I’ve supported Newcastle United FC all my life. I don’t often blog about them, but occasionally something crops up that piques my interest and gets me typing. This is one of those occasions. Let me explain.
Over the weekend the TalkSport pundit and ex Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor offered his audience some rather stupid views about Newcastle United. Now, I’ve only seen a clip of this, but essentially his point was that no one would want to sign for Newcastle. By ‘no one’ I’m taking it he meant players of any great quality and those that might get us out of the kind of trouble that we currently find ourselves in. His argument was something along the lines of “If a player was offered £40k a week to play for Newcastle or £30k a week to play for Brentford, he’d choose Brentford because players don’t want to live in Newcastle, they want to live in London.” What, all of them?
Now, I’m not an idiot. I realise that there are players who would turn us down in order to go and live in London. But his comments got me thinking. At first, like many others, I thought of the many attractions of my home town. Then I recalled some of the brilliant players we’ve had over the years. In fact, several of these former players took to social media to refute Gabby’s argument. More of this later.
What struck my mostly, when I’d had time to think about it a bit, was how utterly absurd a point Agbonlahor had made. Because of course, even a small amount of thought would produce a list of players who signed for less glamorous clubs than those in London. Some went for money, others to play for a certain manager and others because doing their homework revealed a lot about the clubs they would sign for and the cities in which they’d live and told them that although there was no Harrods, they could probably have an excellent quality of life wherever they lived. I mean, taking Gabby’s £30k or £40k a week analogy, earning more than a average person’s yearly salary in a week might make life quite easy really. But not in Newcastle though. Never in Newcastle. Take less money, to play in front of less fans at a smaller club because…London. As I said earlier, utterly absurd.
It’s widely acknowledged that Diego Maradona was and is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – footballers to ever grace a pitch. A breathtaking talent, worshipped wherever he played. And yet, he was arguably happiest at Napoli. That’s in Naples, Gabby. That’s in Italy, Gabby. Europe, Gabby. Maradona left Barcelona and signed for a club in Naples; not AC or Inter of Milan, not Lazio or Roma, but Napoli, a city that while far sunnier is totally comparable to Newcastle in terms of its economic profile and appeal. And unless I’ve missed something, Naples doesn’t have a Harrods, a Thames, a London Eye or a Buckingham Palace either.
Fast forward to the present day and a player that many would deem the best in the world plays in an industrial city in northern Britain where, on first glance, it might not seem like the best place to live. And yet, Mo Salah is as happy as a pig in the proverbial. I understand the draw of Liverpool FC, but looking at what Gabby tells us, it proves a point. Liverpool is nowhere near London, yet even in their barren years they’ve signed a great number of quality footballers.
Explain to me also, the phenomenon of world class footballers from many countries of the world, joining clubs in the arse end of Russia or China to play their football. The quality of life or that of the shopping doesn’t matter if the right amount of money is waved in some people’s direction. And while the majority of fans would rather it was a direction we didn’t take, if money needs to be waved, we’ve got enough to tempt most players out of signing for Brentford. And that’s no disrespect to Brentford.
A little bit of thought also added the following names to throw at Gabby’s argument. De Bruyne at Wofsburg, Hazard at Lille, Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson at Middlesborough, Sane and Van Dijk at Southampton, Okocha at Bolton, Carbone at Bradford, Yeboah, Strachan and now Raphinha at Leeds and anyone, literally anyone at sunderland. These players all dispensed with geography to play football and live in places that weren’t as glamourous as London for one reason or another. None of them hung around for a late bid on only slightly less money from Brentford, West Ham, QPR, Fulham or even bloody Watford. And yes, I know Watford’s not actually in London. You take my point though? Not you Gabby. You wouldn’t understand my point if it was projected onto a stand at Villa Park.
In other news, a lot of footballers are not rocket scientists. They just want to play football. They’ll have enough money to afford a nice place to live in a nice part of the area around their new football club. They may well not have heard of Newcastle, but history proves that they’re happy enough to sign for us and happier still once the decision is made. Because you know what, Gabby? It’s not a bad place and no one says these people have to stay there until the end of their days. These careers are nothing if not transitory and temporary.
Newcastle United and Newcastle Upon Tyne have a lot to offer. Whisper it quietly, but some might even enjoy it more than living in London, simply because it’s a fabulous city and area. The place is renowned for the friendliness of its people (although I’m not sure you’ve got too many fans, Mr.A), there’s culture – in case someone like Patrick Bamford ever wanted to sign for us – beaches, stunning countryside, nightlife and a night out that untold thousands would vouch for once they’d recovered from the hangover. We’re the home of Greggs – although I believe London has branches too – we have an airport with planes and everything, we have the Byker Wall if you want to see some rather unique architecture, we have the Metro, we have the Town Moor in case you do so well that you’re given the Freedom of The City and need somewhere to graze your cattle and best of all, we’ve got an absolute shitload of bridges. Probably more than London, in fact.
When I was 22 years old I left Newcastle. I had just finished university, couldn’t find a job and was in a long distance relationship that wasn’t going anywhere if we continued to live so far apart. So, I left home. And I stayed away. I’ve lived away for 27 years now, settling in Leeds for the last 24 with the lass that I left home for. So, good decision really. I love Leeds, but it’s not home. It’s not Newcastle. And let me tell you, there’s not a day goes by when I don’t feel some sort of homesickness, because I was born and bred in a very special city that sadly lots of people adopt a view of without knowing very much at all about the place itself. Isn’t that right Gabby? Well, as far as I’m concerned Newcastle is my home town, regardless of where I live and as much as it’s changed over the years – for the better – I still love it dearly. So, I see no reason why anyone else wouldn’t love it too, be they a foreign superstar or an up and coming young British player.
Which leads me on nicely to the final point I’d like to make to Gabby Agbonlahor and people like him. It’s a point that lots of others have made, but still, it’s worth repeating. There’s already an enormous list of gifted and cosmopolitan footballers who have moved here previously, despite what some may think. So let me jog your memory with a small sample of them. Tino Asprilla (clever enough to arrive in a fur coat), Yohan Cabaye (Dreamboat), Shay Given, Philipe Albert (arrived after a World Cup that meant he could have played anywhere), Gary Speed (legend of the British game), Robert Lee (an actual cockney), Demba Ba, Warren Barton, Hatem Ben Arfa, David Ginola (because while he was worth it, he thought we were too), Jonas Gutierrez (who traded living in Majorca to come to the Toon), Kevin Keegan (England captain and European Footballer of The Year, twice), Didi Hamann (left Bayern Munich to play for us), Hugo Viana, Les Ferdinand, Obafemi Martins, Nobby Solano (enjoyed it so much he signed twice), Patrick Kluivert, Laurent Robert and Gini Wijnaldum. Players from all over the globe. Some of them even from that there mythical London.
So when you think about it Gabby, what you said was a little bit daft, wasn’t it? Because footballers, primarily just want to play football, don’t they. And sometimes, just sometimes, London doesn’t even come into their thinking.