following season too. He added: "The first one, with Stan Collymore’s winning goal, was just a wonderful game of football for everyone to watch.
"Looking back you feel honoured to have been a part of it.”
After spells with Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City, Portsmouth, and Bristol City, James travelled to Dean Court to join AFC Bournemouth.
An articulate and highly intelligent individual, James is the perfect ambassador and it is only a matter of time before he is handed a major role within football.
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