David Batty didn’t score many goals, but when he did they were usually pretty special.
A tough-tackling midfielder known for his no-nonsense, selfless approach to the game, Batty found the back of the net just nine times across his 20 seasons as a professional.
Even so, a David Batty goal was usually something to savour, with the Yorkshireman remembered for a handful of impressive solo strikes during his early days at Leeds United.
Yet arguably the greatest goal of his career came while playing for Blackburn Rovers.
Howard Wilkinson had drawn the ire of Leeds fans everywhere after he agreed to sell Batty to Blackburn for £2.75million in October 1993.
He justified the deal as necessary in order to free up funds for a major squad rebuild but undermined his own flimsy argument by shelling out £2.6million on Carlton Palmer less than a year later.
Batty was a big hit at Ewood Park, striking up a formidable central midfield partnership with Tim Sherwood rivalled only by that of Manchester United’s Paul Ince and Roy Keane at the time.
Despite playing a pivotal role in Blackburn’s first title tilt over the 1993-94 season, Batty missed out on much of the following season after suffering a broken foot. He didn’t consider himself to be part of the Rovers team that went on to make history by winning the Premiership that year, refusing a winner’s medal.
Though he was back in full swing at Blackburn the following season, things at the club had started to turn sour in the wake of their title success.
Kenny Dalglish had moved upstairs to be replaced by his assistant Ray Harford, who implemented an increasingly agricultural style of football that failed to get the same results.
Despite the continued goals of Alan Shearer, Blackburn were struggling in the league and had fared even worse in the Champions League, finishing bottom of a winnable group with Batty in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after scrapping with team-mate Graeme Le Saux.
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Though the two players quickly patched things up, the spat was symptomatic of a much larger malaise within the Rovers ranks, with many unhappy at the club’s new direction and frustrated at their near nonexistent title defence.
Batty soon departed for Newcastle, adding some much-needed steel to Kevin Keegan’s swashbuckling side in a mid-January deal some Magpies fans later unfairly blamed – alongside the arrival of Tino Asprilla – for derailing their title charge and blowing a 12-point lead at the top of the table.
Before heading north to Tyneside, however, Batty left Blackburn fans with something to remember him by during a Boxing Day clash with Manchester City at Ewood Park.
Blackburn may have had their problems that season, but they were nothing compared to the mess that was unfolding over at opponents Manchester City.
City were a different prospect to the petrodollar-backed club of today. The summer of 1995 had seen the club’s owner, former footballer turned toilet roll business magnate Francis Lee, take a huge gamble by replacing manager Brian Horton with friend and England World Cup winner Alan Ball.
Ball had fared well enough at previous club Southampton but found City to be an altogether different prospect without the mercurial talents of Matthew Le Tissier to call on.
City endured a nightmare start to the season, failing to win any of their first 11 Premiership games. Though a run of four wins in their next five hinted at a revival, December brought more misery. By the time they arrived at Ewood Park, City were back in the relegation quagmire, despite the best efforts of twinkle-toed newcomer Georgi Kinkladze.
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Blackburn, by contrast, had steadied the ship after their miserable start to the campaign and, while their title hopes had been written off, looked a safe bet for a top-10 finish and maybe at a push even a UEFA Cup place.
With little riding on the game for the hosts, they would have been forgiven for going easy on City, especially after the Christmas festivities many would have enjoyed the day before.
But Batty had other ideas.
Blackburn were already one goal to the good by the time the England international stepped into the spotlight, having taken the lead through the obligatory Shearer goal.
But if there was something all too predictable about Big Al getting on the scoresheet, few could have predicted what followed next.
Picking up a pass from Shearer inside the City half, Batty found himself in acres of space. Sensing his opportunity, he took a touch to set himself before unleashing a howitzer of a shot.
It's David Batty's birthday. Which is as good a reason as any to remember his screamer for Blackburn Rovers. Gets an assist from Alan Shearer, but this one is all Batts. pic.twitter.com/fybDmEGcSE
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) December 2, 2020
In truth, City were asking for it, granting the midfielder the freedom of Lancashire to have a strike at goal, with captain Keith Curle the only one to realise the danger, albeit a few seconds too late.
Little wonder they ended the season relegated on goal difference.
That said, the resulting strike was a thing of beauty; hit at full pelt past the helpless reach of goalkeeper Eike Immel soaring directly into the top left-hand corner, hitting the side rather than the back of the net.
The force of the hit is clear to see, with Batty wellying it so hard he was temporarily lifted off the ground with the follow-through of the kick.
Given the season he had endured up until that point, you had to wonder whether he was taking his frustrations out on that poor innocent football.
Batty would have been forgiven for celebrating with gusto, given that it was his first goal for the club.
But that wouldn’t have been Batty. Instead, the wonder strike was celebrated with a simple leap and punch to the air, displaying a sheepish smile at odds with his hardman image.
If Batty’s reaction was somewhat subdued, it was at odds with the fans and his team-mates.
Supporters poured down from the stands, applauding the goal with gusto. There may have been more than a little Christmas cheer in the air, given that it was an 8pm kick-off on Boxing Day. Then again, it was a glorious goal and one from an unlikely source.
His Blackburn team-mates, meanwhile, surrounded Batty, with Colin Hendry the first to embrace his fellow enforcer. Word of a potential move to Newcastle may have already been in the offing then.
It might go some way to explaining the way Batty’s fellow players rallied around him.
Then again, it was an absolutely glorious goal.
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Batty’s goal completed the scoring in a routine 2-0 win made memorable by a single moment of individual magic. The Yorkshireman was on his way out within a few weeks, playing three more times for Blackburn before heading further north to St James’s Park.
He spent three trophyless years on Tyneside before a triumphant return to his beloved Leeds United, where the midfielder served as the elder statesman of sorts in an exciting new era under David O’Leary.
An Indian summer followed, with Batty helping steer Leeds to the brink of glory in the Premier League and Champions League with his usual hard-as-nails performances before the entire house of cards came falling down at Elland Road.
O’Leary left, with a string of successors sidelining Batty at a time when the club could have surely benefitted from his passion and leadership. He eventually retired at the club, aged 36, having failed to recover from an injury picked up against Newcastle in January 2004.
By then Batty had left his mark on the Premier League, but it wasn’t all crunching tackles.
The midfielder was more of a complete player than most realised – including Kevin Keegan, who discovered as much after seeing the player in action training for the Toon.
Years later, Batty’s Newcastle team-mate Robbie Elliott reflected, with bafflement, on the fact the midfielder retired with a goals-to-games ratio of one every 62 outings.
“How he didn’t score more goals given his ability with his left and right foot is incredible,” he said.
David Batty may have been the selfless grafter every team needs but arguably his finest moment was also his most selfish – and sublime.