Edinho, the romantic hero

In hindsight the transfer rumour must have been complete rubbish; but when my friend told me that Everton were lining up a £1.9 million move to sign Edinho, I was happy to report it to anyone and everyone who would listen as conclusive proof of the Bradford City striker’s brilliance.

Edinho rocked up at Valley Parade at a time where foreign imports in England were still relatively new, and the rarity of a Brazilian especially caught the attention of football followers beyond City supporters. I wanted my new found hero to be considered as worthy as the Premier League strikers of teams my school friends supported. Shearer, Cole, Hasselbaink, Edinho. He must belong in the same bracket, if Everton want to sign him.

Not that I wanted him to leave City for Goodison of course. Edinho had an effect on me that no footballer ever has or will again in that my love and adulation for him almost matched the affection I had for the club. Forget the merits of form and ability – when it came to team selection, if Edinho was left on the bench I felt disappointed. Back then if I could select someone to score the winning goal on Saturday it would have been Edinho, and when he did find the net I was even more ecstatic about a City goal than usual.

Edinho’s exoticness blew my impressionable teenage mind. At a time when the Brazilian Ronaldo was the world’s best player, the shaven-headed Edinho was a passable imitation of the gap-toothed genius. His silky skills, his dribbling ability, his fancy flicks – I lapped it all up.

The hero-worshipping would include turning up early to every home game so I could get him to autograph my programme at the front of the Kop while he warmed up. Home game after home game, his signature appears on the covers of my programme collection. I’d like to think that in time he grew to recognise me, though in truth I was just one of hundreds of young fans who queued up for his squiggle every other week.

In return for the support we and other fans provided, Edinho embraced the move to England and Valley Parade in a manner that many better paid and more talented players since would have done well to emulate. He clearly loved playing for City and there were numerous stories – many hilarious – about how he and his family adapted to Yorkshire life. The enthusiasm on the pitch was infectious, best exemplified by the weird and wonderful range of goal celebrations he performed which ensured his goals felt extra special. His nickname would surely make a great name for a website.

The move to Everton never happened – if it was ever a remote possibility – and in time the progress of Bradford City passed Edinho by. The promotion season of 1998-99 began with a home defeat to Stockport and Edinho in the team, but big spending on strikers Lee Mills and Isaiah Rankin saw him relegated to the bench and soon enough stuck in the reserves. It took me a while to warm to Rankin, knowing the pacy youngster was taking Edinho’s starting place. But soon enough Rankin himself was being overtaken by Gordon Watson and Robbie Blake in manager Paul Jewell’s plans; it was a long way back for Edinho.

Winning each week, playing the most enthralling football I’ve seen from City before or since, softened the blow; but I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness that Edinho was missing out. I remember his last appearance – sub at home to Bury in a 3-0 win – and feeling desperate for him to score. He barely got a touch of the ball, and soon after was loaned to Dunfermline before returning to the stiffs and then leaving forever to Portugal.

But I got to have one last moment with him: Norwich home in March, a 4-1 thrashing where Jamie Lawrence scored that memorable solo goal. After the game me and my friends found our way to the door of the home dressing room and collected the autographs of every member of the squad – a thrilling occasion. After having a chat with Mills and Jewell about the game, we noticed some reserves having a kick about on the pitch – among them Edinho. I shouted out his name and then waved as he looked over, he responded with that iconic thumbs up he gave on the pitch at times, usually when struggling to understand instructions from the City bench. See, he does know who I am…honest.

Beyond the good and sad times, the romanticising of Edinho largely comes from the fact his time at City occurred before the cynicism that weighs down football supporting these days became so widespread. The internet was around back then, but not as commonly available as it is today and not to the point where the message board culture of slating players had developed. Sure, grumbles about players’ weaknesses and booing of underachievers occurred, but the network of supporter opinion that is so easy to tap into these days was more fragmented and concealed.

I heard complaints of Edinho from others; I wasn’t blind to his shortcomings myself. But the negative undercurrent that comes with football supporting today was less noticeable and this meant people preferred to be positive about Edinho and even – shock horror – accept his game had weaknesses. Much of the reason for that was Edinho’s positive persona; it’s why he captured a permanent place in the heart of myself and countless others, and it’s why his ultimately unremarkable contribution to the club will never be forgotten.

Everton’s loss if you ask me.