The starry likes of Kevin Keegan, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley garnered most of the headlines as Newcastle United rose to the top tier of English football in 1984, but Arthur Cox’s exhilarating side relied on more prosaic contributors too, none more fearsomely committed to the cause than central defender Steve Carney.
Hailing, like so many revered Magpies, from the local football “factory” of Wallsend, Carney was no giant stopper in the traditional mode, standing two inches short of six feet. But what he lacked in bulk he made up for in pace, strength and ruthlessness, there being few more abrasive tacklers during the first half of the 1980s. The Newcastle fans loved him for it, understanding that he made the absolute most of limited natural talent.
Having failed to earn a professional contract after a trial with West Bromwich Albion as a teenager, Carney returned to the North-east, where he worked as an electrician while making a favourable impact with one non-League club, North Shields, before placing himself successfully in the shop window with another, Blyth Spartans. Versatile enough to be effective in any rearguard role or in midfield, he shone as Spartans reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1977-78, scoring in the most eye-catching triumph of that sequence, a 3-2 victory at the home of second-flight Stoke City.
Relentlessly combative, he was sent off during the 1-1 draw at Wrexham in the next round – Spartans lost the replay 2-1 – but his input attracted widespread attention and in October 1979 the Newcastle manager Bill McGarry ventured £1,000 to take him to St James’ Park. The 22-year-old made a promising start with the Second Division side, making his senior entrance at right-back, deputising for John Brownlie in a 2-0 home win over Fulham that December then enjoying a lengthy first-team spell under new manager Arthur Cox the following season. He settled in central defence in 1981-82 and became an integral part of a steadily improving team which was further invigorated by the inspirational arrival of Keegan, finishing the next season in fifth place.
In 1983-84 Carney continued on his industrious, implacable way, never attempting anything remotely fancy but consistently efficient, in partnership with Jeff Clarke, then Wes Saunders and finally with the stylish Glenn Roeder as the Magpies took their place among the elite, finishing third behind Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday. However, for Carney that was as good as it got. After scoring his only goal for the club in a 3-2 win at Leicester on the opening day of the season, he failed to command a regular place under Cox’s replacement, Jack Charlton, and in March 1985 was loaned to second-flight Carlisle United.
That August, having made 149 appearances for Newcastle, he stepped down to the third level, joining Darlington. But he didn’t settle at Feethams and was loaned to Rochdale at the turn of the year, then signed for Hartlepool United in the spring. Surprisingly for such a combative and experienced performer in his late twenties, Carney left the Football League that summer, going on to serve Tow Law Town before rejoining Blyth Spartans in March 1987.
After helping his former team to Northern League titles in successive seasons, he managed another local club, Newcastle Blue Star, in the mid-1990s. Later he worked in the property business and in his family’s children’s clothing firm before becoming a personal fitness trainer.
His death at 55 from pancreatic cancer shocked the Magpies community and it is a widely-held conviction on Tyneside that the present manager, Alan Pardew, could do with some tougher competitors, a few hard men like Steve Carney.
Stephen Carney, footballer; born Wallsend, Tyneside 22 September 1957; played for Newcastle United 1979-85, Carlisle United on loan 1985, Darlington 1985-86, Rochdale on loan 1986, Hartlepool United 1986; died 6 May 2013.