Pavel Srnicek: Goalkeeper who won fans' hearts and helped take Newcastle to within sight of the Premiership title

At his best Pavel was a terrific keeper, an acrobatic entertainer and a highly vocal organiser of his rearguard, but perhaps more importantly he was a warm, open-hearted individual, accessible to the fans and generous with his time

Ivan Ponting
Wednesday 30 December 2015 23:43
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Srnicek in 2006, during his second stint at St James’ Park; he will always be a folk hero on Tyneside
Srnicek in 2006, during his second stint at St James’ Park; he will always be a folk hero on Tyneside

The Czech international goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek shone between Newcastle United's posts as they were crowned second-tier champions in 1992-93, and he battled for a place with Shaka Hislop as Kevin Keegan's Magpies romped to a 12-point lead in the Premiership title race of 1995-96. Though replaced by the London-born Trinidadian stopper for the run-in, which was shaded narrowly by Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, Srnicek would always remain a folk hero on Tyneside.

At his best he was a terrific keeper, an acrobatic entertainer and a highly vocal organiser of his rearguard, but perhaps more importantly he was a warm, open-hearted individual, accessible to the fans and generous with his time, an engaging outlook reflected in his recent autobiography, Pavel Is A Geordie.

A woodcutter's son, and a former soldier in his homeland, Srnicek made his initial major mark with his local club, Banik Ostrava, for whom he made his debut in 1989-90. Tall and imposing, he attracted widespread attention, failing to earn a contract through a trial with Leicester City but impressing the Newcastle United manager Jim Smith enough to secure a £350,000 transfer to St James' Park in January 1991.

United were a poor side toiling in the Second Division at the time, and at first the Czech struggled to become established, first under Smith, then for his successor Ossie Ardiles. But after another new manager, Keegan, guided the Magpies clear of relegation in the spring of 1992, Srnicek emerged as a key influence during the triumphant campaign which followed and he went on to collect 49 full caps for the Czech Republic between 1994 and 2001.

Back on the club front, however, in 1995-96 he faced stern competition from the newly arrived Hislop, and he made only 15 League appearances during Newcastle's uplifting title tilt. At times, though, he excelled, with one stop during a 1-0 home win over Everton in December moving the great former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks to describe it as one of the 10 finest saves he had ever witnessed.

When Keegan departed in 1997, Srnicek continued briefly under Kenny Dalglish, stretching his total of senior outings for the club to more than 150 before rejoining Banik in 1998.

Soon he was recruited by Sheffield Wednesday, with whom he was relegated from the Premiership in 2000, then he served Brescia and Cosenza in Italy before being snapped up by Portsmouth in September 2003. He lingered only briefly at Fratton Park, completing a short loan stint with West Ham United before spending two years with Beira-Mar in Portugal.

The 2006-07 season saw him return to Newcastle as cover for Shay Given, after which he left the professional game. Later he ran his own goalkeeping school and coached for Sparta Prague. He died at the age of 47 after suffering a cardiac arrest while jogging in Ostrava.

Pavel Srnicek, footballer: born Bohumin, near Ostrava, Czechoslovakia 10 March 1968; played 49 times for Czech Republic 1994-2001; died Ostrava 29 December 2015.

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