Football: Newcastle find form

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The Independent Online
KENNY DALGLISH was on form yesterday. So was Sir John Hall. At Newcastle United's FA Cup final open day, the contrast between manager and chairman was predictably black and white.

Up in the St James' Suite at St James' Park, across the corridor from the trophy cabinet that time has forgotten, Dalglish was playing it tight. In the absence of any clues to his likely Wembley line-up, someone asked if he would be naming his team early. "Maybe half a one," came the reply.

What, then, did he think of facing the country's form team in the final? "We're the form team," Dalglish said. "Arsenal have lost their last two games; we've won one and lost one."

The mask of inscrutability gave way to a smirk or two, although the Newcastle manager was not amused when someone asked if he was happy with his life in the North-east. "I don't see the relevance of that question," Dalglish said, searching for a hidden meaning.

At that stage of the afternoon, the big story was looking like "Dalglish sees no relevance in being happy," which might have struck a chord with the fanzine writer in attendance. His report of Newcastle's recent match against Wimbledon read: ZZZZZZZZ. Half-time 0-0. ZZZZZZZZ. Full-time 0- 0.

We were woken from our collective St James' Suite slumber when the bold Sir John arrived, minus a charger but suitably charged with Wembley fever.

"The bookies have made Arsenal favourites," he said, "but never ever underestimate this club. We've got our history and tradition in the FA Cup and we're fighters."

In the past two months, of course, they have had to be fighters. Sir John was obliged to interrupt his retirement to repair the damage done by the Gallowgate tapes recorded by the News of the World. He agreed to replace Freddie Shepherd as chairman of Newcastle United, the football club, until the end of the season, but may be willing to extend his return - should Newcastle United, the plc, request him to do so.

Asked whether he would be willing to stay on, Sir John replied: "I don't know yet. Maybe. I would prefer not to be in charge. I never wanted to come back. But there was a void in the club that had to be filled. The club needed a period of stability. I think it still does need a bit more.

"It's the business part we've got to look at. I think the football side is coming right. Kenny will get it right, as he always has done."

If Kenny gets it right on Saturday, one notable sporting double will have been dashed. Another, though, would still be possible. Newcastle Falcons will win rugby union's Allied Dunbar Premiership on Sunday if they beat Harlequins at The Stoop. Sir John, the Falcons' chairman, will be there.

But if his Magpies plunder some silverware on Saturday, however, he might miss the FA Cup parade planned for Sunday night. All flights from Heathrow to Newcastle are fully booked.

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