The most surprising name I have ever seen on a piece of merchandise was in a shop in Budapest. Now, by the description I’m about to give you of the top, it’s unlikely that this was an authentic club product. In fact, on closer inspection, it’s a miracle that the sleeves were both the same-ish length.
The front was the early 90s barcode. Fine.
The collar had a yellow trim. Hmm.
The badge looked OK but the banner element said ‘Howay the Lads.’
The back was the one with the shield.
It was a great mash-up of different tops, with a lot of trying to please lots of fans; while possibly funding organised crime, which is bad.
Oh, and it was made by Nike. Possibly. But the swoosh looked like it had been stitched on by a giraffe wearing oven gloves; possibly Sunderland oven gloves.
And the name on the back?
Carl Cort. Bet you didn’t expect that.
I thought of this the other day, when I saw a t-shirt on Facebook. A Newcastle United one. There was a cityscape formed with the names of former Newcastle United players.
Robert Lee. Yup. The Robledos. Certainly. Pedro. Splendid.
Williamson… well, err, not everyone’s favourite, but the lad never hid or shirked responsibility. Never going to be a legend, either, but hey-ho, legends only come along once in a while.
Then there were two names that, according to the thread which followed, were slightly controversial. I’m sure whoever designed the t-shirt had the best of intentions, and they might even know the players on it and know some background stuff that merits their appearance; if so, I will stand corrected. I am not knocking the designer of the t-shirt. We all have our reasons.
The two players were Kieron ‘I’ve got loads of respect for Bobby Robson but I’m going to be really hard work to manage’ Dyer, and Michael ‘I’ve got a brochure and it’s not the Ann Summers one’ Owen.
To me, they represent the underachieving sulky prima-donna pants who had talent, though were never really loved.
Kieron Dyer had so much potential. He was part of the Sir Bobby Robson machine that was quick, exciting and were a tweak away from winning stuff. He was part of the Champions League miracle team and scored goals. But is he a legend? Do you want to walk around with Dyer on your top, unless you’re Kieron Dyer? He’s like a soufflé; fabulous to watch, and other people look at your pudding and say, “Cor, that looks good!” But then you look at their sticky toffee pudding and you know you’ve bought a sugary egg with air in it.
Michael Owen, pound for pound, is my least favourite ever Newcastle United player. I’ve redrafted this paragraph so many times and every time I start smashing stuff. I’m in a good mood. We’ve just beaten Reading 4-1. Happy thoughts. Zen. And… breathe.
One comment on the thread suggested a custom T-shirt, on which you could choose your own players. Canny idea!
So, I started thinking about who I would like on my custom Newcastle United T-shirt. There were some great suggestions on the thread but who would I substitute for Dyer and Owen? I thought long about this. In fact, this was a two cup of tea think. And a chocolate biscuit.
I thought about an all Geordie team. In lots of ways, I don’t actually like this idea. One it, discounts loads of legends; and two, we’re a welcoming, accepting bunch. It says a lot that many of our t-shirtable legends aren’t from the area.
Then I thought about players who have won medals and cups – but supporting Newcastle United is about far more than just winning stuff. It has to be!
I decided on players who represented different eras. David Kelly certainly spanned lows and highs, and he wasn’t the only one. Eventually, I settled on these two:
Imre ‘Ray’ Varadi. Quick, exciting, scored goals, moved well, linked up with other players… Imre Varadi was a light beginning to shine in a Newcastle team that would eventually become very exciting indeed. It was quite hard to get overly excited when Bobby Shinton got the ball but Imre Varadi was different. Even his name sounded like some sort of intergalactic Jedi.
Steve Howey was also one of those connectors between eras. If he was on an episode of Dr Who, he would appear near the end to explain some kind of time paradox link between the realm of being threatened with Division Three extinction, then becoming (nearly) all powerful conquerors of the Premier League Universe.
Now, we could go on for hours. I know, and you know, that Imre Varadi and Steve Howey represent something bigger about their era than themselves. They were ingredients in making Newcastle United go somewhere. They weren’t necessarily the cherry on the top of the black and white cake; this is more to get you thinking about your custom T-shirt. Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
And what I want the most is for the current team to be on a t-shirt in a few months time. I want the youngest fans to be glazing over when they talk about Dwight Gayle. I want them to feel the assured confidence of a Lascelles tweet emblazoned on a screen printed product. I want them to have Matt Ritchie in the FIFA team of every kid wasting their summer holidays.
Pass the chocolate biscuits!
You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby