Bold Sir John back to save Newcastle image

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The Independent Online
THE sound of alarm bells from the corridors of St James' Park accompanied the announcement in September last year that Sir John Hall would be standing down as chairman of Newcastle United Football Club. It proved to be a false alarm for the officers of the Tyne and Wear Fire Brigade, but not a false omen for the flagship of Tyneside.

"I feel I've done everything I set out to achieve," Sir John said six months ago. "I want to do a lot of other things. I want to finish the gardens at Wynyard Hall."

Yesterday, the bold Sir John left behind the trowel and the mower at his Co Durham estate to attend to the boardroom mess at the club. He did so as the knight in shining armour, having accepted the challenge of restoring Newcastle United's tarnished


His son, Douglas, and his successor as chairman, Freddy Shepherd, were not around to face the music of a suite packed to the rafters with members of the media at St James' Park. Having reluctantly done the decent thing, however, and fallen upon the boardroom sword, they left Sir John with no option but to not so much pick up the gauntlet as run with it.

The millionaire property developer whose money financed Newcastle's rise from near bankruptcy in 1992 to a place in the European Cup agreed yesterday to return as chairman of the football club until the end of May. He did so with anger in his heart:

not, it transpired, for his prodigal son and the straying Shepherd, but for the very unveiling of their shortcomings in the black and white of the News of the World.

"The effect on the Hall and the Shepherd families has been awful," he said, "and the effect on Newcastle United has been sad to watch. Freddy and Douglas are full of remorse and can't apologise enough..

"They have worked tirelessly over the years to bring jobs to the North- east and to build Newcastle United from a club on the brink of bankruptcy and the old Third Division to a major force in the game. They are the ones who brought me to the club ... That has been forgotten in the last 10 days.{

"The vilification has been terrible to watch. Yes, it was self-inflicted. But why were they targeted? Why were they set-up? I have been astonished to learn that one of the people involved in this expensive scam has a criminal record. The human costhas been immense. Please, please let us get on with our lives."

It was not so much a conference as a tirade. Sir John took no questions as he made his stern-faced departure. It had been different six months ago. The last word then belonged to the chairman-elect. "We hope Sir John makes good use of his bus pass,"Mr Shepherd had said.

Yesterday, as Sir John returned, the chairman-deposed was not in the mood to talk let alone joke. Tracked down to a Barbados beach, Freddy Shepherd told a BBC television crew "no comment", before thrusting a paperback in front of the camera lens. Itwas a bit late for a cover up.

Business Outlook, page 23