It has taken three years, but Guy Bates has finally got over the crushing blow of being shown the door by Newcastle United – and in some style. Stuart Rayner on the fairytale with a happy ending.
SCORING a 90th-minute winner to clinch your club’s first league title in only your sixth start might not cause Roy Race – Melchester Rovers’ comic book hero – to bat an eyelid. But when Guy Bates’ strike hit the back of the net against Cork City earlier this month it finally buried the ghosts of St James’s Park.
No matter what befell him during a season, Race would invariably end it with silverware, but the Drogheda United man’s heroics earned him a first medal since playing for Newcastle United’s youth team in the Napoli Tournament four years earlier.
In the intervening seasons the striker became a have-boots-will-travel international journeyman, having played in four national leagues on two continents despite not turning 22 until tomorrow.
The hammer blow of rejection by Newcastle aged 19 caused Bates to drift – literally, first to Australia, then Belgium via Darlington.
Having played for United since the age of eight alongside current England Under-21 captain Steven Taylor, breaking a string of goal-scoring records along the way, Bates would not have been human if he had not dreamt of following his friend into the first team.
While Bates admits the Magpies snub set him back for three years, he is not bitter. “I’m born and bred in Walker,” he said. “It was great having the chance to play for Newcastle, I could never repay them enough for the start they gave me.
“It’s probably taken until this year to come to terms with leaving but I’m stronger for it. When I left, my friend John Somerville, who played for Sunderland, told me a few home truths, things I didn’t really want to hear but needed to.
“I never really settled after I left Newcastle. It was hard to take. But now I’m in a great team with a great bunch of lads really enjoying myself.
“I still speak to Steven Taylor regularly. I’d like to see him sign a new contract because he always gives a million percent for the team.
“I’ve so much respect for him, he has all the potential to be a top, top player. But he’s still my friend I used to mess about with when I was seven.” Bates has already experienced more, as a person and a footballer, than many professionals fit into a career and, while his previous moves did not work out, he is grateful nevertheless.
“My agent Peter Harrison was fantastic when I left Newcastle,” he says. “I could never thank him enough for everything he did. He got me my move to Australia with recently-formed A-League side Newcastle United Jets. At first it was great but different situations, including a change of coach, didn’t really work out for me.”
Despite having been prolific in pre-season, Bates played just three games in 2005-06 before leaving by mutual consent. Next should perhaps have been KV Mechelen, who offered him a contract after a hat-trick in a trial match. Instead he joined Darlington (scoring once in nine appearances) but it was a temporary stop before Belgian Second Division side KV Oostende.
“I can speak a bit of Flemish, I picked up a few words here and there,” he says. “I was able to learn a bit from my team-mates. I still had a year on my deal in Belgium but it suited everyone for me to move to Drogheda.
“Playing in different countries has really helped me. It’s different styles, different cultures – Belgian football is a lot slower. Everywhere is different and you learn from them all. After all these years of moving around, I just want to get my head down and become a regular.”
At last he thinks he might have that opportunity at Lourdes Stadium. Bates made an instant impact, scoring four in nine appearances and being voted the League of Ireland’s player of the month for September, but insists it is not down to poor opposition.
“It’s been a bit of a surprise how good it is,” he admits. “It’s very physical and very quick, a lot like England. It’s basically an English mentality – they just want to win every game.”
Everything has gone to plan since his arrival in County Louth in July, culminating in the 2-1 home win over Cork.
“It was like a fairytale,” he says. “My friends Gary and John Somerville have been over two or three times and John’s son (also John) was the mascot for the game. After all I’d been through it was fantastic to be involved in. The last medal I’d won as a footballer was with Newcastle when I was about 18.”
It cannot get any better than scoring the goal which brought Drogs’ first eircom League title. Can it?
“I’m going to be playing in the Champions League next season,” he says excitedly. “It’s frightening when you think about it really. When I left Newcastle I could never have imagined I would be playing Champions League football.”