This week we dig into the Premier League Archive to remember when Newcastle legend Alan Shearer took the reins at St. James Park.
April Fool’s Day is a pitiful holiday, reserved for children who take full advantage of getting up to all kinds of mischief and malarkey. For adults, there might be a half-hearted attempt at a bare-faced lie, before swiftly following it with a bored proclamation of the day’s title, but that is pretty much as far as it goes. However, when news began to circulate throughout the British media in the very early hours of the ‘day of practical jokes’ that club legend Alan Shearer was assuming the reigns of managerial control at Newcastle United, scepticism was not the word. The Tyneside club were a mess, and were in grave danger of slipping through the relegation trapdoor and towards the abyss of the Championship, following a dismal showing all season.
Following an acrimonious show-down with owner Mike Ashley in September, Kevin Keegan was the first to leave the club, before Chris Hughton oversaw some wretched displays, before the foul-mouthed Joe Kinnear made a stuttering attempt at stabilising the side, before perhaps unsurprisingly, his heart problems dictated that watching this group of no-hopers on a weekly basis was sending him to an early grave.
There were rumblings that ‘Wor Alan’ might have worked his way through the lower divisions before one day taking what was surely his birth-right – the managerial hotseat at St. James’ Park. Indeed, just six months before stepping into position, he refused an invitation to join the club’s coaching staff, citing that he “wasn’t ready for it’”. For a club of Newcastle’s magnitude, poise and influence, especially in the north-east, to trust their entire Premier League survival with a managerial novice could surely only be something dreamt up in the gossip column of a tabloid.
Eight games to save their season. St. James’ Park would welcome the visits of Chelsea, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham, while the Geordie faithful would be making trips to Stoke, Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa, before bidding ‘sayonara’ to a league which had embraced them for 16 consecutive years. By no means an easy feat, but with a stoic expression on his face, Shearer addressed the north-east media much as he did 13 years previously, with an heir of defiance and above all, confidence.
What transpired resembled his playing career in no way, shape or form. There was no hunger, fight or desire instilled in the group of overpaid mercenaries who flaccidly and apathetically allowed this great club to slide into the second tier of English football. Where the great English no.9 fought for every ball, covered every blade of grass, and sweated until there was no droplets of water left in his body, these players were a disgrace to the name Newcastle United. Unable to turn water into wine, the side picked up four points from the remaining eight fixtures, scoring in just two of the games.
It would be unfair to blame Alan Shearer for the mess that was the 08/09 season. It would be similar to pointing at a burning house and yelling at the fireman for the smell of rubble in the air. Shearer was not the man for the job, but similarly, these players were not fit to wear the famous black and white stripes. Relegation should never even be contemplated as an option around Tyneside, but due to a series of malpractices, bad decisions and performances of ineptitude, that is exactly what transpired on a sombre May afternoon at Villa Park. While Newcastle have bounced back in dramatic fashion, having consolidated themselves as a top-half Premier League side once again with relative ease, maybe Shearer will look back on that April Fool’s morning and wonder – maybe in accepting the offer to work with these players of such apathy to the cause, the joke was on him.
Michael Ramsay, Pundit Arena.