I have been persuaded to let you into a long but true story which I would imagine would fulfil a few fantasies that some of our readers have or had. It’s going to sound name-dropping but it is true and what a fantastic afternoon it was.
Some might know that I work for the Newcastle Eagles Basketball Club as a volunteer. I was honoured and privileged to be in the inner circle for a long, long time and sat next to Fab Flournoy on the bench during games.
Games that included National Finals when we both won and lost. Great times indeed. I’m still involved at The Eagles although my role has changed somewhat but when Fab was still there I had one of the greatest ever experiences.
Fab made friends with Alan Pardew the then NUFC and Pardew actually attended Eagles games. This led to the team being invited to The Benton Training Camp for an afternoon after the first team trained. The idea being we would play them at basketball and football.
Several of the then first-team stayed around for this although some of the “bigger” stars did make their way home after we met with them first. The basketball game was so funny. I didn’t play in this one but we absolutely slaughtered them. They only scored one basket in twenty minutes or so before a halt was called.
That came from Tim Krul and it’s fair to say he was their best player along with Jonas Gutierrez. But they were amazed at the athleticism and speed of our players on the basketball court and perhaps they didn’t expect us to be that good.
Onto the footy though and whilst I can hardly say I played a starring role I did play a role! I was in goal for The Eagles. Way past my best and very unfit but I could still organise a defence and make the odd save.
The NUFC line-up included John Carver in goal, Pardew at centre forward. Steve Stone and Peter Beardsley as the wide men and Gutierrez in the midfield. Andy “Father of Freddie” Woodman was another that played as did Paul Dummett for a while.
There were others, Leon Best being one. Beardsley was class. He basically just stood around spraying quality balls all over the park. Gutierrez played seriously as did Pardew and we basically had a backs to the wall effort.
We did take the lead though! A horrendous own goal when a mishit back pass sailed over Carver’s head! They were quickly level. Stevie Stone taking full advantage of my lack of height and mobility to chip me as I stood motionless.
After I’d made a decent save from Leon Best a goalmouth scramble ensued and Jonas rolled the ball home for #2. Into the second half and we went 3 – 1 down when Pardew met a Beardsley cross with a bullet header and I had no chance.
Our 6’ 10” English Forward Andy Thomson did pull one back with a terrific 30-yard left foot shot that we still haven’t heard the last of yet. Andy was from Manchester but was a huge Toon fan in more ways than one so you could imagine his delight. The goal was actually shown on Sky Sports News!
The scoring was completed by Andy Woodman with a terrific first-time volley from a deep corner and not long after the game was called off. Probably to save us from more punishment and me from more embarrassment.
We then went into the player’s lounge where they had food waiting for us and a lot of the players stayed around for quite a while chatting. We were all given a Toon away top. Anyone remember that orange one?!?!
During the afternoon Pardew stayed and I was lucky enough to be on the table where he and Fab were sitting. He gave us a great insight into how the Club targeted players and told us about the reasons for signing Cabaye and Cisse in particular.
The scouting they had done on Cabaye showed he ran on average 20% further than any other midfield player in Ligue 1 and completed well over 85% of his passes making him a bargain at £5m. Cisse cost £9m which was high at the time but he had the best goals to chances ratio in The Bundesliga and was converting at 33% in a poor team. Fascinating stuff.
We even had a visit from Derek Llambias during the afternoon and when you consider the public persona that he seemed to exude the private one was so much different. He definitely got what NUFC was all about and had a passion for the Club.
I remarked on that to him and he said that it was unfortunate that when he tried to express such opinions publicly no-one would believe him as he was Ashley’s man and a cockney! He certainly went up in my estimation after meeting him and I think was misunderstood by NUFC fans.
All in all, a fantastic and wonderful afternoon. Being up close and personal with heroes and people I respect and I might have conceded four goals but the quality of those that scored against me made me almost feel professional for a day,.