Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Steve Heighway

1981 : Minnesota Kicks (U.S.A.)

Steven Heighway was a winger from Dublin, who became part of the most successful Liverpool team of all time. In 11 years with the Anfield club, the Irishman collected 5 First Division titles, 4 Charity Shields, 3 European Cups, 2 UEFA Cups, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup and 1 European Super Cup. This haul marks him as one of the most decorated Irish footballers of all time.

In addition to football, Heighway excelled in education, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Economics & Politics from the University of Warwick. This achievement earned him the nickname 'Big Bamber', after Bamber Gascoigne the host of University Challenge.

He would play under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, two of British football's greatest coaches. He also played alongside Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness.

He earned the first of his 34 Republic of Ireland caps on 23 September 1970 against Poland. He never managed to score a goal for Ireland, although he did have a goal disallowed against Bulgaria in a 1978 World Cup qualifier. 

Between 1979 and 1981, his appearances for the Reds became rarer and more sporadic. Heighway was by now in his early-30s and knew that to find regular football before retirement; he would have to leave Merseyside. Heighway's record at Anfield was 444 games and 76 goals.

He decided to move to the United States, and signed for the Minnesota Kicks.

This NASL franchise from Bloomington were established in 1976. They played at the city's 48000 capacity Metropolitan Stadium, or the Met as it was known. Between their foundation and Heighway's arrival, the Kicks had seen some success in the NASL. They finished 1st or 2nd every season, but failed to lift the Soccer Bowl. Match attendances were initially healthy too, with 1977's season seeing an average of 32,770. 

The club's new coach in 1981 was Englishman Geoff Barnett, a former Arsenal goalkeeper who had previously played for the Kicks. New team-mates included Scotland international Don Masson, former Aston Villa midfielder Ian Hamilton and ex-Birmingham defender Tony Want. However, Heighway was certainly the squad's most high-profile foreign import.

Heighway, back-row fourth from left, with the Kicks squad

Heighway's first game for the Kicks was on May 3 in the season's opening game against Montreal Impact. 22000 people came to the Met to witness a thrilling 3-3 thriller.

His first goal was on June 27 in a 4-0 home victory over Dallas Tornado, and his second strike came on July 29 in a 4-1 away win against Gerd Müller's Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

He scored again on August 9 against Toronto Blizzard, as the Kicks ran out 3-0 winners at home. He also managed to get on the score-sheet in an otherwise forgettable 7-2 thumping from Chicago Sting at Wrigley Field.

The Kicks finished the regular season as 2nd in the Central Division behind Chicago. In the playoffs, they defeated the Tulsa Roughnecks 4-1 on aggregate. The second leg against the Roughnecks would the Kicks' last ever match at the Met

However, they failed to defeat Fort Lauderdale in the Quarter Finals, and the season was over. Their last ever game was on September 5, where they limped off 3-0 down to the Strikers at the Lockhart Stadium in front of just 10000 fans.

Because of serious financial strains, dwindling attendances and a lack of corporate interest, the NASL was slowly declining. The close season of 1981 saw 6 teams fold alongside Minnesota. The league would continue for a further three years, but it's best years were behind it.

Heighway, for his part, had an industrious season in America, in spite of his age. He made over 30 appearances for the Kicks, scored 4 goals and created 8.

Heighway would remain in the United States throughout the 1980s, first playing indoor soccer for Philadelphia Fever and then youth coaching at Clearwater Charges. In 1989 he returned to Liverpool to take charge of the club's youth academy, bringing through the likes of Steve McManaman, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. He retired from football in 2007.
Heighway with the Fever indoor squad

Best remembered in Liverpool where his name is mentioned in The Fields of Anfield. In Minnesota he did his best and was a success in a sadly sinking ship.

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