A team packed with quality, with still so much class left to choose from
IF there’s one thing I can’t stand in modern football, it’s these fictional arguments we see from time to time about which club is “bigger” than another – as if there is some sort of litmus test by which it can be accurately measured.
You can tell when someone – usually a betting company looking for retweets or shares on their social media channel – is desperately spoiling for a bit of attention when they start the argument about the biggest club in the Championship or North East or Manchester.
It was a debate that reached its nadir last month when Simon Jordan – the ex-chairman of Crystal Palace who is inexplicably invited to pass comment on Sky’s occasionally interesting The Debate programme – waded into the argument when asked about the Newcastle takeover rumours.
“Newcastle are a big club – in Newcastle,” he recounted telling United’s former owners.
The fact is its a pointless debate that misses the mark. Because size isn’t just defined by success, crowd numbers or money in the bank as Jordan seemeed to be implying.
It is about things that can’t be accurately measured: factors like history and recognising the importance of the club’s legacy in its city and its impact on the sport.
Poring over the list of 38 names in the running for United’s Greatest Ever Team you realise that for all Newcastle is a club of latent, unfulfilled potential – which will always leave them open to the accusations of irritants – it is a club where the current players are standing on the shoulders of giants.
For any club worth its salt, picking a best ever XI should be a fiendishly tough job and it certainly is at Newcastle.
There is greatness on the short- list – indeed there is quality left behind – but here are my picks. THE pang of regret in Given’s voice when he spoke of not breaking Newcastle’s all-time appearance record spoke of a player who loved the club and was carelessly discarded by Mike Ashley’s regime in a period where the decline that Benitez is trying to reverse first started. Given was brave, gifted and influential in the dressing room – a player whose presence underpinned some glorious years at St James’ Park.
In a field crowded with brilliance – he beats two FA Cup winning ‘keepers to the number one jersey – Given is a deserved frontrunner. THE temptation is to pack the team full of players who we have seen – either on screen or in person. But we have to pay due deference to those who served with distinction during an era when United regularly made finals – and actually won a European title, the Fairs Cup. More than 400 appearances: he was the model of consistency and professionalism at a time when Newcastle were one of the leading lights in English football. IN football, titles and medals are the hard currency that are usually used to define greatness. That’s not always fair but in the case of McMichael it would appear that he ticks both boxes: an FA Cup winner in 1952, the Belfast-born defender played more than 400 times for United in a period when they were at their best.
United may have had more bucaneering left-backs throughout the years, but few have reached his levels of consistency and brilliance. Frank Clark can consider himself unlucky to have missed out. NO serious conversation about Newcastle’s best ever XI can be conducted without Moncur featuring prominently. To pay him the ultimate compliment: he defended with the sort of class that would make him a natural in the modern era of ball-playing defenders. To top it all off, he was also an excellent captain and even in this team stacked with leaders he would have to be a contender to skipper it. He is, of course, the last Newcastle player to get his hands on a major trophy – a fact that causes him considerable heartache. THERE are so many great central defensive candidates in this list. Fabricio Coloccini’s inclusion may raise eyebrows but for four seasons he was peerless: it was only disillusion at the club’s regime that soured a relationship with Newcastle’s fans that should have been cemented by leading United to a fifth-placed finish in 2012.
Brennan didn’t deal in maybes, though. Between 1949 and 1951 United won FA Cups and finished in the top four regularly: and Brennan, along with Jackie Milburn, was a big reason for that. There may not be a flashy highlights reel but it’s difficult to see past him for that reason. IT is incredible to think that Beardsley so nearly missed the boat when it came to professional football. But it was a testament to his perseverance and will-to-win that