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Opinion

Top 10 Newcastle United Centre-Backs

1 week ago
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Who are the top Newcastle United Centre-Backs?

In a new feature on The Mag, we are featuring a different NUFC Top 10 each day.

A bit of nostalgia, stimulate a bit of debate / argument.

Right then, with a backdrop of court cases, transfer inactivity and the usual sense of foreboding for another underwhelming season ahead, I’ve been asked to focus on something a bit jollier. So apologies in advance to anyone who enjoys a bit moan (it’s an Englishman’s right) but I’m going to focus on the positives here, as I give my own personal rundown of the top ten Newcastle United Centre-Backs to have played for Newcastle United in my time as a supporter.

First off, a bit of context. I was first aware of being a Newcastle fan in the mid 80s, but was far too young to properly follow the team. My first game was in 1988 and my season ticket from ’93 (when you needed one!), so my frame of reference begins some time around the late 80s and ramps up from the 90s onwards.

Apologies to anyone bemoaning the exclusion of Edwardian stalwart Alf Beard, or Pogoing Jimmy Spittlepunk from the 70s, but I don’t know about such ancient goings on. I’m probably largely OK on that score to be fair, as this article is on the internet.

Secondly, the approach I’ve taken is to only include Newcastle United Centre-Backs by trade, so those that have admirably filled in at times such as Steve Watson, Paul Dummett or Barry Venison, were considered ineligible. I’ve also gone with a variety of reasons for inclusion from the quality of the player to his efforts for NUFC regardless of talent and also in some cases, the personal impact they had on me. This last one is probably particularly relevant as we start into the list:

10. Kevin Scott

Some people may think this is going to be a rubbish list from this first entry, but give me a chance.

When I was a kid I had a similar haircut and a more than passing resemblance to this bloke, meaning that I would often be greeted at matches with “here comes Scotty”, mainly from people I didn’t actually know. This comparison led me to have a bit of a soft spot for the man who was club captain during one of its darkest seasons, the almost relegation of ’92. Scotty was a capable but patchy centre half but kept his place in Keegan’s side during the fine promotion campaign of 92-93. He stuck around for the early days in the Premier League, with an abiding memory for me being a 4-0 win against Wimbledon, where Peter Beardsley’s hat-trick took the plaudits but Scotty ran him close for his immaculate handling of the problematic John Fashanu. Shortly after he was sold to Spurs and it would be a couple of years before David Ginola signed and people found another player to compare me to looks-wise…

9. Jonathan Woodgate

In a parallel universe, Woodgate is comfortably number one on this list (or maybe 2). Probably the best centre-back here and pretty much at his peak during his time on Tyneside, the same issue that followed Woody his entire career has affected his standing. Signing in January 2003, he only managed 36 games in 19 months on Tyneside, as injury blighted his entire stay. He was even injured when sold to Real Madrid at a £5 million profit, failing to make his debut for Real for a full year after signing. A true talent, who was unfortunately too hampered in a stay that was too brief to make the impact we hoped he could. Who knows how many trophies we have by now in that parallel universe where he stayed fit.

8. Glenn Roeder

One from my earliest memories, at least of Roeder the player. Glenn was captain of Newcastle and a prominent figure at the time, with the thankless task of being “Gazza’s minder” among his many roles at the club.

I think that even as a small child I recognised Roeder’s standing as the leader of NUFC, although I was maybe too young to appreciate what a cultured centre-back he was, proponent of the famous “Roeder shuffle” at a time when ball playing centre-backs just weren’t a thing.

Of course Glenn later returned when United again needed his leadership, steadying the flailing team left by Graeme Souness as manager and steering them towards Intertoto Cup glory. Sadly missed, and again one that probably would be higher, if I had been older during his time.

7. Jamaal Lascelles

A bit of a fast follow on from Roeder this one, as again I would class this lad as offering much needed leadership at a time when Newcastle were in a bad place overall.

In the summer of 2015, Mike Ashley actually went against type and let the club spend a bundle of its own money to strengthen after a relegation near-miss. However, the ridiculous strategy of transfers by committee (and based on sell-on potential) combined with the incompetence of ‘head coach’/yes man Steve McClaren meant that a team that had no right to be relegated went down horribly.

Joelinton Jamaal LascellesTowards the end of the season, a disgruntled Lascelles was sent off at Everton and heard to scream in no uncertain terms that his teammates didn’t care for the fight they’d brought on themselves. Incoming manager Rafa Benitez saw the raw potential there and Jamaal was installed as captain for the forthcoming promotion season, a role he still holds six years on. This is evident through the organisation he offers on the pitch (look back at how often huge amounts of goals have been conceded immediately following him exiting the side with an injury) as well as a full -blooded approach that at its best has prompted outcry for an England call-up, whilst at its lesser moments has seen questions over whether a different combination of centre-backs may be better. The reason for inclusion though, remains the character. At a time when everything about the club is so dysfunctional, Lascelles offers a rare element of stability.

6. Steve Howey

A bit of a longshot in many ways that, as Kevin Keegan revamped Newcastle from division one relegation fighters to Premier League title contenders, Sunderland-born former striker Steve Howey would become a popular fixture as a key defender, retaining his place until sold on by Rudd Gulltt in 1999.

Howey became an absolute mainstay of the Entertainers team, even when the entire back four around him was effectively upgraded for the Premier League. He wasn’t as flash as some mentioned on this list, which may have cost him a higher placing but Howey was consistently one of the best in the country, a regular in late 90s England squads. Perhaps the slight fade away as he went from Man City to Leicester to Bolton has slightly tarnished the memory of how well he did for us. Can still be found doing Newcastle’s defending on weeknight radio phone-ins.

5. Fabricio Coloccini

Another who earns his place largely from his leadership at difficult times.

The first person from outside of Britain to be named club captain, Coloccini was a central figure in asserting the relegated squad of 2009 to drive themselves back up at the first time of asking. After an inauspicious debut season, the Argentine knuckled down in the Championship and looked a different player on his return to the top flight, making the PL team of the year during that heady fifth placed season and earning one of the greatest terrace chants of recent times.

Like Roeder and Lascelles, Colo held the playing side together during difficult times. His efforts may feel under appreciated as an aborted attempt to transfer back to Argentina and injury problems saw a slight decline in his final season, slipping away unnoticed almost, after missing the latter part of the relegation season. Hopefully most will look back on him with the same fondness his close mate Jonas Gutierrez undoubtedly commands.

jonas gutierrez

4. Darren Peacock

When Newcastle had their best ever season in everyone’s lifetime in 1995-96, who do you think won the club’s player of the year award? Ferdinand? Ginola? You probably should have deduced that this question would have been massively out of place under the title “Darren Peacock” if the answer wasn’t actually, er, Darren Peacock.

For me, Peacock represents a startling transformation in United’s fortunes. Following promotion in ’93, there was hope that the team could compete with the likes of QPR and Norwich in the top half of the Premier League. By the end of the season we were buying their best players, Ruel Fox joining from Norwich and Peacock a club record signing from QPR to bolster a sometimes leaky defence.

The player of the year award is due recognition for the effort he put into that challenge. Peacock wasn’t as stylish perhaps as those around him but he offered a cool, calming presence at the back, where he was often to be found stood on his own facing a marauding counter attack.

3. Nikos Dabizas

Again, not the most talented defender on this list, with the odd howler to his name, but Dabizas takes a lofty position for what he represents.

The first Greek to play in an FA Cup final shortly after signing, he survived the Gullit era and for me is remembered as a key player during the Bobby Robson years. This entry is almost certainly boosted by Dabizas holding the distinction of scoring the first ever Tyne/Wear derby winner at the stadium of light, which was the first time I’d ever seen us win at Sunderland in person.

I would argue that he was the most useful attacking centre-back on this list, with a very decent 13 goals for Newcastle, including the Mackem winner and one in a famous 4-3 victory over Man U. I believe he’s also the only European Championship winner to have ever played for Newcastle.

2. BRIAN KILCLINE

Yes that capitalisation is intentional. This may seem like a baffling choice to anyone who doesn’t remember the time in question but I would go as far as saying that this individual may be one of the most important signings in Newcastle United’s history.

This is based on a presumption of just how bad things were when ‘Killer’ rocked up in 1992, or rather, how bad they could have been, with United on course for relegation to the desperate backlands of what is now league one. It remains my belief that if we hadn’t narrowly avoided that fate, there is a real possibility the club may have spun out of existence. At least Keegan would have walked away, citing himself not cut out for management, and we would never have had the Entertainers, the revamped St James Park or the years of high flying that followed.

While David Kelly has a permanent place in club folklore for his winners vs Portsmouth and the mackems, KK’s early signing of Kilcline was, for me, the key to regalvanising the bedraggled squad. A huge lion of a man, Killer was an instant leader on the pitch as well as adding steel to the defence. Despite not being first choice the following year behind Howey and Scott, he still played a part as club captain, lifting the trophy on that cathartic final day against Leicester.

Killer was also one of the great characters, nipping out to the car to ask his wife if it was alright to sign for Newcastle, living on a barge when playing for Swindon and at one point doing a weekly arm wrestling challenge on sky’s Soccer AM where he would take on all comers.

Inspirational, no nonsense and so important to restoring the soul of the club, the biggest compliment I can give Brian Kilcline is that there’s no chance Mike Ashley would ever have dreamed of signing someone like him.

1. Philippe Albert

I would guess this readership is divided into two; people who never saw Philippe Albert play and people who immediately scrolled down to check I had done the right thing and put him at number one.

When you think back to Keegan’s great Newcastle sides of the 90s, there are many abiding images: of Ferdinand, Ginola, Cole, Beardsley, Shearer etc. But a standout for me is of Albert marauding forward out of defence, with or without the ball, as a petrified opposition scrambled to deal with the attacking onslaught.

Even the signing seems incredible by today’s low standards: the Newcastle manager watched the World Cup and selected an international who had a brilliant tournament. He came to Tyneside, settled straight in and added another dimension to an already vibrant team. Stick that with your £1 million rejected bid for Dion Sanderson.

Obviously, the classic Philippe Albert moment is that incredible chip over Schmeichel, but I have many great memories: of him getting sent off for booting about workie ticket Neil Ruddick v Liverpool, of his running the length of the pitch to head in to beat Man U in the league cup and of many ‘clever’ fouls that prevented the marauding United side getting caught on the break. All done with a sense of effortless cool that added to the myths of the man.

Again, maybe Phillipe Albert is elevated by the wider memories of the time he spent here, but the way things are at the moment, the memories are all we have.

I look forward to all your many disagreements.

(Previously in these featured NUFC Top 10s – You can go back and see the Top 10 Goalkeepers, Goals and Strikers)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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