It is not every day you get meet your childhood hero…luckily enough, I ended up getting the opportunity on Friday to interview Shay Given.
The process towards that kind of kicking off, when I wrote an open letter on The Mag to Newcastle United’s greatest ever goalkeeper.
Shay Given is one of those rare breeds of footballers at Newcastle United, that just gets it.
To have the greatest goalkeeper to come out of Ireland, one of the best in the PL era, to spend the majority of his career at your club, is something that we perhaps took for granted when we were in the Champions League.
In a time of uncertainty at the club, where there is the potential for NUFC to really go one way or the other, a chat with Shay, a player who played through one of the greatest eras in the club’s history, doesn’t just remind you of where we once were, but we could be again.
There is nothing wrong with looking back into the past, and reminiscing about nights in Barcelona, the two semi-finals at Old Trafford, the last 16 of the Champions League, the last four of the UEFA Cup.
In fact, I think if anyone at the club had anything about them, they would know that for Newcastle to attract players, then the likes of Shay Given, Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, Rob Lee etc. are the guys you have to get on board!
If Newcastle really are serious about getting back to where they want to be, and they want to bring in the players to do so, then they could look no further then bringing some of the players from the past to help them do it. If you’re after a player, and persuading him to sign, stick them in a room with a Shay Given, or Alan Shearer, give them 10 minutes, and I am sure they’d come out wanting to play for this great club.
What would we do, and how much would we have to pay for a Shay Given now?
How does it feel to be named by the fans in the greatest ever Newcastle team?
“It’s just great to be nominated alongside the other goalkeepers, so that is special in itself. 125 years is a long long time, I am sure that even before our time there have been some amazing goalkeepers as well, so it is a great honour to actually go down in the history of the club. Of course, I’d love to be in the team, so it’s just an honour to be remembered as a part of such a famous club.”
So what has brought you to Tyneside this week?
“I’m here to open the store today for DW Sports, it is a great honour to be asked to open the new store. I was just saying to the guys, it is a great place to open the first one, at the Metro Centre, one of the best shopping centres in Europe.”
Have you had the chance to meet any fans so far?
“We’ve already had a few of the fans here taking penalties, so I’ve had to put the gloves back on and it’s always nice to meet the fans. I was up here for a long time of my life and it is always great to come back.”
What would be your greatest 11 from the NUFC players that you have played with?
“That a difficult one, I might need some more time on that one.
“I have to put myself in goal.
“Right back, I have no idea.”
“Woodgate in the centre, with Steve Howey next to him.
“Shearer up front, with Solano on the right. Do we have to put Bellamy up front? Ferguson probably had too many injuries”
“Lee in the middle, Robert or Duff on the left? Not sure the fans would get away with letting me put Duff on the left.
“Left back is another funny one”
“Then you also have Scott Parker, Didi Hamann, Kieron Dyer”
(**We eventually came to this final team later on…)
If the conditions were right, would you consider coming back to NUFC in some capacity one day?
“I just don’t know what the future holds, I’m really enjoying the media stuff at the minute. I am sure that Rafa is very happy with his staff too!
“Obviously though, Newcastle is a club that is very close to my heart so I couldn’t possibly never say never!
“I’ve learnt that you can never predict what happens in football – even though I am living down Manchester, settled with the kids at school, so who knows”.
When Mike Ashley first took over the club, did you think ‘this is it now’, Newcastle are going to go on and win the league, there was certainly a sense among the fans that the team would really kick on, was it the same with the players?
“I think we always had the sense that we were at a big club like Newcastle, that should be winning things. The stadium is unbelievable, the fans, the atmosphere, the whole buzz for football around the city.
“We all felt that it was a club who deserved to be winning trophies but of course we didn’t.
“Hopefully if the takeover does happen, the new owners come in and they back Rafa then anything can happen.
“To achieve success in the modern market today requires a lot of money, because the players are so expensive now, £10m or £20 million wouldn’t even buy a proper player anymore so its imperative that Rafa gets the money to invest in the team.”
How does the club, if there is a takeover, go about attracting the big players with more than just money – how do we sell Newcastle United to players?
“Obviously in the past there’s been that myth that it is hard to attract people to the North East, but that never crossed my mind once when I come to the club, I was just delighted to be coming to play for Newcastle.
“If any player has got anything about him then he would want to come here and play, obviously the club has to pay them the right money, wages wise. For me, all it would take is to come here on a match day, see the stadium, the passion of the fans, the training ground, a tour around the city. The list of positives is endless in the North East.
“I think sometimes the media actually plays on the ‘North East’ thing too much, comparing them to the London clubs or using the excuse that nobody wants to come too far north, but I just think with Rafa as manager, the staff behind him, and importantly if he gets the right backing, then players would want to join the club”.
Do you have any regrets about leaving? Especially being only 34 games behind Jimmy Lawrence’s all-time appearance record?
“I think in terms of the record, yes, it would have been nice to stay and have that record but people have to remember that I was in a situation where the club were selling their best players, and then bringing in lesser players on free transfers.
“There was no ambition at the club, no direction at the club, it was just like – I have one life and one career.
“I could have broken the record and stayed but at the same time I had an opportunity to join a club like Manchester City who at that moment were the opposite to Newcastle.
“They were showing huge ambition, in the previous transfer window they had just signed Robinho. In my mind, they could have signed any goalkeeper in the world and they wanted me, so for me, looking back now, when you are in that zone, getting battered every week…
“I just felt like I deserved more, that team deserved more, it should have been stronger.
“So when the Man City opportunity came along, it was something that I was really excited about”.
All of us can only dream of what it’s like to play for Newcastle United. So c’mon, to walk out for Newcastle in a cup final at Wembley, play at the San Siro, playing alongside Shearer, under Kevin Keegan – what’s it like?
“All of those memories are very special. The number one has to be beating Barcelona in the Champions League.
“I’m sure younger fans, even now think to themselves, ‘as if we actually beat Barcelona in the Champions League’ but we actually did!
“It is impossible to explain, but they were just great memories. It is just a special club to play for, with a special atmosphere. When things are going well, those fans will back you to the hilt, they’ll get behind you, they’ll make the biggest noise you can possibly imagine.
“That night against Barcelona, you couldn’t even hear yourself think, never mind shout to your teammates a yard away. There’s the San Siro, and the cup finals, but even the semi-finals, with the atmosphere at Old Trafford (v Sheff Utd and v Tottenham), having the whole big stand there bouncing with Geordies, was something itself. Great memories.”
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