For a few emotional minutes last night the followers of Newcastle United put despair at the state of their club aside and paid their respect to Sir Bobby Robson. Around 30,000 fans turned up at St James' Park to watch a re-run of the England-Germany semi-final of Italia 90 in aid of Robson's Foundation – a charity dedicated to fighting the cancer which Robson, 76, is suffering from for a fifth time.
There were tears as well as applause as Robson was introduced shortly before kick-off. He was in a wheelchair. It was a sight that would spark compassion in even the hardest of professional football hearts. Germany's goalkeeper for the night, Oliver Reck, took off his glove to shake Robson's hand when the guest of honour met the teams.
There was also a clasped hand from Alan Shearer. Like Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Robert Lee and Les Ferdinand, Shearer was present to swell the numbers for Robson. Gascoigne complained about England's defending on Germany's opening goal. Peter Shilton shook his head.
Shearer, of course, would like to be here permanently, and he would prefer to be in the dugout, not on the pitch.
But Shearer remains in limbo, cut off from owner Mike Ashley following Ashley's May declaration that Shearer was the best thing since sliced bread.
"I know as much as you do," Shearer said before kick-off, when asked about alleged takeovers. "I would dearly love the situation to be sorted out one way or the other so the club can move on."
But two months after relegation from the Premier League and just 13 days until the first fixture of next season – in the Championship – the news was that there was no news. "I'm the same as everyone else, I'm hanging on in there," Shearer said. "I certainly know nothing myself. But I'm a fan and I don't like to see the situation the club is in."
And what a situation. As Shearer spoke, Newcastle's official website was relaying a message from caretaker manager Chris Hughton. It was an apology, one even this nonchalant regime deemed necessary.
Then again, losing 6-1 at Leyton Orient – which Newcastle's current first team did 24 hours earlier – should provoke embarrassment. Orient's starting XI cost nothing; Newcastle's £56m. Newcastle's, moreover – with Joey Barton becoming frustrated in midfield – was close to that which will start at West Bromwich on Saturday week.
"We can only apologise to the fans who have backed us tremendously during pre-season," Hughton said. "The situation off the field is well documented but the supporters have never turned on the players, and have been magnificent."
That can go on only so long. Even though it was a mere pre-season friendly, the Orient result was another signpost to fans on Newcastle's seemingly unstoppable downward journey.
Their overwhelming collective feeling is that Shearer is the one person who can put a brake on this but as each day goes by, another room at St James' catches fire. Yesterday brought speculation that the club overdraft is now up to £40m and that Dennis Wise is still on the pay-roll.
Robson shares the dismay. "It's great that Alan can play," he said, "but I'd have preferred to have him involved at Newcastle United because I believe we need a strong manager for the next five years. But Newcastle's loss at the moment is my gain and I'm thrilled he is with the England Legends team. I tried to sign Alan for Barcelona, but he came back home to Newcastle instead. Thankfully, I was able to be his manager later on at St James' Park and he was a model professional, as well as a great captain and centre-forward. Next, I expect him to be a great manager, and I hope it's with our club, Newcastle."
Shearer, naturally, scored the winner last night. From the penalty spot.
O deary me: Magpies v Orient
Leyton Orient: Jones; Purches, Mkandawire, Chorley, Daniels, Demetriou; Melligan, Thornton, Smith; Scowcroft, Patulea.
TOTAL COST £0.00
Newcastle United: Krul; Beye, S Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Nolan, Smith, Barton, Gutierrez; Martins, Duff.
TOTAL COST £56.6m
*Average attendances last season
Orient: 4,691; Newcastle: 48,750.
*League position last season
Orient finished 14th in League One, seven points above relegation. Newcastle finished 18th in the Premier League last season, and were relegated.
Orient's starting XI on Saturday included seven free transfers, one free agent, two released players and one, Jason Demetriou, who has come through the ranks.
Newcastle's starting XI contained Tim Krul, signed as a teenager from Den Haag, Steven Taylor who came through the ranks and Fabricio Coloccini who cost £12.5m, according to Joe Kinnear, once agents' fees had been paid. Coloccini has 32 caps for Argentina.
On Saturday, Orient's six goals were scored by six different players. "A clean sheet would've been nice," said manager Geraint Williams.Reuse content