There are few teams more iconic than Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers'. Two decades ago today, a 3-1 battering of Boro lifted them to the top of the league.
The mid-90s was a heady time for football in the North East. Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ captured the heart of every neutral from London to Lancashire with their unique brand of uber-attacking while, just a few miles down the road, Fabrizio Ravanelli rocked up at the Riverside to strut his stuff alongside Juninho and Emerson for Middlesbrough. And Sunderland, well, they were relegated. OK, maybe not everything has changed.
However, it’s now 20 years since Keegan guided Newcastle to the top of English football. 20 years to the day, in fact, since a Peter Beardsley double and a strike from Rob Lee saw off Middlesbrough in front of a roaring St James and put The Magpies at the top of the Premier League perch.
In the end, the fairytale never materialised. A dramatic late-season capitulation put pay to that and handed the title to Manchester United. But, for a few months, the Geordie dreams were fuelled by one of the most exhilarating teams in Premier League history. But what happened to their heroes?
Newcastle’s number one for almost seven years in their 90’s heyday, the Czeck shot-stopper was given the unenviable task of ensuring ‘the entertainers’ went home on the right side of the odd 4-3. The outpouring of grief that followed the adopted Geordie’s premature death late last year proved just how respected Srnicek was on Tyneside.
Rarely has one player's career been reduced to a single, glorious goal. Belgian full-back Philippe Albert came to define the swashbuckling entertainment of the Kevin Keegan era, his sumptuous chip over Peter Schmeichel in that 5-0 at St James’ still one of the most iconic Premier League goals. Did we mention he was a full-back?
Albert now runs a successful fruit and veg company, but that peach of a goal will always remain his trademark.
While his namesake and fellow former Newcastle favourite Gavin emigrated to Canada to become a Christian minister, Darren remains deeply devoted to the Church of Football, attending service on a Saturday afternoon.
Peacock was the manager of Northern Premier League Division North club Lancaster City until last year after a spate of injuries brought a premature end to his playing career just four years after that battering of Boro.
One of a select group of players brave enough to cross the Tyne-Wear divide, versatile defender Elliott pitched up at the Stadium of Light in 2006 after two spells with their black-striped rivals. Though it’s clear to see where his loyalties lie. In 2012, Elliott cycled an exhausting 3,500 miles from Newcastle to Lisbon via Ipswich and Eindhoven to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson foundation.
“On the map on my computer, they didn’t look that far apart,” the Gosforth-born giver told the Mirror.
A fiercely competitive midfielder, Batty’s tireless hassling and full-blooded tackling fortified the platform upon which Ginola and Asprilla could perform their tricks for the masses.
The unsung enforcer earned the admiration of Kevin Keegan almost immediately upon arrival before falling out of favour under Ruud Gullet. He wasn’t the only one. Typically, Batty has shunned the limelight since his retirement, only venturing back into the public eye for the odd charity event.
Gillespie’s insightful autobiography How Not to be a Football Millionaire recalls his struggle against the various vices that accompany a life in the limelight. The Northern Irish international lost an estimated £7 million to gambling addiction and declared bankrupt in 2010.
Luckily, Gillespie is back on the straight and narrow 18 years after bringing an end to a successful three and a half years in the North East. That Gary Lineker blamed Newcastle’s collapse in the latter stages of the 1995/96 season to the decision to drop Gillespie spoke volumes of the wingers’ quality.
In an era still defined by hard-talking, hard-tackling Englishman, Ginola was something completely different. A suave, skilful European, Ginola danced and pranced through Premier League defences with ease, capturing the heart of neutrals across the land.
Winning the PFA Player’s Player of the Year with Tottenham in 1999, Kenny Dalglish’s decision to flog the French favourite just a few months after his arrival was, in hindsight, hardly the best way to win over a sceptical fanbase yearning for King Kev.
As urbane now as he was then (of course he owns a vineyard) Ginola ventured into football politics when running for FIFA presidency in 2015. That the footballing world pulled together when the now-49-year-old suffered a life-threatening stroke earlier this year says everything you need to know about his influence. Thankfully, he soon made a full recovery.
A deserved member of the Premier League Team of the Year in 1996, Lee’s dynamic performances when afforded more attacking freedom under who else but Kevin Keegan almost inspired The Magpies to their first top flight title since 1927.
Two years later, he was discarded, denied a squad number and cast to the reserves by who else but Ruud Gullit, before returning immediately under Bobby Robson. You can now find Lee on punditry duty in Singapore. It’s nice work if you can get it.
Voted by FIFA as the best player in world football in 1993, the defining peak of an entirely baffling career would occur four years later when one Barcelona travelled to Tyneside. Asprilla’s immortalised hat-trick inspired Newcastle to one of the greatest results in their history. Consequently, his record of nine goals in 48 Premier League games has been rather swept under the carpet.
The gun-toting, Darlington-rejecting maverick is now 46, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s gone down the ‘quiet retirement’ route. The fact he recently launched a range of flavoured condoms came as no surprise to anyone. And that says it all.
Newcastle’s next generation could do worse than learn their trade from one of the most talented footballers of his; Peter Beardsley is currently Newcastle’s academy coach, though emulating the diminutive trickster’s mastery across two spells on Tyneside is something few have managed.
And, if you’re already accustomed to the hyper-real graphics of FIFA 17, why not try your hand at Peter Beardsley’s International Football and lead one of 34 countries to European Nations Cup glory. Damn those pesky rights.
Currently Director of Football at QPR, Les Ferdinand must watch on in dismay as the Championship strugglers swipe wildly and balloon presentable chances skyward. He was, after all, one of the most lethal centre-forwards of the 90s, netting 41 goals in just two seasons on Tyneside and remains the eighth highest goalscorer in Premier League history.
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