And where better to start on this particular blog than...
Ben - My Favourite Footballer Ever Is.......................Alan Shearer
My favourite ever player? As predictable as they come, I’m afraid.
As a schoolboy playing for Wallsend Boys Club, Alan Shearer was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity of a trial with his beloved Newcastle Utd. Unfortunately, our staff famously elected to stick him between the sticks for half the game, and that was that. He pitched up at Southampton, where as a 17-year-old he scored a hat-trick against Arsenal on his debut. It was a mistake that was to cost us £15m to rectify.
July 1996, and the dust was settling on the European Championships. England had gone agonisingly close to the Final, defeated by the old enemy Germany on penalties. Shearer, who the previous season had fired unfashionable but wealthy Blackburn to the title, ended up as the tournament’s top scorer with five, his nearest rivals managing only three.
As for us Newcastle fans, we had just experienced one of the most thrilling seasons in our history, but ultimately one that ended in spectacular and traumatic failure as Keegan’s Entertainers squandered a 15 point lead to gift the title to Man Utd. We had spent the close season licking our wounds, consoling ourselves with the knowledge that in Les Ferdinand, Faustino Asprilla, Peter Beardsley and David Ginola we had more than enough firepower to challenge again the following season.
The only person who didn’t feel the same way, it seems, was the manager, who smashed the club record to poach Shearer from under Alex Ferguson’s big red nose. (He wouldn’t have gone to Old Trafford anyway, his antipathy of Man Utd being just another of his admirable attributes.) Cue scenes of absolute euphoria. We loved it, just loved it. He scored his first Toon goal against Wimbledon in August that year and went on to hit 28 in 40 games in his first season on Tyneside.
September 2005, and he’s still here. His hair may have thinned, and his pace disappeared, but given the right service he still has an unerring eye for goal. Things haven’t quite gone to plan during the ten seasons since he signed, his trophy haul consisting of just that solitary championship medal won while at Blackburn. A player of his talent and ability deserves so much more. That summer he could have gone anywhere he wanted. He could have named his club. Regardless of the enormity of his wage packet, to choose Newcastle in the first place and then to remain loyal to his boyhood heroes for that length of time signifies a major self-sacrifice, one for which we can’t be grateful enough. Where would we be without him?
Of course, Shearer has his critics. The vast majority of those are opposition fans who dislike his aggressive and physical approach. Even at the age of 35, the player once labelled “Mary Poppins” by Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall makes sure his marker knows he’s been in a game. Admittedly he does bend the rules on occasion, but often he’s more sinned against than sinning and his reputation unfairly precedes him.
There are however a few dissenting Toon fans who feel that Shearer’s ego has got out of all proportion – that he’s selfish and manipulative, pulling strings behind the scenes (he played a key part in Gullit’s dismissal, for instance) and wielding far too much power and authority for someone who is, ultimately, just another member of the playing staff. “No-one should be bigger than the club”, as the saying goes.
Nonsense. How can sticking around through thick and – more often – thin for ten years without ever getting his hands on a piece of silverware possibly be selfish? Of the fact that Shearer loves the club there can be no doubt, but he’s not bigger than it. Compare him to some of the multi-million pound wasters who’ve come and gone in the time he’s been at the club and whose exorbitant wages we’ve paid. They were selfish. And to the thugs and front-page headline-makers of recent years, some of whom remain at the club. By contrast, Shearer is a consummate professional, someone who has helped to hold things together as we’ve lurched from crisis to crisis.
But of course it’s for his on-pitch exploits that he’ll be most fondly remembered when he hangs up his boots at the end of the season. By that time he’ll hopefully have surpassed Jackie Milburn’s club record goal tally of 200 – only six to go. Of that phenomenal 194 goal haul, a few stand out. The blistering free-kick against Leicester in February 1997, the second goal of a hat-trick which saw us recover from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in the final minute. Another to seal a 2-0 extra time victory over Spurs and a second consecutive FA Cup Final in April 1999. The superb volley against Aston Villa in November 2001 during a 3-0 win that put us top of the league. The even better volley that nearly broke the net when we sent Abramovich’s Chelsea back down the A1 tail between their legs in April 2004. There really is no better sight than that of our number nine wheeling away from goal, his arm aloft in celebration.
But my personal highlight of Shearer’s Newcastle career? When, in the closing stages of the 4-3 win over Man Utd in September 2001, he wound up Roy Keane so much that the Irishman swung a punch at him. Shearer saw it coming and ducked out of the way, and Keane saw red. The icing on the cake, as they say.
The events of the last few days have ensured that, wherever Shearer ends up at the end of the season, his legacy will hopefully live on. As Michael Owen was paraded in front of the thousands of overjoyed supporters still scarcely able to comprehend the news of his arrival, the man who was by all accounts most instrumental in securing Owen’s services must have been transported back to the rabid reception he was afforded ten summers ago. In Owen, Shearer has helped to recruit one of the few players who might possibly be able to live up to his own standards. Like Shearer, he might be regarded as dull off the pitch but he’s a talismanic figure on it.
The king is dead, long live the king! Except the king isn’t dead just yet…
Thanks to Alex for kicking us off. I did like his covering e-mail to this piece which said "And please don't take the anti-Man Utd sentiments personally - they come with the territory..."
This from someone contributing to a blog named in semi-offensive terms about the player in question....!
Next week, Dom will be in the hotseat. I am looking forward to that. Jason Lee? Andrea Silenzi? Barry "coffee cup" Roche? Salvatore Matrecano?