Carlton Palmer: The England expat exploring new horizons in China

By Hector NunnsSports writer
Carlton Palmer scored his only England goal against San Marino in 1993
Palmer, who won 18 caps, scored his only England goal against San Marino in 1993

David Platt plundered four in one game. So too Ian Wright. Paul Ince, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe have all bagged a brace.

A fixture against San Marino is as good an opportunity as any for an England footballer to boost his international scoring stats.

England have racked up 26 goals in their four previous games against the largely amateur outfit from the microstate in the north-east of Italy, a bonanza Rooney, Welbeck and others will be keen to cash in on in Thursday's European Championship qualifier at Wembley.

The list of scorers even includes the much maligned Carlton Palmer - placed second in one newspaper's list of the worst England players of all timeexternal-link - who notched his only international goal from 18 caps in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley in February 1993.

Even that highlight - a low, diving header from a Les Ferdinand cross - brought a touchline quip from then England manager Graham Taylor: "Carlton…what was he doing in the box? Didn't we tell him to hold the middle of the pitch?"

The pain of World Cup qualifying failure
"We were not as good a team [in 1993] as this England team, I know that. The quality overall was not as high, and after an experience like that you had to stay strong to deal with all of the flak. But we also had some bad luck. There was a wonder-goal equaliser for Norway at Wembley at the death, we were 2-0 up on Holland at Wembley, and still ahead when Gazza got his cheekbone smashed by Jan Wouters with no red card. Then we had to go away to Poland and Norway in five days at the end of a hard season, before the Holland away game when we all saw what happened."

The ultimate failure of that qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup - memorably recorded in an infamous fly-on-the-wall television documentary - saw Palmer pilloried like no other player of his generation, emblematic, it seemed, of everything that was wrong with English football during a dark period on the international stage.

To heap the many and varied ills of a country's football woes on the shoulders of one player always seemed harsh; Palmer was appreciated by team-mates and managers for his industry and work ethic, even if neutral observers saw little of aesthetic value.

But the strength of character that helped Palmer cope with the criticism aimed at Taylor and his England team has also brought rewarding challenges overseas following the end of his playing career and an unfulfilling spell in management at Stockport County and Mansfield Town.

Palmer, 48, has combined work as a media pundit in Dubai and China with coaching in international schools, setting up his own academy in 2012. He is now a decidedly upmarket 'Head of PE', the director of sport at a brand-new international off-shoot of Wellington College,external-link the Berkshire independent school, in Shanghai.

Carlton Palmer
Palmer, who is learning Chinese, coaches children from Taiwan and elsewhere whose parents send them to Wellington College in Shanghai

Sitting in his office in a huge red-brick edifice rising out of a development zone amid acres of playing fields, the former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds midfielder is certainly at ease with himself and his new life in the world's most populous city. So how did Palmer end up in the Far East?

"The headmaster, David Cook, a friend who I worked with at Repton Schoolexternal-link in Dubai, had asked me before with Wellington's school in Tianjing (the largest coastal city in northern China) - but this time it felt right," said Palmer.

"My wife is a teacher too so she works in Shanghai, and three of my kids are at university back in the UK so there was an opportunity to come here and do this. It is a fantastic city. China sneaks up on you."

Carlton Palmer makes a point as manager of Stockport County in 2001
Palmer was player-manager at Stockport for two years before a 10-month stint as Mansfield boss

Palmer and wife Lucy have a luxury apartment in the trendy Xintiandi district, where many of the city's 300,000 expatriate community congregate for work and play.

It is a long way from Mansfield's Field Mill ground, where Palmer wound up his involvement in English football by resigning as manager nine years ago, fed up with the abuse he was taking from supporters.

Having decided that football management at home was an increasingly thankless task, Palmer is in no hurry to give it another go.

"Years ago I wasn't considering anything other than a career coaching in professional football after playing," he said. "But I have turned down numerous opportunities to get back into football at home. I was finding it was not as it was before.

"Part of me would still love to crack management, but you just don't get given the time and quality of life is important too, and I was lucky in that I was able to move on and do something else.

"I had a great career playing in professional football and achieved everything I wanted. I knew there would be life afterwards, and it is fantastic seeing the kids here respond the way they do."

One of his former managers, Ron Atkinson, once told him that "in your career you will have it one time where everything is right - the city, the club, the team, the fans, the success, the camaraderie, the manager, everything".

England players
Palmer (third from left) played alongside Chris Woods, Paul Gascoigne, David Platt, John Barnes and Nigel Clough for England in the early 1990s

For the Black Country-born Palmer, that was at Hillsborough, where he played more than 200 games in five years after leaving first club West Brom and helped the Owls reach both domestic cup finals in 1993.

He still carries a torch for Wednesday and retains strong links with the Steel City, but south Yorkshire seems a lot more than 6,000 miles away from the Shanghai skyline and Huangpu River with its waterside landmarks where he now resides.

There is the occasional reminder of home in China. A big snooker fan who used to play against boxer Naseem Hamed on his full-size table in Sheffield, Palmer recently attended the Shanghai Masters while five-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan was in town. Another ex-England international, former Spurs goalkeeper Ian Walker, is also working in the city, coaching at Super League side Shanghai East Asia.

But the England expat certainly seems settled in his new surroundings, far from the country where his efforts in an international shirt went largely unappreciated.

"We can see a life for ourselves here for a few years, and coming to China has been a great experience," he adds. "I know there are plans to open other schools in the region - so there could also be more exciting opportunities ahead."