Have you ever looked at a kit and just thought you deserve everything, you can have whatever you want, an FA Cup? My credit card, just take it. Well back in the 1995/1996 season Newcastle United had that kit, to be honest with you they had two kits, and it just so happened they would be involved in one of the most talked about seasons and title races in The Premier League’s history. The season itself had everything, goals,unbelievable moments and rants, yes you know what I mean.
The home shirt that season was a little cracker wasn’t it? Adidas were at it again; designing this stormer of a shirt, Black and White with a grandad collar and what made the kit stand out was that it never had the original Adidas logo or the Adidas logo we know today. Instead it just had Adidas written on the right side of the chest. It stood out as did many 90’s just Adidas printed shirts. Black and White has always been cool just ask Juventus and Michel Hazanavicius. The away kit was the kit of kits in terms of Premier League away kits; it’s the Robert De Niro of football kits (we’re talking late 70’s early 80’s De Niro). I,t’s fantastic, hoops on a football kit is a winner, let’s get that straight from the start and again the just Adidas on the right side no three bars or trefoil the second winner, no one asked where’s the Adidas logo? No one cared it was cool, like a late 80’s rave, and, yes they both had that sponsor – best ever, Newcastle Brown Ale. The away and goalkeeper kit had round logos in the middle and the home had oval, but that logo stood out. This kit had it all, none of that Carlsberg nonsense or Chang beer, the Toon knew the score back then. Playing in these two kit’s, the players must have thought ‘were the dogs bollocks aren’t we lads?’ If it was me I would have given them the domestic treble in September. Having a decent ale as a sponsor and a granddad collar on your shirt , and giving Alex Ferguson the shits for half a year that will do me.
Just a few short years before, Newcastle were promoted back to the Premier League in 1993. A year before they had just survived relegation from the second division. In their first season they had come third in the league, my brother had the Newcastle home shirt with Andy Cole on, he was in love with him but the next season, Newcastle dropped off finishing in sixth. Then this wasn’t helped by Newcastle shocking us all, and destroying my brothers heart by selling their main goal scorer, in January to Manchester United of all clubs. The team every Liverpool fan has to hate, my brother never wore or looked at that Newcastle shirt again. The Toon had lost their main goal threat and looked likely to struggle next season if they didn’t replace Andy Cole’s goals. Keegan famously took questions about the sale of Cole outside on the Steps of St James Park, something tells me you wouldn’t catch Jose Mourinho doing that.
Before I get on to the season; I have to speak about the manager behind all this chaos, the man behind some of the best looking football of the 90’s, Mr Kevin Keegan; a wonderful football player, a European footballer of the year, a former red and also a favourite of mine, (I have the retro Keegan 7 FA Cup Winners shirt) and Alex Ferguson’s best mate! We’ll get to this later. Keegan turned Newcastle to the powerhouse attacking team they would be in the 90’s, he was a great motivator, too bad he wasn’t my science teacher. Keegan loved the attacking style of football, a bit like Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, ‘they score 2 so we score 3’ kind of mentality, but it would entertain anyone who wasn’t up against it that week.
The season started with Newcastle spending big on some good talented players; Les Ferdinand was brought in for 6 million pound from QPR, a record fee paid by Newcastle at the time (Andy who?), David Ginola, Warren Barton and last but no means least I had a laugh at this one Trinidad and Tobago most famous son Shaka Hislop yes remember him? Beast.
I’ll have to talk about big Les Ferdinand first he was signed at the start of the season to replace Fergie’s new mate Andy Cole and he sure did the job well (he is definitely allowed a Newcastle Brown Ale). Ferdinand was strong, lethal in the air, brave like a Scouser in the Manchester United home end and a very good looking chap (lady’s form a queue). Many other attributes included being a team player and having great movement, I don’t understand why he’s never gone on strictly come dancing? Ferdinand scored 21 goals in his first 22 games in the league and cup, he only managed 8 more goals that season but he played most of the season with a hip injury. Ferdinand made scoring goals look easy when he was fully fit and you can only imagine how the league table might have looked come the end of the season. Ferdinand was allowed to leave by Newcastle a year later, they were making mistakes even then. He was a world class, all round attacking forward and will always be a legend down at St James’s Park. He would go on to be named the PFA Player Of The Year for the season and I can see why, someone of his class would cost a lot more than the 6 million Newcastle paid that summer in this current market.
Another new player signed that season was va va voom before Renault had an idea in a board room one day involving another French Premier League hero; David Ginola may not have won the league that season but he did however win the player your mother is most likely to fancy award. e brought so much flamboyance and flair to England with that left and right feet of his, he had everything your winger needs, speed,energy and the ability to drop the shoulder and have many opponents just looking and thinking who give him that glue? The ball just stuck to him he was fantastic, Newcastle went and paid only 2.5 million pounds for the player, PSG got caught with their pants down there. Shocking, to let this fella go mainly because of the skills he had and again because he had one of the best barnets I’ve ever seen, his reputation had been destroyed due to France’s bad attempts to qualify for World Cup 1994. No one was too fussed over in the toon about this; one of the early games of the season, destroyed Middlesbrough full back Neil Cox all over the pitch, he’s still having nightmares about that long haired wizard from France to this day. 5 goals was a good return for a winger and one that had been written off in France.
Newcastle signed two players in February to help keep their lead at the top till the end of the campaign, one of which was Faustino Asprilla who was signed from Parma for over 6 Million pound. What made this deal so great was he arrived at St James’s Park in a blizzard in a coat from the Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, rumour has it Edmund and Lucy were having a game of Subbuteo with Kevin Keegan as he completed his move. Newcastle, at the time of his signing, were nine points clear of Manchester United, we all know how the season finishes and Asprilla has been blamed before as a big reason for this,;but for me Asprilla was one of the only things Kevin Keegan got right in that second half of the season, people say he came in and Peter Beardsley got moved to the right but that’s wrong Big David Ginola was injured at the time so Beardsley was already on the wing and Paul Kitson was up top with big Les does anyone remember Paul Kitson? remember him lighting up that Newcastle team? No I don’t myself, Asprilla was a smart bit of business, he was crackers and as Newcastle Defender Steven Howey said ‘he was as nuts as a box of frogs’, you never seemed to know what he was going to do next, but for all the stick he’s taken he doesn’t get the credit he deserves; he was by far one of Newcastle’s best players in the 4-3 classic at Anfield, scoring and setting one up, always overlooked, and that first half against United he was great if Les Ferdinand had been fully fit Newcastle would have killed that game off in a first half, Sir Alex himself has said he just wanted it over.
A fantastic player in this team who often goes on unoticed was Rob Lee, he was a midfield maestro in the Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard mould. He was always making this team tick in the middle of the park. He was brought in to the club when they where playing in the second division of English football and Keegan told him “you’ll play for England one day”, Keegan wasn’t wrong, Lee would go on to win 21 caps for his country he really should have more. It was Lee who opened the scoring in this world wind season in a 3-0 beating vs Coventry; with a lovely header from a Keith Gillespie cross. Lee told Four Four Two ‘the fact that everyone remembers that team, even though we finished second, makes me very proud. I believe football should be entertainment, and we entertained. I wouldn’t change anything, not even a Premier League title, for playing in a team like that’, This shows how strong a team it was and how all of the team played together, they weren’t the best individuals but together they worked hard and played easy on the eye football, Lee finished the year in the PFA Team Of The Year which shows the quality he possessed and he would later go on to captain Newcastle under Kenny Daglish; a great player who if he had come ten years later would surely be spoke about with the likes of Lampard and Gerrard.
Newcastle hit the ground running winning nine out of the first ten Premier League matches, the ninth win being a 6-1 demolishing of Wimbledon. This game would sum up Newcastle’s season, a brilliant attacking display and the odd defensive error, a hatrick from the goal machine Les Ferdinand equalling a record of scoring in seven straight games. Ferdinand was becoming a Newcastle hero, and making the fans believe the Andy Cole deal had been a master stroke by Keegan and the board, the best thing about the game was Wimbledon had their keeper sent off and had used all three of their subs. No other than Wimbledon’s answer to Johnny Depp, Vinnie Jones went in net, he made some good saves for a man doing a job he wasn’t meant to do, he couldn’t stop the three he let in, a rocket of a goal came from Lee Clark, Ferdinand netted his third and the last goal was just an unbelievable one from Philippe Albert. David Ginola and Keith Gillespie need a big shout out here for their pitch perfect crossing in this game which lead to two of the goals scored on a lovely day in The Toon.
When I do these blogs I normally pick games the team win; here I can’t because two defeats for Newcastle would sum up this story, the first being a game at St James Park, a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United. I have to say this first half was talked about before, it’s a half of football Sir Alex himself said he wanted to end. Newcastle showed their all out attacking set up and should have scored about four, Ferdinand should have had two, Albert hit the bar and Faustino Asprilla missed the follow up from that. The big reason wasn’t that they missed sitters it was one man a giant, hero and legend in Manchester, Peter Schmeichel, I have to admit as a Liverpool fan Schmeichel is the best keeper I’ve very seen, some of the games he kept United in over the years were nothing short of spectacular. The saves speak for themselves and another number one over the last two years, David De Gea has done the same and has become the best keeper in the League or even the world. Kevin Keegan said after the game ‘If ever a team has been hammered 0-0 at half time, that was it’ but Keegan never got his goal second half the goal fell to none other than the Karate Kid Eric Cantona he gave United the lead and the 3 points (it wouldn’t be the first time), going into the game the once famous 12 point lead Newcastle had over United was at 4 points this game would put United a point behide, big players like Cantona and Schmeichel step up in games like that and that night proved it.
The next game, where do I begin, the best game in Premier League history? The best game of football ever? Its up there for sure, top 5. A game you and yours wish you could play on a 5 aside somewhere; Anfield was the location for this, all out battle of two of the top three clubs in the country at the time, Liverpool vs Newcastle, it would be a classic. Newcastle had two games in hand of Manchester United and a win in Merseyside would see them level on points, but Liverpool were third and still had something to say about this truly amazing season. Two minutes into the game Robbie Fowler put the home team one up, a young Fowler was dangerous in the box, it wasn’t long after that when Asprilla got the ball put it through the legs of Neil Ruddock who, even then, looked over weight, how he played in a top three Premier League team is a mystery; anyway Asprilla passed the ball across the box to Ferdinand, who did the rest 1-1, thanks Asprilla.
Newcastle would go 2-1 up turning defence into attack, with Ferdinand playing a lovely pass on the half way line to David Ginola who ran all the way and put it in the back of the net, so easy on the eye. This was all in the first 14 minutes, sick, Fowler would make it 2-2 in the second half, before Asprilla made it 3-2 and showing off his hand stand celebration… big fan of over the top celebrations, surely now you would think Newcastle could see the game out, but just like someone fighting Anthony Joshua you can’t just see it out. The game was made 3-3 By Stan Collymore with 22 minutes to go. Then it happened, a lovely build up by two veterans of football by 96 Rush and Barnes and then a perfect pass to the outside of the goal and Collymore takes it with his right, moves the ball on to his left and sticking his foot right though the ball with such power and pace 4-3 Liverpool, Collymore runs away like the kid on the playground knowing it’s going to be talked about for years and then the camera turns to Kevin Keegan who is hanging over a Carlsberg board. If ever their was an anti drinking campaign that was it! Newcastle had blown their chance to go level with United at the top of the league, I’d tell anyone who hasn’t seen the highlights to watch that game, it’s football porn at it’s best.
Now Alex Fergersion had come out and said teams where trying harder against his United team and that’s why Newcastle had been top, Ferguson loved to talk a lot of shit, good manager, but could spin something out of nowhere to win a war and that rattled Kevin Keegan, who’s side had just beat Leeds 1-0 in a tough game, “I’ve kept quiet but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that, we’ve not resorted to that; “But I’ll tell ya., you can tell him now, he’ll be watching it, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something and…and I’ll tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them — LOVE IT!”
Keegan must have been hoping for the same passion he showed that now famous Monday night from his team, but they would loose out on the league, 12 points clear and coming second. Fergie’s mind games worked and he managed to blow up Keegan live on telly.. the rant is still the best thing about the 20 odd years of the Premier League and Keegan never fully recovered from this, leaving Newcastle the next season. He would manage England and Newcastle again but he would never get anywhere close to the season of 1995/1996. This Newcastle team played some of the best football ever seen in an English league but it won’t be remembered for bring home the league title, it’ll be remembered for a rant, a 4-3 thriller and a lovely set of kits.