Football: Toon Army shirts are still on Shearer

As critics cast doubt on lasting value of nation's talisman, the home front state case for the defence

THERE WAS standing room only in The Queen Vic, and precious little of that. "How man, what the hell are you playing at?" someone in the throng demanded as one ambitious soul attempted to make his way from the door to the bar. "I'm trying to get a drink," came the reply. "This is a pub, you know."

Not that you would have noticed. Every other back was turned on the bar and the two temporarily unemployed barwomen. "What's the score, anyway?" the new arrival asked. "Nowts apiece," he was informed. "Bloody hell!" he exclaimed. "I thought they'd be 4-0 down by now."

It was a backs to the bar job in The Queen Vic, in the north-western corner of the shopping empire Sir John Hall built on an old slag heap at Gateshead - the MetroCentre. But in the Stadio Olimpico in the heart of the empire the Romans built it was no backs to the wall exercise for Bobby Robson's boys on Thursday night.

"Get in!" was the collective cry as the half-time whistle sounded and the barracks- confined members of the Toon Army turned away from the giant screen, with military parade-ground precision, and proceeded to besiege the bar. The feared Roman slaughter had failed to materialise. Newcastle United were half-way to a famous moral victory against AS Roma - Totti, Delvecchio, Cafu, Aldair and Co.

"Fucking brilliant!" Dave from Dunston said, licking the fresh-pint froth on his moustache. "That Bobby Lee! What a star ! And Gullit, the twat, wouldn't even give him a number."

Dave happened to have a number on the back of his black and white shirt - a big black 9, plus the name "SHEARER". "Those Watford fans giving Shearer that stick," he said. "A disgrace. I mean... Watford! Just look at him there tonight, man. Nay support. He's up there on his own. But he's battled for everything, chased everything, and stuck in. The man's class, man."

The wider world might be screaming that Alan Shearer has been shorn of his class, but not the world within Tyneside. "Service," Dave said. "That's all he needs. I mean he got none against Scotland, did he ? And the rest of the team were shite."

The England captain did get one big chance served on a plate at Wembley. Like the half-decent opening that came his way in the second half on Thursday, he failed to make the most of it. But the Queen Vic crowd didn't deride him for it. "Shee-raa! Shee-raa!" they chanted. And it was the same at the final whistle as Newcastle's totemic team leader left the field, bare- chested, saluting the 1,000 Geordies who had made the trip to Rome.

"It was never a penalty," the shaven-headed young man in front of us said. "But we'll stuff the bastards over here." That much remains to be seen - and open to considerable doubt. Leeds United were rather pleased to gain the same result, a 1-0 defeat, in the first leg of their Uefa Cup second-round tie against Roma last year. They were rather flattered, however, by the goalless outcome of the one-sided second leg at Elland Road.

If one thing is beyond doubt, though, it is that Shearer will be showered with hero-worship when Roma play the return leg on Tyneside on 9 December. It will be the same this afternoon, when Tottenham and David Ginola come to the Toon. Daveed has done some daft things in his time, such as diving at the feet of Kenny Dalglish when the new Newcastle boss took part in his first six-a-side match in training, and hitching a ride on the Shearer- bashing bandwagon four days before returning to Tyneside was a not a very clever move.

"Shearer is now playing on his name," Ginola told the Oxford Union on Wednesday night. And the name of his former team-mate is sure to be ringing in his ears this afternoon - in between the deafening abuse directed towards the vertically challenged Frenchman.

You might find the odd mildly disloyal Toon Army member who will shout "Shee-raa" and then, in similar fashion to the likely lads behind the counter in the McDonald's ad, quietly whisper: "Well, he's not quite the same as he was before that ankle injury." But, make no mistake about it, the Gallowgate mob would readily string up anyone who openly dared to doubt the man who has assumed Kevin Keegan's messiah mantle on Tyneside.

It was the present England coach, of course, who paraded Shearer like a pounds 15m trophy at St James' Park on the eve of the 1996-97 season. The Geordie sheet-metal worker's son was not, it soon transpired, the ultimate cornerstone in the Newcastle United empire Keegan and Sir John Hall built between them. For one thing, they missed the supporting foundations Shearer himself required and, three-and-a-half years down the line, the trophy cabinet at St James' remains conspicuously bare.

Shearer, it has to be said, is not as sharp as he was before he ripped his ankle ligaments at Goodison Park in July 1997. But, as those who follow Newcastle United will tell you, he has been back to something approaching his best in the new Robson regime. His form has, admittedly, dipped in recent weeks. But it has done so in the absence of Kieron Dyer.

Shearer, significantly, has looked a different player with Dyer in the Newcastle team. It has surely been no coincidence. After three and half years of inadequate support - Tomasson, Guiv'arch, Ketsbaia, Maric - Shearer finally has a colleague who can clearly bring out the best in him. He also has a boss who believes in him.

Bobby Robson is no bad judge of a player and it should not be dismissed lightly that the veteran manager visibly sparkles with admiration when talking about his captain. Shearer's detractors, for instance, would have dismissed his Thursday-night shift as another indifferent day at the office. Not Robson. "The fellow was superb," he said. "He battered away all night, without much support or protection. It was the perfect performance of a traditional English centre-forward."

And Robson has been around long enough to appreciate traditional English centre-forward play. "I was an Alan Shearer fan long before I had the pleasure of working with him," he said earlier this month, "and my admiration for the man grows daily. In the words of the song, he's simply the best."

There are more than a few people around the country who would dispute that. But, at 29, and with 12 Premiership goals to his name in a struggling side this season, the man for whom Kevin Keegan paid pounds 15m is not past his sell-by date yet.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Valerie Trierweiler’s book paints Hollande as a cold-hearted hypocrite
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
filmsMockingjay Part 1 taking hit franchise to new levels
Life and Style
techSweet Peach says scent 'shows more important things are working'
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Recruitment Genius: Client Support Officer

£10 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The candidate must be committed, engag...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible