In recent months I’ve noticed a muttering of criticism about Peter Beardsley.
‘Lackey’, ‘yes-man’, ‘brown-nose’ – you know the sort of thing.
My first reaction is this: free speech is all very well and all that, but you can only go so far – these people should be strung up by the heels and whipped.
But then I think – no, we are civilised people after all, let’s look at the thing in a mature, reasonable manner.
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So, painful though it is, let me try to set out the case against our Peter. It is that he has made himself a part of a hated regime. Not only has he taken Ashley’s thirty pieces of silver, but he is an enthusiastic yes man, speaking up for the regime whenever he’s given the opportunity. And because he has been such a hero to the club, his current complicity in what is happening at our club is the ultimate betrayal.
That, in brief terms, I think is the case against.
So how do we defend him?
A little while back I went for dinner with some non-footbally, artistic types. After we’d eaten, once the butler had cleared away the plates and we were sitting with our port and cigars, I put out the opinion that Peter Beardsley was an artistic genius.
I was scoffed .
“Genius?!! – but the man is a fool – he can hardly string two words together!” was the gist of their response.
But I persisted. I described in eloquent and, frankly, moving terms his artistry as a player – the way he played with a sort of innocent enthusiasm about him, the way he could run with the ball at his feet, full-pelt, and then sort of lift one leg and wave it about a little bit just above the ball, all the time going full-pelt.
If you saw him you know what I mean. But even then they wouldn’t accept that he was a genius.
“He might have been really good at his job, but it was just a physical skill. That doesn’t make him an artist, any more than a really good bricklayer or carpenter is an artist.”
What to say to that? Well, I said, what about Pavarotti? Was he an artist, or did he just have a physical skill. Or what about Nureyev, or Margot Fonteyn? Or Jimi Hendrix? If you’re happy to call all of those people artists, why not Peter Beardsley.
Or come to that, what about Van Gogh – we’re all happy to say that he was an artistic genius, but for all we know he might have sounded as thick as two short planks if you’d talked to him. And would it matter anyway. The important thing is that he could paint, the rest doesn’t matter.
Now, none of that )my arty conversation) really happened (or most of it didn’t at any rate). But the two morals of the story are these. First of all, that Peter Beardsley was a genius and an artist with the ball at his feet. But also, second, that just because you’re a genius at one thing doesn’t mean that you’re a genius at everything. We just have to appreciate the wonderful bit, and the rest, well the rest doesn’t really matter.
I was a bit worried about what Peter would do with himself after he stopped playing. I sort of feared the worst. Here was someone who had been able to express himself on the field better than almost anyone, but was probably not going to be able to do the same off the field. He never seemed the type who was going to go into management, or into punditry with any success. As it has turned out, his current role seems to me to be about right.
So he’s in a job which is probably right for him. But then some will say, that doesn’t matter, he’s taken Ashley’s money, that he might be a part of our history, but now he’s a part of the problem.
And what I’m saying in response to that is that it’s not fair to expect anyone to be great at everything. Peter is a hero, but he’s not a superhero. A lot of us have been in a position where we’ve had to work for someone who we thought was a complete tosser. But how many of us have had the courage to say, no, you can stuff your salary, and here’s what I think of you. A lot of us might have dreamed about doing it, but you’ve got to have the moral courage of a Kevin Keegan to do that sort of thing. Most mortal men just bite their lip, bank their wages, and carry on.
Some might wish that Peter would say, no, up with this I will not put, throw his cards in the air and lead us all to the barricades. But he’s not Danton, or Che Guevara. He’s our Peter, and that’s enough.
And one last thing. There are people who take the view that Ashley is the Great Satan, and that everything and everybody associated with him and his regime must be bad. But it’s not as simple as that.
Back in the 80s there were a lot of us who thought Mrs Thatcher was evil through and through, utterly without redeeming features. But that didn’t mean that every policeman, every civil servant, or even every Tory MP working at the time was evil just by association.
And again, a lot of people thought in 2003 that Blair’s decision to invade Iraq was mad, and that the whole affair was a piece of lunacy. But that didn’t mean that every soldier who went to fight over there was a mad lunatic. It doesn’t work like that. Most of them were just doing their job. And that’s what Peter’s doing now.
So there you are. A mature, reasoned discussion. And anyone who still doesn’t agree that Peter Beardsley should be beyond criticism to a Newcastle fan – well they should be taken out and shot!
(For the avoidance of any doubt, in case there’s anyone from MI5 looking, that last bit was meant to be irony.)