Driven Given sets goal to grab No 1 jersey for keeps

The Newcastle custodian celebrates 10 years at the club and intends to see off all challengers
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The Independent Online

With a frying pan in front of him, Shay Given celebrates his decade at Newcastle United tomorrow night. St James' Park hosts a cookery evening complete with Given, celebrity chefs and a well-fed snooker star, Dennis Taylor. It is a different way to recognise a player's contribution and a different way of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer. With both time and money, Given is naturally generous but the charity is closer to him because he lost his mother Agnes to cancer when he was five years old.

There will be a review of Given's 10 years since Kenny Dalglish brought him from Blackburn for £1.5 million and the cash raised will take Given's fundraising work for Macmillan to a comparable figure. He does not want a pat on the back but you can tell that when Given met young housebound carers in Newcastle last Monday, as part of the Creating Chances campaign, it meant something to him.

"These kids, young carers, their parents are suffering and they're having to look after them," he explained. "To go and collect them and take them to this place in Rowlands Gill where they get a break, make friends, that matters. They don't know any different."

It also gave Given a break from thinking about keeping goal for Newcastle, though in truth his came 48 hours earlier when he heard his name called out for the team that would play at Manchester City. Having seen Steve Harper come in while he was injured and perform admirably, Given, not a good spectator, was growing increasingly anxious. "When I found that out I was like a schoolkid again," he said, "so excited, hearing my name mentioned in the team again. You do miss that."

Today against Everton should mark his 417th appearance for Newcastle – only five men have played more games for the club in its 115-year history – and Given remains as possessive about the No 1 jersey now as he was on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in 1997.

"I remember the game quite well," he recalled. "I remember Wednesday's goal, a Benito Carbone overhead kicked it into the bottom corner. They were pretty decent but we won 2-1 [Faustino Asprilla scored twice]. That was important for me because I was only 21 when Kenny Dalglish brought me to the club and Pav [Pavel Srnicek] was here and Shaka [Hislop] was here. For Kenny to play me in front of those two, who had a lot more experience, that gave me a big boost."

And now, just as he has recovered the jersey, comes awkward word from Jussi Jaaskelainen's agent that the Bolton keeper would fancy joining his former manager Sam Allardyce on Tyneside. "I am sure there are a lot of goalkeepers' agents who would like their player to come to Newcastle," he said. "But Jaaskelainen's contract is up in the summer and with knowing Sam Allardyce from Bolton, people will put two and two together. I don't know what the manager's thinking. I go out and play for Newcastle as best I can and I hope I've proved I'm decent at what I do."

Given's status – he is the only player near to Alan Shearer's popularity – offers no protection. He is part of the fabric but Newcastle are a changed club and a new manager is usually afforded licence to make changes. Given has been impressed by Allardyce's passion for sports science and the wearing of heart monitors in training: "But it's still about the football. What he's doing is trying to give us as best a chance as he can to win games."

In broader terms, Given is happy with the takeover. Mike Ashley was introduced to the squad in the dressing room before the West Ham match, but there has been no chat with the senior players as yet.

"Man United won the League and went and spent £80m. Where does that put Newcastle, who finished 13th? It will take time but having Mike Ashley with his financial power means we should be going in the right direction. Hopefully, the only way is up."

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