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Dalian Atkinson was a class act both on and off the pitch, says Big Ron

By Tim Rich

Published 16/08/2016

What a finish: Dalian Atkinson scores against Man Utd in the League Cup final
What a finish: Dalian Atkinson scores against Man Utd in the League Cup final

Dalian Atkinson's death, shot by a police Taser outside his father's house while reportedly overwrought and emotional, did not mirror his life. At least not his football life. He smiled a lot.

The best-known photograph of Atkinson is of him holding the League Cup by the pitch at Wembley with his manager at Aston Villa, Ron Atkinson - a man whom Karren Brady once imagined to be his father.

In one sense the woman who is now West Ham's chief executive was right. Big Ron was a father figure to Dalian at both Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday (below) and, had he stayed fit, they might have won more than the League Cup.

"I cannot believe what has happened, it is an absolute tragedy, an absolute waste," Ron Atkinson reflected.

"He was one of the easiest guys you could imagine managing. He was happy-go-lucky, he was always smiling, always laughing."

Dalian never laughed or smiled quite so much as on the rain-spattered day in south London when he scored the goal of the inaugural Premier League season in October 1992.

Facing Wimbledon, Atkinson picked the ball up in his own half, rode three challenges, and then spotting Hans Segers off his line, he chipped the keeper from 20 yards. As he went over to the crowd, a Villa fan brought over an umbrella for him to celebrate under.

"My feeling about that goal was that, had it been scored at Old Trafford or Anfield, it would have become world-famous," said Ron Atkinson. "But because it was scored at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon with some empty terracing behind the goal, it didn't have quite that impact.

"I do believe that had Dalian stayed fit, Villa would have won the Premier League in 1993. Dalian and Dean Saunders were the best attacking partnership in the league, nobody could live with them.

"And then, just before Christmas, Dalian got injured, he couldn't come back until Easter and we lost a bit of momentum. Manchester United had a better team that season but we had the better strikers.

"He wasn't a footballer you ever worried about. Dalian had the knack of being able to produce in the biggest games.

"He wasn't quite so reliable in the run-of-the-mill fixtures which I think cost him when he went to Spain to play for Real Sociedad after Sheffield Wednesday were relegated. He could do it against Real Madrid but not Osasuna."

If Dalian's best goal was at Selhurst Park, his most important was at another unprepossessing venue, Prenton Park. There, in the first leg of the 1994 League Cup semi-final, with Tranmere leading 3-0, Atkinson scored with the final kick of the night. It gave Aston Villa the impetus to overturn the result in the second leg.

Dalian did not long outlast Big Ron's departure from Villa Park. He and Saunders both ended up in Istanbul, Atkinson with Fenerbahce, Saunders at Galatasaray.

The move did not work, there was a loan spell with Manchester City as they floundered in the second tier and his career petered out on football's distant shores, in Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

"He was unlucky," said Ron Atkinson. "Had he been born 10 years later, he would have been around when there was a dearth of English strikers.

"But he had to compete for an England place against the likes of Gary Lineker and then Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. It was a disappointment for him.

"But I will always remember a lovely, lovely man."

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