Celtic (h) Friendly - Alan Shearer Testimonial
Half time: Newcastle 0 Celtic 0
70 mins Lee spread the play out to Ramage who put
over a deep cross which Luque volleyed first time into the Gallowgate goal. 1-0
83 mins John Hartson converted a cross from the right with a fine downward header. 1-2
90+1 mins A mysterious free-kick was awarded on the edge of the Celtic box and a quickly taken kick suddenly found Sir Les near the byline. The merest challenge would have seen a tumble but instead Ferdinand crossed and the ball went in off Lawson 2-2
90+3 mins Celtic seemed intent on giving us the ball and at the second attempt it found its way to Ferdinand who charged into the box. Two challenges ensured that Clattenburg could point to the spot and with just seconds left on the clock the scene was set for a late substitution.
On came Alan Shearer to a mixture of cheers and chortles as the referee appeared to have a word with Marshall - presumably suggesting which way he should dive. The information was whispered in Shearer's ear and our infamous number nine did what he does best for the final time - hit the back of the net and win us the match. 3-2
Full time: Newcastle 3 Celtic 2
The man of the moment, Alan Shearer said:
"There was more than just a tear in my eye when I was
walking around. I defy anyone not to have a tear.
About his son Will:
An obviously moved Les Ferdinand said:
"How can you put a night like that into words? Well the
only word I can come up with is unbelievable. It really was such an
You had to be there. It's a glib phrase that usually irritates those that couldn't and inflates those that could, but on Thursday May 11th, 2006, you simply had to be there - at St. James' Park, Newcastle.
For a number of reasons it had been a logistical nightmare for me to be at Alan Shearer's Testimonial but there was no way I was going to miss it. And yet on the morning of the game, I have to say there was a feeling of indifference about the whole thing.
Shearer obviously wouldn't be playing and by all accounts the team providing the opposition - perennial testimonial guests Celtic - had just come from Roy Keane's testimonial which had been overshadowed by Ruud van Nistelrooy being banned from taking part by his soon-to-be ex-Manager Alex Ferguson.
Michael Owen had also been forbidden from appearing at Shearer's - not by anyone connected with Newcastle United but by England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Given that Gordon Strachan had insisted some of his players take part rather than play for their country against Bulgaria, this seemed like an incredible case of the tail wagging the dog. Surely Owen would be facing harder tackles in training than in a testimonial, so it seemed like an ideal game for Michael's World Cup fitness effort (not that some of us care a great deal about his non-NUFC appearances).
We knew that some former favourites would be there; Rob Lee, Big Les, Gary Speed, Steve Watson but if you compare those names with the amazing line-up for Peter Beardsley's benefit game (Cole, Dalglish, Keegan, Beardsley, Waddle, Gascoigne and of course Shearer) the pulse wasn't exactly set racing.
Like the Beardsley game, Celtic fans were evident around the Toon all day. Presumably most of them had been on a week long binge which had only been relocated from Glasgow to Manchester and then Newcastle. From what I saw it was all good-natured although you've got to wonder why they insisted on singing the Henrik Larsson song - if they really did think Shearer is a w*nker then they should have stayed in Manchester or Glasgow.
It was bedlam outside the ground half an hour before kick-off. The scramble for the last few copies of the Testimonial programme was unnecessary and unpleasant. As desperate as I was for a copy, I joined the end of two long queues, rather than compromise myself by joining the scrums at the front. Seeing what were probably mackem interlopers scamper off with fistfuls of the things was galling but surely it wasn't beyond the seller's wit to just sell them two at a time. Thankfully the reprint has saved a few hundred of us from being disappointed.
Queues to the turnstiles were also areas of tension with pissed up Celts and Geordies often barging past frightened bairns who were getting a rude introduction to the matchday ritual. But once inside the ground the mood changed. A black and white scarf was offered to everyone as they made their way to their seats.
A gesture so surprising I almost walked straight past what I thought was someone selling something unwanted at an inflated price. A free gift from the club? Wow. After 30 years of pain and tens of thousands of pounds spent, a free scarf worth a few quid was relatively small beer but it suddenly seemed like it was black and white ermine and I placed it around my shoulders as if it was.
Thankfully, kick-off was slightly delayed to make sure everyone got in safely and someone was sent out to warble some operatic tune to start off proceedings. I'm still not sure who she was - I'm still waiting for the programme reprint - but she seemed to be well received by those who knew her work, or who had a closer view than me….
And then it was time to hold up bits of coloured card that had been left on the seats. Hmmmm, I'm not always a big fan of this with the horrible red and white stripes at Highbury still fresh in my mind. But as the black and white and gold cards were held up it soon looked stunning as two massive number "9"s emerged behind the goals and "SHEARER" in gold letters filled the East Stand. This was a good night to be in Level 7 of the Milburn….
Already, the scarves and the bits of card had been surprise but welcome additions - this was almost starting to look stage managed and professional. For someone (like the young ball-boy Shearer) who had been at Keegan's Farewell game, these occasions can be a bit unsatisfactory - those who can remember the miserable "TOP MAN" firework display or the dreadful PA man who tried to fill for 30 minutes while we waited for the helicopter will know what I mean.
The teams lined up to give Shearer a guard of honour and as the great man walked onto the turf with his wife and kids, what looked like big speakers suddenly sent huge flames high into the air. Again, unexpected and impressive and thankfully less dangerous than sending rockets into the stands - the infamous one at Molineux had only just missed Big Al.
The noise was immense, so much so that young Will Shearer had to cover his ears as the packed ground showed their appreciation. Al said he defied anyone in his shoes not to have a tear in their eye, well I was in my own shoes but I'd certainly filled up at that point. What a reception. It really was a special moment and you wondered what on earth could follow that wouldn't be an anti-climax.
The first half of the match was certainly a bit disappointing, although the first ten seconds were memorable - Shearer kicked it off and was promptly replaced by Michael Chopra. But who cared about the football?
I've been to Testimonials that have ended 6-3 (Jinky Jim Smith's for example) and they have a bit of a pantomime air about them. At least Newcastle and Celtic were playing "properly" and that made Charles N'Zogbia's run and shot that Marshall saved onto the bar even better.
Half-time saw an England v Scotland penalty shootout and it was a bit of a one-sided affair with Steve Harper making a few stops and some horrific penalty attempts from the Scots. The English/Geordies fared much better and one of the youngsters hit a beauty.
Both sides made a lot of changes at the break and it made for a more open game with Gary Speed catching the eye. But just when you wondered why we'd let him go, a wayward pass would jog the memory.
Then came one of the highlights of the evening. It has to be acknowledged that it was inspired by the noisy visiting fans who had started twirling their scarves above their heads but minutes later the home sections followed suit and it was a staggering sight to see the whole ground doing it.
Rob Lee came on with quarter of the game left and straight away his distribution from midfield was outstanding. Within a few minutes he sprayed a pass out to Ramage and his deep cross fell perfectly for Luque to volley a stunning goal past Marshall.
The ovation for Les Ferdinand was tremendous and like the reception for Keegan at Beardsley's Testimonial it threatened to overshadow the star of the show, who occasionally waved from the bench when his name was chanted.
With some old-timers starting to tire, the play was beginning to get stretched and a long ball caught out our defence, leaving Ramage to chop down Maloney in the box. The same player dispatched a smartly taken penalty and it was 1-1.
Minutes later John Hartson converted a cross from the right with a fine downward header and once again the evening threatened to fall a bit flat. We all knew that there was likely to be a late penalty but as the injury-time board was held aloft we didn't look like getting anywhere near their area, let alone inside it.
Ref Clattenburg obviously had the situation in hand and in adding three minutes of extra time he was obviously giving us every chance to get the ball forward. Big Les almost equalised but a linesman's flag and some wayward control let him down.
But then a mysterious free-kick was awarded on the edge of the Celtic box and a quickly taken kick suddenly found Sir Les near the byline. The merest challenge would have seen a tumble but instead Ferdinand crossed and the ball went in off Lawson to make it 2-2. Judging by the players' reactions this wasn't in the script but it was a welcome piece of ad-libbing.
From the kick-off Celtic seemed intent on giving us the ball and at the second attempt it finally found Ferdinand who charged into the box. Two challenges ensured that Clattenburg could point to the spot and with seconds left on the clock the scene was set for a late substitution.
On came Alan Shearer to a mixture of cheers and chortles as the referee appeared to have a word with Marshall - presumably suggesting which way he should dive. The information was whispered in Shearer's ear and our infamous number nine did what he does best for the final time - hit the back of the net and win us the match. It was the last kick of the game and the perfect end to the night's football.
But there was still a last chance to say farewell and the warbler was wheeled out again to sing something about saying goodbye. Given the fact that she was far from rotund, the fat lady still hadn't sung and next on the podium were Ant and Dec to coordinate some award-giving from the Premier League, The FA and from Newcastle United.
The "Who are ya?" for Ant and Dec was tongue in cheek but some boos for Chairman Freddy Shepherd were less so as Al was handed various trinkets, including a cast of the boots with which he broke Jackie Milburn's goalscoring record.
Shearer was interviewed and was unusually tongue-tied as the emotion in his voice was obvious. And then he and his three kids went on a final lap of honour which seemed to fly by as the noise level remained consistently high with all four stands cheering him round.
As he neared the tunnel for the last time he gave a final wave and fireworks were launched from the top of the stands with shiny tickertape cascading down on to the pitch. Another excellent addition to a fabulous evening.
All of us had taken part in,
and experienced, an evening of pure escapism - it wasn't a real match and
perhaps declaring our undying love for a sheet metal worker's son for kicking a
ball into a goal is something we'd struggle to justify - but the feeling between
the hero and legend and those in the stands was intense and real and something
none of us will forget.