Sunday, 28 September 2008

Get Shearer, or, The Medals of his Defeats

I know a fair few Newcastle United fans, and I reckon they’re all pretty smart and astute and ironic about the football club and the game of football in general. Indeed some of them write on these very themes with great acuity, as at the excellent None of them have ever entertained any daft delusional ideas about Alan Shearer as some sort of Geordie messiah. Rather, there has been a general admiration tinged with scepticism.
Geordies are canny, they don’t suffer fools and they can sniff a wind-up. (In fairness, the very Geordie Shearer is made of the same stuff.) So any idea that the self-professed sheet-metal worker’s son from Gosforth was a flawless/selfless professional and immaculate team-player/leader who walked on Tyne waters and will one day come walking back to lead NUFC to the Promised Land… Get away, man. Never heard the like of it, other than on those Sky Sports vox-pop packages where the reporters bribe kids on the Barrack Road to say what they need for their preordained story. All this nonsense arises again over the reports stirred up by a dozy Joe Kinnear that a post-Ashley NUFC has Keegan and Shearer ‘parked round the corner.’ No-one in NE1 is losing any sleep over this fantasy.
All this said, it’s important to stress that Alan Shearer was an effing magic footballer. There’s not a football team the world over who wouldn’t be proud of a local-born striker who identified himself so strongly (and, in the main, unaffectedly) with the area, and also scored 200+ goals for the side in 10 seasons. So-called football experts make themselves ridiculous when they try to Get Tough with Shearer’s record, on which he always tersely asserted that he would be judged. Take the utterly third-rate Rob Smyth of the Guardian who last week attempted a critique of Shearer’s career stats so dripping with snide ill will and so foolishly argued as to constitute its own rebuttal.
The various Get Shearer factions are a funny old bunch. Man United fans are generally excused from this as their bragging rights are so strong, all the way from the ‘Let’s all laugh at Shearer’ chants struck up at the 1996 Charity Shield when Man U diddled the newly Shearer-enhanced Toon 4-0. That’s the main anti-Shearer plank: that his medals were largely born of defeats. True, other than his Blackburn league win Shearer’s career ‘victories’ were mainly pyrrhic. But Alex Ferguson knows football better than anyone in these isles, and his admiration of Shearer was avid and unfeigned if unreciprocated (twice), so Man U fans just have to swallow that little truth.
The other main hate-rap on Shearer was that, after his ankle injury of 1997 that robbed him of his pace, he became a bit of a lazy bully on the pitch. I have stood or sat in many an away ground and listened to fans delighting themselves with mucus-filled chants of ‘F@?k off Sheera yew c**t.' I have mingled with fans of the national side who thought Shearer as England captain and #9 was ‘a f@?king arrogant disgrace.’ Shearer himself tended to thrive on this stuff – not that he always got the last laugh, no sir. But I think the animosity he attracted is part of what made him special. He just really got up the noses of rival teams and their fans, and people generally don’t like it up them. And the main way he did that was by being a classic big English #9 - big shoulders, big shooting boots, same old Shearer, always scoring.
Management, by comparison, is a thankless task and requires a different skill-set, so for me as for thousands of Newcastle fans, I’d be perfectly happy if Shearer remained himself a Newcastle fan and kept smartly clear of the NUFC dugout.

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