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Opinion

Newcastle United dream ended for this local lad after White Hart Lane experience

3 weeks ago
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Newcastle United and Joe Harvey had many promising players coming up through the ranks together in the early 1970s.

Alan Kennedy, Paul Cannell and Irving Nattrass are just three local lads that spring to mind.

However, this is a short story about a North Shields lad that fulfilled his dream, only for it to be cruelly exposed in front of the TV cameras.

Back in 1974, 21 year old Tony Bell was given his first league start for Newcastle United in the absence of the great Willie McFaul. Highly rated at Newcastle, Tony had been patiently waiting for his chance and made his debut at White Hart Lane.

He made a great stop early doors that commentator Brian Moore waxed lyrical about and Tony seemed to be settling in and looking confident.

Everything was to change in a matter of moments and for Tony Bell this could well be seen as a metaphor for life.

A cross from the left was gathered cleanly by Tony as he leapt like a salmon at his far post. As our defence slightly relaxed the big keeper dived backwards to ground, then the unthinkable happened. Tony’s momentum as he and the ball touched the ground simultaneously made it spin from his grasp and agonisingly trickle over the line. Shock horror and Tony Bell got up disconsolately, even though he was quickly being encouraged by his nearest teammates.

Minutes later it was 2-0 to Spurs as the Newcastle defence switched off, leaving Tony Bell in no man’s land. The first half couldn’t come to an end quick enough from a Toon perspective but there was to be another twist in the tale (or should that be a twist of the knife).

As Tony lined his wall up for a Spurs free-kick, “nice one” Cyril Knowles whipped the ball low to his near post and Tony misjudged the situation, obviously believing the ball was going wide.

Being 3-0 down in the second half, Newcastle United admirably took the game to Spurs, with Supermac and Paul Cannell in particular l leading the charge. It was as if the team wanted to salvage something for their poor pal in goal and indeed Cannell had a “worldie” harshly ruled out. Tony Bell also responded and made a world class point blank save as the game swung from end to end but there were no further goals.

The next game and Willie McFaul was back but surely unlucky Tony’s chance would come again? Unfortunately it didn’t. Tony carried on at Newcastle for the next couple of seasons putting in some outstanding performances in the competitive Central League. The club then decided to clear their decks somewhat and Tony and club legend Frankie Clark were informed that they were to receive free transfers.

We all know what became of Frank once he teamed up with Cloughie at Forest. Tony Bell on the other hand, disillusioned with football, quit at 23 and signed on to become a fisherman working from North Shields fish quay.

Tony is my friend and neighbour and hardly ever talks about football but has stayed pals with Supermac, Jinky and another madcap Shields lad, Cannell.

As I often told Tony Bell to cheer him up: “At least you did what every little Tyneside lad wanted to do when he was kicking a football around the schoolyard. You actually played for Newcastle United.”

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