There is a photo which has done the rounds on several Liverpool FC-related pages on social media that pictures the Reds’ starting line-up from the 0-0 draw against Utrecht at the end of the 2010/11 Europa League group phase. The photo is frequently referenced as a stark reminder to Kopites of some of the players who were once considered good enough to play for Liverpool in Europe and the majority of those pictured remain the subjects of derisory comments. Where the Reds’ starting XI from Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City included Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, the team which began that dead rubber against Utrecht in December 2010 featured Nathan Eccleston.
Born in the area where Newton Heath FC later became Manchester United, he joined Liverpool as a 15-year-old in 2006 and three years later he made his first team debut for the Reds as a substitute in a League Cup defeat at Arsenal. His league debut came the following weekend in a 3-1 reverse at Fulham and, following a spell on loan at Huddersfield (then of League One), he was among those given a chance in the Merseysiders’ Europa League campaign in 2010/11. However, the match for which Eccleston is best remembered has gone down in infamy as the nadir of Roy Hodgson’s brief and painful managerial tenure. On the night that Liverpool lost on penalties in a League Cup match at Anfield against Northampton Town, it was his miss from 12 yards which set up the winning spot kick for the Cobblers.
Eccleston’s one and only start for Liverpool’s first team came in the aforementioned goalless draw against Dutch side Utrecht in a fixture that the Reds simply needed to fulfil. A few weeks later, he was loaned to Charlton for the remainder of the season and, with Hodgson being fired in favour of Kenny Dalglish, the young forward would never feature for Liverpool under the Scot’s management. His 2011/12 season consisted of five matches during a one-month loan at Rochdale and while younger Academy players like Raheem Sterling were being given opportunities with the Reds’ first team, Eccleston was becoming a forgotten man.
He ended his association with Liverpool in August 2012, signing for a Blackpool side that fell one match short of an immediate return to the Premier League. If he thought that the move to Bloomfield Road would kick-start his career, though, he would have been mistaken. He was barely in the door when he was loaned to Tranmere, where he played just once before injury ended the loan spell prematurely. During the 2013/14 season, Eccleston had two further loan moves, Carlisle and then Coventry the clubs where he pitched up with a brevity that could draw comparisons with the scene from The Simpsons where Grampa walks into the burlesque house and turns once before exiting a few seconds later.
Blackpool released him in 2014 and, after being linked with a move to India, he instead ventured northward to Partick Thistle of the Scottish Premiership. He started well with the Glasgow outfit but they cancelled his contract within six months and a spell at Kilmarnock proved even more abortive, lasting for all of three months to the end of the 2014/15 campaign. Having featured for 10 British clubs without reaching a century of appearances in total, Eccleston took a punt on moving to Hungary, where he joined struggling top flight outfit Bekescsaba in March 2016. After scoring on his debut, he played just four more times before ending his professional football career that summer.
Just like another former Liverpool man, Vegard Heggem (the subject of this column last week), Eccleston embraced his entrepreneurial side after hanging up his boots, starting a women’s sports clothing company named Peaches Sportswear. Having first come to public attention as a teenager with Liverpool, he turned 27 on the day last December when Mohamed Salah scored twice at Anfield in a 2-1 win over Leicester. The Egyptian is 18 months younger than Eccleston, highlighting the sharp contrast in those two individuals’ career paths. Such is football; such is life.