little while ago, MEHSTG reported the news that Espen Baardsen had
taken to the road on a journey around the world after turning his
back on the game. How did this happen, when he was such a promising
keeper at White Hart Lane ?? Howard Francis looks at where
it all went wrong.
young American arrived at Mill Hill one day and was thrust into Pat
Hollandís training session with the youth team players at the callow
age of just 14. The young keeper had been trolling around
California getting matches where he could and using every link that
he and his mother could think of to get him in at a top club for
was going through his motherís home country of Norway that Espen
arrived at Tottenham. Managing to get to national goalkeeper Erik
Thorstvedt, he arranged to receive the young glove-man at the
Premier League club. He made a couple of trips over to show what he
could do and eventually he was signed in August 1996. His family
insisted he finish his studies first and this might be why he is
going the way he currently is. Therefore, Spurs had to accept that
they had a year to wait before he could come to England, even though
Espen was now keeping goal for the national USA youth (Under-18)
side and performing well for San Francisco All Blacks.
came to Tottenham on a free transfer and was soon making progress
through the Norway national teams, becoming the Under-21 keeper.
Where Espen started off in the reserves, he soon broke into the side
once Erik the Viking had retired and Ian Walker got injured. Coming
on at Anfield to replace the floppy-haired goalie, he did well for
the rest of the game and although Spurs were close to the bottom of
the table, he kept Tottenham in the hunt to pull away from the
relegation zone until Walker returned to fitness and the first team
in March 1998. one of his last games was the home 1-0 win over
Bolton Wanderers, in which he produced a full-length dive to tip a
fierce drive around the post Ö a stop that won the Sky TVís Save of
the Season award.
Walker was in the team from then until September 1998, but his poor
form saw a change in the possession of the gloves. A first match
clean sheet in a 1-0 win at Everton (in Christian Grossí last match
as manager) and a man of the match performance at home to Blackburn
in the next match lead to Espen managing to impress the national
coach enough to get his debut against Latvia and he won four full
caps for his country in all, but with his descent into the
Nationwide League and other Norwegian keepers getting more coverage
in the Premier League, he fell out of the picture. A real loss,
because he was the youngest keeper at the 1998 World Cup as part of
the Norway squad.
was during this run that Espen had taken over as first choice when
George Graham arrived at the club to replace Gross. It didnít take
long for GG to drop Baardsen and his game against West Ham on 28th
November 1998 was his last for the club. His crime was not holding
a ball into the box, leaving Sinclair an easy task of tapping home.
Not something Walker was prone to of course !! This left hi kicking
his heels in the reserves and on the bench waiting for the call that
never came. Although a keen lover of Tottenham Hotspur, he decided
to take the move when it was offered, so that he could get back to
He only made 22
league appearances and played five cup games in his time at
Tottenham, moving on to Watford for £1,250,000 in August 2000 thanks
to George Graham, who didnít rate him one bit. He always plumped
for Walker if he was available, but then when he signed Sullivan,
all of a sudden, the Scot was the one who could not be dropped !!
Espen stayed at Vicarage Road for two years playing 41 matches and
five cup matches again, before he fell out of favour with Alec
Chamberlain taking over between the sticks and he was the second
keeper at the club all of a sudden. With the Hornets going through
a tough time financially, after Gianluca Vialli left, the club
decide that it had to remove some of its big wage earners to try to
balance the books and Baardsen was allowed to leave to go to Everton
on a short term deal to cover their injury crisis.
his last appearance at White Hart Lane was the only match he played
for the Toffees, while Steve Simonsen and Paul Gerarrd were all out
of action. Richard Wright was due to play, but Espen made his
Everton debut in bizarre circumstances, as Richard Wright damaged
his knee in the warm-up and Baardsen had to quickly prepare himself
for an appearance he probably didnít expect to make. It wasnít a
happy return for the popular goalkeeper as they lost 4-3, but he did
get a good reception form the Spurs fans, who remembered what he had
done in his limited opportunities in goal for the club.
weird thing about this was that he sat in the Lower East Stand about
a month previously to watch us play against Arsenal and went almost
unnoticed. I caught his eye, but he quickly looked away and when
down in the concourse below, looked as though he wanted to be
invisible, turning to the wall to avoid being recognised.
was a shame to see him like this as he had served Tottenham well and
if anything, they let him down than it being the other way around.
When he gave up
the game he loved he said, ďa footballer who is not passionate about
football will not get much success or enjoyment out of the game.''
For someone of 25 years of age, this is an indictment of the way the
game swallows players up and spits them out, but more than that he
was not willing to go through the motions, picking up his pay packet
at the end of the month just for the sake of it.
During his time at Spurs and Watford, the fans had nothing but good
things to say about him and itís not every player you can say that
for. His warm charm won people over as he was willing to take time
to talk and sign autographs and he was always throwing his gloves
(Erik style) into the crowd. His mature attitude contrasts with
many petulant footballers, who live out their childish (mainly
because they are so cosseted) lives wasting their money and their
free time. At least he has made a decision on what to do in the
future and when he has finished his travels, he will go back to
Economics studies and look for a career in that area of work.
and athletic, Espen could have been here a long time, but like many
before him, he felt he had to leave to make his reputation
elsewhere. With his outlook on life, it is a disgrace that football
has lost not just a talented player, but also someone who a player
who can see that football is just a game and there is more, much
more, to life than just playing that game.