Vitālijs Astafjevs (born April 3, 1971 in Riga) is one of Latvian football’s greatest players who bafflingly spent the apex of his career at Bristol Rovers.
When Latvia captain Astafjevs signed for Bristol Rovers a few eyebrows were raised, but most people assumed it was a stepping-stone to the upper echelons of the English game.
Instead it proved to be a four-year period of having the shit kicked out of him by no-nonsense lower league hatchet men and plummeting towards semi-pro status while being hollered at by an incomprehensible gaggle of slack-jawed yokels.
‘I am fluent in English, but I never understand a word anyone says to me,’ Astafjevs admitted in an interview. ‘The gaffer is the worst – he is a strange skeletal man with an agricultural accent and an oddball sense of humour.’
That man was Ian Holloway, who had taken time out from writing down his whimsical thoughts to sign Astafjevs, who he labelled ‘better than a posh wank in my mother-in-law’s shed.’
While Rovers failed to impress, Astafjevs lit up League One and League Two.
Sadly that made him a target for less gifted professionals and on one memorable occasion Oldham’s defence responded to his early goal by showing some professionalism and experience, nearly killing the Riga native with a succession of savage attacks.
In the end Astafjevs quite rightly got the hell out of Bristol and signed for Austrian side Admira Wacker.
Astafjevs conforms to the Latvian tradition of having plural names, which is almost uniformly followed by his national teammates such as Marians Pahars, Aleksandrs Kolinko and Dzintars Zirnis. It really is a very silly language.