My Newcastle United hero – Laurent Robert
Shearer, Beardsley, Milburn. Just a few names that are on a long list of Newcastle Legends. However, my Legend isn’t quite on everyone’s list. I’m not just going to recite stats, I’m going to explain to you why this player is my Toon Legend.
There have been many Frenchmen pull on the black and white stripes over the years, perhaps even too many, I could probably count on one hand the good ones!
My Legend is probably not everyone’s first choice from across the channel but I can’t help but look back on his time on Tyneside with such fondness.
Laurent Robert was often referred to as a ‘highlights player’. Someone who looked excellent on match of the day but often infuriated while watching for 90 minutes. Not for me.
When Robert joined the Toon I was a 14 year old season ticket holder. I played a lot of football at school and as one of the few left footed players I instantly had a role model on the pitch at St James’ Park. And what a left foot Robert had! there are not many players I have seen who have been able to strike a ball quite like he could.
The Robert era (2001-2005) at Newcastle was a very special time. We had the best manager Newcastle have ever had in Sir Bobby. We were finishing 3rd, 4th and 5th in the league and enjoyed champions league football -playing and beating the cream of Europe along the way. In my opinion this is exactly what the club should be achieving on a regular basis, let’s pray we can get back there one day.
I remember sitting with a group of friends watching Newcastle take on Arsenal in December 2001. The Toon hadn’t won in London for four years and here we were 1-0 down to the current champions. Robert came on with half an hour to play and took the game to the Gunners. They couldn’t handle him! He tore them apart! Robert turned the game on it’s head and the Toon won 3-1 with the Frenchman winning a penalty to put us 2-1 up and then bursting through to score the third. From that moment on he was rarely on the bench and I had a new idol.
I can’t talk about Laurent Robert without mentioning free kicks.
(One of the early Laurent Robert games, involved in all four goals at Middlesbrough)
— NUFCThreatLevel (@NUFCThreatLevel) September 8, 2019
As a season ticket holder at the time it was sometimes frustrating as any free kick over the halfway line Robert was bound to have a go. But once a few thunderbolts had been smashed off that left boot and flown like an arrow into the back of the net, I would feel a wave of excitement with every free kick we won. Robert is still joint 3rd in the premiership all time free kick scorers, and I have to keep reminding people that he wasn’t the only player who took the free kick. Anything close range was left for big Al and Nobby took the ones for a right footer. That makes Robert’s record even more impressive.
I recall a match against Liverpool Saturday 5th March 2005. This was back in the day teams like Liverpool would worry about coming to St James’! In the 70th minute Robert hit a free kick from the far right hand corner of the box straight into the top corner sending the place mad. I remember at full time we were celebrating the 1-0 win when I spotted two random fellas wearing full Newcastle kits jumping about in the middle of the pitch with a camera crew around them. I was like “who are these mugs!?” Not too keen that these chancers were taking some of the limelight away from the eleven men who deserved the appreciation of the crowd. Naturally I voiced my opinion and was followed by a small section of the stand in asking them to leave the pitch. Obviously we did it in a very polite manner! As it turns out they were actors from the film ‘Goal’ and they used the Robert free kick and the victory over Liverpool as the big moment at the end of the movie. Anyone who sees the film may think that it’s all visual effects but we all know it’s a real goal from a very special player.
With thirty two goals in all competitions and over forty assists, Robert contributed a lot in his time here. All good things have to come to an end however and the end of Robert’s time at Newcastle was also the time the club fell from grace. August 2004 saw Sir Bobby Robson sacked as manager, I was so disgusted at the way he was treated that this was the season I gave up my season tickets. Laurent has often said that Sir Bobby was the best manager he had ever had and he was like a father figure to him. Robson was replaced by Souness and it wasn’t long before Robert found himself out of the team.
He may have been out of favour with the manager but he was still a firm fan favourite. In his final game at St James’, he didn’t just throw his shirt into the crowd, he gave away his shorts, socks, shin pads and boots. Leaving the field wearing nothing but a smile and a small pair of grey pants…not exactly a sight for sore eyes after such a traumatic season!
Perhaps it’s just because he was there with the best manager whilst supplying crosses for the best striker, playing football at the highest level in Europe that makes Laurent Robert a Legend in my eyes. It can’t be just a coincidence though that with the sacking of Robson and the dropping of that sort of talent that Newcastle dropped from where they were and to this day have never recovered.
I now run a Sunday League team in Northumberland and play on the left wing. When I ordered the new kits I got them printed with the numbers 1-16…and the number 32 of course, that one’s mine!
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