It's easy to side with Joey Barton and mock Shearer but his values are actually more valid than he's given credit for.
If there was an upside to last weekend’s infamous fall-out between current NUFC player Joey Barton and his former-Newcastle United-manager-turned-Match-of-the-Day pundit Alan Shearer, it’s the inevitable commissioning of a Big Society TV series in which that Angel of the North, the Mother Teresa of the Toon, proves to be the moral mentor and salvation of feral youths nationwide. Forget Ross Kemp On Gangs, coming soon to your TV screens – inspired by Jim’ll Fix It and with a really catchy theme tune sung by Jimmy Nail – it’s got to be… Slaphead Sorts It Out!
The Twitter assault on Shearer by Badboy Barton only increased the Gallowgate Giant’s growing reputation as a force for all that is good in professional football and modern life generally. Whereas, following Newcastle’s MOTD clash with Arsenal, Joey should have Tweeted “You’re absolutely right Alan…I should have been sent off, it’s a fair cop yet again guv’nor”, instead he chose to character-assassinate his old boss: “bad shirt, shoes and views from Shearer…sort it out slaphead”.
While it’s very easy to be seduced by Joey’s love of Morrissey, his rockabilly barnet, his wit and wisdom and his on-going failure to embrace the spirit of Buddhism, the outburst totally back-fired and spoke volumes for Alan Shearer’s rectitude and respectability. “To be fair” (how Big Al starts all his sentences), he remains a monotonous-but-honest voice of reason within the beautiful game. Yes, he’ll state the bleeding obvious, yes, if any player does anything wrong on the pitch he’ll “be very disappointed with his-self” or it “leaves a lot to be desired”, but nevertheless there’s a real sense of hard-earned authority behind Shearer’s desperately unexciting punditry.
There’s a real sense of hard-earned authority behind Shearer’s desperately unexciting punditry.
When Alan was manager briefly back in May 2009 and the fresh-from-prison Joey got sent off for his criminal challenge on Xabi Alonso at Anfield, a Newcastle insider (or possibly someone in the pub) told a tabloid what actually went on in the Toon dressing room: “It was unbelievable. They were like two stags. Shearer told Barton he had made a mistake putting him back in the team, how he thought Barton was good enough to do it but he had shown he wasn’t. Then Joey shouted at Alan that he was the best player at the club, which was why he had to play him. Alan said he wasn’t, called him s*** and Joey replied that he was a s*** manager with s*** tactics. At that point, it looked like they were going to have a full-scale brawl and had to be dragged apart.”
That’s real passion for you, but should you need further proof that Shearer is always in the right, then why not consider the sanity and probity of another bad lad who’s fallen out with him over the years. Crazy Craig Bellamy, who described Shearer as a “f*cking goody two shoes” before being exiled to Glasgow Celtic, later memorably texted unpleasant messages to his ex-strike partner. Returning to the dressing room after Newcastle had been thumped 4-1 by Man Utd, the then 34-year-old Shearer reportedly received texts from Bellamy which read “your legs are gone, you’re too old, you’re too slow” and “you couldn’t even kiss my a***”. Nevermind the opposition, these are Alan’s own former club mates!
I’m sure many will also recall the 1998 Fake Sheikh News of the World expose, in which Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd branded Big Al “boring” and called him “Mary Poppins”. But is this a crime? Should we feel hostility towards Shearer because he’s disliked by such a motley crew as Shepherd, Bellamy and Barton? Would David Cameron and Nick Clegg not embrace and caress Britain’s great unwashed children if they too became more boring and a bit more Poppins-like?
True, Big Al’s no oil painting – disappointingly my wife recently told me that I had “the look of Shearer” about me – but he does seem to lead the blissfully unremarkable and un-sensational private life of a happily married father; apparently uncommon in the world of professional football. Of course, there was a real stir in May this year, when TV presenter Gaby Logan expressed her fury at false claims she had “had an affair with Alan Shearer and got an injunction to hide it”, according to a Daily Mail headline. Unbelievable! Whether Gaby would have been less furious if she’d been falsely linked with Alan Hansen, we’ll never know, but there’s definitely a very ordinary aura about Shearer that doesn’t even encourage tabloid dirt-digging.
He does seem to lead the blissfully unremarkable and un-sensational private life of a happily married father; apparently uncommon in the world of professional football.
As for any Giggs’-style shocking red-top revelations, if Shearer’s ever caught round his sister-in-law’s house we can be sure the only slap and tickle big Al will be involved in, would feature a paintbrush and a neglected wooden fence in need of tender loving creosote, (“Two coats, just to be safe mind.”)
What’s not to admire about the man? As a player you simply can’t argue with the facts. If you really need the stats then the big lad scored 283 top level goals in 559 appearances for Southampton, Blackburn and Newcastle – the Premiership’s highest ever goal-scorer. He was Captain Fantastic for Newcastle and England and, with 30 goals in 63 international matches, he’s clearly one of the best strikers this unhappy planet has ever produced.
Against all reason, he loyally put his hometown before Man Utd’s cash (and their trophies) when he signed for £15 million in the summer of 1996. I was there when he scored his famous match-winning hat-trick versus Leicester in February ’97 and I was there at the end when he broke Jackie Milburn’s goal-scoring record against Portsmouth in February 2006. “Same old Shearer – always scoring.” It’s a terrible cliché but frankly he’s had the sort of Roy of the Rovers career that his detractors and critics can’t even dream about.
Petty people might point to the red cards – usually administered by mad Uriah Rennie – but I don’t believe Shearer was ever deliberately malicious on the pitch; the odd flying elbow, a few late challenges when no-one was looking, hardly uncommon in physical contact sports. And arguably, when he was, ahem, over-enthusiastic while meting out justice in such a magisterial way, his targets seemed to merit the sentence, eg. Roy ‘Mean Machine’ Keane and Neil ‘Ginger Whinger’ Lennon – I rest my briefs.
Beyond football and his, apparently, exemplary personal life, Shearer’s worked tirelessly for assorted charities notably the NSPCC and Unicef, been awarded the OBE, become a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland by approval of Her Majesty the Queen – Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, described him as “the perfect choice” – and given Honorary Freedom of the City of Newcastle Upon Tyne for enhancing the reputation of the city.
I have to confess that when I once interviewed him for a BBC documentary about the national football team, Big Al was extremely cautious and careful not to say anything that would upset fellow players or managers or be remotely interesting to the viewing public. He even made Peter ‘Mogadon’ Shilton sound like Billy Blabbermouth. Yet off camera, I assure you, Shearer was a lovely bloke with a bulbous nose who laughed a lot and signed autographs for everyone present.
Why not take away the sunbed, give him a fashionable Mary Portas make-over (Joey B could even tweet stylish suggestions) and stick him on Question Time. Then, as a male role model and prime candidate to sort out Britain’s youth, few could possibly face down Shearer. Cameron and Clegg are too posh and irrelevant, Boris Johnson’s moral compass is between his legs and Ed Milliband sounds too much like Melvyn Bragg and not enough like Billy…
Goody Two Shoes, Mary Poppins…whatever you want to call him, Slaphead Shearer’s already achieved superhero status in the North East despite the 2009 relegation (the fact that he was also slagged off by that buffoon Mike Ashley is merely another feather in his cap.) If Britain’s youth need someone uncompromising to reset their moral compasses then surely this this no-nonsense reincarnation of Andy Lockhead, is perfectly placed to step into yet another bad pair of shoes. Kids today wouldn’t step out of line if Shearer was watching them. Who would dare risk that deadly trademark elbow to the throat as he backs into you, holds onto your hoodie and, with his furrowed pate and battle-scarred face, leaps above you like a monstrous sun-tanned tight-shirted old salmon?
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