Sometimes achieving hero status at a club can take a while. You labour long and hard for a club, offering dedicated service, often playing through injury, and never giving less than 100% effort for the cause. For others, however, there’s an aura that they bring with them, they fit perfectly into the template that the club – and the fans – are looking for. When Les Ferdinand joined Newcastle United in 1995 as the St James Park club paid QPR £6million for his services, he was already an established star, an England international and the complete article as a centre forward. The famous Newcastle United number nine shirt fitted him like a glove.
In his first term with the club, Ferdinand’s goals and powerful presence leading the Magpies’ line convinced, many on the Gallowgate decided that here was the next true Geordie hero in that famous striped shirt. Heir the likes of Milburn, under the tutelage and rampaging ethos of Kevin Keegan, Ferdinand delivered from the off.
Netting 25 times in just 37 league outings, Ferdinand’s arrival and contribution was one of the main reasons that Newcastle were to come oh-so-close to lifting the Premier League title. At one stage, they were twelve points clear of rivals Manchester United, but Ferguson’s team’s relentless pursuit eventually wore down Keagan’s entertainers, being crowned champions by four clear points. A disastrous run from the end of February saw four defeats and a draw in six games, as the wheels came off and Ferguson eased his team over the line.
It was a time when what was truly an outstanding season for the club felt so much like a loss. Newcastle had come closer than any of the Toon Army had dared hope to that title, and in the wake of that disappointing run, Keagan felt that further team strengthening was required. For Ferdinand however, the season was a personal triumph. As well as his goal haul, he was named as Player of the Season, and given a place in the Premier League Team of the Season. Of all the positions in Keagan’s squad, it seemed that the one least likely in need of added strength was the strike force. The manager though had other ideas. Ferdinand’s strike partner in that fantasy line up – Alan Shearer of Blackburn Rovers – would be the surprise addition to the Newcastle squad, with a world record price tag hanging around him.
When the home town hero returned to his native Newcastle, Ferdinand was persuaded to hand over the number nine short to the new arrival, and although it was probably never said in such frank terms, the position of the club’s key striker was also passed on at the same time. To his credit, Ferdinand accepted the move with good grace. Whilst many others would have been tempted to stamp their feet petulantly at such a perceived insult, and demand a transfer, Ferdinand merely buckled down, continuing to give of his best in the interests of the club.
The following term, with Shearer now positioned alongside him, although perhaps the reverse description would be more accurate, Ferdinand played both goalscorer and provider. Still managing to notch an impressive 21 strikes across all competitions, he also provided the muscle and power as Shearer’s side-kick; a role that hugely contributed to the club skipper scoring 25 league goals and topping the Premier League scoring charts. At the end of the term, Newcastle would again fill the runners-up spot to Manchester United, but this time, the yawning gap of seven points reflected a more season-long forlorn quest to topple the champions, rather than any late calamitous fall. It was a pursuit hardly helped when Kegan surprisingly decided to quit the manager’s chair midway through the season, being replaced by Kenny Dalglish. The move also heralded the end of Ferdinand’s time at St James Park.
Despite Keegan’s avowed adherence to ‘cavalry charge’ football, with the two-pronged forward line of Shearer and Ferdinand, Dalglish had other ideas. By the end of the season, it was clear that one of the two strikers would be moved on to raise funds for other purchases. There was no way the onus would fall on Shearer, Ferdinand was inevitably the fall guy.
It seems likely that, in an ideal world, Dalglish would have preferred to keep both his star strikers, but with Shearer the established and undoubted number one choice, it would have meant an extended time out of the team for Ferdinand, and at that time of his career, it was never going to be a viable proposition. When Spurs came in with a bid that would give Newcastle the money back that they had paid to QPR for Ferdinand’s services two years previously, the club accepted the bid, and Ferdinand took a ‘Shearer-esque’ move himself – also returning to the club he had followed as boy.
Some moves work out better than others however, and often emotion can cloud judgement. Although the striker would stay at White Hart Lane for some five seasons, he never hit the heights of goalscoring prowess that he had achieved in black and white stripes. His 33 league goals for Spurs across those five seasons compares unfavourably compared to 42 strikes in just two years at St James Park. Ferdinand too, later regretted the move. Saying later to Sky that he had wanted to “stay at Newcastle for the rest his career.”
Two years is a short time to endear yourself to a group of fans, but there was an undoubted affection between Les Ferdinand and the fans on the Gallowgate and around St James Park. In 1997, during his first game back at the ground wearing Spurs colours, Ferdinand was moved by the fans’ reaction to him. Talking to the Newcastle Chronicle, he related that, “At the end of the game, as soon as the whistle went, all the supporters started singing my name. Jesus,” he added. “I didn’t expect that. It was unreal. When I speak to people now and say I was only in Newcastle for two years, they cannot believe it.
(This article was originally produced for the Pundit feed website).
On 1 June 2018, the man who, less than a week later, would be appointed as manager of Segunda División B club Real Sociedad B, quietly settled into his seat at Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. He was there to watch former club, at which he collected a Champions League winner’s medal, and the words inevitably playing through his mind were of a different song, one that asserted no-one who was part of that footballing family – one he felt strongly that he belonged to – should ever feel alone. Xabi Alonso, was there to watch Liverpool win their sixth title as Champions of Europe. Continue reading →
Sometimes, it can be difficult to definitively measure the effect of a partnership. For example, not many would demur from the opinion that Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit were important to the success of the Arsenal team of that era, but just how important? Bergkamp, Henry, Seaman, Dixon and Adams were also major cogs in the machine that helped to make the team work efficiently. What about Roy Keane and Paul Scholes of Manchester United of broadly the same era? Did they contribute more to the success of the team than, say, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs or Beckham?
Looking at partnerships in some areas of football and evaluating their importance can be a little tricky. At the sharp end of things, both in scoring goals and keeping them out though, there are a plethora of numbers to define things. This is certainly the case with the pair being celebrated here. The rock-hard centre of Jose Mourinho’s first double-title winning Chelsea team – John Terry & Ricardo Carvalho. Continue reading →
On 25th March Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory for Mexico over Costa Rica. As well as giving his team an early lead, the goal also brought the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s international tally to 46, equalling the record of Jared Borgetti. Hernandez will be well known to fans of the Premier League for his five years at OId Trafford as Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson dominated the English game, in the first decade of this century. Perhaps less well-known though is that Borgetti also plied his trade in the English north-west for a while, but with much less success. Continue reading →
The latter half of the 1980s was a time of great turmoil for Middlesbrough Football Club. As the 1985-86 season was drawing to a conclusion, financial matters had become so stretched that a loan of £30,000 from the Professional Footballers’ Association was the only way that the club could cover the wages for April. Unsurprisingly, the denouement of that season saw relegation, and Middlesbrough were sent down to the third tier of English football. But worse was to follow.
During the summer, with no games, and reduced revenue, the club was forced to call in the liquidators. Shortly afterwards, with padlocks adorning the rusting gates of the tired and dilapidated Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough Football Club was officially wound up. The Thatcher years had seen a decimation of industry in the region, with traditional jobs sacrificed on the altar of monetarist dogma and intransigence. Many regions suffered. The north-east suffered more than most, and the fate of the Middlesbrough’s football club seemed to be a microcosm for the travails of the 174,000 or so habitants living on south bank of the Tees. Continue reading →
“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to a Sky Sports interviewer. It was 20th October 1996, and his Newcastle United team, under the charismatic guidance of Kevin Keegan, had just delivered the sort of spanking to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United the like of which the irascible Scot’s team were far more used to handing out rather than enduring. Geordie joy was fulsome, and they feasted on it. Sad to say though, for that passionate band of fans, it wasn’t the herald of a new dawn, it was the last flaring from the embers of a dying dream. Continue reading →
The private lives of footballers are often the stuff of Sunday scandal sheets. On-field saints become off-field sinners, indulging in nefarious liaisons and the sorts of spending habits that reflect the old maxim of youth having more money than sense. Such are the impressions so often presented to the public by the behaviour of many Premier League players. There are, of course, some that defy such stereotyping, have a normal family life and somehow enjoy their wealth and good fortune without courting the notoriety apparently so thoughtlessly sought by many others.
It is unusual to hear of such things though, as ‘man goes home and does good things’ is hardly going to fill the voracious appetites of the less salubrious pack of news hounds – and perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, living life below the tabloid radar, and avoiding the harsh, negative glare of the public spotlight should hardly be a cause for celebration. After all, it’s what most of the population do all of the time, but just with a lot less resources. Sometimes however, there’s a story that should be told for the right reasons. Sometimes a footballer becomes more of a person; more of a human being. He becomes a player in a conflict far more important than any played out on a football field. Sometimes he can use his fame for enormous good. Sometimes you simply have to give credit where credit’s due. Continue reading →
Until October last year, mention the name of Slavisa Jokanovic to any English football fan, and you’ll probably have received a fairly blank expression in return. Mention it to a Chelsea fan of any vintage at all, and you’ll probably get a wry smile, and a nod of fairly unqualified contempt. Continue reading →
It’s surely one of the greatest unofficial accolades that the game has to offer. No-one votes for it, not the press, not other players, not even the fans. Someone somewhere suggests it, and off it trots merrily making its way through the highways and byways of ‘football talk’. Eventually, it’s travelled the length and breadth of the football community, by common assent it becomes accepted as part of the lexicon of football. I’m talking about having an element of the game named after you. There’s the Panenka penalty, the Cruyff turn, the Makelele role and even Fergie time, to name but a few of the uncontentious – well, fairy uncontentious anyway – ones. Now, another nom de guerre may be seeking to elbow its way into the language of football. At the moment, there’s only the merest whisper of it being circulated. Isn’t that how it always begins though? Continue reading →
Over the last five years, Chelsea have been one of the top powers in English football. The West London club became European Champions in 20012, won the Premier League in 2010, adding the FA Cup to claim the domestic double, and won the old pot again in 2012. They also won the Europa League in 2013, and having already secured this season’s League Cup, look are odds on to win the league again. It’s all pretty impressive, but certainly not dominant. Despite the absence of any recent home-grown talent in Jose Mourinho’s the first choice eleven, the same cannot be said for the club’s youth team, across the same period. Continue reading →