Meet the other Newcastle No 9

Simon Turnbull finds the Town Army lining up a shot at the big- time in the FA Cup
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The Independent Online
It was an hour before kick-off. Newcastle's No 9 was in the board- room, performing a pre-match fitness test. He was hopping up and down while smoking a cigarette. "My ankle," he said, by way of explanation. "It was killing me after Saturday."

"Saturday" was an FA Vase tie against Lye Town. Newcastle won 4-0 and their centre-forward scored his 15th goal of the season; not one, however, for every million he cost. John Burndred is the other Newcastle No 9. He cost precisely pounds 15m less than Alan Shearer.

The Newcastle team who happen to play a team known as the Magpies in the first round of the FA Cup next weekend were, in fact, assembled for pounds 750. And like Andy Holmes, upon whom that lump sum was lavished, Burndred will be paid nothing more than expenses for lining up against Notts County at the Victoria Ground, Stoke, a week today. "It's a good job it's not on Saturday," John Cotton said. "John here has to make a 5am start to get a shift in before Saturday games."

Cotton is one of the off-the-field dynamos who have driven Newcastle Town from Sunday leaguers to would-be FA Cup giant-killers in eight years. Burndred is one of the priceless stars. His goal-poaching feats for Knypersley Victoria earned him a six-month contract with his beloved Port Vale at the age of 26. He played one first- team game, against Notts County, before returning to his pounds 11,000-a-year job as a manager at a pottery firm in Burslem.

That was two years ago. "Do you know," he said, "I'd never thought about it that way: that I'm the other Newcastle No 9... You know that Jaguar he drives, did Shearer buy it?" With the world's most expensive footballer on his mind, and a fag still in his hand, Town's centre-forward trotted along the corridor to the dressing-room. He was fit, apparently, to play against Trafford. Indeed, he was smoking.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne it ain't. That much had been evident in the hour it had taken to find the football ground in Newcastle- under-Lyme. "Football ground?" the woman behind the till at the Murco garage said. "Stoke or Vale?" When Newcastle was mentioned, she looked concerned and said: "I think you're a few hundred mile away, duck."

Cotton was not surprised. "Somebody asked me the other day how to get here from the railway station," Town's secretary said. "Nobody had asked me before. I had to look up the number of the bus." The FA Cup run, and the paragraph in the Evening Sentinel, attracted a bumper gate on Wednesday night. You could count all 210 members of the Town Army dotted above the encircling cycle track that lends a certain continental ambience to the Lyme Valley Stadium in its setting outside the Potteries boundary in north Staffordshire.

Toon Army fortress it ain't. Yet Scandinavians regularly turn up at the local tourist information office requesting directions to St James' Park. "Last Tuesday we had a phone call asking for John Motson," Ray Tatton, another committee man, chipped in. "Newcastle were playing Ferencvaros that night." Newcastle United were, he might have pointed out. Newcastle Town were playing Atherton Collieries.

The two Newcastles of English football may be miles apart, 200 by road, but they came together last year when United trained at Town's ground on the morning of their Coca-Cola Cup tie at Stoke. A letter of thanks from Kevin Keegan has pride of place in the clubhouse. "We'd drawn 3-3 at Flixton the night before," Glyn Chamberlain said, "and Kevin Keegan must have followed it on local radio. He knew we'd been 3-1 up with two minutes to go."

Chamberlain, a lorry driver, is the other Newcastle manager. "People say to me, `It would be great to be manager of Newcastle United and to spend pounds 60m,' but Newcastle Town is as important to me as I'm sure Newcastle United is to Kevin Keegan. As far as I'm concerned it's the biggest club there is, because it's my club."

Chamberlain's club, or rather his team, have yet to lose in the North- west Counties League this season. It was easy to see why on Wednesday night as they beat a tidy Trafford side 3-1. In doing so, their goals- against column nudged to three, no mean record for a Newcastle defence. Colin Murphy, Notts County's general manager, departed at half-time. He missed the breathtaking sight of goal number 16 for Burndred this season: a sublime chip shot from 30 yards.

Newcastle's other two goals came courtesy of Dave Ritchie, a chip off the old Potteries block of John Ritchie, Stoke City's centre-forward when they beat Chelsea in the 1972 League Cup final. Ritchie senior also played in the Stoke side that came within two minutes of the 1971 FA Cup final. He and Denis Smith put Tony Waddington's team 2-0 up in the Hillsborough semi-final against Arsenal, who needed a late Peter Storey penalty to get out of jail, as it were.

Not that Ritchie junior can recall such daring paternal deeds. As he pointed out in the Newcastle dressing-room: "I was only one when dad played at Wembley." Father and son work together in the family pottery business, Ritchie of Stoke, which can be found in the shadow of the Victoria Ground. "Dad'll be there next week," Newcastle's No 7 said. "He bought us six bottles of champagne after we won in the last round. Then he stayed and drank them all, the cheeky bugger."

It would probably take more than victory against Notts County for the backwater of Newcastle to be drunk dry. Such is the football fog on the Lyme.