Matt Elliot is the best defender Oxford ever had, arriving from Scunthorpe in 1992 he formed a formidable partnership with Phil Gilchrist which, with Les Robinson and Mike Ford as full-backs makes one the the classic Oxford United back-fours.
Elliot was a giant, dominant in both boxes and not just a ‘knucklehead centre-back’, his goals against Swindon and Carlisle, a breathtaking long-range effort in 1996 showed what a class act he was. In that promotion campaign Oxford’s season was a tale of two halves. 17th at Christmas, in the final 17 games of the season we lost one – it was the only game Elliot didn’t play.
In the Championship we started to gain a foothold we’d lost years previously; Elliot was commanding at the back, Nigel Jemson scoring up front alongside Paul Moody. But, there was a goldrush in the Premier League and as soon as Elliot came to the attention of clubs in the division above his days at Oxford were numbered. We were drawn against Watford in the FA Cup in 1997, Elliot wasn’t playing, and the writing was on the wall. He’d scored a remarkable 21 goals in 148 appearances.
Elliot moved to Leicester City who were flying high in the Premier League for £1.6 million, a club record which stood for nearly 20 years until Kemar Roofe moved to Leeds in 2016. Elliot’s fee would be the equivalent of over £11m today. There, he established himself as one of the best defenders in the country. In 1999 he appeared in the League Cup Final against Spurs, losing 0-1. A year later, against Tranmere, he scored both goals in a 2-1 victory and captained the side to lift the trophy.
Born in Wandsworth, Elliot had been a late starter – he was 29 when he left us – although one of the best defenders in the league, Leicester were unfashionable and the England national side already had Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand ahead of him. In 1997, 10 months after leaving us, Elliot made his debut for Scotland in a friendly international against France.
Everything in Elliot’s career seemed to happen a year or two too late. He was selected for the 1998 Scotland World Cup squad in France. It was an ageing squad, but Craig Brown stuck with trusted 30-somethings Colin Calderwood and Colin Hendry for the opener against reigning champions Brazil. An obstinate Scottish display saw them lose 1-2 with only a Tommy Boyd own goal separating the sides.
Six days later, Scotland scraped a draw against Norway, and a week later they bowed out 0-3 against Morocco with David Weir partnering Hendry. Elliot didn’t get a sniff of the action.
Elliot then played in half of Scotland’s 2000 Euro qualifiers, scoring his only international goal against the Faroe Islands, before being ever-present through their 2002 failed World Cup qualifying tournament. Despite picking up 15 points, Scotland finished third behind Belgium and Croatia.
Elliot finished off with 18 caps, his last being the final qualifier against Latvia. Berti Vogts took over as manager and that was the end of his Scotland career.
Had the ’98 World Cup happened a year later or Elliot been born a year earlier, he probably would have played in France, in the end, he watched from the sidelines. A disappointment in an otherwise triumphant career.