My favourite number 7 in a black and white shirt has to be Rob Lee.
Rob was signed by Kevin Keegan in 1992 and in his first season helped us gain promotion to the Premier League. He cost a sum of 700k and spent a decade at the Toon with over 300 appearances and 44 goals to his credit.
Kevin Keegan was hugely important in the signing of Rob Lee. Charlton were second in the table at the time (behind us) and Lee was one of their better players. The London club needed to raise the funds to move back to their home ground The Valley and decided to cash in on their right winger.
Two clubs met the valuation of the dynamic attacking midfielder and it is rumoured Lee choose Newcastle over rivals Middlesbrough for three reasons.
The first being the fact he has idolised King Kev growing up and wanted to work him. The other being that Keegan told him Newcastle was closer to London than Middlesbrough, although it later emerged that Kev meant for travelling back and forth due to airport links!
The third is due to the fact Rob Lee didn’t want to be engulfed by clouds of smog and play in front of a half empty stadium, although I have been unable to find a quote to back this up.
The Boro had apparantly offered him a more lucrative deal but Lee could see that NUFC were on the cusp of breaking into the newly formed Premier League and was assured by Keegan that he would coach him into being an England international.
In an interview with the Independant a few years back, Rob Lee lifted the lid on the type of manager Keegan was in 1992 and the reason he joined:
“Then he used to run the club from top to bottom: it was Keegan you saw about contracts, for instance. He was involved in every detail. It was his decision to end the reserve-team fixtures.“
In his first season, Lee was a huge driving factor in Newcastle’s record breaking promotion push. He scored 10 times in 36 league games which happened to be the clubs third top scorer with 6 of these goal coming in 7 games right after a slump in results.
Some fans may remember a 70 yarder he scored against Brentford which was dissallowed in bizarre circumstances. That would have made it 7 in 7!
Rob Lee was transformed from a mediocre right winger at Charlton Athletic into a full time England centre midfielder notching up 21 caps between 1994 – 1998. Keegan described him at the time as the ‘Best midfielder in Britain’ and not many argued.
He was, in my opinion, the most influential player in the Entertainers era who wasn’t number 9 and called Alan.
When Keegan left, Kenny Dalglish came in and made one of his better decisions as manager, appointing Lee as Captain. Rob had 2 chances to further cement his place in Geordie folklore yet failed to lead the team to 2 seperate FA Cup final victories.
Once Kenny had departed, we were taken over by Shexy Football who started off with a close relationship with Rob recognising him as captain. Lee would go to Ruud with the players concerns and was soon stripped of the captaincy, a squad number and even made to train alone.
Lee insisted that Gullit wanted to create a divide between himself and close friend Alan Shearer and that Gullit didn’t want anyone at the club to be bigger than him commenting:
””His ego was as big as Amsterdam, and he didn’t even try to disguise it. Ruud had to be top man in every way.“
One of Ruud’s big failures, apart from signing loads of shit players and being a shit manager with a shit haircut and a shit accent, was not recognising that Rob Lee had played for us for 7 years and was highly revered by the support.
Gullit was ultimately sacked during a derby defeat to Sunderland in which Shearer started on the bench and chants of “Rob Lee” could be heard around the stadium.
Sir Bobby threw Rob Lee a lifeline giving him the No. 37 shirt and had this to say:
“Well, I’ve resurrected him, I’ve given him back his career and he is playing international-class football again, but I can’t begin to understand why it happened,”
“I don’t know how anyone could have left Rob Lee out of this team; he’s England class.“
Rob Lee left in 2002 after handing in a transfer request, much to everyone’s suprise, as he was unhappy with his contract not being extended. I won’t dwell on that though, as in my eyes the guy is a true Toon Legend and deserves only acclaim for his 10 year tenure.
It’s been a while since I wrote an ex-Star Spotlight so apologies for that, I hope to keep them coming…so far in the series we have had Pavel Srnicek, John Anderson, Steve Howey, Nikos Dabizas, John Beresford, Nolberto Solano and Laurent Robert. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do walking down memory lane and writing them. Doubt it though!