Gone but never forgotten

bobby_robson_reu_1454047c[1]There is a cold, hard faced and almost callous nature about modern-day football. A dog eat dog mentality in which ethics and integrity are forgotten; where the result and the almighty pay packet have overriding importance. It seems only too right to spend some time on his 80th birthday remembering a man who stood for everything that the modern-day game has forgotten. It’s easy to romanticise about past heroes given the cynical world we live in, but when it comes to Sir Bobby Robson it would take a cold and bitter man not to get carried away when remembering his story; his journey from a pit village in County Durham to one of the most universally loved and respected characters in world football.

I only met Sir Bobby once and it was the briefest of brief meetings but that moment will live with me for the rest of my life and left an imprint on my psyche that no other person has been able to achieve. I’ve met some special people in my time. Genuine legends in the football world like Kevin Keegan and Sir Geoff Hurst but none of them were able to walk with the aura that Sir Bobby did. As an impressionable eighteen year old I stood at the entrance of St James Park waiting for my Dad to join me for a home fixture against Manchester United. Sir Bobby walked into the main entrance and on his way past said to me without prompt “Are we going to win today son?”. I was lost for words and mumbled something like “It’s a tough one but I think so”. His reply was “Of course we are, be nice and positive for us, that’s what we want here don’t we?” and with that rebuke he was gone. Of course Sir Bobby was right, if you’re a Newcastle United fan you’ll remember the game as Duncan Ferguson and Alan Shearer inspired the Magpies to a glorious 3-0 win over Fergie’s treble winners. Bright and positive no matter what, that was Sir Bobby.

It takes a special character to unite warring factions. Whether it be Newcastle and article-0-00E997FE00000190-113_468x368[1]Sunderland, England and Scotland or Barcelona and Real Madrid. Upon the passing of Sir Bobby, all parties were represented in sharing their grief and paying their respects to the great man. Indeed even some of his greatest foes were falling over themselves to lavish praise and share memories about Sir Bobby. Former rivals such as Niall Quinn, Sir Alex Ferguson and Franz Beckenbauer were as open about their mourning as any supporter of one of his former clubs. Cities that are hundreds and thousands of miles apart were united in their grief upon the passing of a man who touched the very soul of their clubs. Whether it was taking an unfashionable Ipswich Town to a famous cup double, inspiring the England team to an unexpected run to the Italia 90 semi finals, taking on and succeeding in the hottest of hot seats at Barcelona, glory in Portugal and Holland or belatedly resurrecting the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United, Sir Bobby left his unmistakable footprint at every club.

article-1203407-05E7BB7B000005DC-165_468x354[1]Indeed even after his passing he is still inspiring and supporting as much as he did for any of the players he managed during his career. It would be easy, if not lazy of me to bring up how his passing was used by Newcastle United to inspire the promotion charge three years ago, or how his legacy transcends anything that can be offered on a football field. The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation continues to provide support and fund research into the treatment and eventually prevention of cancer. Cancer was a spectre that loomed over Sir Bobby on five separate occasions and was successfully fought off on four of them. However, in putting his name to the Foundation and through his hard work and dedication alongside his loving wife Lady Elsie, he is ensuring that those who suffer just as he did are able to have a fighting chance of beating the disease just as he did. That will rank far above any achievement he had whilst involved in football and ensure that his legacy, not to mention his selflessness will continue on for many years to come.

When considering the structure of this article I seriously considered rewriting the introduction. Not everything about the modern game is how I described it. After all, who wouldn’t marvel at the glorious nature of a legend in the making that is Lionel Messi, or the brilliance of the Spanish national side at the last two major International tournaments?. However, to do so would be to neglect the point that the modern game is a poorer place for having lost someone like Sir Bobby. A genuine working class hero who became one of the revered figures on the world game. The thing with Sir Bobby was that he understood just what the game meant to the supporters of clubs around the clubs and it seems fitting that I leave you with one of my favourite quotes of his. I thank you for taking the time to read this article and hope you appreciate the quote. I firmly believe everyone involved in the modern game at every level should spend a little time remembering a man who understood what the very essence of the beautiful game was.

“What is a club in any case? Not the building or the Directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get out clauses or the marketing departments or the Executive boxes. It’s the noise , the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city” – Sir Bobby Robson

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Gazza: An Imperious Talent

Before you carry on reading this I want to make it clear that what I am writing is most certainly not an obituary, it’s not even a plea.  If I’m honest I’m not entirely sure what it is I am typing other than me expressing my sadness and a little bit of anger at the situation one of my very first, in fact no make that my actual first ever football hero finds himself in right now.  Today I travelled down to Frickley to report on a game between Frickley Athletic and Blyth Spartans, the club that I am very honoured to be working at in the role of press officer.  It’s a job I love doing win, lose or draw, although admittedly it’s easier when there’s a win to report on.  Unfortunately today it was a loss I was reporting on but I was still on a high on the way back doing a job I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, that coupled with Newcastle United’s marvellous 3-2 over Chelsea meant I was reasonably happy sitting in the house working on my match report.  Then I came across the news that Gazza has seemingly come off the wagon and is starting a fresh battle with alcoholism, reading that news meant my mood went flat.

A youthful Gazza at NUFC

A youthful Gazza at NUFC

My love affair with football started twenty four years ago this week as my Dad took me to St James Park for the very first time, just as his Dad had some twenty five years earlier.  Our beloved Newcastle United were playing Swindon Town in the fourth round of the FA Cup and as a six year old I found the whole event rather overwhelming.  Standing in the Gallowgate that day I can remember the noise and the sway of the crowd as Newcastle romped to a 5-0 over their lower league opposition.  There was genuine buzz and excitement about one player in particular and it was a young lad from Dunston called Paul Gascoigne.  He had been tipped to be the next big thing by many an expert and especially by a local legend in Jackie Milburn, Wor Jackie no less.  Gazza scored twice in the win over the Robins and was making an impression in the Newcastle lineup and that would soon be transferred to the international scene.  His all action, bustling, burly style of play coupled with some outrageous skill meant that Gazza was always destined for bigger things than a seemingly unambitious Newcastle United could offer him, especially with the board of directors that were in place at the time.

Leaving Ronald Koeman in his wake at Italia 90

Leaving Ronald Koeman in his wake at Italia 90

Fast forward two years to 1990 and Gazza had of course been sold to Spurs and was set to make a big impact on the biggest scene of them all.  World Cup Italia 90 was the first major tournament I can remember, I was too young to remember anything of the Mexico World Cup and Euro 88 passed me by as my football interest was focused on Newcastle United.  That changed by Italia 90 as England travelled to Italy with Gazza in their midst although what role he would play was still in question as Bobby Robson flipped between using his young star or his more tried and trusted players.  I remember sitting watching England’s second group game against Holland having been so disappointed with the lacklustre 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland.  England needed a performance, a spark, an inspiration and that came from Gazza as he took his place in a game alongside genuine world stars like Gullit and Van Basten and outshone them all.  Who can forget the iconic imagine of Gazza using the famous Cryuff turn against the country that gave birth to the original master of that very same bit of skill.  Gazza had arrived.

An emotional Gazza at Italia 90

An emotional Gazza at Italia 90

As is normal with Gazza the rough would of course come with the smooth and Gazza mania kicked off after the famous semi final loss against West Germany.  A second booking of the tournament in that game meant that Gazza would miss the final should England qualify and in the aftermath of the card being shown Gazza broke down and the tears followed.  A nation had fallen in love with a new star, not out of sympathy but out of respect for the pride he had shown in adversity.  He played his heart out once he had calmed down and showed maturity that he really deserved more credit for.  On their return from Italy, England were given a heroes welcome and the main focus was on everybody’s new hero Gazza.  He was everywhere after the tournament, even in the music charts but we won’t go too much into that.  He would soon be transferred to Italy with a record move to Lazio and with Channel Four showing live Serie A games on a Sunday afternoon I was able to continue my love of a man who by this time I idolised.  If it had Gazza’s name on it I had it.  The England shirt, the skills videos, his yearly annual and yes, as much as I hate to admit it, the Gazza shellsuit.   

The infamous "Dentist's Chair" at Euro 96
The infamous “Dentist’s Chair” at Euro 96

By the time Euro 96 had come around I was a teenager but still idolised the man more than ever.  By now he was playing in Scotland and would provide the iconic image of the tournament with an outrageous piece of skill against the Auld Enemy.  With England 1-0 up against Scotland in a group game, he collected a long pass out of defence and looped the ball over Colin Hendry before volleying home to send Wembley and the rest of England wild.  Again Gazza wasn’t far away from controversy as he decided to choose this moment to re-enact a moment that had provided a field day for the press pre-tournament.  Whilst playing warm up games in the Far East the England squad had been caught up in some late night partying that saw them taking part in a drinking game called the Dentist’s Chair.  So after scoring his goal against Scotland, Gazza lay down on the floor as England players squirted water into his mouth from the water bottles around the pitch.  This will not have impressed the FA but anyone with a sense of humour couldn’t fail to laugh at his reaction to one of the greatest moments of his career, that moment was simply iconic.

After his spell with Rangers, he would bounce around different clubs like Everton, Middlesbrough and Burnley and whilst providing the odd moment of magic just as with every aging footballer the legs had gone and his footballing career came to a close.  During his career he had given every single football fan moments of unrivalled genius, undoubted inspiration and in some cases downright daftness.  While some people see only the Gazza we have had rammed down our throats by the press over the past few years I prefer to remember the fact that underneath it all there is still a human being, if you need a reference point for that then look at his show of emotion following the death of Sir Bobby Robson and at the great man’s funeral. 

Since his retirement Gazza has courted controversy for all of the wrong reasons and reasons that I point blank refuse to go into as I type this.  As Gazza faces his latest battle with his demons I wish to remember him as I see him in the photo below and not as the gutter press seem to want to have us all think of him.  Gazza, you are one of the few genuine footballing legends I have had the pleasure of watching in person at St James Park and you provided me with so many wonderful moments during my childhood and adult life. No matter what happens over the coming days, months or years I will never forget that.

The Icon

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New boys should inspire Academy

There has been a lot of talk in the national press about the recent influx of French signings at Newcastle United.  It seems common consensus among the “experts” that the new boys will cause dressing room disharmony but one opinion stuck out more than any other MoussaSissokoNewcastleunveiling_2891078for me and it was that of Sky Sports’ pundit Jamie Redknapp.  In his weekly online column the former Liverpool and England midfielder offered the opinion that by signing the likes of Moussa Sissoko and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Alan Pardew and Newcastle United were neglecting their own Academy and should start focusing on producing more local talent.  When taken at face value Redknapp’s comments seem more than valid, after all by placing more players into the pool of talent Pardew has to choose from it’s only natural that some of these kids won’t make the grade.  However, if you dig a little deeper I think you can look at things very differently to how the so called experts seem to be.

Anyone who knows me or reads my waffle on this blog regularly will know that I am only too happy to champion the cause of the Academy at Newcastle United.  In my time supporting the club I have seen many graduates from there make their debuts at St James Park. From the early days of Lee Clark and Steve Watson to the more modern day Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson, there have of WATTOcourse been varying levels of success when it came to mixing it with the big boys.  For every Steven Taylor there is a Paul Brayson just as for every David Beharall there is an Aaron Hughes.  Any football fan in the country takes great pleasure in seeing a local lad(or at least an Academy product) running out in their club’s colours and we have seen more than enough do that in the Premier League years at St James Park.  However for the first time since Kevin Keegan’s scrapping of the reserve team the youngsters at Newcastle face an uphill battle to get a place in the first team squad.  While this may seem like I am agreeing with Redknapp I would like to offer you a slightly different outlook on the challenges facing the Academy and the long term benefits to the club.

Since taking over from Chris Hughton in December 2010, Alan Pardew has either handed first team debuts or given regular first team squad places to several players and again has seen varying levels of success.  In the last few weeks Pardew gave a massive vote of
confidence to the likes of Shane Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi and Mehdi Abeid by giving them a chance to shine and I think it was safe to
say he was slightly let down, especially by the performance at Brighton in the FA Cup.  A challenge was set, the prize was there and through incompetency or lack of motivation they failed to grasp the golden opportunity that was handed to them.  Pardew, to his credit, reacted by instructing his youngsters to improve or face the consequences.  I firmly believe several of them will be shipped out on loan to the Football League now that the squad has been enhanced with more experience and undoubted quality.  The new imports will allow a slower integration of the youngsters into their first team careers and protects them from a harsh exposure against the top sides in the Premier League.  There are exceptions, Gael Bigirimana is already an essential part of the first team squad and I am more than happy to see him in the matchday squad on a regular basis.

So anyway back to my original point.  Will the new signings block the path of Academy graduates to the first team squad as Redknapp has suggested?.  To some extent maybe, however what it will do is ensure that the only graduates to play alongside the likes of Ben Arfa adamand Cabaye will be absolute top class youngsters, who have worked hard and stayed motivated during their early career at the club.  I have attended several Under 21s games this season and quite frankly the displays offered by many so called stars of the future were nothing short of appalling.  If they need to look at the right way to go in terms of attitude then they have two perfect examples rather close to home and in fact in two players they share a changing room with.  Adam Campbell and Remie Streete are two youngsters who have impressed everyone at the club with their attitude and ability and seem set for long term careers at St James Park.  There are high hopes for both and a genuine belief that they will become big parts of the first team squad over the next twelve months.  Campbell in particular, plays the game as it should be played.  He shows maximum effort, enthusiasm and commitment and he is at times a joy to watch.  Too many players have done and will continue to fall by the wayside because they lack the qualities that the North Shields born striker has in bucket loads.

I would hope that the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Sissoko and Gouffran will inspire the youngsters at the club to work harder and strive to improve.  If the thought of wearing the black and white shirt, playing in front of 52,000 fans and sharing a dressing room with genuinely top class players can’t inspire these kids then they don’t deserve their place at the club.  So to answer the opinion of Redknapp, yes Newcastle United have made it harder for Academy players to get into the first team but why should the path from Academy to First team be made easy for these lads.  The challenge has been set for these youngsters, it’s now down to them to show Alan Pardew and the fans exactly what they are made of.

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Over the Wall NUFC Awards 2012

On the whole it’s been a positive year for Newcastle United although one that has ended on a slightly negative note. As Alan Pardew and his team start 2013 they are trying to fight themselves clear of a relegation battle, quite the contrast to the opening game of 2012 that saw them romp to a fully deserved 3-0 win over Manchester United at a bouncing St James’ Park. As usual with Newcastle United it’s been a year that has seen the supporters going through every single emotion possible but it has provided some amazing memories. We have experienced the lows of the depressing home defeat to West Ham or the hammering away to Wigan Athletic to the highs of the 2-0 win over Liverpool at St James’ or the return to European competition. So we now look back at 2012 and give our recognition to the players, performances and moments that deserve it.

Player of 2012: Fabricio Coloccini

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The Argentinian International centre back was a surprising but overall inspired choice of captain by Alan Pardew following the departure of Kevin Nolan but rewarded the United manager with an outstanding year. His cool, calm and collected approach saw him lead his side to a return to European competition when they were tipped for a mid-table finish at best. The former Deportivo La Coruna and AC Milan star’s performances in the 2011/12 season saw him receive recognition from his fellow professionals as he was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year. He remains the mainstay of the United defence and will hope to begin the New Year in better form than he is ending 2012 but that shouldn’t take away from what has been an excellent year for the United skipper.

Young Player of 2012: James Tavernier

Atromitos v Newcastle United UEFA Europa League Qualifying Play-Off First LegWhilst the likes of Adam Campbell and Remie Streete have grabbed headlines and been name checked by Alan Pardew for their promising shows in the United Academy and Under 21 setup, full back James Tavernier has quietly gone about his business and made himself a regular part of the first team squad. Benefitting from loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons the Yorkshire lad seems to have gained the trust of Pardew with some impressive performances in the Under 21 League and when called upon for first team duty. Solid in defence and good going forward, Tavernier seems set for a big future on Tyneside although has been mooted for another loan spell in the New Year.

Most improved player of 2012: Davide Santon

Davide SantonIt took a while for the former Inter Milan full back to settle into life on Tyneside but he was given time by Pardew and the United boss reaped the rewards as Santon put in a year of continuous improvement that saw him battle his way back into the Italian national squad. Starting the year as he meant to go on, Santon put in a mature display in the impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at St James’ Park and he would begin to show some of the potential that his former Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho had identified. Whilst he still shows some defensive frailties from time to time, Santon is slowly maturing at United and is moving out of the shadow of his predecessor Jose Enrique.

Performance of 2012: Newcastle United 3-0 Manchester United

161053hp2[1]Having already alluded to this performance in two of the previous awards it’s probably not much of a surprise that the win over the reigning champions (at that point anyway) wins this award. As Alex Ferguson’s (no ‘Sir’ from me anymore thank you very much) Red Devils were in the midst of a titanic title battled with their cross city rivals Manchester City, they travelled to St James’ Park fully expecting to take all three points home and prove that United’s good start to the 2011/12 season was just a flash in the pan. However goals from Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and an own goal from Phil Jones meant that the points stayed on Tyneside. While the three points were gratefully received, the win gave Pardew and his side so much more. It gave them a belief that they could match the top sides in the Premier League and even more than that they could outclass them, something they would go on to show with wins over Liverpool at St James’ Park and at Chelsea (but more of that next).

Goal of 2012: Papiss Cisse’s 2nd goal away to Chelsea

348410-papiss-cisse[1]Stamford Bridge has been a very unhappy hunting ground for Newcastle United sides in the Premier League and it wasn’t since the likes of Andy Thomas were in the black and white that three points were taken from the home of the Blues. That was until Papiss Cisse provided two stunning finishes to put Roberto Di Matteo’s side to the sword as the Magpies won 2-0 against the soon to be Champions League winners. It would be Cisse’s second goal that wins the award and a goal that was as superb as it was unbelievable. Overcoming a seemingly impossible angle, the Senegal international would strike an amazing half volley from twenty-five yards that defied the laws of Physics to loop over Petr Cech’s head and into the net. It would be a goal that brought faces of disbelief and joy in equal measures from Alan Pardew and his bench and drew admiration from Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.

Moment of 2012: Jose Enrique, we’re in the top six

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????If there is one thing that Newcastle United fans hate it’s a player who they have supported abusing the club after their departure. Former Magpies left back Enrique did exactly that when he signed for Liverpool accusing United of showing a lack of ambition by selling their best players. By the time Kenny Dalglish brought his Reds to Tyneside it would be Newcastle who were sitting comfortably in the top six of the Premier League and set for an unlikely return to European competition. Liverpool were on their tails and with the likes of Enrique and in particular, former United front man Andy Carroll in their ranks there was an explosive atmosphere at St James’ Park. Carroll would be booked for diving in the first ten minutes but the biggest laugh came with United 2-0 up thanks to two goals from Papiss Cisse. A cross into the Reds box saw a coming together of Jose Reina and James Perch that saw the Liverpool keeper red carded. With three substitutes already made, it would be Enrique who would be forced to don the rather oversized goalkeeper top and gloves much to the hilarity of the United supporters and as the photo above shows Hatem Ben Arfa.

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ONE STEP BACK TO TAKE TWO FORWARD NEEDED FOR PARDEW

As things stand right now Alan Pardew is facing only the second real test of his time in the hottest of all managerial hot seats at Newcastle United. The first of course was when he accepted the role and took over from a popular manager in Chris Hughton and I think we can all say that was a test he passed with flying colours. However the team he took over wasn’t his team and what Pardew put together was a side based on a philosophy of intelligent players who could play possession football with a sprinkling of flair but showing resilience in tough times. That produced results and some spectacular ones at that and as we know it resulted in a superb fifth place finish as Pardew’s Newcastle pushed the cartel in the upper reaches of the Premier League to come close to a shock Champions League spot. However in the midst of the pre-season that followed the former Southampton and West Ham manager’s philosophy has been lost and in my opinion it has been lost due two different matters but two matters that are intrinsically linked.

Firstly the stubbornness shown by the board when it came to transfer negotiations has been lauded in some quarters and on the odd occasion rightly so. The success of the tough negotiation method shown by Messrs Llambias and Ashley when signing the likes of Cabaye, Tiote and Ben Arfa has because the club’s own worst enemy. Selling clubs are wary of letting Newcastle take their best players at knock down prices and become tough sellers. The result is of course deadlock leading to long drawn out negotiations which have regularly become sagas. Who is the loser in all of this? Alan Pardew and Newcastle United. From what we can piece together from the media and the rare utterances from those in charge at St James Park there were three main targets in the summer. Matthieu Debuchy of Lille, Luuk De Jong and Douglas both of FC Twente in Holland were three players identified by the esteemed chief scout Graham Carr as players who would add something vital to an already impressed array of talent on Tyneside. However the clubs Newcastle were negotiating with would be tough sellers and that was based on the fact that they had already had their fingers burnt by selling to the Magpies in the two years previous.

The Debuchy deal was the one that everyone seemed to have their heart set on and rightly so. An impressive season in the Lille side had seen the full back force his way to the fringes of the French side that would be heading to Euro 2012 and an injury to Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna meant he would more than likely start for Les Bleus. Newcastle wanted a quick deal before the championships started but Lille made it hard to do so. Everyone wanted the move but Lille wanted to make Newcastle sweat and rightly so. As claim and counter-claim were made it got to the stage where Newcastle only needed to pay an extra £500k to a million to get the deal done. However the tough negotiation stance of the club meant they refused and the deal went dead. This would be repeated in the negotiating process for deals for FC Twente duo Luuk De Jong and Douglas. Negotiations that become prolonged, then become sagas and drifted into a farce with the only loser in all three scenarios being Alan Pardew. Three players proven in their own leagues, who would add depth, quality and most of all breathing space for Pardew’s squad. Which brings me on to the second reason.

I have written on this blog that the Europa League will bring opportunity for the younger members of the Newcastle United squad and this is something that I still firmly believe will benefit those players and the club in the long-term. However the likes of Shane Ferguson, Gael Bigirimana and Sammy Ameobi have become key members of both the Europa League and Premier League squads. Three players who are undoubtedly talented but are being asked to play roles that their tender years are not capable of doing to the required standard, well not yet anyway. Had the three deals mentioned earlier gone through then these three players would have had the chance to be eased into life in the Premier League. Biding their time and getting minutes on the pitch in the Europa League and horrendously named Capital One Cup with maybe even a short loan spell in the Championship seeing their development as young footballers nurtured rather than fast tracked. Quite simply kids are being asked to do men’s jobs and for all their enthusiasm and promise they are not ready for it.

Pardew spoke of discussions about how Newcastle would approach the tough task of combining a hectic domestic schedule with the added complication of the Europa League fixtures. Important factors like travel times, distances, recovery times and squad rotation were taken into consideration. However I believe the Europa League has clouded the vision of those at St James Park and been over complicated. Where Pardew’s Newcastle of 2011/12 had fluidity and consistency, we now find uncertainty and a bewildering abandonment of the formation that brought the best out of Newcastle’s key players. For me this is down to the constant chopping and changing of the team in every competition. Players are finding it hard to get used to playing with partners in key positions because they are changing from game to game, there’s a complete lack of cohesion within the squad. It’s often said that to go forward sometimes you have to take a step back and in heading back to the philosophy not to mention the formation) of 2011/12, Pardew and his Newcastle side can still ensure that a long, bleak winter is avoided.

 

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First step on the long road to Justice….

I remember standing as a six-year-old, in the function room at Newburn Leisure Centre after watching my Dad play for his works side. The TV was on but where there was a match meant to be taking place, there were scenes of utter devastation. Of football fans just like me and Dad being carried away from the stands on advertising boards and mass panic all around. Quite a lot for a six-year-old to take in but they were scenes that were left imprinted on my brain, much the same as anyone else reading this who experienced the scenes of Hillsborough in one way or another. I worked out yesterday that I have attended well over five hundred football matches in my life at all levels of the game, most notably at St James’ Park, Newcastle. I’ve attended four semi-finals, three in the FA Cup and one in the UEFA Cup. Hand on heart I can say that not once has it crossed my mind that I would go to the match and never return to see my friends and family. However the sad reality is that the ninety-six Liverpool fans killed at Hillsborough went to support their team, just as I have done week in week out but were never to return.

Being honest as a six-year-old, I didn’t understand what was going on and the aftermath would have just passed me by but with age comes knowledge and understanding and yesterday was a landmark in the fight for justice for those Liverpool fans who lost their lives. The report is clear in its findings, the authorities were to blame, the police were to blame, one national newspaper was wrong. However, the Liverpool fans, tarnished by the accusations of many for so long, were innocent of any wrong doing. An easy target for those at fault given the recent memories of Heysel and the “English Disease” that had stained the reputations of all match-going supporters across the country.

The report itself makes for distressing reading, something I found yesterday as I worked my way through it. Authorities, police and media all condemned for their actions and an overwhelming sense of how helpless those fans were that day. They placed their lives in the hands of people supposedly qualified and were let down at their own cost. However, if anything the shocking level of misconduct shown on the day has if anything been surpassed in the days, months and years that followed. Police abusing their power to point the finger at the innocent, one media outlet accusing decent fans of carrying out criminal acts on those who they stood alongside at Anfield week in, week out.  As an aspiring journalist I appreciate every media outlet has a job to no matter how tough the subject matter is but I would hope that we never see this kind of journalism ever again and it’s not one I would ever hope to participate in. The Government played their part too in allowing a seriously blasé investigation to take place that only seemed to help back up incorrect theories and accusations. However, the most damning thing for me was that a fair number of fans could have survived after a 3.15pm cut off point, imposed by those in charge. Their lives frittered away seemingly without a care by the authorities.

I can’t put into words my admiration for the families of those ninety-six fans and the resolve they have shown since that day. A fight has been, and will continue to be fought, to seek justice for the loved ones they lost. They have been mocked, put down and accused of some shameful things that weaker people would have distracted them from their goal. As anniversaries of the disaster have passed, their determination to bring those responsible to account and find justice has never wavered. There will have been times of weakness but the mental strength shown by those involved in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and those who battled in their own private way, is something that they should be admired for by every single football fan across the country, no matter which team they support.

Yesterday was the first step on a road to justice for the ninety-six fans who lost their lives that fateful day, a chance of closure for their families and an easing, but not relief of the pain and suffering that they have had to deal with every day since. A chance for those in the wrong to be held accountable for their actions that resulted in innocent lives of genuine people being lost. Hillsborough left in an indelible imprint on the psyche of football fans across the country and yesterday began a long process that thanks to the commitment and resolve of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign will be seen through to the very end. However the sad fact remains that ninety-six lives were needlessly taken that day and no amount of charges or apologies will ever take that fact away.

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IF THE KIDS ARE UNITED…..

One day left of the transfer window….PANIC PANIC PANIC!!!!! As usual that’s the case for Newcastle United and as yet all the rumours regarding alleged outgoings have come to nothing, as have those regarding new signings. There’s been talk of Carroll, Debuchy and Douglas but nothing happening but would it really be that bad a thing is nothing was to happen before 11pm tomorrow night when Big Ben chimes, David Craig skulks off to the rock where he came from and Jim White’s head explodes all live on Sky Sports News.

In Newcastle, in fact make that in England, we are great at bigging up promising youngsters but very rarely give them the light of day when the opportunity arises. Take the national team for a start. Theo Walcott was taken to the World Cup in 2006, riding the crest of a wave of positive publicity but never got a kick. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain received pretty much the same treatment during the Euros this year, but at least made it onto the pitch. At Newcastle over the last five years under Mike Ashley’s control, there has been a lot of talk about developing our own players from the academy. I’ve heard many a knowledgeable NUFC fan big up the likes of Jak Alnwick, Shane Ferguson, Remie Streete, James Tavernier, Haris Vuckic and Sammy Ameobi in recent times and rightly so. When you add into that the recent acquisitions of Curtis Good, Gael Bigirimana, Mehdi Abeid and the new kid on the block Adam Campbell and you could say there is a decent pool of talent at the club to back up the first team.

So why is it that when it looks as if we need to show confidence in these young players due to a lack of movement in the transfer market, we shun them and consider them too young and not good enough? Those who have played in the first team (Ferguson, Vuckic, Ameobi and Abeid) have in my opinion never let us down or had poor games. James Tavernier made his debut for the club only last Thursday in Greece and because of one shaky half an hour has been castigated by some fans. Adam Campbell looks like a breath of fresh air with his enthusiasm and pride in playing for the club he grew up supporting, even if he is just in and around the squad that can have a big impact on his team mates. Having all this talent in the squad but not relying on them when they are needed is like buying a flash new car but just letting it sit on the driveway and bragging about how great it is but never driving it. I fully expect the majority of the players mentioned to get first team game time this season whether it’s in the Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup or for some the Premier League.

All of these lads have undoubted potential but to avoid becoming another Brayson, Chopra or Huntington they need to be given a chance to play alongside players who they will learn from. It seems ironic that in a week when the club considers bringing back its most lucrative graduate of the academy in Andy Carroll, we shun those who have the chance to have the impact on the first team that he did. From what I hear they have fantastic attitudes and are progressing well at the club so IF it comes to pass that we don’t bring in any more players this window, let’s give these lads a chance to provide back up for the first team and who knows we may find that they surprise us and do well. Just as Aaron Hughes did in the Camp Nou, just as Steven Taylor did in Mallorca and just as Shola did when he squared up (well sort of) to Dennis Wise at St James’, these lads can be given a chance given the increased number of fixtures we have this season and have the opportunity to make a name for themselves at the club. We just need to stop disregarding them as too young and have confidence in their ability to perform at the highest level.

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