Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shear class*

At 4.26pm on Monday 17th April 2006, Alan Shearer’s playing career came to an end.

A typically committed challenge with Mackem midfielder Julio Arca resulted in an injury that ruled him out for the remainder of his final season before retirement. The announcement wasn’t made until the following Friday once a scan had revealed the extent of the damage (torn knee ligaments), but both he and we knew, as he sat there on the Stadium of Shite turf, that his time was up.

He had, of course, already scored.

So, no more will we thrill to the sight of the opposition net bulging and the skipper wheeling away from goal, arm aloft and finger pointed skyward.

No more will we feel the blood pumping that much more furiously in our veins when he rallies the troops on the field of battle.

No more will Martin Tyler’s “SHEARER!” bring us leaping to our feet.

It’s largely with sadness that we see the great man hang up his boots. Those that suggest the end has come prematurely may be right – but only just.

I’ve written elsewhere about Shearer’s qualities as a talismanic leader and goalscorer, about what he’s meant to the football club we both hold dear to our heart. His decision to defer his retirement and stay on for another season has been vindicated, not least on 4th February when he fired home against Portsmouth to break Jackie Milburn’s goalscoring record, an achievement which occasioned our feature looking at his six best strikes for the club. His penalty against the Mackems means the record now stands at 206.

But increasingly this season Shearer has needed the ball delivered to him on a plate, or placed on the penalty spot. Those two terrible knee injuries cost him his pace, but his legs really have started to go to the extent that in some games this term he has come to seem a weary, forlorn figure up front. The mind and spirit may be willing, but the body is no longer able. Had Shearer reacted quicker to block John Terry’s shot during our FA Cup Sixth Round tie with Chelsea in March, who knows? He might have ended his career with some silverware. But Shearer’s a proud man and he will be glad to bow out with dignity rather than heeding calls for him to hold off his retirement for yet another season.

So, where does this leave us? With a massive hole both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Whoever comes in up front will have to expect to bear the burden of being Shearer’s replacement, but that job would be beyond anyone – he’s irreplaceable. Other senior players are going to have to shoulder more responsibility – which is another reason why it’s imperative that we do our utmost to keep hold of Shay Given.

Though he’ll be sitting alongside Glenn Roeder for the final two games of this season, Shearer has repeatedly ruled out the possibility of being there come the start of the net. He’s got punditry commitments to fulfil, and I expect the golf course will be seeing almost as much of him as his family. But he won’t sever his connection to the club (as if he could), and one day we may well see him back in the dugout at St James’.

In the meantime, there’s his testimonial match against Celtic to come – a complete sell-out, of course. Hopefully the man himself will be able to hobble on and kick the game underway.

But for his last competitive action for the club to come in a thumping derby win over the old enemy is almost too perfect for words. That it was in many ways an ideal scenario for someone who bleeds black and white, whose ambition it was to play for and even captain his hometown club, was evident from the smile that crept onto his face in the post-match interview.

Trophies? Pah. Scoring against the Mackems – that’s what matters.

So long, Al, and thanks for the memories.

* Well, you’ve got to allow us that title this once, given it’s most likely the last chance we’ll get to use it.


Alan Hansen on Shearer

Rob Lee on Shearer

Shearer’s career in pictures


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