JUST call it the 44-year itch. In the heat and light of Wednesday night’s Hall of Fame dinner in the well-appointed Bamburgh suite of St James’ Park, Newcastle United’s long wait for silverware seemed more ridiculous than ever.
Regardless of stadium size, support or history, no club has a divine right to win major trophies but the way United have missed out over nearly half a century is almost an achievement in its own right. That was thrown into sharp focus by Wednesday night’s event, which saw the club commemorating one of his generation’s greatest players and a cavalcade of attacking talent – all of whom ending their United careers with no winners medal in their breast pocket.
Some of the players who passed into the Hall of Fame would have graced any team in the land, and on occasion Newcastle have had an XI underscored by excellence. Yet while the likes of Birmingham, Blackburn and Swansea hoist trophies, they have never channeled it into a silverware-winning team.
Alan Shearer spoke passionately and with poise about his reaction when people express their incredulity at his decision to come back home rather than opt for Manchester United, where he would have collected a cabinet full of winners’ medals.
A rousing speech ended with the striker saying he didn’t regret his decision for “one minute” – while Peter Beardsley said his time at Newcastle eclipsed even his title-winning exploits at Liverpool.
Those sentiments will salve some of the sense of missed opportunities, but to cast an eye over the Entertainers of the mid to late-nineties, you can’t help but feel that pang of regret whenever one of their number is asked to reminisce.
They were an articulate, charismatic bunch and John Beresford was one of their most popular members. He wants Newcastle to end the long wait for silver – but admits that would prompt a few feelings of ‘It should have been us’.
He said: “Of course there will be. I look back all the time – it’s the only thing we talk about when we meet up and have a few drinks.
“I still knock around with Rob (Lee) and we look back and go, ‘It was that result’ or ‘It was that moment that cost us’.
“For the ability we had in the team and what we had in terms of the team environment, then yes, we should have won something.
“It’s something I’ll carry with me to my dying day, but I try not to look at the downside of it and try to look at the positive side instead. When I joined, I never expected for it to go the way it did.”
Can Newcastle actually go on and do it this year, though? Beresford – a veteran of European campaigns himself – is adamant that they can.
“You know what? It’s got a chance. I want one team to do it because it would just take the monkey off the back from the North East,” he said.
“You know as well as I do, this place has been desperate for success for so long. I think we’ve created the monster a bit when we were there because we got so close that it always gets referred to.
“I think this club would go further in the long run if it could just get over that first hurdle and win something.
“I look at Bradford getting to the League Cup final this year, which I thought was absolutely phenomenal, but I was thinking, ‘How the hell have we not done something like that?’ Swansea as well.
“You look at it, and sometimes things just fall – you get the right draw or the right team at the right time or whatever.
“I just think you sometimes need a little bit of luck. I look at them in the Europa League this time, and they’ve got the team, but they will need that little bit of luck along the way.
“If you look at the last tie, they were decent. Anzhi were a proper team. So if you’re beating them in a two-game qualifier, you can beat anyone.”
You do wonder whether in the future, the Entertainers team might earn a pretty penny touring the North East recounting their stories. Beresford was engaging on the subject on Wednesday, and said it was a privilege to take their position among the team’s best.
“It’s great to be remembered as that. Kevin said when I signed, ‘Come and join something special’,” he said. “We were in the Championship at the time, and he said, ‘We’re going to get promoted this year, we’re going to do this, that and the other and we’re going to be in Europe’. I was thinking, ‘Yeah, all right’.
“But he sold the dream and then created it. In hindsight, maybe everything just happened ridiculously quickly.
“The players didn’t have the experience and the manager didn’t have the experience, but all of a sudden within four years, we were competing with Manchester United.
“It probably just happened a little bit too quick. If we had just grown over six or seven years then that might have helped, although I might well not have been part of it because the next generation would have come through. Kevin always said from the start that he wanted the fans to be proud of their team. We used to say it, ‘Go out and entertain those fans’. If you entertain them, you’re halfway there.
“That was his mentality and the players he brought in went with that ethos. They went with that philosophy of ‘Let’s score more goals than them’.
“We were playing away at Arsenal, and I remember going in to Kevin and saying, ‘Do you not think we should do this to tighten things up a bit’. He just looked and me and said, ‘Do you want to play?’
“So I kept my mouth shut. He was never going to change.”
The nearly men
1976: League Cup finalists
DENNIS Tueart called it his “greatest ever goal” as Manchester City beat Malcolm Macdonald’s Newcastle 2-1 at Wembley. To make it worse, Tueart was a boyhood Magpie.
1996: Premier League runners-up
WAS it signing Tino Asprilla? Was it the pressure? Was it that night at Anfield? Quite how United conspired to mess up with such a clear lead at the top of the Premier League could still spark a fierce bar-room debate in the North East. Kevin Keegan’s nearly men will rightly be remembered as a great United team, but didn’t have the medals to show for it.
1998 and 1999: FA Cup finalists
THE hurt of these two finals, both against Manchester United, is that Newcastle’s performances at Wembley were so flat. Desperately disappointing.
2004: UEFA Cup semi-finalists
THE closest that Sir Bobby Robson came to ending the long wait. To be fair, Newcastle were beaten by a better team on the night in Marseille – but how different might it have been if Jonathan Woodgate had been fit to mark Didier Drogba?