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Opinion

When the going gets tough – NUFC style

4 weeks ago
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Watching some of these modern footballers in the Euros easily going to ground, writhing about and feigning injury etc.

I thought I would have a wander down memory lane to remember some of our former Newcastle United players who would have laughed at these wimps.

Jimmy Scoular was one of the finest post-war players in the English First Division. He won back to back League titles at Portsmouth but decided to make the move to Newcastle United at the height of his popularity on the South Coast. He was immediately made club captain and made his debut against the mackems in a 2-1 victory, Jimmy already well on his way to becoming a legend at his second club. Cultured but uncompromising, the granite faced Scotsman had a reputation as a man not to be messed about with and led Newcastle United to their third FA Cup triumph in five seasons.

John McNamee was a young lad at Celtic and Sir Alex Ferguson once recollected his first encounter with him in an Old Firm reserve team derby at Ibrox. Recent Rangers signing Fergie took exception to one too many of Big John’s robust challenges and told him he would see him in the car park after the game. Fergie scored a brace in a 2-0 win and once changed and celebrating in the club bar with seemingly not a care in the world, was tapped on the shoulder by a club official and told someone was still waiting for him outside. It was John McNamee and the Celtic bus had left an hour before. A flustered Fergie said he then soon had second thoughts and was sneaked out of a side door. John moved to Newcastle and soon gained cult status and forever etched himself into Geordie folklore after his famous goal celebration at Roker Park.

Mick Harford joined Newcastle in the early 1980s when the club were undoubtedly in the doldrums. A big and strong lad with an uncanny resemblance to Jack Palance, he tried hard to justify his fee. After a few goals Mick was soon shifted on and went on to become a legendary player at Luton Town winning silverware and a notorious hardman at Wimbledon. He even made it into England’s Euro 88 squad.

I met Billy Whitehurst at Len White’s testimonial at Hillheads, Whitley Bay in 1986. I liked him and after the proceedings he came over to The Railway for a pint. Billy was an old school journeyman but tried his best and scored some goals in the top flight in his short time at Newcastle, and nobody could ever question the size of his heart… or his massive fists (I shook hands with him). Google “Billy the Brick” and it will tell you that he is generally accepted as the hardest British player ever and I was once told by an ex-professional that there were a fleet of doormen at Stringfellows back in the day who would vouch for it.

Another Yorkshireman, Peter Jackson, was signed by club legend Willie McFaul, joining a struggling Newcastle in 1986 when we were at the foot of the First Division. Peter became pivotal in our heroic and successful fight against relegation that season. Strong in the tackle and right in the faces of every big and mean centre forward he encountered with his toothless smile, “Jacko” soon endeared himself to the St James’ faithful with some sterling performances next to our excellent captain Glenn Roeder.

Newcastle beat promotion favourites Leeds 5-2 in the opening game of the 1989/90 season with a Micky Quinn four goal debut blast. Legend has it that in the return game at Elland Road with both teams riding high, Vinnie Jones was screeching whilst pumping iron in an adjacent room to the corridor that our players were walking up, after departing the bus. On seeing this our veteran keeper John Burridge approached Vinnie and the bench and when the Leeds midfielder stood up, John put an extra 10 kilo on either side of the bar and effortlessly pressed six reps, still in his club travelling togs. “That’s how you do it son” were his apparent words to an open-mouthed Jones as the rest of the Toon players burst into hysterics.

Workington born “Budgie” was as hard as they come and had a very quick and witty sense of humour. After saving a Paul Hardyman penalty against the mackems, then getting booted in the head in the follow up, he got up and said to Hardyman: “It’s a shame that you never leathered the effing ball that hard you pr.ck!”

At the height of Brit pop in the 1990s there were as many pretentious football hard men about as there were rubbish bands. The self-proclaimed “Guvnor” Paul Ince immediately springs to mind but for me the one player who didn’t have to go around bluffing was David Batty. Being from Yorkshire, David should have been sponsored by John Smith’s with their logo “No Nonsense”. Apart from his goal of the season contender against if I remember correctly Wimbledon, my everlasting memory of him will be when he lifted another “Wannabe” hardman, Nicky Butt, by the throat and wraggled him like a doll against Man Utd in our famous 5-0 win (coincidently when the Spice Girls were top of the pops).

Sitting in the Stanley Park boozer after a Monday night defeat, the Everton supporters informed me and my mate that Big Duncan Ferguson was joining Newcastle in the morning….they were right. The lad had come down to England and Merseyside after an acrimonious time in Scotland and from the off it looked like Dunc had joined Newcastle under duress. Nevertheless he put in some typically rugged performances for us in just under two years. He will be remembered for his reaction to Ruud Gullit’s “resignation speech”, when the arrogant Dutchman mentioned what little difference the introduction of the benched Ferguson and Shearer had made in a rain soaked derby defeat to the mackems. Apparently Gullit was running for cover the next morning as Big Dunc went on the rampage and doors were knocked off hinges.

The excellent Chris Hughton signed Cheick Tiote from recent Dutch title winners FC Twente and it very quickly became apparent that Newcastle had got a bargain. Fearless and tenacious this fella hardly ever gave the ball away. His combative style was never ever going to endear him to referees though and Cheick was to receive his fair share of yellow and sometimes red cards. Shortly after leaving Newcastle United this lad died tragically young and the way the news was received on Tyneside reflected what a fantastic impression he had made on all of us and how much his stay at Newcastle United would be forever appreciated. You see we loved him for what he was, an admirable little tough guy.
Aye…you wouldn’t have seen any of this lot adjusting their Alice bands Grealish-esquè, doing shaving foam and moisturiser adverts for Nivea (for men haha), or even their “WAGs” in the latest edition of Hello eh?

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