It’s the last home game of 2001/02 and United, already relegated to Division Three, are awarded a late penalty. Throughout the season supporters have been calling for their hero, goalkeeper Lionel Perez, to be allowed to take a spot kick.

Given the nod, he strides purposefully forward and blasts the ball straight down the middle. In stopping the thunderbolt, Tranmere keeper Joe Murphy is winded, injures an ankle, and is stretchered off.

The miss didn’t matter. This was Lionel’s swansong; his chance to say au revoir in fittingly flamboyant style to his fanatical admirers on the terraces.

A mutual admiration society had been founded a little over two seasons before, when he arrived for a nine-game period on loan from Newcastle and then, with United breaking the bank to scrape his wages together, signed a two-year deal.

Lionel is a native of the Occitan town of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, but his addition to the U’s ranks provided much more than a soupçon of French flair. He was simply an outstanding keeper whose CV already featured spells at Bordeaux, Sunderland and Newcastle.

Capable of breathtaking, match-winning saves, he could also rouse both teammates and supporters with passionate, fire-breathing displays that frequently had the Abbey in ecstatic uproar. ‘God in a perm’ read one reverent banner.

In a total of 104 appearances, many of them in conditions of dire adversity, Lionel amazed, dazzled, triumphed, roared, ranted and, yes, infuriated occasionally. All love affairs have their rocky moments. On t’aime, Lionel.

 

 

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