Sir John Hall's dream of winning the championship with a team of Geordies (and an honorary Geordie at the helm) is unrealistic

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The Independent Online
The voice of the Geordie lass stuck out like a sore thumb among the crowd of well-wishers who assembled early outside the gates of St James' Park on Wednesday evening. "Gutted, I am," she admitted. "He walked out on two clubs, who's to say he won't do the same to us. We need a Geordie as our manager, not an outsider."

She'd got the facts wrong, as the man of the moment had explained, tersely, at the previous day's press conference. But her sentiments left us in no doubt as to the nature of Kenny Dalglish's crime: he is not, and could never be, a Geordie. And to some Geordies, that simply won't do.

Keegan, of course, was different. He was already accepted as a Geordie when he arrived to rescue the club from oblivion in 1991. However, the issue highlights a trend which seems to have developed, particularly in Newcastle, and even more so since Alan Shearer "came home" amid more hype than is afforded a royal wedding, which suggests that where players and managers are concerned, home is where the heart is.

Those of us whose roots are a little more blurred round the edges than the average Geordie know this isn't true. Did David Beckham care that his double-whammy against Spurs was akin to plunging the knife in and twisting it? Did he hell. Yet Beckham was born in Leytonstone, just a long ball from White Hart Lane, trained with the club before winning a trip to a Bobby Charlton football school and falling for Manchester United, and has a grandfather who's a Spurs season ticket holder. Kicking his boyhood club in the teeth and out of the FA Cup didn't seem to bother him.

Maybe it's something unique about Geordies, because it certainly weighed heavy on Graham Fenton's conscience when he scored those two late Blackburn goals against Newcastle last season.

The reality is that Sir John Hall's dream of winning the championship with a team of Geordies (and an honorary Geordie at the helm) is romantic - but unrealistic.

There's no reason why Bobby Robson, John Toshack, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Brian Little or Jimmy Nail or any other Geordie should have better credentials than Dalglish. Waddle (who was linked with the job "only because I'm a Geordie who did well there") says: "A board often looks to appoint someone with connections 'cos it's popular with the fans but they've really got no advantage over an outsider; in fact people can expect too much from the return of a prodigal son." Brian Little, Harry Redknapp, Joe Royle, Stuart Pearce and Trevor Francis are among those who have returned to their roots - adopted or otherwise - and who carry the accompanying burden of expectation. Now Steve Bruce has been mooted as a possible replacement for Alex Ferguson, although he'll have Bryan Robson to contend with first.

Likewise, it's naive to think that a team of Geordies would fare better than a mixed bag of players. Even if they did, the migration of players from club to club is too great to establish any notion of "the home-town team."

For a start, the scouting network is too top heavy: while big clubs can afford to scatter scouts far and wide, smaller clubs have to rely on their scraps. How else do you explain how Brummie Marlon Broomes, young sweeper extraordinaire, ended up at Blackburn? How Nuneaton-born John Curtis, tipped as a future England captain, found his way to Manchester United, and how Shearer himself was 26 before he went home?

Wimbledon have the highest proportion of home-grown players among Premiership clubs, which betrays their more humble origins. The Dons have had to rely on a thriving youth system; not for Joe Kinnear the luxury of a bottomless pit of pounds.

It's really fans who support their home-town club through thick and thin who would like players to show loyalty, but fans are not always kind to their returning heroes. Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, recalls being appalled at the reception given to a player who returned with his new club to the scene of former crimes. But perhaps West Ham can boast a greater sense of loyalty than most clubs, having been brought up on players like Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. Brooking, who played 17 seasons in claret and blue, says: "The gulf in wages between clubs wasn't so big then so the biggest criteria was enjoying your football, and loving the club." But players like Brooking, Celtic's Paul McStay and Portsmouth's Alan Knight remain the exceptions; most players will play for whoever pays them.

Should we blame them? After all, to them it's a job, not a matter of life or death (even if the hype surrounding Keegan's departure contradicts that). It's that kind of pragmatism that explains how Dalglish could ruthlessly tear down his Rangers posters when the Celtic scouts came knocking. And if a true Bluenose like Dalglish can make a success out of playing for Celtic, he can make a success out of anything. So that lass need have no worries: Newcastle have got the right man. Even if he isn't a Geordie.

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