Forever bonded with his song from the terraces, striker Bobby Zamora is back where his career caught fire to help Brighton and Hove Albion in their quest for the top flight, and although the club is in a largely different key to when he was last there, the mutual affection never faded.
In 17 seasons as a professional, Bobby Zamora has had an FA Cup and Europa League final, while also achieving England recognition and scoring the play-off final goals to take both West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers into the Premier League. It was, however, the frontman’s electric scoring form at Brighton in his early days that opened the doors, as he helped spearhead the Seagulls’ rise from the fourth to second tier.
Now back with the Sussex side after 12 years away, Bobby has been making some pivotal contributions in their Championship promotion challenge, drawing upon his extensive experience and also showing that his finisher’s instinct remains. While certain aspects will always stay the same, much has changed about the club he won back-to-back league titles with on their ascent to Division One.
Brighton have long since moved on from The Withdean, to the highly impressive American Express Community Stadium, and numerous players associated with the upper reaches of the game have worn the blue and white in recent years. You can find multiple members of the current squad with a background in top divisions around Europe, with one of them now well into his fourth season at the club after departing Valencia in 2012.
The veteran Spanish right-back has long since surpassed a century of appearances since his arrival and has undoubtedly become a favourite. He has worn the captain’s armband in the absence of Gordon Greer and Bobby explains how he also makes sure there is a sense of togetherness before the first whistle even goes.
“Bruno has a playlist for before games that everyone can put a song on, so it’s a mix of everyone’s selections.”
Football and music have overlapped in a multitude of ways for many decades now, bringing obvious and well-known examples of that connection, as well as wonderful hidden stories. On this site, the idea is to go beneath the surface of that, with male and female players from around the world uncovering the role music has in their lives, careers and the time spent with people around them.
Ex-England midfielder and manager Glenn Hoddle – himself a player who took his music love into a brief flirtation with a singing career – was the Tottenham Hotspur boss who gave Bobby his first shot at the Premier League in 2003. Little over a month into the 2003/04 season, Hoddle was let go by Spurs and replaced by former manager David Pleat as caretaker.
Bobby had struck the winner against boyhood team West Ham at White Hart Lane in a Carling Cup tie but in January 2004 he was given the chance to move on. Leeds United were interested, although the prospect of moving a long way north to join a struggling side who would be relegated that season was less of an attraction than signing for the side he supported as a kid, albeit in the second tier.
A move to the Hammers indeed transpired, but Bobby would have a year to wait until he returned to the Premier League with Alan Pardew’s team. After a gut-wrenching play-off final defeat to Crystal Palace they were back at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to avenge the loss as they beat Preston North End, with Bobby netting the only goal.
On their top-tier return in 2005/06, the Hammers achieved a 9th-place finish and were FA Cup runners-up, losing on penalties in a captivating final to a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool. One of those alongside Bobby that day in Cardiff was goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who recently featured on here, picking out a young defender from that team for his singing skills.
The ex-Trinidad and Tobago stopper also mentioned that teammate’s supreme self-confidence in those particular capabilities and Bobby made the same observation as he thought back over colleagues who’ve stuck in the mind for their vocal displays.
“Anton Ferdinand likes singing anyway, so probably Anton was the most memorable. He loves it and he’s always singing about the place.
“He thinks he’s really, really good. He’s not bad, but he thinks he’s a lot better than he is!”
A crowd of 70,275 were in the Millennium Stadium on May 30th 2005 to see Bobby’s goal edge West Ham past Preston and some nine years later in another Championship play-off final he repeated the feat for QPR against Derby County. This time it was in front of a colossal 87,348 at Wembley and in hugely dramatic circumstances as Harry Redknapp’s side snatched the prize after battling on following Gary O’Neil’s dismissal on the hour.
Four years prior to that, Bobby entered the Wembley action for the first time as an England player, coming on for the second half of the Three Lions’ 2-1 friendly win over Hungary. He won his second and most recent cap to date at the same venue in November 2011, starting for Fabio Capello’s side in the 1-0 win over Sweden in another friendly.
Along with the aforementioned FA Cup final with West Ham there was also the 2010 Europa League final for Fulham against Atlético Madrid in Hamburg, in which Bobby started as they were ultimately beaten 2-1 in extra-time by Diego Forlán’s second of the night. That Atlético team featured current Premier League stars in Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero, and Roy Hodgson’s Fulham had come up against many notable names en route to the final.
Bobby’s 19 goals that season had put him in contention for the World Cup in South Africa and his eight Europa League strikes included Fulham’s first in a memorable 4-1 (5-4 aggregate) win against Juventus in the last 16 at Craven Cottage, as well as one in each leg of the quarter-final with Wolfsburg. The big occasions tend to take care of it automatically, although every player needs their motivation at certain points, with many on here illustrating how music sparks that inside them.
It also has a part to play from one day to another for Bobby.
“Yeah, it’s important. Obviously being in the car for a long time listening to music is something that certainly passes the time.
“It’s nice to have something to nod your head to and have a little sing-along to.”
A Bristol Rovers trainee, Bobby’s scoring prowess was on show in loans with Bath City and Brighton in 2000, with the latter becoming a permanent switch in August of that year for £100,000 during Micky Adams’ tenure as Seagulls manager. In the three years that followed, he’d reach somewhat iconic status with the Albion, scoring 83 goals and making such an impression that he was voted the club’s best ever player in a 2014 poll conducted as part of the Football League’s 125th anniversary.
Always associated by football fans with the song ‘That’s Zamora’ (a reworking of Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’), Bobby’s moves since he first departed Brighton have put him under the initiation spotlight on more than one occasion.
“I’ve had to sing a few times, as you do. The first time’s probably more nerve-wracking but you just get used to it after a while.”
A West Ham boy who grew up in Manor Park, Bobby played for the club as a schoolboy along with fellow future England internationals John Terry, Ledley King and Paul Konchesky. Those three were also teammates in his teenage Sunday league days with Senrab, as were the likes of former Aston Villa left-back Jlloyd Samuel and ex-Colchester United captain Kemal Izzet.
Experiencing Upton Park for the first time with his mum as West Ham hosted Oxford, Bobby looked up to the Hammers striking star at the time, Tony Cottee, and would occasionally be around him and the other pros when he was training at Chadwell Heath as a youngster. From that kind of time period, Bobby also remembers the first song he ever had in his collection, even if Eddy Grant’s name escapes him!
“It was a record – I didn’t buy it but it was the first one I ever got – and it was ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’. The artist has skipped my mind, but it’s a reggae artist anyway.”
A scorer on his Hammers debut in the win at Bradford as well as on his home bow against Cardiff, Bobby rates his goal in the final Highbury clash with Arsenal in February 2006 as one of his big favourites. That was in a 3-2 victory and in April 2007 he notched against the Gunners again, although this time his lofted effort over Jens Lehmann was all the more important in the side’s improbable relegation escape under Alan Curbishley.
Survival culminated in that famous final day win over champions Manchester United at Old Trafford, with the only goal coming from one of Bobby’s favourite players he’s ever worked alongside, Carlos Tevez. The characters in the squad during Bobby’s time at the club made it enjoyable, in addition to the big moments on the field of course.
Injury meant he didn’t play from August to March of his final campaign (2007/08) and although he recalls being told he’d be getting a new contract that season he was informed in July 2008 that a bid from Fulham had been accepted. It was a huge wrench to leave but his switch to West London, although not without its hardships, would eventually bring him a European final and his England opportunity.
He would of course remain in London when he joined QPR in January 2012 and hidden away with his football memories of the capital is one of a musical description.
“I haven’t really been to a festival or anything like that but the best gig I’ve been to was Jamie Foxx. It was years and years ago, when he was literally just coming from comedy to music, as such.
“It was in London and he was just unreal. He was playing the piano and singing and it was a small venue so it was quite intimate and very good.”
Leading up to the 2006 FA Cup final, West Ham’s goalkeeping coach and distinguished former stopper Ludek Miklosko brought in his Czech compatriot Petr Cech from Chelsea to face penalties in training from the Hammers squad. Bobby remembers scoring all six of his spot kicks but in the final itself he was denied by Liverpool’s Pepe Reina (along with Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand) in a shootout defeat that devastated him.
Nevertheless, for all the setbacks there have been successes that will live much longer in the memory. Bobby has been the kind of teammate that a number of strike partners, including Andy Johnson and Charlie Austin, have roundly appreciated, although he is a player with 182 career goals to his own name.
Taking careful notice of how senior figures like Gustavo Poyet and Jamie Redknapp approached their game while at Spurs, Bobby impressed manager Peter Taylor in his first spell at Brighton for his desire to improve, catching his eye with how he opted to use his less-favoured right foot in a finishing drill despite not being prompted to. Ex-West Ham colleague Teddy Sheringham was another he took inspiration from and the Champions League winner sent Bobby a message of congratulations when he first made the England squad, also telling him that the nerves of the first session would soon turn to a feeling that he deserved to be there.
With a 17-year career behind him, Bobby has seen plenty as his path has encompassed each of England’s four professional leagues and much more besides. As he was asked for the advice he’d share with the version of himself just starting out in the game, it was resilience and a willingness to learn from teachers and peers which were most strongly in his thoughts.
“Just listen to the coaches and take on board what they’ve got to say. Utilise the assets at the club as much as possible, on and off the pitch.
“It’s taught me that you can do anything you put your mind to really. You’ll get knockbacks and it’s all about character and how you come back from them.
“I’ve had a few knocks in the past and certainly come back from them.”
He may have celebrated his 35th birthday last month but Bobby has had a strong say in Brighton’s promotion efforts this season. Brought in at the start of August by his former Spurs coach Chris Hughton, he naturally had to take his time to bring his sharpness up to speed but he was given a sizeable first reward with his 89th-minute winner against Leeds at Elland Road in October.
That was his first for the club since a strike at Grimsby Town in May 2003 at the end of a season in which his 14 goals were not enough to save them from relegation back to the third tier ahead of his club-record £1.5million transfer to Spurs. This time around, the Albion are battling at the other end of the table, having gone unbeaten for the first 21 Championship games.
Three days after that decisive effort at Leeds, Bobby did the same at home to Bristol City in a 2-1 win and also came up with the clincher against Birmingham at The Amex in November. The pattern extended into the early weeks of 2016 with him netting the only goal at Blackburn on January 16th and he currently sits on seven goals from 24 games this season as Brighton are perched in 4th place with 30 played, just three points from Hull City at the Championship summit.
Named in the Division Two and Three Team of the Year during his initial stay with the club, the esteem in which Bobby is held at Brighton was recognised by winger Kazenga LuaLua at the season’s beginning as he gave the number 25 shirt back to the man who enjoyed so much joy in it all those years before. The 3-2 victory at home to Bolton at the weekend was the Seagulls’ fourth consecutive league win and Bobby assisted on Tomer Hemed’s goal with a superb flick.
We might yet see him in a Premier League frontline for the club where he made his name, but beyond his playing days he knows just where you’ll find him.
“Well I love fishing, so when I retire I shall be on the lakes as much as I can!”
One of those he enjoys fishing with is West Ham captain Mark Noble and alongside the likes of Carlos Tevez the midfielder is someone who would surely be in with a shout of making Bobby’s team if he was to choose a line-up from his career teammates. That is the way each of the interviews are concluded on here, with the player asked to choose four current or former counterparts they’d have with them in a 5-a-side team.
However, Bobby opted to put together a quintet entirely from Brighton’s ‘Class of 2015/16’, so here’s who got his vote to start for his side.
“Seeing as I’m a striker I would pick myself as that and I’d want two centre-halves. Actually…I’ll just have Dunky (Lewis Dunk) at the back.
“Siddy (Steve Sidwell) in midfield, and currently, (Anthony) Knockaert, and myself. The goalie – Stocko (David Stockdale).”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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