Goalkeepers hardly ever get the recognition they deserve. For some reason, the position doesn’t seem to be as highly valued as outfield positions despite the fact that games can be won and lost by crucial intervention from goalies. Newcastle have been pretty well stocked in the ‘keeper area during the Premier era, but Given was the pick of the bunch serving the club for ten years.
Signed by Dalglish from Blackburn Rovers as a young goalkeeper, Shay developed into one of the league’s finest. Even though, between the sticks, he didn’t look particularly tall, he wasn’t small and had no difficulty taking crosses or commanding his area. He was accomplished in every goalkeeping department. A decent kicker with either foot, his distribution was good. Quick off his line and razor sharp reflexes, Given was top class. Perhaps his greatest attribute though was his shot stopping. His agility was amazing allowing him to reach shots that would have beaten many other goalkeepers.
His loyalty also played a part in my selection, staying on at Newcastle for a decade despite the club falling dramatically from grace whilst he was there. The recession of Newcastle following the Robson days hurt Given badly. He loved the club and to see it crumble eventually forced Given to reluctantly head for pastures new as he knew Newcastle could no longer provide him with the opportunities to win things he so dearly craved. The moment I realised Shay would leave was when Liverpool thumped a desperate Newcastle at St. James’ Park 5-1 back in December 2008. Given made a series of exceptional saves during the match and the dejection on his face was clear as the men in front of him left him so horribly exposed. He soon departed for Manchester City.
At his best for Newcastle, Given was right up there with the top three goalkeepers in the league. Newcastle did well to hold onto him for so long. He was dedicated, hardworking and influential. Newcastle let him down in the end, failing to match his ability and ambition. Shay was a brilliant goalkeeper and keeps a lot of excellent players out of my top five.
They may not have made my top five but I have to mention a couple of players who almost made the list.
Sir Les Ferdinand; keeping Les out was painfully difficult as he was one of my favourite ever players. The best header of a ball I’ve ever seen, Ferdinand was a machine. His pace and power was phenomenal and he was only kept out of my top five by the great Alan Shearer.
Tino Asprilla; possibly the most gifted player to ever pull on the black & white jersey. Tino could do things with a football other footballers could only dream about. He was an amazing player, who was also totally bonkers. On his day, as Barcelona found out, Asprilla was unplayable. The Colombian became a bit of a cult hero on Tyneside. If you are a young Toon fan, get on youtube and check him out…he was amazing.