Football: Geordie faithful tune in to new SuperMac: Guy Hodgson on why Andy Cole is a worthy wearer of the No 9 shirt at Newcastle United

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Andy Cole, Andy Cole,

Gets the ball, scores a goal.

TO HAVE 30,000 people singing your name is a dream of adolescence, but Andy Cole lives that fantasy almost every time he touches a football at St James' Park. In a Newcastle United crowd that used to alarm with its racist leanings he is a young black man who is a focal point for adoration. His manager, Kevin Keegan, is referred to as 'King' but Cole is a short distance adrift and catching.

A look at any Newcastle fanzine reveals how the North-east has opened itself up to the 21-year-old striker who reached Newcastle via Arsenal and Bristol City last March for pounds 1.75m. In The Giant Awakes his picture is captioned 'Andy Goal'; in The Mag one strike is elevated to the status of 'sheer poetry'.

Fanzines are not for accentuating the negative but Newcastle are not denying they see Cole as a worthy successor to the No 9 shirt worn by Jackie Milburn, Wyn Davies and Malcom Macdonald. 'This boy is magic,' Ian Ferguson wrote in The Mag. 'I haven't felt as excited about a player since SuperMac left. His speed and control are brilliant, his ability to turn a defender is superb . . . he has the happiest little song ever invented as his anthem.'

Even Keegan, not a man to indulge in idle platitudes, sings his praises. 'You have to be special to produce here,' he said after Cole had equalised in the 1-1 draw at Manchester United last Saturday. 'He can leave Old Trafford and consider himself unlucky because he could have had another two. He is going to score goals at this level.

'The way he plays makes him the natural successor to Ian Wright should he not be available for England. What impresses me so much about him is he wants to be a player. That's why I bought him.'

Keegan's immediate return for his outlay was 12 goals in 11 starts last season which spearheaded Newcastle's run to the First Division title. Last week Cole's goal at Old Trafford earned his team their first point in the Premiership and settled a few nerves rattled by defeats in their two opening matches.

'To score there in front of a full crowd was a reason why I play football,' Cole said. 'I felt I had really arrived in the Premier League.'

On Wednesday, against Everton, he also arrived at a downside. He failed to convert three chances, partly because of the excellence of Neville Southall, yet the threat he will pose to defences this season was clear. The Everton back four were reluctant to push too far up for fear they would leave too much space for Cole to use his blistering pace. Teams will try offside traps, but it will be a dangerous tactic.

Even with Gary Ablett dropping slightly off his man, Cole got free on five occasions, and only Southall's rushes from his line to either clear or save prevented Everton conceding more than the solitary goal. 'I didn't play as well as I can,' Cole said. 'I would normally have expected to have got at least one goal with the chances I had. Consistency will come with experience.'

Cole, from Nottingham, joined Arsenal as a schoolboy but left Highbury due to the quality and the number of the strikers ahead of him. A fee of pounds 500,000 emphasised that George Graham was aware he was off-loading an asset to Bristol City, as did the deal that gave the Gunners a share of any future profit.

At Bristol he scored 20 goals in 41 League appearances which prompted Keegan's interest and, after several refusals, Newcastle's money was eventually too persuasive. Cole thought he was 'in trouble' when he found a note attached to his car asking him to report to Ashton Gate 'for his own good'. A few hours later he was a Newcastle player.

'I was a bit reluctant to come up here,' Cole said. 'It seemed a long way from home. But I scored on my debut, which got the crowd on my side and everything has taken off from there. I knew Lee Clark because we played together for England schoolboys and he was great. He's a big friend and he helped me to settle, socially and on the pitch.

'My great asset is my pace but I feel I'm skilful too. I'm not a striker who thinks about what he is going to do, it just comes instinctively. I do my own thing. It seems to work.'

Ian Wright also does his own thing and it is the Arsenal striker who once kept him in the Highbury reserves that Cole admires most. 'He's the only one for me,' he said. 'I always watch him, see what positions he takes up, what he does with the ball. He's different class. It's his attitude that makes him different. He plays every game as though it's going to be his last.'

Keegan's attitude is that he has a striker who, at the present inflated prices, could be a bargain. 'He's only 21, he knows he's got a lot to learn but he's done so much for Newcastle already.'

(Photograph omitted)

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