First appeared in "Loaded" Magazine 1997
A centre forward. A footballer for Newcastle United and England. He plies his trade with orthodoxy never looking further than the next ninety minutes, training session or bout of physio. He has achieved excellence. In one of the rare moments during the half day I spend with him when he proffers an opinion on himself he tells a collection of newspapers that "my record over the last four seasons stands against anybody's." And a bit more.
The major part of our interview takes place in the back of his amiable agents' striking blue P reg Daimler from central London to Heathrow. Leather uppers, knobs, extra pockets, cloud-like suspension and all. On the way we pass along the raised section of the M4 from which you get a view of Brentford's Griffin Park ground. "That was the first time I saw you play, England under-21's," I mention, leaning over to point out the floodlights and the Braemar Road stand's corrugated roof. "Oh yeah," Alan thinks "that must have been...." he pauses for about as long as it takes him to fire balls into the roof of the net from 20 yards, about a second. "......against Eire. Six and a half, seven years ago." "Did you score " asks his agent ? "Yup," says Alan, unsmiling.
"This sort of thing is ruining
football" said Mauro the late 20's-ish, ponytailed, Loaded reading
manager of the Stockpot restaurant off Leicester Square. We are standing
outside Luigi's barber's in Whitcomb Street. Luigi has been given a wedge by
Alan's frighteningly efficient PR company to close the shop for an hour.
This allows Alan to bowl in, comply with a load of `snappers` from the
newspapers and perform a photo opportunity for his new sponsors. Major
electric razor manufacturers. Not brains but..... "Lend us a
million," says Mauro, under his breath as Alan approaches three
minutes late of his scheduled start. "Luigi and my family come from
the same place in Italy," he says. "And he supports
At his signing spectacular at Newcastle, Alan said he`s `just` "a sheet metal worker's son." It is something he repeats to me in the Daimler. He grew up in Gosforth outside Newcastle "on a council estate, a series of two, three and four bedroomed houses. There was a park space between the houses where I lived, that's where we played football, me and the other lads. Where I learnt to play." He still knows those lads as much as someone can whose life has been so transformed. " I keep in touch with some of them on occasions." I ask him who he socialises with from football, any team members. " I see more of them than I see of my family sometimes," he says. " We're always together." But does he go out with them? "I prefer going out for a meal, just me and my wife. A quiet meal. Sometimes with my friends (from Gosforth), I've got my family too. My Mum and Dad come in handy for baby-sitting," he smiles. "Whenever they've got nothing to do they are always round to see the grandkids. " He continues to smile.
Alan has a strong anchor in his family, his parents, his wife and his two daughters, four and two years old. "They are the most important things in my life, I always wanted kids, always, and we are a young family." People forget that Shearer is only 26, his serious manner belies his young age. He met his wife at seventeen in Southampton. At 22 he and she combined to create a daughter, he confirmed his place as the finest centre forward of the last 30 years and then proceeded to continue to do this to the present day whilst managing another child, international honours, huge wealth and the problems that arise from fame. How do you handle pressure like that ?
"I don't think it's pressure" Alan disagrees. I thought he would. "I get to do what I want and I'm well rewarded. I have thousands of people chanting my name, I don't call that pressure. I'm lucky. I think pressure comes with having no roof over your head, or having no money when you've got people to support. That's pressure." "A nice pressure then," I suggest. "Yeah, ok, a nice pressure..." I was surprised, I felt I might have put words in his mouth which I was trying hard not to do. I needn't have worried. "..not real pressure though." When Alan says this he does it as the son of a sheet metal worker. Not an ex-sheet metal worker mind you. Alan's Dad still gets up at 6.30am to go to work. The day his son signed for their side, Newcastle United, he wouldn't take a day off the job because it would be unfair to his workmates. His mother still works too. When I was told this by his agent, in front of Alan, I think Alan began to make more sense to me. I wasn't sure he wanted me to know this.
After the barbers Alan strolled around the corner to do a press conference for the shaver makers where they glibbed about Alan's "super smooth finish" (groans) followed by radio interviews (three), TV interviews (two), magazine interviews (three including us) and an open session with the papers.
A scattering of football journalism's sardines grandes, came for a nibble. What an odd bunch. Harry Harris and Brian Woolnough from the Mirror and the Sun appear affable yet have penned more sensational back pages than you and I have had bad pints. I also find it hard to take Woolnough seriously after I heard that Ian Wright calls him `Bison-head.` Next time you see him on Sky remember it. They asked Alan a trawler-load of leading questions about his earnings, whether he has another sponsor coming up, what about Keegan, how is Kenny, plus all the crystal ball stuff better suited to Mystic Meg. "How do you think Newcastle will do next season ?" asks one idiot. Hold on let me read my Magic Magpie tarot cards. It continues. "Do you think England can get to France 98 ?" Doh! There are questions about Hoddle, his tactics and the friendly against Mexico three days earlier. All with false smiles. Bobby Robson called his tabloid relationship "you scratch our backs and we won't stab yours." It's a tightrope and if you get it wrong, like Ian Wright, they deem you fair game to put you and your wife's private life on the front page. Shearer smiled throughout, refused to answer some questions, "you know I never talk about my earnings" slipped out of others "we have a great squad of players at Newcastle" and if he didn't know the answer he said "I don't know." Afterwards the newspaper boys gathered in a flock to see what they would write and whether there was anything that needed to go in next day. The majority feeling was that there wasn't, one decided that there was, a disagreement ensued and because of the one all the others felt obliged to follow. The next day, because of `the one`, Luigi did become a "superstar". Valuations on Alan's worth abounded. £5m, £7m, £10m. There was even one on the next sponsorship deal he hasn't yet finalised and wouldn't talk about.
After this media melange he goes upstairs for more photos. We're in the lift and someone asks who I support. I say Chelsea. "Well someone has to " says Alan almost butting in. I look at him with mock raised eyebrows then laugh, I've been going for 25 years and we've won fuck all, you can't really argue. In the corner of the lift with arms akimbo on the waist high handrail he looks at his shoes and giggles. Just for a second he looked like a 26 year old. You know what I mean ? I know he is a 26 year old, but then he looked a bit vulnerable, cheeky. A geezer. Not an international centre forward and other people's walking talking real estate. Not for long.
After the press conference he is off to do Channel 5's Jack Doherty. In he walks. He meets Phil Daniels and Fish from Marillion backstage, sits down and is engulfed in a cape-thing for his make up whilst a bloke dressed as a mouse next to him has a fag and a cute older woman with tits-to-die-for fusses about. He looks unmoved though a little embarrassed when the crowd warm up with chants of `Sheeeee-rer, Sheeeeee-rer.` He does the interview looking slightly nervous and tired. I think he would rather be at home with the wife and kids but he just happens to be a brilliant centre forward in demand and I'm not being sycophantic. He's been out injured twice this season for over a month and still scored 24 goals at the time of writing. Two days later he comes back from 40 days out injured and scores against Sunderland. He's touched the magic 30 goal mark four seasons on the trot at two clubs and that is why he's worth so much. He comes off stage. A wave and a slightly embarrassed smile to everyone then he's off.
I ask him about his contract with Jaguar. Good sponsors or what ? What sort of car does he have ? " I've got an XK8," he says. I know nuffink about cars but it sounds good. With all the trimmings ? With a CD knob on the steering wheel and all that ? "Yeah. All the new sports ones have got them now." "Cool," I say. "I'm picking another one up tomorrow," he says I repeat myself. "Coooool." He looks at me like I'm mad. But he's smiling.
"I don't like talking about myself," he says, stating the obvious. "If people want to say good or bad things about me then fine. I understand everyone has an opinion, especially in football. But I don't want to do it." So, you can make Alan Shearer whatever you want. In my brief time with him he seemed like the son of his father. A very straight man, tough, bright, wary of what he says in public ("you've got to be careful what you say or people will take it out of context and use it to say something else") and maybe bemused by the fuss that goes on around him. He seems incredibly loyal, he wouldn't comment subjectively on anyone unless it was positive.
When an apprentice at Southampton his pro was Mark Dennis, known as a wild man. All Alan had to say about him was complimentary and affirming. "It was a shame what happened to him" I say. Silence bounced back at me. To protect himself, and he needs to, he gives little away and in many ways it might add to him becoming a better player. He can afford to lose himself in the game with his family (for whom he earns this mind boggling money) being his escape from the macho world of football and those "nice pressures". He's only animated when talking family.....and footy. "I love it, I just want to play football, it might sound a cliche but it's true. The money is a great bonus, don't get me wrong, but I would play for nothing, if I wasn't a pro I'd play Sundays, Saturdays whatever. Scoring is indescribable, I can't do it....a very special feeling, a very happy feeling, but you have to be there. Being part of a team is great too, you're all in it together, trying to achieve the same things." He looks me straight in the eye and he's not smiling now. "All this fuss about me.....you can't play football on your own can you ? Without my team mates none of this would exist, I'd be nothing."