Waddle: Video thrills of radio star

For many fans, Chris Waddle is the Geordie BBC radio pundit, prone to a post-tournament England rant, rounding off his vowels to make his analysis more easily understood.

He did actually play a bit back in the day. As a mate of mine remarked on Twitter recently, his football opinion is open for discussion, but what isn’t is his God-given talent for the game.

Early days

I was lucky enough to see him play many times for Newcastle United from his earliest days in 1980 through to rising star and England international.

Lauded but never loved at St James’ Park – adoration he would later find from supporters elsewhere – his unique playing style, permed mullet and how he came to life with the ball at his feet, marked him out as my favourite player.

Watching from a freezing, concrete Gallowgate End, a local lad exhibiting skills more associated with continental exponents, quickened the pulse and stood out like a duffel coat in the Bigg Market on a Saturday night.

Nearly 30 years ago, Waddle made a bold move which would allow his full talents to unfurl on the European stage, finding his football home in the unlikely venue of a Mediterranean French port with a reputation for its volatility.

Everyone needs a home, a place where they are totally at ease to express what they feel, a stage on which to perform.

It took Chris Waddle nearly a decade and a 1,000 mile journey south to find the place where he could fully remove the shackles imposed on him by the rigidity of the English game.

French Tricolore

France’s Ligue 1 and Marseille’s Stade Velodrome were tailormade for Waddle.

Waddle celebrates another Marseille strike

A little more space, a little more time and crucially a licence to go out and “just play” gave him the freedom he craved.

But this was no easy Gallic joyride for the Geordie. Olympique de Marseille boasted a formidable side, packed with stars and a first team place was anything but assured.

Waddle’s creative mastery was coveted by owner Bernard Tapie as a key piece in his masterplan to build a team to win the European Cup.

Boli, Tigana and Stojkovic did the spade work to set Waddle free to exhibit his feints, shoulder dips, step overs and slalom dribbling which ignited Marseille’s quest for the domestic game’s biggest prize.

Such was Waddle’s impact that he was recently voted Marseille’s second greatest player of the 20th Century, behind Jean-Pierre Papin, the free scoring striker who fed off the five star footballing cuisine served up by the Englishman.

French President Emmanuel Macron, David Ginola and Thierry Henry have all cited his impact on their formative years in a Marseille side which caught the country’s imagination.

For a couple of years in 1990/1991, Waddle was as good as any player in world football.

Flying under the radar back in his pre-internet homeland, focused as ever only on its own affairs, Waddle carved open all-comers in the French league and ran rings round top quality opponents in European competition.

Video compilations show a gifted player performing totally free of inhibition.

Supreme skills

For a big man without blistering pace and predominantly left-footed, the right wing didn’t appear to be his obvious home.

But that’s the position Waddle instructed his manager Gerard Gili to play him, able to cut inside onto his stronger foot – or go outside his man onto a right foot which dispatched AC Milan en route to the European Cup Final.

His stunning volley, scored while suffering the effects of concussion from hefty challenges meted out by Milan’s notoriously mean defence, is a thing of beauty.

Waddle’s unique brand of football was never fully appreciated back home in England.

Off the ball, a round-shouldered, seemingly off balance and disinterested spectator, he frustrated some but enthralled many more.

His lumbering gait often reminded me of Roger Patterson’s famous ‘Bigfoot’ footage!

The outside of the boot was used as frequently as his instep to prize open defences and pick out centre forwards with precision crosses.

His ability to contribute more than his fair share of goals as an attacking midfielder/secondary striker made him a highly prized asset by the mid 1980s.

England woes

Waddle though struggled to replicate his club form at national level. A rigid 4-4-2 system stuck out on the right wing with no freedom to roam meant a series of below-par performances which got the ‘boo boys’ on his back.

Much like his singing partner Glenn Hoddle and fellow winger John Barnes, Waddle’s precocious talents remained largely under lock and key at international level.

But unlike Hoddle, a move to France imbued Waddle with the confidence to eventually express himself in an England shirt.

Waddle came of age in an England shirt in the 1990 World Cup

Italia ’90 – while unquestionably belonging to Paul Gascoigne – saw Waddle bloom on the international stage, his crashing drive off the inside of a post against West Germany agonisingly close to firing England into the World Cup final.

The first signs that a rough diamond was polished had come alongside Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott and Peter Beardsley in the first incarnation of Newcastle United’s ‘Entertainers’.

Learning from these three stellar talents, Waddle would go on to play centre-forward for the Magpies as he matured into the black and white stripes.

He served notice to a national audience of his lavish gifts scoring a superb goal at White Hart Lane in a defeat to Tottenham in early 1985.

Waddle’s run and precise finish undoubtedly cemented Spurs’ determination to sign him – and they did just that in the summer of that year, much to the chagrin of Toon fans.

Some never forgave his move to the Big Smoke.

London calling

The Toon’s loss was Spurs’ gain and he began to fulfil a special talent first spotted and nurtured by Arthur Cox at St James’ Park in the early 80s.

The “sack of coal” Cox said hung from Waddle’s shoulders was finally removed and he began to revel in a Spurs team packed with attacking talent.

He supplied many of the bullets for Clive Allen to fire in his incredible 49-goal haul for Spurs in 1987.

Linking up with fellow Geordie and Newcastle-transferee Paul Gascoigne the following year gave Spurs a season to remember with sumptuous football from two of Europe’s supreme midfield talents.

Such was their potency that Gary Lineker was moved to leave Spanish giants Barcelona and head to White Hart Lane, drooling at the prospect of delivery from his England teammates.

Waddle, as he’d shown by leaving his native North East behind to move to the capital, was also ambitious and not afraid of making the big decisions needed to fulfil his goals.

A surprise close season call from France, a £4.5m fee – huge in 1989 – and the prospect of showcasing his skills in the European Cup English clubs were banned from – convinced Waddle and Tottenham that his future lay by the Mediterranean.

Freedom of expression

Playing in Europe is still a big deal for British players today. Thirty-years ago, leaving these shores for continental football was the preserve of an elite.

Few, like Lineker, cracked it. Far more – Ian Rush at Juventus, Mark Hughes at Barcelona to name but two – failed to replicate their proven talents on foreign soil.

A big money move at 28-years-old to an obscure club operating on the fringes of English football fans’ knowledge, appeared as bizarre a transfer as it was unexpected.

But Waddle was cut from a different cloth to most of his contemporaries, and soon had Marseille fans adopting him as one of their own.

Outsiders, passionate with a ferocious reputation, Marseille bristled at having to play second fiddle to arch-rivals Paris politically, socially, economically – and in football.

They revelled in Waddle’s joie de vivre on the pitch.

European Cup high – scoring the winner and celebrating victory over Milan

All flair, spontaneous, Waddle was etched into Marseille folklore with an audacious back-heeled winner against Paris Saint Germain in a first season ‘Le Classique’ derby at the Velodrome after chesting the ball down and lobbing the keeper.

His dismissal of the sophisticates from the North ignited the fires within a fan base desperate for success.

Football-crazed Marseille had a new hero. ‘Le Rosbif’, ‘Magic Chris’, ‘Crazy Legs’. Affectionate nicknames for an Englishman abroad leading their charge to be crowned France’s top team.

Waddle spoke little of the lingo. Just slowed down Geordie brushed with a French glaze.

Parlez-vous Francais?” “Half past three mate.”

But his connection to the fans was incredible. Traffic wardens waived scores of parking tickets in exchange for an autograph, drinks were never paid for and his haircut was sported by many a Marseille Ultra.

Glittering prize

Three French league titles were reward for Waddle’s brilliance. But the ultimate prize of European champion was to elude him.

Pipped by an uber cautious Red Star Belgrade in a stinker of a 1991 European Cup Final was as close as he got to hoisting the trophy his contribution to the club surely deserved.

A series of dazzling displays en route to the final had most of Europe sitting up to take notice, all that is bar England manager Graham Taylor.

He flatly refused to name Waddle in his dour squad, insisting his style of play would unbalance the side.

Waddle’s England career was over at 62 caps, probably 20 short of where it should be. The victim as much of an English footballing mentality which ludicrously labelled him a ‘luxury player’, the national side consistently failing to embrace individuality in favour of power, discipline and pace.

Marseille would finally go on to lift the European Cup in 1993, building on the foundations laid down by Waddle.

Welcome home

Waddle himself was back in England, wowing Sheffield Wednesday fans with the full repertoire of skills honed in the Mediterranean sunshine.

A Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Award at Wednesday was scant reward from the English game for a man who Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen hailed as “worth the entrance fee alone.”

A cabinet full of silverware may have eluded him.

But Chris Waddle was one of that rare breed of ‘once seen, never forgotten’ players, a trailblazer for a new generation of English talent now looking to foreign shores to further their own careers.

#Marseille #OM #SheffWed #NUFC #COYS

Liverpool v Newcastle 21 years on: A Coming of Age

The defining league game of the new age of satellite football celebrated its 21st birthday a few days back.

“Collymore closing in!” and all that. Poetry to Liverpool fans, purgatory for Newcastle supporters.

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For me, the glamour surrounds of a Northumberland workingmen’s club was the vantage point for a never-to-be-forgotten night of goals, elation and heartache.

The squall of spilled Carling Black Label and McEwan’s Best Scotch which greeted strikes from Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Tino Asprilla was all part of a wild night when the wheels came off Newcastle United’s title challenge.

Watching highlights of the April 1996 top of the table clash, reveals a game from a different era, one which has aged well in many respects, but is increasingly a museum piece.

The juggernauts of Liverpool and Newcastle United collided spectacularly in a 4-3 thriller widely acclaimed as the most exhilarating match ever seen in the Premier League.

In any era, either side would have been worthy league champions.

Fowler, Redknapp, Barnes and McManaman could grace any team, as could Ferdinand, Ginola, Beardsley and Asprilla.

But both ultimately flattered to deceive, their challenges snuffed out by Alex Ferguson’s perennial party-poopers.

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As a Newcastle fan, watching Kevin Keegan’s side back then was like getting an access all parks pass to Disney World.

He had no pretence of doing anything other than meeting Sir John Hall’s brief of winning Newcastle its first league title since Hadrian visited the North East for a long weekend.

No dynasty building. Just assembling the heavy artillery needed to deliver the maximum firepower possible to land the title as quickly as he could.

In doing so, Keegan and his team connected in a way no other Newcastle side has done before or since with fans who crave the acknowledgment of knowing their devotion is appreciated by those lucky enough to represent them.

‘Toon’ live games in the mid-1990s were the very definition of ‘appointment to view television’ for fans.

Days were built around them and watching the match in the boozer – if you weren’t lucky enough to be able to get into St James’ Park – took off in a huge way.

Sky Sports’ business model appeared to be constructed on the foundations of mega live clashes involving Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Standing room only

Getting a seat in the old Morpeth Social Club the night Newcastle rolled into Anfield proved more difficult than usual.

A refurbishment of the main bar downstairs meant the little-used upstairs bar was to be the amphitheatre for the masses to watch the gladiators do battle.

Its 1950s-style wall seats and furnishings were relics from a different era – a lot like the likely lads who descended on it that night craning to see the drama unfold on a fatback tele mounted on a wall bracket.

Shoehorned into the tiny room,  the place was absolutely rocking.

Christ only knows what passers-by outside thought. Grown men leaping around framed against condensation soaked windows – best not go there.

Game on

The game itself was simply superb. It still raises the heart rate all these years later.

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It encapsulated all that was so good and yet so bad about Newcastle at the time. Rapier-like attack, powder puff defence.

When Fowler – then the most dangerous young striker in the country – stole in to plant a header past Pavel Srnicek in the second minute, it was hardly a surprise.

What followed was thrust and counter thrust. Caution thrown to the wind by two sides front-loaded with talent.

Asprilla’s goal in particular had blokes around me on the tables, hanging off each other as he cartwheeled over to the Toon fans in celebration.

Dinking the ball around David James with the outside of his right boot for it to spin sideways off the turf into the net was typical of a player who no-one could quite get a handle on.

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Only Newcastle United could accommodate Asprilla.

Their Las Vegas team was built on gamblers – even full-backs Steve Watson and John Beresford were given licence to spin the roulette wheel, marauding forward in a way only out and out wingers dared attempt. Fantastic to watch, but it came at a cost.

I swear the television camera is nearly rocked off its gantry when Collymore scores his last gasp winner.

The crowd roar is at a higher octave, more like that heard in South American games, such is their total absorption in the drama.

Commentator Andy Gray was moved to say it was a privilege – he stressed it twice – to witness it. It didn’t feel like it at the time to me, but I eventually came to realise he was right.

For those distraught, face down on tables in Morpeth Social Club, we knew our chance had probably gone.

Games against Blackburn and later Nottingham Forest would deliver the final blows and extinguish all hope of winning the ultimate prize in English football.

Modern times

So what is the game’s relevance today? In some ways it’s like unearthing a time capsule, the game recorded on a video tape, lying next to a Sega Mega Drive and pair of Adidas Predator boots.

Free-flowing football with players trusted to adapt to changing situations as they unfold on the pitch. Not your standard Premier League fodder nowadays.

Just look at England mark 2016. Footballers lost when their opponents suss Plan A. Without the wit to know why or how to cope.

Player athleticism and tactical analysis are king in the era of big bucks. They trump all. At its expense are skill and flair – and often excitement.

Seeing two teams cancel each other out through superbly plotted managerial plans has a certain appeal.

But it seems there are few gamblers at the top level anymore, willing to concede in the pursuit of scoring more.

Of course, as a Toon fan the Liverpool-Newcastle game was going to move me more than many other football supporters.

But apart from England’s 1990 World Cup semi-final exit, I can’t ever remember being so completely gripped by a game or being carried along on the wave of emotion that went with it.

Its impact stayed with me long after the game ended. Working as a press officer at Northumbria Police, I was used to speaking with reporters about matters other than criminal investigations.

The number of journalists – months later – from outside the North East who told me exactly where they were the night of the Anfield game, the impact it had on them and how Newcastle was the result they looked for after their own side’s, stuck in my mind.

All telling me this because I supported Newcastle United. Maybe more in sympathy than anything else, they wanted to talk about my club.

The power of football to bring strangers together never ceases to amaze me.

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Times change of course, even Morpeth Social Club – the old boozer – is long gone, replaced by a cracking bar, conference and gig venue called the Riverside Lodge.

Newcastle meanwhile stand on the cusp of yet another return to the big time and all that entails. Time to look forward.

No harm though once in a while, of turning back the clock 20 years to a time when we had joy, we had fun and a couple of seasons in the sun.



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