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Here came the cherry for the top of the cake…

6 years ago

It is now 20 years since Tino Asprilla swept into Tyneside amid a snowstorm and a Premier League title charge that looked all but in the bag. Here came the cherry for the top of the cake.

I vividly recall telling my housemates at uni what the party was going to be like back on Tyneside when we captured that trophy. Erm…oops. Mockers!

It feels like five minutes, not two decades, but much water has passed under the Tyne Bridge since those heady days.

Tino Asprilla was the colourful Colombian striker, who we’d marvelled at on Channel Four’s Football Italia programme every Sunday afternoon (who remembers them opening titles??). Rubber legged, with a majestic gallop and turn that could wreak havoc. His close control was possibly the best I’ve seen at St James Park. Certainly up there with Beardo, Ginola and Ben Arfa.

It was early in 1996 when Tino swapped Serie A for our beloved Newcastle United. It was a belated Christmas present.

My memories of those days remain vivid. They sit in stark contrast to the current malaise. There couldn’t really be a bigger gap between that golden era and the thin gruel we’re currently being served up by McClaren and his players. It’s not a gulf, it’s a chasm.

Tino Asprilla comes to mind not only because this year marks 20 years since his mesmerising talents were on show at Gallowgate, but because he has recently said what most NUFC fans are thinking – that Steve McClaren has got to go. Well said, Tino!

My first recollection of Asprilla was reading about the deal on Ceefax. It took an age for the screen to scroll down for the second part of the story. No iPhones back then, not even mobiles.

The local papers confirmed it, The Chronicle – still a broadsheet newspaper in 1996, with late evening editions. NUFC were always hogging the local front pages at the height of the Keegan era.

There follows many great Tino memories. His debut at Boro when he left their back four in tatters after emerging from the bench to change the game, and all after he’d reportedly had a few glasses of red wine with his lunch. I seem to recall an outrageous nutmeg on Jamie Pollock?

There was also a day when he hit the headlines for the wrong reasons after he stuck the nut on Keith Curle after a 3-3 draw at Maine Road. Unacceptable conduct, and it may be wrong to say it, but the fact it was Tino made the incident seem utterly hilarious. Curle was giving it the big mouth that day.

Off the pitch Asprilla was noted for frequenting Julies nightclub on the uayside. There were claims of a house up in Ponteland where he barely unpacked anything.

Shearer’s arrival in August of 96 took away some of the Tino momentum and injuries did follow.

He had a cracking run of form early in the Dalglish reign, when he helped to fire us into one of only two Champions League places allocated to the Premiership in 1997. I recall pundits and national hacks being irate that a runner up could be allowed into the European Cup.

Tino capped that off the following autumn with the hat-trick. Yes, Barca. Written into folklore? No, cemented.

We will all remember that game. I was at uni in North West England. The Granada region showed Man Utd that night. I was stuck with updates via BBC Five Live on my Sony Walkman. My abiding memory, for some reason, was that my absence from seeing the game made it somehow all the more sweeter.

Destroying Barcelona couldn’t be topped and it was a shame when more injuries and Kenny Dalglish’s change of approach forced Tino into a move early in 1998.

More recent mayhem has included promoting fruit flavoured condoms back in his native Colombia.

Just the other week Tino posted a video of himself on Twitter riding a hover board, dressed in an enormous tyrannosaurus rex costume.

Twenty years pass and still he keeps us entertained. A player forever remembered by Newcastle fans.

One of Tino’s more poignant social media posts recently proclaimed ‘a life without soccer is boring’.

Never a truer word was spoken. McClaren and his players would do well to take heed of this advice and start producing a bit of positive entertainment on the football pitch, just like Tino.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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