Football: Classic touch of Glass

Newcastle fans owe a debt of thanks to Kenny Dalglish for a snip of a signing. By Simon Turnbull
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The Independent Online
STEPHEN GLASS has supplied crosses for Shearer in Europe before. He did it in the Uefa Cup two years ago, in Vilnius and Bray. And he will be hoping to do it on Thursday in Belgrade, when Newcastle United play Partizan Belgrade in the return leg of their Cup Winners' Cup first round tie. This time, however, the Shearer in question will be Alan. The season before last it was Duncan.

Glass has moved on from his days as a young Don gaining his football education alongside the lesser-known Shearer at Pittodrie. He has graduated from Aberdeen to Newcastle, and made the kind of first-class impression that could well earn him senior international honours before the present term is over. Craig Brown, at least, has finally found reason to stop at the nearest point to him on the English Premiership map. Glass is the first Scot to play for Newcastle since Alex Mathie's fleeting spell of first-team football at St James' Park four years ago.

That alone is a good omen for the new Newcastle Ruud Gullit intends to build. Every successful Newcastle side has had a pivotal Scottish player: Hughie Gallacher in the championship-winning team of 1926-27, Bobby Mitchell in the FA Cup winning sides of 1951, 1952 and 1955 and Bob Moncur in the team that conquered Europe in the Fairs Cup in 1969. It probably augurs well too that Moncur, the last Newcastle captain to hoist a major trophy, has given Glass his personal seal of approval.

Moncur follows the fortunes of his former club these days in his professional capacity as host of Century Radio's nightly football phone-in show. And the sparkling form of Glass, playing as an attacking midfielder wide on the left, has caught his discerning eye in the opening four weeks of the Gullit regime. "To me, he has all the makings of another Tony Green," Moncur said last week, referring to the fellow Scot who shone in Newcastle's midfield in the early 1970s before his career was sadly cut short at the age of 27. "He looks like Tony. He runs like him. And he plays like him. What I really like about him is that he goes either side to take on his full-back. And he doesn't drift across the park. He goes straight at his man. He gets the ball in early too, which is going to benefit Alan Shearer, and Newcastle, so much."

Glass, it is fair to say, is a smashing player. That was transparent at Highfield Road eight days ago when the 22-year-old Dundonian scored his first goal for Newcastle, a brilliant solo effort. It must have had the Newcastle board cursing all the way back from Coventry, given the presence at the game of the three members of the independent tribunal who convened in Manchester on Tuesday to determine a transfer fee. Newcastle offered a risible pounds 100,000. Aberdeen asked for a reasonable pounds 1m. At pounds 650,000, it would seem, Newcastle have acquired a cut-price Glass.

Gullit certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Kenny Dalglish for signing the gifted young Scot in the summer. "We are happy with what Stephen is doing," Gullit acknowledged last week. "It is all a matter of confidence and he has it." Glass, though, despite the laudatory fuss that has been made of him in the Tyneside press and the man of the match awards he has collected, is not the over-confident sort away from the pitch.

Quiet and unassuming by nature, he has, for good measure, been well schooled in the media-training programme Aberdeen run for their young players. "Things have gone better than I could have expected," he said, "but I'm not getting carried away. I'm just happy to be in the team. I was injured at the start of the season but I got my chance against Liverpool and since then things have gone OK for me. To be honest, everything has happened quicker than I expected. But I like to think I'm coping with the move well."

Glass has settled with his wife of four months, Carla, into the heart of Northumberland at Morpeth, home of one of Scotland's great sporting sons, Jim Alder, the marathon man who dramatically won the Commonwealth title in Jamaica in 1966 despite losing the lead when he was misdirected at the entrance to Kingston Stadium. Alder came to Morpeth as an orphan from the Gorbals. Glass has followed him across the border from an altogether more stable background.

For six years he was on the staff at Pittodrie, including a six-month spell on loan to the junior club Crombie Sports, which, he says, "toughened me up". A regular in the Aberdeen first team at 18, he was still a teenager when he collected the man of the match trophy after Aberdeen's Scottish League Cup final win against Dundee at Hampden Park in November 1995. It was a particularly sweet victory for him, having been a Dundee United devotee in his youth, and it was a good day for Shearer too. Duncan got the second of the Dons' goals in a 2-0 success.

Capped 12 times by his country at under-21 level and a veteran of two B internationals, two years apart, Glass has yet to make it into the senior Scotland team. His wait, however, is unlikely to last much longer if he continues to make his mark with Newcastle - in England and in Europe.

He was one of the few home players to emerge with credit from Newcastle's unimpressive 2-1 first-leg victory against Partizan Belgrade at St James' Park 10 days ago. He did not quite manage a goalscoring cross for Shearer but it was his precise free-kick Nikolaos Dabizas headed in for the face- saving winner. It was sheer class, and sheer Glass too.