I have been watching this club for 45 years and suffice to say I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of people pull on the black and white shirt.
Note that I didn’t use the word footballer in that sentence, because for many of them, the word footballer would have been pushing it a bit.
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Obviously when it comes to naming favourite players, the usual names come up. Macdonald, Keegan, Beardsley, Shearer…Whitehurst, however I suspect that all of us have a few on our list who are not so obvious.
Back in the mid 70s, while everyone raved about Supermac, Hibbitt and Green, I was a big fan of Pat Howard.
As a 14 year old, I thought he was as good a centre-half as anyone else in the country. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t an England international whilst that pug ugly mackem, Dave Watson, was. In my eyes he was a class act.
I now realise that my judgement may have been affected by the fact that he lived in a 3 bed semi near to my mate in Chester Le Street and was always happy to play 3 goals and in with us on Sunday afternoons. At a time when the likes of Sterling turn down 100 grand a week, it’s amazing that it wasn’t that long ago that footballers literally lived next door.
On reflection, maybe Pat wasn’t a John Terry, but I liked him.
When Keegan joined us in 82, the world became a much better place; however, was I the only one who was distraught to see Imre Varadi forced out the door? Check the record books and you will see that Varadi actually managed to outscore Keegan in 82-83, ending up with a Newcastle career total of 40 goals in 90 games, in a team that were nothing special.
On top of this, his workrate was as good as anyone around and he seemed genuinely proud to play for the club. What we could do with a 20 goal a season striker these days.
Then there was David McCreery. Five Feet bugger all, prematurely balding, and someone who spent the 90 minutes running around like a mad man, kicking people. There was the slight problem that he was totally lacking in any creativity, but that didn’t matter with the forward line in front of him.
Davey Mac was proof that you didn’t have to have the God given skills of a Beardsley to be a footballer. I would watch him and think ‘I could do that’ (That is the kicking bit, not the running about all day).
The next choice is not really one of the unsung heroes, he is a bloody great hero, but I am still going to include him.
David Kelly is an integral part of NUFC history. When he arrived at the club his stock could not have been lower. He was totally garbage at West Ham and most of us thought he would be a terrible signing and yet he, like Varadi , went on to score around 1 goal every 2 games.
To say he was loved is an understatement. How many players can you think of who would receive a standing ovation coming onto the St James Park pitch in a mackem shirt?
What a guy, he gave his all for the cause and will always be revered by those who watched him.
Once we get to the Keegan years, the choice of utterly wonderful players just becomes silly.
Choosing one or two favourites from the 93-96 period is impossible, it’s probably easier just to say the whole lot of them were brilliant.
Even Darren Peacock.
Peacock used to get a hard time, probably because he wasn’t Philippe Albert, but in hindsight was Dazza really that bad? Especially when compared with those who have came after him, such as Marcelino, Boumsong, Bramble and Iron Mike.
And finally, it’s time to tell the world of my guilty secret.
I was a fan of Barry Venison.
I know he was a mackem, I know that he dressed like a short-sighted , colour blind chameleon and I know he had a haircut like a star from a 1980s adult entertainment video.
However, because he was prepared to stay in his own half while the rest of his teammates, including Pav, were all charging into the opposition’s 6 yard box, I thought he was a vitally important cog in that truly wonderful machine.
Since Bobby Robson’s time, I struggle to think of any players who have been real heroes of mine.
There are two reasons for that.
For a start, as you get older the act of worshiping young men in shorts doesn’t feel right, but the real reason is because most of them have been pretty crap.
So will any of the incumbents of the shirt for the upcoming season become our future heroes? I won’t be putting money on it but you just never know.
Maybe there will be another David Kelly or Imre Varadi in there somewhere.