Football: Exit Gullit with thanks all round

Newcastle manager resigns, citing 'harassment' and living with the burden of a city's expectations

NEWCASTLE UNITED'S flirtation with sexy football ended yesterday not with a bang but a whimper. It was a fraught affair that lasted just a year and a day. Having blamed a referee, injuries, squad morale and finally his pounds 23m forward line of Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson for the heartache that has left Newcastle bottom bar one of the League with one point from five games, Ruud Gullit said that it was the media that forced his resignation.

"The main reason why I came to England four years ago was that I wanted to have my own private life back," he told yesterday morning's press conference at St James' Park, reading from a personally typed statement and looking suitably chastened. "These things seem very ordinary for somebody who doesn't know what it's like to be me. These things are worth more to me than any treasure... During the last year I have had reporters, photographers constantly around my home in Newcastle... but the worst part has been that they have been harassing my family in Holland and that for me was the limit."

After thanking his personal secretary, the hotel where he lived, the local restaurants, and the players for their "efforts and professionalism" - although, tellingly, he stumbled over the unscripted word "support" when he read this paragraph - he hugged both the chairman Freddy Shepherd and the vice-chairman Freddie Fletcher and drove himself out of St James' Park to start "a long holiday with my family".

Steve Clarke, the assistant manager, now has to decide whether Shearer, whom Gullit omitted from Wednesday's starting eleven against Sunderland, will play against Manchester United tomorrow.

That omission, coupled with the ignominious defeat by their bitterest rivals on their home turf, was one eccentricity too far for the players - Ferguson was particularly vocal to Gullit's face and behind his back unnamed players had been briefing local newspapers of how Gullit had alienated "his entire dressing-room". Yet, to Shearer himself, the news was "a surprise".

"There's no hiding the fact that me and Ruud didn't see eye-to-eye but I'm as surprised as anyone," he said. "There was no rift, as I made clear on Tuesday, and he had his reasons for leaving me out on Wednesday. I've always said that no individual is bigger than any club."

In the 36 hours preceding yesterday morning's events there had been two emergency board meetings - one, at least, attended by the surprised Shearer. The upshot appears to have been that Gullit was allowed the dignity of managing his own departure from the club, unlike Kenny Dalglish, who has said he learned of his dismissal via the radio.

As Gullit's silver BMW left St James' Park, many of the 50 supporters gathered for the occasion applauded him vigorously and it was clear that the affair had left them nursing a love hangover. "I'm devastated," said Anthony Garrity from West Denton. "I would have liked him to stay until all his players were fit, and judged him then. He'd have got it right in the end."

At the other end of the scale was Robert Cree from Forest Hall: "I'm glad he's gone. Ever since he came he's brought in foreigners who didn't care two hoots about this club. Bring in some English players, bring in some Geordies."

Malcolm Macdonald, Newcastle's legendary No 9, was also on hand: "I'm surprised that it came so quickly," he said. "The writing was on the wall but the date was wrong. He had a lot of innovative ideas but as a manager you have to look at yourself if the players aren't doing it on the pitch and there has been an awful lot of unreported falling-out inside the club."

Macdonald reflected on how, with Kevin Keegan succeeded by Dalglish and then Gullit in the last three years, Newcastle have run through three of European football's most illustrious names of modern times."We are talking about three massive personalities and those are huge boots to fill."

Macdonald doubted whether the local lad Bobby Robson would want the job - "he's 66 with a nice few quid in the bank and at his age he has to consider his health because this job takes years off a young man" - although many fans thought Robson could work in tandem with a Geordie stalwart such as Peter Beardsley.

"I believe Beardsley has been booked to do pantomime this Christmas at the Tyne Theatre," said Stephen Denison, a fan from Fenham. And with this proud, romantic club the joke on Tyneside, a pantomime horse in the hot seat might be appropriate. Whoever takes over, their first task is to make redundant Sunderland fans' corny but pointed barb: what's the difference between Newcastle and a cocktail stick? A cocktail stick has two points.

A YEAR OF SPENDING DANGEROUSLY

PLAYERS IN

Duncan Ferguson (Everton) pounds 7m

Didier Domi (Paris SG) pounds 3m

Silvio Maric (Croatia Zagreb) pounds 3.5m

Alain Goma (Paris SG) pounds 4.75m

Marcelino Elena

(Real Mallorca) pounds 5m

Franck Dumas (Monaco) pounds 0.5m

Kieron Dyer (Ipswich) pounds 6m

John Karelse (NAC Breda) pounds 0.75m TOTAL: pounds 32.5m

PLAYERS OUT

Stephane Guivarc'h (Rangers) pounds 3m

Steve Watson (Aston Villa) pounds 4m

David Batty (Leeds) pounds 4.2m

Keith Gillespie (Blackburn) pounds 2.75m

Paul Dalglish (Norwich) pounds 0.3m

Dietmar Hamann (Liverpool) pounds 8m

Philippe Albert (Charleroi) pounds 0.8m

George Georgiadis (Salonika) pounds 0.5m

Andreas Andersson

(AIK Stockholm) pounds 2m

Stuart Pearce (West Ham) free

TOTAL: pounds 25.55m

RUUD GULLIT'S NEWCASTLE TRANSFER DEFICIT: pounds 6.95m

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