Al’s debut for Newcastle - at Lincoln
DID I ever tell you about the time I saw the world’s most expensive footballer make his debut at Sincil Bank, Lincoln?
When Kevin Keegan agreed to pay Lincoln City an initial £400,000 to take youth team graduate Darren Huckerby to St James’ Park in November 1995, he also promised to bring his Newcastle United first team for a friendly the following summer. Unbeknown to the Lincoln board, it would prove to be an even better deal than the club had originally bargained for.
Huckerby’s transfer took place in the memorable 1995/96 Premier League season, when Keegan infamously cracked live on air with ‘I will love it if we beat them. Love it!’ Sadly, they didn’t, as the Magpies blew a 12point lead over Manchester United in the final months of the season.
Still, a respectable runners-up finish prompted Keegan to break the bank to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers in a £15m deal. This broke the previous world record paid by AC Milan for Gianluigi Lentini four years earlier. Huckerby, mean-
while, was limited to one substitute appearance for Newcastle and would later transfer to Coventry City, where he would become one of the most promising youngsters in English football.
True to his word, Keegan’s Newcastle arrived at Sincil Bank on August 9, 1996.
The nation’s media and 200 journalists from across the globe descended on the ground hoping to get a glimpse of Shearer, whose goals two months earlier had earned him the Euro 96 Golden Boot and almost ‘brought football home’.
The media wouldn’t be disappointed as Shearer started the match as Newcastle’s new number 9 amongst what was a strong line-up for the visitors that featured the likes of David Ginola, Peter Beardsley and Rob Lee.
And 33 minutes in, the sell-out crowd of 10,069 witnessed history as Shearer marked his debut with a goal from the penalty spot fol- lowing Lincoln’s Steve Holmes’ inexplicable handball. Cue the trademark one arm raised celebration that was so synonymous throughout Shearer’s career.
The circumstances were a far cry from that of Shearer’s previous goal, a third-minute opener in the semi-final of Euro 96 against Germany at Wembley.
Defender Philippe Albert grabbed the game’s only other goal with a second half header. The result wasn’t important for cash-strapped Lincoln though, who were said to earn a whopping £80,000 in gate receipts alone. After the game Lincoln manager John Beck praised Keegan for fulfilling the fixture, despite it coming 48 hours before Newcastle’s Charity Shield tie against Manchester United.
“It’s a guideline as to the sort of man he is. He could quite easily have cancelled or postponed the game because of the Charity Shield in a couple of days’ time. But I think he realises this is where the football grassroots are and it’s all due credit to the man himself to bring his first team to little old Lincoln,” said Beck.
Newcastle went on that season to again finish runners-up to Manchester United, albeit never really reaching the level of excitement set in the previous year. Keegan resigned midway through the season, much to the shock of the Toon Army, stating that he had taken the club as far as he could.
Shearer, however, began repaying the fortune spent to secure his services, again finishing as the league’s top scorer with 25 goals. As a result, Newcastle secured Champions League qualification.
As time goes on, it’s hard to imagine such a debut occurring in this country again. No English club has paid the world record transfer fee since Shearer’s move, with all of the last five records broken by Real Madrid alone.
In addition to that, the majority of the Premier League clubs spend their summers playing friendlies abroad to please the lucrative Far East and American markets, whilst sending out some form of an ‘XI’ against the lower league clubs back home.