Football chiefs dodge the gallows as Newcastle fans vent their fury

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The Independent Online
THERE was a time when the citizens of Newcastle ascended the hill to Gallowgate screaming for blood. In 1829 some 20,000 gathered there to witness the execution of Jane Jameson. The murderess arrived by cart, sitting on her coffin.

There were murderous mutterings in the Tyneside air again last night as 36,000 Geordies made their way to Gallowgate, now the home of Newcastle United Football Club, for the match against Crystal Palace. The question on Novocastrian lips was whether tape-recorded treason represented a metaphorical hanging offence.

In issuing a statement yesterday morning apologising for remarks attributed to them in the News of the World last Sunday, Freddie Shepherd, the chairman of Newcastle United, and Douglas Hall, the club's vice chairman, did not deny that, amongst other things (not least a prolific scoring spree in the brothels of Europe), they had mocked the club's followers for buying overpriced replica kit, called Alan Shearer "Mary Poppins" and referred to Tyneside women as "dogs".

Unlike Jane Jameson, they did not go to Gallowgate to discover the popular verdict. The parking bays marked WF Shepherd and DS Hall remained conspicuously empty as Newcastle played Crystal Palace.

While the club's supporters were arriving to take their seats, Mr Shepherd issued another statement, this time saying neither he nor Mr Hall would be in attendance. "After long and careful consideration," he said, "Douglas and I have decided it would be a distraction if we attended. Every Newcastle supporter, and that includes us, must concentrate their efforts on this match. We ask the fans to get behind Kenny Dalglish and the team at this critical stage of the season."

It might have helped matters that Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, also issued a pre-match plea urging restless natives to rally to the team's - if not the club's - cause. "If the fans have an opinion about the events of the last few days," he said, "then let's try and wait until afterwards before they start venting any frustrations towards the club. If Newcastle ever needed help from their fans they need that help tonight."

That help was duly forthcoming. There were no calls for boardroom blood during the match, only jeers for the team as they lost 2-1. After the match, however, about 150 disgruntled fans gathered outside the main entrance chanting "sack the board", "Judas" and "You're scum and you know you are".

Clearly the notable absentees from Gallowgate last night have not wiped out the own goal attributed to them away from home on the Costa del Sol.

The joint statement, after 72 hours of silence, read: "Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd sincerely apologise for any offence that has been caused to members of their families, the fans of Newcastle United, the people of the North-east and their fellow directors.

"They particularly apologise to the women of the North-east. Anybody who knows Douglas and Freddie would realise the comments attributed to them are totally out of character and do not represent their true views."

Meanwhile the News of the World is promising further revelations that will "blow the lid off Newcastle" on Sunday.

Match report, page 28