Alan Shearer Testimonial
Newcastle XI 3 - 2 Celtic
(for what it matters)
Oh what a night. And on Jackie Milburn's birthday too.
They were all there - Sir Bobby Robson, Sir John Hall, Gazza, Kenny Dalglish, Warren Barton ("... centre parting
"), Graham Taylor, Jimmy Naill. (Well, not ALL - notable absentees included Ruud Gullit, Uriah Rennie and Craig Bellamy. Perhaps the latter sent a congratulatory text?)
So were over 52,000 fans, a full house - the vast majority being mask-wearing scarf-swinging Geordies in phenomenal voice, roaring their appreciation of the finest player most of us will ever see grace the St James' Park turf.
It all actually started on Wednesday night with a special testimonial meal - Shearer's pre-match staple of chicken and beans, one hopes. But this was the public spectacle, the Geordie nation's chance to say thank you and goodbye to an idol.
Shearer emerged onto the pitch through a tunnel of players and to a standing ovation, his name and shirt number spelt out in the stands. But what was great to see was that it wasn't just him - he's always been a family man, at times one of the few sensible level-headed professionals at the club, and this was an occasion for his wife and children to enjoy and savour too (though overawed son Will seemed eager for a pair of earplugs, such were the noise levels).
Shearer's knee-knack may have deprived him of the chance to play, but he still kicked off before being immediately substituted. The side which started the game in black and white consisted solely of current players with the exception of Steve Watson on the right side of midfield.
Celtic, meanwhile, included Geordie and former Toon player Alan Thompson in their starting line-up, as well as one player who was no doubt quite glad Shearer wasn't fit enough to play, Neil Lennon. He probably still has Shearer's stud marks on his head eight years on. The other sparring partner of Shearer's in the opposition ranks, Royston Keane, was feeling the effects of his own testimonial on Tuesday and so sat the game out, missing out on the opportunity of increasing his tally of red cards at St James' Park to three.
The first half was very low-key, but we had much the better of it and should have been at least a goal to the good by the break. Chopra, playing like a man hoping to win a new contract (and for what it's worth, I think he's deserved it), was unlucky to see a shot (from a Bramble cross!) clawed away by David Marshall and N'Zogbia had a piledriver tipped onto the bar, while defender Stephen McManus breathed a sigh of relief when the ball struck him and flashed just wide of his own goal with Marshall well beaten.
What was needed to liven things up was the half-time penalty shootout, in which a team of Toon fans including Gazza represented England and defeated Scotland 4-1.
As expected, a raft of changes were made at the interval, but they failed to disrupt our rhythm. We continued to look like the most likely scorers, Pattison particularly going close, and when Luque finally lashed the ball in on the volley (the grin on his face being a real welcome change from the now-customary furrowed brow), it looked like it was going to end well. With the game winding down, Rob Lee (due to play for Wycombe against Cheltenham in the League Two Play-Off Semi-Final on Saturday) and Les Ferdinand took to the pitch to rapturous applause, and with Gary Speed already on the pitch and Terry MacDermott on the bench it was a reminder of the good old days when I were a lad etc etc.
But then, completely against the run of play, Celtic equalised through a Shaun Maloney penalty (Ramage would have been dismissed for the foul had referee Mark Clattenberg not checked himself in the nick of time). Five minutes later they had the lead when John Hartson (whose mind by that late stage should surely have been on where the nearest Greggs was) headed past Steve Harper.
Only then did they start to follow the script - and, yes, there was one. First Sir Les was allowed to get free in the box and scuff in a cross which a defender deflected into his own goal. Then in injury time the man who boasts a better goals-to-games ratio than Shearer plummeted to the turf Robben-style and Clattenberg pointed to the spot. Let's just say that Rennie wouldn't have been quite so charitable.
And then the inevitable. Shearer stepped off the bench to deafening applause, sent Marshall the wrong way (how vilified would the Scotsman have been had he saved it?!) and ran off with arm aloft. For the very last time.
The pantomime over, it was time for Ant & Dec to appear in the centre circle. The Geordie duo had something of their own to commemorate, it having been announced today that the next series of 'Byker Grove' will be the last
- but this was all about Shearer. Following some presentations (interesting to note that even on an occasion as sentimental as this, Fat Fred was the recipient of more than a few boos), Shearer got the opportunity to say farewell, the fans cheering and saluting his every word.
And then, after a lap of honour with his kids and one last wave to the whole stadium he was off down the tunnel and it was all over, a career which included a record 206 goals for Newcastle.
I might have shifted the lump in my throat by the start of next season.
Best wishes on improving the handicap, Al.
* Don't worry - we'll be contributing to the NSPCC, one of Shearer's nominated charities, as penitence for that.
Links:BBC testimonial photosBBC Tyne career photosBBC Tyne on Shearer's greatest moments