Shola Ameobi On A Bike Eating An Apple
This coming Sunday will mark the end of an era for Newcastle United. Shola Ameobi will play in what is likely to be his final game for the club, bringing to an end a 19 year association with the Magpies and also leaving Steven Taylor as the only remnant from the great Sir Bobby days.
Born in Zaira, Nigeria, Ameobi moved to England when he was five years old so his father could study a PHD at Newcastle University. Local scout Brian Clark saw him kicking a ball around in the schoolyard and it wasn’t long before the lanky teenager, with no kit or boots, was part of the youth set-up at the club.
It’s a testament to his character and loyalty that he has survived the never ending turbulence of Newcastle United and has been an important part of teams under nine different managers at St. James’ Park, Kevin Keegan the only one for whom Ameobi seldom featured.
His calm temperament and reputation as Mr.Nice Guy has endeared him to the numerous regimes and the players he has played alongside. Peter Lovenkrands, Joey Barton, Demba Ba, Malcolm MacDonald and Pardew have all paid tribute to his unflappable character.
Over the years Shola has polarised opinion among fans, some recognise his efforts against Sunderland and his record in Europe (second only to Alan Shearer) as valuable contributions, whilst others lament his perceived lack of effort and tendency to give the ball away.
The truth probably lies somewhere in-between; his Premier League record of 53 goals in 311 games is a meagre total for a striker, but he is a capable goalscorer and many forget that most of those appearances (a PL record 138) are from the substitutes bench. He provides a focal point for long balls, and is a good finisher, but lapses of concentration and failure to keep up with play and get into the box count against him.
Making his debut under Bobby Robson in 2000 after injuries to Alan Shearer and Carl Cort, Ameobi scored his first goal against Coventry and went on to become an integral part of United’s Champions League campaign, scoring his now famous goal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp and a brace against Leverkusen. Injuries and managerial changes reduced Ameobi’s game time 2006-08 and Kevin Keagan deemed him surplus to requirement, shipping him out on loan to Stoke.
During the turbulence of the 08/09 season, Ameobi managed to score his first goal in two years after injury to Mark Viduka and was rewarded with a new 3 year contract.
After relegation and the departure of Martins, Viduka and Owen, Ameobi led the line and punished Championship defences, winning player of the month and scoring his first ever hat-trick before a three month injury halted his only spell of prolific scoring.
During the 2011/12 season he excelled as a target man, terrorising Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand in a 3-0 demolition of Man Utd and scoring against Spurs with a delightful turn and finish. Also deployed as a ‘defensive striker’ late on in games where Newcastle had the lead, it was Shola’s job to hold up the ball and help defend at corners, whilst also chipping in with five assists.
This season however he went until April without a league goal, and although he’s scored in two consecutive home games, he hasn’t offered much in terms of link-up play, so it is probably the right time for the curtain to be drawn on his time on Tyneside.
He also made his debut for Nigeria in 2012 and harbours aspirations of a place in their World Cup squad this summer, where a match-up against Lionel Messi awaits.
There are two sure fire ways to earn cult hero status in football; saving your best performances for your biggest rivals and by featuring on MTV cribs.
His record against Sunderland is second only to club legend Jackie Milburn’s and 7 goals in 16 Tyne-Wear derbies has earned him the ‘Mackem Slayer’ moniker and his own chant.
His prosaic and characteristically modest Cribs appearance came back in 2005 – in which he shows us his delightful coffee table and talks about his love of hats – has gone down in folklore and has been the cause of much amusement down the years.
He’s been the subject of a (slightly bizarre) tribute song and there’s also a twitter account dedicated to photos and memes of his various poses down the years, the one of him riding a bike eating an apple is a particular fan favourite.
Ameobi’s off the field hobbies include basketball – his no. 23 shirt inspired by Michael Jordan, reading – his favourite book is Lord Of The Rings, and golf. He’s married with a son and daughter and keeps himself away from trouble off the field, shunning the party lifestyle of a modern footballer for a quiet life at home with his Christian faith playing an important role.
In an era where money takes precedence over loyalty, one club players are rare and it’s refreshing to see someone stick with a club through the good times and the bad (and there have been plenty of those at Newcastle).
People often say ‘there’s no room for sentiment in football’ when a club is faced with a big decision or a fan favourite needs replacing, indicating the need for ruthless management, but I have to say I completely disagree.
One of the reasons for the current anger and apathy from Newcastle fans towards their regime is the lack of attachment they feel towards the club.
The players are mercenaries with no understanding of what it means to play for the club and don’t have a rapport with the fans. It’s hard to feel any love for Loic Remy this season, even though he’s been one of our best players, becaus he will move on at the end of the year.
Ameobi has always been one of the first to speak to the media after defeats, apologising to fans and imparting his knowledge of the club on new signings, even siding with fans by criticising the hierarchy at St. James’ Park.
Watching his career evolve and change through different periods of the club’s history, you can really see what Shola is all about, and having a local hero is something all fans want.
As football fans we just want somebody we can empathise with and root for.
Newcastle United’s 2014/15 campaign will be the first season in 14 without the ‘Fenham Eusebio’, but with Sammy still on the books and a career in waiting for young Noah, the name of Ameobi will live on.
And how should we best commemorate a legend like Shola? Is he worthy of a testimonial, or should we retire his no. 23 shirt in tribute?
Or how about a statue? Of Wor Shola, on a bike, eating an apple.
I’m sure we’ll meet again.
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