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The making of a Newcastle United cult hero

7 months ago

It was David Bowie who emotionally sang: “We could be heroes, Just for one day.”

St James Park has seen many great players and excellent club servants but to be a Newcastle United cult hero, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fulfil either criteria.

With the pre-season upon us (and CATs, Abitration etc), I thought it might make a change to reflect on some of the players from the past that made us smile before the corrupt English Premier League came into existence.

I was born in the 1960s and my first Newcastle United cult hero comes from the end of that swinging decade…swinging being the operative word as Big John MacNamee scored a late derby equaliser against the mackems and in front of their stunned supporters, swung on the cross-bar like a deranged gorilla. The man was apparently as hard as nails (read some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s memoirs) and there was a lovely song on the terraces at the time about John kicking mackem backsides, to the tune of the Beatles’ Octopus’ Garden.

Into the 1970s and another of our anglo cousins was making a name for himself.

Joe Harvey had shelled out decent money on Jimmy Smith and his ‘willo the wisp’ trickery soon earned him the nickname Jinky on the terraces. His Toon career was cut short by injury but such was the high esteem that he was held in, he rightfully received a testimonial in 1978. My good friend and ex-Toon centre forward Paul Cannell once told me that Jinky was the best player he had ever played with and that is something coming from a man who once captained Johann Cruyff!

Peter Withe arrived from newly crowned 1st Division Champions Nottingham Forest just after Jinky’s benefit match. Eyebrows were raised that he had dropped down a division to join us, but by this time the Big Fella had gained a reputation as a journeyman. He immediately struck up a partnership with Alan Shoulder who we had picked up from Blyth Spartans after their famous FA Cup exploits and they both charmed us for the next two seasons with their “Little and Large” double act, albeit in the 2nd tier.

Peter left in 1980 to become an Aston Villa legend and we had a new boss…Arthur Cox.

One of Arthur’s finest early signings was Imre Varadi from Everton. This lad was very quick and soon got the terrace nickname “Ferrari” as the goals flowed. His biggest claim to fame would come in his last season with us, when he pipped King Kev to become our top scorer in 1982/83.

Next up is David McCreery, another crusader loyal to King Arthur. He was ex-Man Utd and had the distinction of being the first man to come on as a substitute in successive FA Cup Finals in 1976 and 77. As a young lad Davy had played further forward but at Newcastle was moulded into one of our first ever defensive midfield lynchpins, in the style of Batty, Tiote etc. My brother has had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions and although a Northern Irish international, one of David’s proudest memories is gaining promotion with us in 1984. He still lives up here, same as Jinky and the likes of “Zico” Martin.

Glenn Roeder is a personal favourite Newcastle United cult hero of mine. I remember a must win game against Man Utd in 1987 that we eventually won with 10 men left on the pitch. As one of our club legends who shall remain nameless in this article, sulked and was substituted…

Our Captain took the bull by the horns with his old QPR mate Paul Goddard and went up and scored a sensational winning goal. The “Roeder Shuffle” was a thing of beauty and has rightly gone into football folklore. His recent passing saddened me immensely.

Languid looking Liam O’Brien arrived in 1988, signed by interim management team Colin Suggett and the aforementioned Mick Martin. After relegation and an inauspicious start under Jim Smith there was little indication that Liam would became a hero. It took the arrival of Ossie Ardiles and then Kevin Keegan to get the best out of him and it wasn’t long before we were seeing his Terry Thomas gap-toothed grin, as he wheeled away from yet another magnificent goal against the mackems or smoggies.

David Kelly, or “Ned” as he fondly became known, signed for Newcastle when we were hurtling towards the old 3rd Division in 1992. Little did he know that he would go on to score probably the most important goal in our history against Portsmouth a few months later but only after he had put the mackems to the sword in between. David became our top scorer as we went up as Champions 12 months later and beat Andy Cole to a hat-trick in the 7-1 on the last day of the season against Leicester.

Last but not least, is a man who I once bumped into on a quiet day shopping in the Toon, Pavel Srnicek. He was a quiet man who fell in love with the area and its folk after his move from Banik Ostrava but it took him time to settle. The rest is history and he famously did become a Geordie, even coming back to help us out in an hour of need years later. Brave and eccentric, I think Pavel epitomises what really is a Newcastle United cult hero, he loved to perform for the people who adored him the most.

Me and my dog “Little” Edd went to Pav’s memorial at St Andrew’s and when Steve Harper finished the eulogy and everyone was trying to hold it all back, Edd who had been silent throughout began crying. It was a very poignant moment as you can imagine.

As it happens, my heroes lasted more than one day and they still make me feel good thinking about them in their prime.

Howay lads, I know I have left some other Newcastle United cult heroes out and would love to hear some of your own memories and tales…


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