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Opinion

Alan Shoulder – A blast from the past at Newcastle United

9 months ago
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Alan Shoulder made his name in the famous Blyth Spartans team that heroically went all the way to the 5th Round of the FA Cup in 1978.

Spartans eventually going out in a replay against Wrexham at a packed out St James’ Park.

Little did Alan know that later on in the year he would get the chance to run on to the hallowed turf once again.

In the summer of 1978, Bill McGarry had began reshaping Newcastle United.

In a surprising deal, McGarry had persuaded Peter Withe to join relegated Newcastle in the second tier from the newly crowned Division One Champions Nottingham Forest.

Withe had always been a lad up for a challenge so to speak, but I don’t think even he knew the monumental challenges McGarry was facing, to turn our dwindling fortunes around.

When Alan Shoulder arrived from Blyth Spartans in December 1978, the local tabloids were full of the rags to riches story of the non-league footballer and former pitman rocking up at the Toon.

After settling in at Newcastle, Alan caught up to the pace of League football quickly and it wasn’t long before the first signs of a little and large partnership with Peter Withe began to emerge.

Alan was a diminutive striker (only 5’5″ tall) but learned how to read the combative and savvy Withe like a book.

Although in the doldrums, we still had some canny players.

The great Terry Hibbitt had re-signed for us from Birmingham City and Mick ‘Zico’ Martin had also decided to drop down a division to become a Magpie when he left West Brom.

The erstwhile Tommy Cassidy was also still commanding our midfield and that meant that ‘Little and Large’ would always get chances.

I wasn’t old enough to see Wyn Davies play for the Toon but it is fair to say that I have never seen a finer header of a football play for us than Peter Withe.

I also think Withe’s unique personality on the field played a great part in Alan Shoulder’s confidence growing, when pulling on the black and white stripes.

By the beginning of 1980 McGarry’s Newcastle looked nailed on for promotion.

A fine and solid start to the 1979/80 season had been followed by an even better Christmas period.

And then unbelievably the wheels came crashing off in a collapse of Devon Loch proportions.

The season ended up petering out miserably and to rub salt in the wounds the mackems overtook us and were promoted instead (ironically only months after we had soundly thumped them at St James’ Park on New Year’s Day).

It would spell the end for Bill McGarry.

There was no way that Peter Withe would be hanging around, he was just far too good for another slog in the Second Division.

Aston Villa came calling to the tune of £500,000 and the rest of Peter’s career became a thing of legend.

Alan Shoulder was also never the same after his big pal left.

He was still a regular starter under new boss Arthur Cox but a lot of his early spark and flourish had disappeared.

Alan left Newcastle United for fellow Second Division side Carlisle United who were managed by Bob Stokoe, on a free transfer in 1982.

There followed a spell at Hartlepool, before Alan Shoulder had to retire from the professional game following an eye injury.

He went to manage a host of our valuable North East non-league clubs and turned 70 earlier on this year.

Alan Shoulder scored 38 goals in 117 appearances for our club.

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