Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Geordie Chronicles

It gives me great pleasure to announce a new series on Black & White & Read All Over. Well, when I say "new", what I really mean is "old" or at least "recycled" - for the posts that comprise The Geordie Chronicles have appeared elsewhere long before now, both in Toon fanzine The Mag and on the Bonkworld site. Don't expect any topicality - their appearance is likely to be about as well-timed as an Andy Cole jump for an airborne ball. But they're tremendous pieces and, in any case, class is permanent.

A note about the author: Jonathan's a born-and-bred Geordie and is currently resident in Manchester (but we won't hold that against him - he's vowed not to allow his son Frankie to be swayed by the Dark Side...). He has a blog of his own, Crinklybee, where he writes about all sorts including football (most often Stockport and FC United). If you like what you read here, then pay him a visit.

Right, without further ado, here's the first installment, in which Jonathan reflects on the "bastards ... collectively responsible for taking approximately 15 years off my life. So far".

Between the sticks

International footballing bar-room generalisations have always been with us - but some stand the test of time better than others. Teams from the former Soviet Bloc, no matter how shambolic their performance, will always be described as "well-drilled". Mediterranean national teams have talent to spare, but suffer from that footballing affliction, the "Latin temperament". Africans are "defensively naive". But what about the English?

Well, until a few years ago, that one was easy. The English were unburdened by false modesty. We had the "best league, the best referees, and the best goalkeepers in the world". Yes, strange as it may seem today, that's right. And in the days of the flapping David Seamans and James it may seem scarcely credible, but it was the third of the common bar-room claims to global domination which rang the truest. In Clemence, Shilton, and Corrigan, the English really did boast the most able set of custodians anywhere. Which brings me to the point of this tale, for at Newcastle, we had to be different. We had Stevie Hardwick.

Actually, even that four-word statement doesn't sum up our woeful inadequacy between the sticks as the 80s dawned. One useless goalie wasn't enough for Newcastle, we had to have Kevin Carr as well. Between them the one-time Chesterfield custodian Hardwick (yes, the stable of Banks, Shilton, and Ogrizovic) and the future Northumbrian copper Carr (let's hope he catches villains more confidently than footballs) flapped and fumbled their way through five seasons of second division futility. In retrospect, perhaps an adequate goalie could have been manufactured by a combination of the pair's assets. Hardwick could be a brilliant shot-stopper, but was often likened to Dracula (that's right, scared of crosses). The taller Carr dealt better with the high stuff, but had a crazy tendency to dash thirty yards off his line with all the composure of a man being chased by lions. The Gallowgate faithful were kept on their toes by these two, right enough.

Hardwick and Carr set something of a precedent on Tyneside. Where other clubs have bothered to obtain one decent goalie at a time and stick with their choice through thick and thin, Newcastle managers have tended to sign up pairs of custodians and proceeded to chop and change between them almost on a whim. What this approach does for the confidence of the catlike figures condemned to a weekly cat-fight for the number one jersey is open to debate. Witness Keegan's pair, Srnicek and Hislop. For this observer, the Czech, after some early calamities under Ardiles, was at his most proficient before the arrival of the Trinidadian. Hislop's arrival seemed to sow doubt in the mind of Srnicek, who knew any error would lead to the drop. And of course Hislop, brilliant before at Reading and again now at West Ham, never really fulfilled his potential up here, perhaps for similar reasons.

Big name, big money arrivals not really living up to their billing (and of course, "failing to settle up North") is another Gallowgate specialty. Between the sticks we've had our share of expensive flops. Remember when Dave Beasant played for the Toon? I bet you do. The curly-topped Cockney arrived fresh from Cup heroics at Wimbledon only to flounder in the North East like a beached whale. A 4-0 reversal at Goodison was a poor start, and it didn't get much better. The overriding memory of Beasant has him stranded helpless off his line as another speculative lob drops into the net.

If Beasant was a comparative youngster, John Burridge was just about pensionable by the time he arrived at St. James'. "Budgie" has been a great goalie in his day, as the endlessly repeated penalty stop for Blackpool testifies, but at Newcastle he was, well, a bit shaky. My strongest recollection of him was the 1-4 home defeat by Wolves on New Year's Day (remember the one-incensed-man pitch invasion?). Old Budgie was caught and rounded by the same sucker punch Stevie Bull step-over not once or twice but three times as the Tipton terror bagged all four. And God knows the bulldozer-like Bull was no Maradona (or even Roeder!) when it came to the likes of step-overs.

So we've had the lot defending our black and white striped net on Tyneside these past twenty years (what's happened to those nets by the way?). We've had bright-eyed rookies, grizzled veterans, pairs of exotic and more home-grown number ones vying for the spot. A rich history, and I've not mentioned Mike Hooper even once (there's kids read this Mag, after all), or the infamous 1-8 reversal at West Ham when Martin Thomas went off injured, Peter Beardsley went in goal and got injured himself, and young defender Chris Hedworth stepped in to concede the last four or so. And now, we have another pair of likely lads - the identical goalies, Harper and Given. So what line to take on these two, which number one should be the Number One?

You know what, I'm going to sit on the fence. Or stay on my line like Hardwick faced with a dangerous cross.


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