Football: Supermac still rises above rest

FAN'S EYE VIEW: Macolm Macdonald
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The Independent Online
I KNOW this column is usually used by fans to laud one or other football team, and why not? But circumstances right now demand the lionising of one very special player - a player fallen on desperate times.

To me, and as a child of the Sixties I mean no disrespect to the first Prime Minister of my childhood, there was only one Supermac - Malcolm Macdonald. It was he, not Mr Macmillan, who ensured that we "never had it so good".

At a time when the country's panicky national football managers became ever more fearful of selecting the more cavalier players, the swashbuckling Macdonald arrived on the scene like a breath, a hurricane more like, of fresh air, daring anyone to ignore him.

This, remember, was the era when English football disgraced itself like never before. Not in the behaviour of their fans, nor in the paucity of results, though neither were anything to write home about.

The disgrace was that the likes of Charlie George, Alan Hudson and Tony Currie, and other rare talents, were denied regular England outings, seen as they were by successive managers as capricious "luxury players". All the more remarkable, then, that Supermac was granted as many as 14 England caps. But then, as I say, you couldn't ignore the man.

Those 14 games brought him six goals, on the face of it a solid return. In reality, however, he scored in just two of those games, but the 1975 European Championship qualifier at Wembley against Cyprus, which saw him net five times, has passed into folklore.

At Luton Supermac scored 49 times in 88 League games, in five seasons at Newcastle he hit 95 goals in 187 League matches, and at Arsenal his 84 League outings yielded 42 goals. His strike-rate was enviable.

And where did all these sporting heroics lead to once a knee injury forced Supermac into early retirement at the age of 29? Management was an obvious option, not least as Macdonald was articulate, never needing the Footballers Lexicon of Cliches. Under Ernie Clay's chairmanship he became, at Fulham, English football's first paid managing director.

But, believing he was about to receive the call from his beloved Newcastle he walked out on Fulham. The call never came. Instead, he pottered around football's lower reaches before losing such fortune as he had on failed business ventures.

It is at times like this that your misery does not need compounding. Regrettably, though, misfortune just would not leave Malcolm alone, and with the onset of osteoarthritis - his exaggerated, bandy-legged running was bound to catch up with him sooner or later - he began losing himself inside the whisky bottle to help relieve the pain.

Last week, having been found comatose and surrounded by empty whisky bottles in a Northern bed-and-breakfast, he was admitted to a detoxifying clinic. Adams, Merson, Gascoigne - they are different kettles of troubled fish altogether. Macdonald, though, is no Gazza. He is intelligent, articulate, thoughtful - not a petulant, oafish, man-child like Tyneside's other great hero, and he deserves his dignity.

I refuse to think of Malcolm battling his demons in a secure ward, that's not the real Malcolm Macdonald. The Supermac I remember is the one who arrived at St James' Park for his Newcastle debut in a white Rolls-Royce, scored a hat-trick, and was then stretchered off, rapturous applause filling his 21-year-old ears. Malcolm, I still applaud you, and I wish you a speedy recovery.