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Opinion

An open letter to Shay Given

3 years ago
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FAO Shay Given

Shay,

There are some players who just don’t get enough credit.

This isn’t because they were brilliant, I don’t need to describe to anyone how good a player Shay Given was, we all know, but some footballers, as men, as professionals, just don’t get the credit that they deserve.

The Chronicle have been running a fans poll this week to try and put together the greatest Newcastle United team of all time. There is only one position in that team in which there can be no debate at all.

It’s not the centre forwards, depending on what era you come from, some may have difficulties picking their three strikers from a list of Milburn, Supermac, Keegan, Beardsley and Shearer. Shay Given though, will undoubtedly go down as Newcastle United’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

It still wrangles with me a little bit that Shay didn’t get the proper send off from Newcastle (and Ireland) that his dedication and commitment deserved. Perhaps it’s just me – but Shay deserved a testimonial.

Perhaps I have a few more reasons than most to feel affiliated to Shay Given. Being born in Shotley Bridge and supporting Newcastle is one thing – but my Dad follows Ireland and Celtic (as well as Newcastle of course) so I have always followed what my Dad does, rather than supporting England. Growing up in a football mad family, going from watching Newcastle during the season and Ireland during the summer… Shay Given was the ever constant in my childhood growing up (and Andy O’Brien too for a short period).

You probably wouldn’t know it but following both Newcastle and Ireland is actually quite similar. Both the Irish and the Geordies are immensely proud people who come from areas where community and family is always the number one priority in life.

From an Irish perspective, when you’re a young lad growing up in Ireland, there is no Premier League game down the road to go to, so the Irish players in the national team are idolised even more. Of course kids in Ireland have their favourite teams: Celtic, Man United, Liverpool etc. but they don’t really dream of growing up and playing for whatever team in the Premier League, they dream about playing for Ireland at Lansdowne Road.

In the same sense, that same nature is true in Newcastle, or at least it was when I was little, I can’t speak for 10 year olds now. When I was little I didn’t dream of playing for Man United, or Barcelona, or anyone else but Newcastle United. Shay Given got to do both and he did them brilliantly.

When we were little, me and my cousin, Karl, would play football all day. One of us would be in goal, the other would recreate the highlights/score from whatever game Newcastle had played that weekend. Karl was a keeper; I was an outfield player. Yet we took turns in goal for every game we recreated, simply because I just wanted to be Shay Given. Even in the last year of primary school, I volunteered to go in goal for the school team just so I had a chance to wear my Shay Given keeper top and his Adidas gloves. Remember the ones that had metal rods in them so you couldn’t bend your fingers?

Right from the start, my first ever football match was when I was 3 years old. Newcastle at home to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. I think one of my earliest memories in life was before the game my mum told me: “if there’s any men swearing, make sure you tell your dad and he will sort them out” – anyway, it was just a cup game in January so it was unlikely people would be going nuts. Then Shay Given popped up and was sent off after 14 minutes, the whole west stand blew up with effing and blinding. We went 1-0 down but came back to win 2-1.

That was my first game and I followed Shay with Newcastle and Ireland ever since. A bonkers first game that would be the perfect introduction to the next 20 years of watching Shay Given for Newcastle and Ireland.

I was also at Shay’s last (Newcastle) match vs Liverpool. Coincidentally, for that particular game, we had given our season ticket seats away and so me and my dad bought ourselves regular tickets in the Leazes end right behind Shay’s goal in the second half. There’s one vivid memory from that game that I have never forgotten.

At a certain point in the second half, Shay Given’s shirt became untucked. It might seem like nothing but when you watch the same player every week since the age of three, you know when something is different (almost like that one game away to Fulham where Shearer wore long sleeves). Anyway, he didn’t tuck it back in. He just left his shirt hanging out for the rest of the game. That wasn’t Shay Given, and like when you can sense a family member or best friend isn’t okay, you knew something was up. He signed for Man City a few days later.

From a young age, living in Durham, my Dad would always take me every day in the school holidays to the training ground at Chester-Le-Street. All of the players were really good at stopping and poking their head out of the window. But Shay (and Nobby Solano too) always went that extra mile for a photo, or to sign those classic Newcastle autograph books.

Even now when I, and others my age, think back to all of those moments you remember from your childhood, there was always that one constant;

Shearer’s goal against Tottenham in the semi-final at Old Trafford. Given was in goal.

The game against Sunderland, when we won 4-1. Given was in goal.

That bizarre 4-4 draw with Troyes in the Intertoto Cup. Shay was in goal.

That night at Highbury that sent us top of the league and Henry lost his rag. Shay was in goal.

The 5-3 game at Old Trafford. Shay was in goal.

Shearer’s 201st goal against Portsmouth. Shay was in goal.

The quarter-final against Tottenham at St James. Shay was in goal – and made the greatest double save in that game I have ever seen.

Then for Ireland there was the 1-1 draw in France. Shay was in goal. Being a young kid, sat at home, watching the World Cup qualifier against Holland, the play-off away in Tehran in front of 100,000 and getting up in the early hours to watch the famous draw against Germany in Japan. Shay was in goal for all of those games.

We were stood there with an injured Shay Given watching Shearer and Ferguson on fire as they banged them in training the day before they were dropped by Gullit before the Sunderland game.

Those Champions League nights against Inter, Barca, Leverkusen, and that night against Feyenoord in Rotterdam. Shay even saved a penalty against Leverkusen – and as many of you will know, Shay Given never saved penalties (sorry Shay)!

Finally, in Lyon at Euro 2016 being able to say goodbye to him and Robbie Keane for the last time.

Ironically, when Shay did leave Newcastle, I think our next game was City on a school night, I remember it because I left school at lunch time to catch a bus down there. You could forgive a few fans for being critical of Shay at first, arguably he left us when we needed him most, but from my experience, there are no fans who were critical.

He will go down as one of the few players, especially in the Premier League, who could come back to Newcastle and receive a hero’s applause.

On the pitch I could thank Shay Given for a million memories, the games named above, the FA Cup finals, the FA Cup semi-finals, being a whisker (or a Didier Drogba) away from a European final. The World Cups, The European Championships.

But most of all, guys like Shay Given don’t come around often, they may never come around again, especially in the modern day. When it comes to playing for Ireland, and Newcastle United, Shay is one of those guys that just “gets it”.

In my short life so far, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with some amazing people, from Barack Obama to Alan Shearer, to even Mike Ashley, but I would do anything just to have a pint with Shay Given.

Whenever people ask me now who my heroes were growing up, there is always that initial reaction to say Alan Shearer, Henrik Larsson, or Robbie Keane.

But it is Shay Given.

I’m 22 years old now, I have grown up with Shay Given.

If you ever do read this; Thank you so much Shay, thanks from me and I am sure, thanks from every Newcastle United fan out there.

All the best.

Jonathan

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
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