- Four time champions back at Toulon U21 tournament
- Not won since 1994 and the days of the Yardie moral panic
- First £1 million teen inspired them to victory
England have won the Toulon Under 21 tournament four times. The news that they have accepted an invitation to participate at Toulon next year brings back memories of their last victory in 1994.
A squad containing Sol Campbell, Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Fowler, Dominic Matteo, Trevor Sinclair, Ray Parlour and Dean Gordon under the wise stewardship of Dave Sexton defeated Portugal 2-0 in the final.
Their star performer was the first million pound teenager in English football, Bruce Dyer. Signed by Crystal Palace for £1.25 million from Watford in March 1994 Dyer was an unorthodox and occasionally brilliant striker.
Hugely one footed but deceptively strong and faster than average, his game was about turning and powering away from defenders and finishing, nearly always, with his right foot.
He would often create and convert his own chances. It was easy to see what tempted Palace to buy Dyer – he was a something from nothing player. His problem was consistency. When he was good he was terrifically good. But when he was bad he was dire.
Former Palace defender, and current Wales manager, Chris Coleman described Dyer as his strongest teammate. The rest of the Palace squad, in reference to the label given to Jamaican gangsters, called him ‘Yardie.’ He terrorised the defences at Toulon 94.
Dyer scored against the USA in the group stages, hit the winner against Belgium in the semis and then scored again in the final. At the age of 18 his career had already reached its pinnacle. There were plenty of excellent goals and notable performances still to come but Dyer’s stock never peaked above the £1.25 million Palace paid for him.
At the end of the 1996-1997 season, where he scored 17 league goals and helped Palace to promotion, there was talk of a move to Atletico Madrid. It didn’t happen and Dyer to Atleti joins the long list of great transfers that never happened. The Yardie stayed at Palace.
Regardless of whether you read Dyer’s nickname as an example of the cultural pertinence or insensitivity of football banter it is highly emblematic of life in 1990s Britain.
At the time the British media were in the midst of a moral panic about Jamaican gangsters operating in the UK. Sensational newspaper reports about violent gangland clashes were commonplace with every murder covered in forensic detail.
“Yardie hitmen carrying out contract killings”
“Yardies using increasingly brutal violence against rivals”
“Police damned over Yardie chaos”
It was not just the Daily Mail peddling such sensational headlines. From the mid-1990s to early 2000s papers across the board, including left-leaning broadsheets like the Guardian and Independent, were full of stories about the “Yardie terror gripping the streets of London.” It was against this background that Dyer played the best football of his career.
From his one footed playing style, to the slant of his hair to his choice of extracurricular activity, Dyer was very much a player of his times.
Away from football he was an accomplished DJ playing garage on the legendary London pirate radio station Dream FM and at numerous clubs and raves. He now devotes himself to more wholesome pursuits.
After retiring in 2008 Dyer devoted his life to religious and charitable activities. He runs the Bruce Dyer Love Life Soccer & Sports School and has an events company, Love Life UK,.
England have won little else since the 1994 Toulon tournament. That Dyer’s former Crystal Palace teammate Gareth Southgate will take the England Under 21 squad to south France next year is good news. Hopefully they will perform as well as he did twenty summers ago.
— Bruce Dyer (@Bruce10Dyer) January 16, 2013