18th September, 1994: Birmingham City vs. Peterborough United. 10,000 fans look on as a 17 year old boy takes his first tentative steps onto the St Andrews turf and into the professional game. Up front for Posh stands Sean Farrell, a one-time bit-part Luton forward with an unhealthy Watford habit, best known for skipping around in his trainers during Soccer Six tournaments. Maybe he offered a word of encouragement to young Tyler, we’ll never know; just as the boy between the sticks could never know, as he picked the four Birmingham goals out of his net that day, how his and Farrell’s histories might one day intertwine again.
1994! Wet look gel, psychedelic Keepers’ tops and Bon Jovi on Top of the Pops. A train ride away on the very day of our future number one’s Brummie debut Luton fans were recovering from the derby day before where a Paul Telfer double gave a Barcode-kitted Town a 4-2 win at Vicarage Road. I was 11; god knows how old you were, mate.
Mark Tyler may have lived an entire Steve McNulty’s worth of life before Luton (involving an unbecoming and appearance-less loan stint at the allotments down the M1), but watching him stride out today in front of the same fans that once berated Farrell for his yellow-leanings decades earlier, he looks as part of the Kenilworth Road furniture as the creaking ladder to the TV gantry.
Arriving in 2009, Tyler’s Luton tenure has coincided with our least glamorous hour. While there may have been less flash bulbs in the last six years than once lit up Kenilworth Road during Pleat’s Cup run in ’94, the professionalism that emanates from Luton’s current safest pair of hands harks back to those players that got me hooked as a kid.
While he might have a haircut you can set your watch by and the trustiest boot a back-pass could ever wish to meet, don’t assume this East Anglian to be unspectacular, far from it. Tyler is a bona fide match winner. He’s the came-out-of-nowhere bottom corner shot-stopper of a centre half’s wet dream. He delivers clean sheets to Cockneys like a steely-eyed Dot Cotton in unseasonably short sleeves and tips more shots over the bar than a pogo-ing publican on a P&O Ferry.
I know he won’t be around forever but, while Elliot Justham has looked more than capable as he waits in the wings to begin his own Luton glove affair, Tyler’s continuing knack for rescuing a point for us here or three for us there is unstinting at 38.
A look around the world at who else is still doing it every week at any kind of level at his vintage tells the tale of Tyler’s achievement. Buffon’s a mere baby. Totti? Alright, I’ll give you that one (and definitely Google 42 year old Rogério Ceni while you’re here) but the Knocking-on 40 Club is a pretty exclusive one for footballers these days, and for me he’s still first name on the team sheet.
The thing I’ll miss most of all, should Mark ever become mortal like the rest of us and pack it in, is that little goalkeeping tick of his. You know the one.
Before he rolls the ball to his feet, Mark Tyler spins 360 degrees like an eager dog chasing its elusive tail, just to check no opportunistic striker is lurking behind to ruin his day.
Presumably that once happened to Luton’s number one. I’d wager only once. Maybe it was that pesky Sean Farrell in training. A McGeehan-and-a-bit ago.