On Tyneside they are in thrall to the cult of the Messiah and now at St James' Park there is a new Angel of the North. Alan Shearer has accepted the biggest, most dangerous, hospital pass of his career: he has taken over Newcastle United at their lowest ebb in 17 years.
Why he has he done it? Because, Newcastle fans will say, he loves the club. There is no doubt that the son of a Geordie sheet-metal worker has a relationship with the club and its support that transcends the usual bond between a Premier League millionaire and his paying customers. However, Shearer is not daft either and he is not a man given to making decisions on a whim.
This is, after all, a man who became the template for the media-savvy modern footballer. Who gave little away when he was England captain and not much more now he sits on the couch on the BBC's Match of the Day. He is not a Kevin Keegan who was sold the emotion and the dreams of St James' Park without checking whether any of Mike Ashley's promises were real. In short, Shearer is no mug.
He must know that he has a great deal to lose. First of all he has that relationship with the Newcastle faithful. Scoring 206 goals for Newcastle in ten years guarantees him a lifetime of devotion. He also has his career to think of. Every manager has to choose his first job carefully. Screw it up and they may never get another chance.
Shearer can only have accepted this Newcastle job because he believes there is value in it. He must believe that he can rescue this team, two points from safety in 18th place, and that once they are safe Ashley will have no other option but to hand him the control that all good managers require. Shearer has not gone into this job to be the lapdog of the most loathed man in Newcastle, he will surely do it on his terms.
There can be no other way. Ashley has sacked Sam Allardyce, appointed Dennis Wise, hired and fired Kevin Keegan and then settled on Joe Kinnear, who is now recovering from a heart attack. About Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood, the less said the better. In short the man who gives Britain its cheap leisurewear has proved himself no genius at picking managers or running the club. Best now to hand it over to a man who knows.
It is a beguiling story, a dewy-eyed Geordie narrative of returning heroes. In the corridors of St James' Park the pictures of Shearer's return to Newcastle when he signed for a then record £15m from Blackburn tell of a happy day. He had never played for the club before, his apprenticeship was served 320 miles away with Southampton on the South Coast but Newcastle fans always felt a proprietorship over this son of Gosforth. And he never let them down.
The former England international said at the weekend that Newcastle were only just waking up to the reality of their situation. "Maybe we think we don't need to work, that we're too good. We think: 'We've got Owen, we've got Martins, we've got Gutierrez, we've got Duff – we've got all these great players, so we don't need to work as hard. But the fact is we do."
That much Shearer might be able to change. If his appointment can affect the kind of bounce that will be enough to save Newcastle he will be revered twice over. Then the battle will really start for the soul of the club: getting Ashley to sell-up and a new ownership structure that will allow Shearer to manage the club properly. That part might be even more difficult than keeping Newcastle in the Premier League.
4 April Chelsea (h); 11 April Stoke (a); 19 April Tottenham (a); 27 April Portsmouth (h); 2 May Liverpool (a); 9 May Middlesbrough (h); 16 May Fulham (h); 24 May Aston Villa (a).Reuse content