Our Toon man: A black and white life
GROWING up, it’s a job many of us dreamed of doing. Imagine being the Chronicle’s Newcastle United reporter.
In truth, it’s one of the most demanding jobs in North East journalism, especially today in the age of unforgiving, 24-hour, all-seeing social media.
In recent decades, John Gibson and Alan Oliver sat in the prized hot seat. In the 1950s, it was Stan Bell. And before the war, Colin Veitch - former United captain and all-time club great - was the Chronicle’s Newcastle man.
In the 1920s, our incognito Toon reporter wrote under the guise of “The Sentinel”.
Meanwhile, our man way back in 1905, a certain John Lewis, declared of the Magpies as they became champions of England for the first time: “The side has played football of the clean, scientific order, and played it well.”
Football and football journalism have changed beyond all recognition since then.
We sat down with current Newcastle United reporter Lee Ryder for a retrospective Question and Answer session.
1. Lee, what are your first Newcastle United memories?
Mine would be very similar to most fans on Tyneside.
Entering the old Gallowgate terracing for a midweek game under the lights with my dad.
The first thing I saw was the goalkeeper Tommy Wright taking part in a really acrobatic warm-up technique donning a bright yellow Umbro training goalie kit.
I can still see him now when I think back to it!
I was always interested in football but that night was magical and I think I read the programme from cover to cover in the days after it.
I used to go to reserve games at St James’ Park too and would wait with my mates outside the ground to talk to the players.
One day after school we waited for autographs and David Kelly invited us in from the cold.
I also remember everybody waiting outside the newsagent in Shiremoor for the Pink van to drop the newspapers off and there would be a genuine buzz about reading the match report of a game that finished just an hour or so before.
■■2. What was your first game? Who were your early Newcastle United heroes?
My first game was in the 1989/90 season against Hull in the old Second Division.
Mark McGhee scored twice that night in a 2-0 win.
For me my first real hero would probably be Micky Quinn who I went on to meet later in life and got him to do his Chronicle column.
But I remember watching the reserve games and wondering who might come through the ranks.
Back then Newcastle had players like Scott Sloan, Darren Bradshaw and Paul Sweeney on the books!
I remember running on the pitch as a kid at North Shields’ old Appleby Park ground and asking for his shirt - sadly he didn’t want to hand it over!
Quinn and McGhee were the first real stars I came across, to be honest, and they later carried an ageing and struggling team.
The likes of Lee Clark, Steve Watson and Alan Thompson later broke into the first team but those early years saw United in a perilous position and they nearly got relegated in 1992.
I think lads of my age looked at Clark and Watson as local heroes as they were living the dream.
■■3. What was your favourite game as a fan before becoming a sports writer?
There are so many to mention, to be honest.
One of the best atmospheres I remember in those early days was when Newcastle beat Swindon 3-1 at St James’ before Keegan walked out afterwards after promises weren’t made by the board in 1992 - but thankfully he returned the next
day! Looking back, after a great win, Keegan probably knew he had the power with the crowd’s backing over Sir John Hall, but it all worked out well enough didn’t it? I certainly remember the 4-2 win over Sheff Wed on Monday Night Football in 1993 when I was caught on
As a kid, I remember everybody waiting outside the newsagent for the Pink van to arrive Lee Ryder
THE CHRONICLE’S LEE RYDER LOOKS BACK IN A QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
camera, and I think that felt like the night United really arrived in the Premier League as they were nicknamed the Entertainers soon after.
Obviously the 5-0 win over Man United stands out a mile, and the 8-0 win over Sheff Wed in Sir Bobby Robson’s first game.
Another great victory was a 4-3 win over Leicester when Alan Shearer got a hat-trick after we’d been 3-1 down.
But I suppose in terms of complete performance, result and the great goals, it’s got to be the 5-0 over Man United.
■■4. The perennial question. More than 20 years on, why do you think Newcastle collapsed during that Premier League title run-in in 1996?
I have to admit I still think about it now. Most fans of that era probably do as well. How can you erase that from your memory?
In truth, it’s probably down to Kevin Keegan being stubborn over his tactics.
The warning signs were there when Newcastle lost 2-0 to West Ham in February, but Keegan didn’t even want to think about switching to be defensive.
Nobody would have blamed had he done so and lost it.
A mix of a lack of experience, naivety and Sir Alex Ferguson’s mind games proved to be too much.
■■5. How did you get into sports journalism?
I was lucky enough to get some work experience at the Chronicle under sports editor Paul New which really gave me a taste for the job.
I then went to Tynemouth College back in the 1994 and took part on a media studies course. On it my tutor Kate Ranson helped get me some work experience with the local weekly paper covering Whitley Bay.
I then went to the University of Central Lancashire to do a degree and a diploma before getting a job on the Scunthorpe Telegraph where I covered Scunthorpe United.
A brief stint at the Hartlepool Mail covering Boro and Pools was then followed by a switch to the Chronicle in 2005 where I’ve been ever since.
It is a great job and there’s never a dull moment.
■■6. What was the first Newcastle United match you reported on?
The first game I covered for the Chronicle was away to Wigan in 2005, but this was also during the days of the Pink.
To go from waiting outside the paper shop for the Pink van to arrive, suddenly I was in the hot seat writing the match report and ringing the copy back to Thomson House.
But I loved the buzz of doing it from the first few seconds of the game.
Sadly, Newcastle lost 1-0 and Alan Shearer had a goal disallowed so the day wasn’t capped with a win.
■■7. Who were the best and most difficult Newcastle United players and managers to deal with.
I’ve worked with Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Alan Pardew, John Carver, Steve McClaren and now Rafa Benitez - plus caretakers such as Nigel Pearson.
All managers have their ups and downs, and it usually starts well before results start to go wrong.
Rafa is a true football man and his enthusiasm is right up there with Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, making him a joy to work with but unlike some managers - he will also answer the tougher questions and the questions fans are asking.
Recently he was only too happy to talk about his ‘park the bus’ tactics and offer some lengthy responses to what people were saying about him.
Pardew started off well and was good when results were going his way, but he proved to be the most difficult to work with after playing a big part in getting the newspaper banned for almost two years.
He lost his rag at Goodison Park with me once after I asked him about the fans chanting: “We want our money back” following an abject display.
He also stormed out of a few press conferences and didn’t like the fact we could still ask him questions in press conferences (where we weren’t banned) away from St James’ Park.
■■8. Are there any interesting Toon stories/gossip you can tell us after the event?
I remember once being banned for a day by the press officer for saying Newcastle had signed James Perch 24 hours before the club had announced it!
There’s also the story of FC Twente’s Douglas Franco Teixeira who Newcastle had in the bag in 2013 before Joe Kinnear decided to pull the plug on the deal and tried and failed to sign James Tomkins.
The Brazilian was on the plane at Amsterdam Airport when he learned the deal was off.
Pardew was once desperate to sign Darren Pratley from Swansea before being overruled by Graham Carr, and Chris Hughton once thought he’d signed Craig Cathcart after he was pictured holding a club scarf and shirt for the traditional signing shot before the deal fell
■■9. How has the job - and the game - changed since you started?
The job has changed for the better for me because we are now in a 24/7 news cycle where you can get a story out whenever you want and aren’t restricted by deadlines.
Twitter is a huge thing and allows you to engage with fans while video is a huge part of our job too now.
People don’t have to wait until the 6pm news now to get a clip from a Press conference and the analysis of the game is instant on our website.
Those days of waiting for the Pink van to turn up are also gone but more people are reading our stories and comment pieces than ever before via phones, iPads and computers.
The job is as exciting as it’s ever been now.
■■10. Finally Lee, what is your Newcastle United all-time best XI from players you have seen live?
Pavel Srnicek, Steve Watson, Jonathan Woodgate, Philippe Albert, John Beresford, Nobby Solano, Rob Lee, Peter Beardsley, Tino Asprilla, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand.
Subs: Shay Given, Craig Bellamy, Yohan Cabaye, Keith Gillespie, David Ginola, Laurent Robert, Darren Peacock.
Lee Ryder interviewed for TV
Newcastle United famously let the Premier League title slip from their grasp in 1996. The Chronicle’s Lee Ryder offers his thoughts on why
Lee Ryder with former Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew
Lee Ryder as a young fan caught by the Sky TV cameras at the match between Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday, 1993