Flair Icons #11: Mark Bosnich

Mark Bosnich

by Sam Cutting

Bosnich, perhaps trying to even things up with a Winston Churchill impression

 

Born: 13/1/72, Fairfield, Australia

Clubs: Sydney Croatia, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Central Coast Mariners, Sydney Olympic

International: Australia (17 caps, 1 goal)

 

Back in those halcyon days of the mid-to-late 90’s, when society was happy remaining its normal size and football clung to those last ticket stubs of innocence, one middling-to-good football team with a middling-to-absurd goalkeeper led me tentatively through my first sojourns into the beautiful game.
Aston Villa, under the guidance of Brian Little (and later John Gregory), became an intermittent “top six” side and my love of football was established through the youthful exuberance of Dwight Yorke and the disturbing ginger determination of Nigel Spink. Football evolves though; clubs go through peaks and troughs, good times and bad. The notion of a “top six” club itself is now perhaps as unfamiliar as the sound of the trophy cabinet opening at Villa Park (honk). There was a time, however, when they had one of the best defences in the Premiership and were winning the Coca-Cola Cup virtually at will.
One of the major reasons for this was the delightfully odd Australian shot-stopper Mark Bosnich. Although we know all goalkeepers to be of a different breed, Bosnich was one of those rare specimens, in the vein of Peter Schmichael (albeit not nearly as good) or Bruce Grobbelaar (albeit without the alleged match-fixing) – a goalkeeper who saw his craft as a virtuoso performance, who constantly walked the line between outright genius and utter absurdity, but who maintained equilibrium for long enough that he was actually quite good, and incredibly entertaining. A perfect flair icon then.
Bosnich started his English football career at Manchester United, before eventually signing for Villa in 1993. He established himself as top-rated Premier League goal-keeper, and was a major part in one of the most successful seasons in Aston Villa’s history, claiming a brilliant 21 clean sheets in 51 games. He would undermine any respect he’d garnered, however, by deciding that the best half-time show for the large proportion of Jewish Spurs fans was a Nazi salute. Brilliant though he was, the stain of childish anti-semitism would follow him wherever he went after this. Bosnich defended himself rather ignobly on Five Live later that evening, suggesting that his Basil Fawtly turn was “done in ignorance” – although the boyish smirk on his face in pictures tells otherwise. The Villa fans, incidentally, were too busy to care; they were deep in negotiations with trained assassins, trying to take out a contract on the life of Doug Ellis.
This isn’t the only questionable behaviour I’ve known Bosnich to have indulged in during a half time break. My only sight of the man in the flesh – during a rather drab 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in 1993 – involved him coming out early at half time, standing in goal alone, and proceeding  to make pretend saves from imaginary shots for a minute or so, much to the delight of the home fans.
Neither is the Nazi salute the only example of reckless idiocy in a man who was named Oceania Footballer Of The Year In 1997; he was jailed the night before his second wedding, and bailed just hours before he was due at the altar.
His only entry on the score sheet is, in-keeping with his demeanour, fantastically strange – he put away a penalty for Australia against The Solomon Islands in a Sensible Soccer-esque 13-0 win. His accuracy with the boot on a larger scale, however, was an issue. Even whilst picking him for a personal Aston Villa All-Time XI, the ex-Villain Ian Taylor had to drily note of the association footballer Bosnich that “It was only his kicking that let him down.”
He temporarily filled Peter Schmichael’s shoes on a return to Manchester United after their treble win in 1999. He performed well at the top level, contributing at least in part to an excellent United team, before falling out of favour. In an impressive feat of utter stupidity  determination and stubborn commitment to his own cause, Bosnich turned down the chance to join Martin O’Neil’s Celtic, and instead stayed to warm the bench. He had fallen out with Ferguson, whose squad selection Bosnich later characteristically criticised in perverse political terms – “I think it was because I was right wing in politics and he was left wing. I think that is why he didn’t like me. He wanted all communists in his team.” Communist or no Communist, Fabien Barthez took his first-team place, and in 2001 he began a short but not-terribly-sweet spell at Chelsea. Unless cocaine tastes sweet… (but we don’t do that sort of thing at FlairWeekly, do we? I’ve not done the initiation yet, mind.)

He left Chelsea acrimoniously in 2002, under a rather white, slightly buzzy cloud. During his spell out of the game his drug habit intensified, and before Ashley Cole or Mario Ballotelli made apparent the connection between footballers and ballistics, Bosnich himself nearly shot his dad with an air rifle in his own home. He went bankrupt in 2008, but has re-established connections with the football world through entertaining punditry for Australian TV. Recently he has been seen wearing an unsettling grin, taking pot shots at Alex Ferguson from afar and frightening Australia with his maniacal laugh.

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