Looking at the little bit of the internet I find relevant, I see it is packed with tributes to Pavel Srnicek.
I’ve always tried to steer clear of highly topical issues as it can just become repetitive on a website, and similarly I often feel awkward speaking about well-known people who have died, thinking that grief belongs to the family and friends. I have had to make an exception to both rules today, as the news of Pavel’s death has left me feeling so very sad.
There are many obvious factors in this that you can read about all over the web. At 47, Pav was too young and obviously fit, given he was out jogging when he suffered a heart attack. The tributes from former colleagues and opponents convey the warmth and regard with which this obviously decent man was held.
The reasons I feel so sorry are certainly more personal, but equally as telling about our former number one. When I was a kid I used to hang around outside the Milburn stand before games, hoping to see the players and collect the odd autograph, as is a youngster’s wont.
Some squad members were never seen, others appeared sporadically. Pav was there every week and I can vividly remember him signing constantly for anyone who wanted a moment of his time, including me on several occasions. He would always say “thank you” to you after posing for a photo or signing his name, stunning humility given the magnitude of the gesture of meeting an actual Newcastle player to a twelve-year old.
I remember classic moments on the field that seem to be of a different era now. It feels a lifetime ago that the teams used to just burst out of the tunnel onto the pitch without this silly line-up business.
Local Hero would blare out and the team would come charging to the raucous Gallowgate end unhindered. Except this wasn’t the crack in the UEFA Cup, where the line-up business was very much the norm.
I forget who we were playing in Europe when Pav came out of the tunnel with the rest of the team and charged down to the Gallowgate end, applauding the fans above his head as he did while the rest of the team obligingly lined up.
He reached the Strawberry corner before he realised and had to come pelting back to his hysterical team-mates. I don’t know if he was unfamiliar with the protocol or had just forgot, but all he saw was the crowd.
It’s probably not as well documented than if someone behaved this way in today’s league, but anyone who watched Pav regularly will remember his terrifying habit of taking on strikers with the ball at his feet. He would allow them to get incredibly close before dropping his shoulder and turning sharply to one side, creating enough space to clear the danger. This seemed to happen pretty much every week as the crowd collectively gasped in horror, but I don’t ever remember him getting caught out once.
Probably my fondest memory of Pav actually came years later when he returned to the club as emergency cover for the injured Steve Harper. In a game against Spurs the week before Christmas it was apparent that Shay Given was struggling, getting someone to take goal kicks for him and generally looking a bit awkward.
I still wasn’t sure what was going on when I saw an eruption start in the East Stand, but I soon realised that the ground as a whole was rising to welcome Pavel back as a late substitute. The noise as he ran to the Gallowgate once again was what can only be described as ‘old school ear splitting’.
I wonder if this cheer was as much for what Pavel represented as it was a display of the high regard he will continue to be held in at Newcastle. Even then under Glenn Roeder and pre-Ashley things were unravelling a bit at our club, after years of competing at the right end of the league. To see a welcome face from the entertainers era was a great reminder of where we had once been.
Which brings us to today, and those that represent us in the current season. Those that come in from other leagues and see United as a stepping stone and Newcastle as a temporary stop. I sometimes wonder if the naysayers have a point when Newcastle United are belittled in national media with claims that fans have ideas above their station.
Perhaps we are little more than a halfway house for potential talent, existing in the lower reaches of the Premier League while the important stuff goes on way above us.
Like most, I choose to believe otherwise. This is a great city and a great area to live in. The people round here are fiercely proud of who they are and the football team is the modern representative of that pride.
Those that feel that emotion and represent it with every fibre of their being are loved and admired intensely, and will always be welcomed back. Jonas Gutierrez understood this and was the centre of some of last season’s few great moments. Kevin Nolan got this and it helped forge a spirit that saw our last relegation serve as a temporary blip.
When Kevin Keegan was manager, many players quickly understood what Newcastle was all about. Philippe Albert got it, Rob Lee and Warren Barton have a very different view of the North East to Dennis Wise and Alan Pardew, while perhaps more than anyone else, Pavel Srnicek enjoyed a mutual love and respect with Newcastle and its people. To put it simply, Pavel is a Geordie.
I would hope the emotion of this event stirs something in people. Someone will likely sign for Newcastle in the next month and has the chance to see immediately what can be forged if you give all you have got.
Goodbye Pav, Thanks for getting it. RIP.
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