Newcastle United’s Unlikely Heroes – Antoine Sibierski
Without doubt I’m a romantic when it comes to idolising NUFC stars. There’s nothing better than seeing an entertainer, someone with class, flair and unique creativity. The likes of Beardsley, Ginola and Gazza, people that we lap up and get all misty eyed over. Nobby had it, that effortless class he seemed to ooze. Ben Arfa has it, in the way he jinks past players as though they’re not there. It’s what makes it worthwhile standing in the terraces.
However, not all players are blessed with mercurial talent. Some must gain respect through sheer grit and determination, persevering with the right attitude and giving their all for the shirt. We embrace that dearly too; Perchinho is a current example of this. The showing of good old fashioned hard work, perhaps reflecting the city’s proud working class culture, wins the hearts of the Geordie faithful.
One person who I fondly remember doing this is none other than Antoine Sibierski. Big Sib’s signing was met with much cynicism from fans (including myself) when he signed on deadline day in 2006. This was a time in my teenage life where I would eat, sleep and breathe football. If I wasn’t playing or watching the game, I’d be reading articles or playing things like FIFA and Championship Manager. Though as football wise as I was, I had no idea who this bald French bloke was. Quickly I learnt that he’d been on Man City’s bench for the full season just gone (this before Sheikh oil made City a powerhouse) and he’d just been released.
But we’re Newcastle United, I thought, Newcastle sign big name strikers don’t they? We’d already spent £10 million bringing Martins in and the summer before we’d recruit the world class talent of Michael Owen, we genuinely looked like we were recreating our famous attacking threat.
Sibierski’s signing left me feeling deflated. It seemed like a bad joke in fact. Surely Newcastle United wouldn’t disappoint me…?! Where are our famous deadline day fireworks?! Chelsea were finally signing Ashley Cole, Portsmouth had snapped up Geordie favourite Andy Cole and even West Ham brought in the Argentine duo, Mascherano and Tevez, in the window’s shock deal (interestingly with a less silver haired Alan Pardew at the helm!).
Although, to my sheer amazement, the initial uninspiring capture of a 32 year old journeyman went on to be the highlight of my 2006/07 season. The season wasn’t one to remember at all, we only won 2 of our opening 13 Premier League games and when we lost to Sheffield United at home in November, many thought we were heading for relegation. In fact, I distinctly remember seeing fights break out in the Gallowgate during the defeat, something which has hauntingly stuck in my mind ever since. Times were bad. We finished 13th in the league, mid-table obscurity and disappointment surrounded the club, though a Europa League campaign did provide some relief. I guess it was all too familiar to our most recent campaign. Sigh…Another season where injuries mounted and frustration ensued.
However, it was as a result of injuries that my soon to be beloved Sibierski got his chance in that season! Sib made his mark at the club, scoring on his debut in our Uefa Cup First Round match against FC Levadia Tallinn, a relatively small Ukrainian side. Newcastle wereuninspired in the game throughout and when SIbierski replaced the injured Shola Ameobi in the line-up, most fans let out a groan. ‘We aren’t even going to get in to the group stage’, I despaired. When you’re gutted Shola can’t make the team, let’s face it, you know things are bad! But Sib managed to fortuitously get on the end of Duff’s free-kick, heading in from close range, giving us a solid away win. What better way to answer your critics than by scoring goals?
What fans would soon discover was that Sibierski would in fact become our cup hero of the year. He had a knack of scoring in the Uefa Cup, the competition which ultimately provided our season’s highlight. Sib scored the solitary goal in a 1-0 win over Fenerbahce at home in October, silencing thousands of barmy Turks who had came over in costume and masked for the occasion. Believe me, level 7 went wild in the ‘79th minute that night!
Sib’s cup scoring run seemed to know no boundaries as he got himself on the scoresheet in a 2-2 draw against Watford, helping send Newcastle through to the Quarter Finals of the league cup after winning a tense penalty shoot-out. It seems poignant to add that the recently retired club stalwart Steve Harper made the vital save to deny Jordan Stewart’s sudden death effort to send Newcastle marching on.
By November 2006, SIbierski had firmly established himself in the Newcastle 11, enjoying a goalscoring week towards the end of the month, by again netting in Europa against Celta Vigo, as well as again giving Newcastle a solitary one goal victory, by netting the goal that sunk Portsmouth 1-0 in the league in the game after. By the start of December, Martins and Ameobi had 3 goals apiece whereas Sibierski had netted on 5 occasions, a goalscoring feat which rightfully kept promising young Manchester United loanee, Giuseppe Rossi, firmly out of the side.
The first game in December provided Newcastle’s game of the season, a magnificent 3-2 win against Reading at home. You’ll remember it from Emre’s beautiful late winner. I won’t take anything away from the talented Turkish midfield maestro but it was once again Big Sib who opened the scoring for Newcastle that night! Of course by now Sib could do everything, he even closed games with a customary goal, as seen when he finished Aston Villa off with the final goal in a 3-1 win!
Sibierski was scoring goals for Newcastle, something which fuels our particular fanbase, but it was his constant effort and endeavour, despite a distinct lack of pace, which captured the respect of the supporters. Clearly, he was enjoying his football. Sibierski’s inclusion also brought out the best in Obafemi Martins. Martins was at his most potent when paired with ‘The Bald Avenger’ (has anybody ever really called him that, I doubt it!). I honestly believe that Sib’s departure contributed greatly to Martins’ goals drying up during the following campaign.
Sib’s other 2 goals of the campaign of course came in Europe. His best and perhaps most unbelievable moment in a Newcastle United shirt, was when he finished off Zulte Waregem, scoring a phenomenal individual effort, which included nutmegging a defender and rounding the ‘keeper, to seal a 3-1 win and put the toon in to the last 16 of the competition! I’ll take this opportunity to challenge anyone to come up with a more obscure piece of NUFC trivia here, when I tell you that Waregem’s Dindeleux, who scored an own goal that day, was actually best man at Sibierski’s wedding!
Unfortunately, despite scoring against Van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar, Newcastle were eliminated via the away goal rule. So near yet so far, sounds like Newcastle doesn’t it? Sam Allardyce went on to replace Roeder that season and didn’t take to Sibierski much at all. The big Frenchman wanted a 2 year contract extension with the club, with many fans feeling he had earnt it, although despite Roeder willing to conduct the deal, it never materialised when Allardyce took over.
Sibierski went on to play in the Premier League for two more years with Wigan, with his highlight being a rip-roaring volley against Chelsea – I suggest you YouTube it! Since retiring, Sib has featured in the Chronicle a couple of times talking up our French lads (he has Lille connections) and he has also featured on Soccer A.M. where he stated that his favourite time in his career was spent that season with Newcastle United. He praised the club, the city and the fans despite a short stint and perhaps not being treated all too fairly during his time here. I for one will never forget his contribution that season, he embodied what football is all about, capturing my heart as a fan by giving his all for my team and silencing his many doubters.
I was actually very saddened to hear his daughter committed suicide a couple of years back as he really does seem like such a sound guy. However I’m pleased to know he is still involved in the game he loves as much as we all do, spending his days as the sporting director of RC Lens in France. Who knows, maybe he’ll send a few gems Graham Carr’s way!
Super Sib was certainly not a French import akin to the class of Ginola or even Robert, Cabaye or Ben Arfa, yet nonetheless, a team player, a worker and a briefly adopted unlikely hero we can be proud of.
Jamie has his own blog which you can visit here or follow him on Twitter @jamiehardesty
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