THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Day five of the WSC advent calendar and we're on to Shepherds. Freddie Shepherd, to be exact, who was featured in issue 135, May 1998. Ian Cusack told how Shepherd and Douglas Hall had brought shame upon their club and looked at what was next for Newcastle

Isn’t it great to read about a team from the North East, playing in black and white stripes, with the whole community behind them, who have reached Wembley and are blessed with a decent and honourable chairman? Best wishes to Tow Law, population 2,208, for their trip to the FA Vase Final. Now what about Newcastle United?

It took nine days from the publication of the first set of lurid allegations about Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall’s private lives by the News of the World, via one adamant refusal to step down on the dubious grounds that they were both victims of a newspaper sting, to the announcement of their resignations from the board of Newcastle United plc. Significantly, none of the allegations about astonishingly vibrant sex lives and extremely heavy drinking has been denied. Perhaps they are pleased to be thought of in this way?

The announcement of their departure was made by non-executive director and ex-Rolls Royce boss Sir Terence Harrison and not by Hall and Shepherd themselves, who were believed to be donning hair shirts on a yacht in Portugal and a beach in Barbados respectively. It seems as if Harrison and two other obscure non-executive directors, thinking no doubt of their own good names and not of their investment portfolios, had issued an ultimatum to the disgraced two.

The spectre of Gerald Ratner has been invoked many times: slagging off the product, the customers, the customers’ wives and high ranking employees, in one case for refusing to enter an Amsterdam brothel, is not taught as a model of good practice on the Harvard MBA.

However, there is a silver lining: cometh the hour, cometh the man. Emerging in their stead, from one hundred days in retirement, brandishing an unrivalled selection of contradictory and immoderate quotes, is the unelected President of the Geordie Nation, Sir John Hall.

Meanwhile, the plc announces half yearly profits of almost twelve million quid and, an FA Cup semi-final apart, the team continue to perform like a North Eastern equivalent of Man City. Dalglish’s post-match interviews are somewhat reminiscent of John Major in his last days as Prime Minister, attempting to fob off the latest sleaze and sexual impropriety revelations, or in Kenny’s case another pitiful home performance, with a shrug and a beatific smile. Season ticket holders and the wider population of Tyneside, having allegedly been demonised as drunken yobs and spendthrift simpletons by the clientele of a lap-dancing bar in Puerto Banus, are now supposed to go back to being subservient to the authority of the club and fanatical in their support of the team.

This may be difficult when the fact remains that Cameron Hall Developments, with 57 per cent of the shares, and Shepherd Offshore, with 8 per cent, own a controlling interest in the club. Douglas and Freddie are off the board, but emphatically still on the payroll.

During the whole sordid saga Newcastle was awash with journos on a scale not seen since Keegan’s resignation some 14 months previously. If the story is that rich businessmen are flying around the world on jollies, getting drunk, behaving obnoxiously towards women young enough to be their daughters and possibly dabbling in the staple crop of Faustino Asprilla’s homeland, then there isn’t really a story.

Arrogance and vanity amongst nouveau riche middle-aged men is again nothing new. Shepherd is a self-made man with a considerable personal fortune and Douglas Hall has been kept in his father’s shadow until he was almost forty. Bearing in mind the world they move in, it is little wonder they are prepared to squander their money in such a demob fashion, boasting about supposed orgies to a man they’ve never met before. It has been a long time since the Old Etonian spirit of justice, fair play and discretion, as exemplified by the Hill-Woods at Arsenal and the Cobbold dynasty at lpswich, has had a place in football club boardrooms. Indeed, one wonders just what Bob Lord could have got up to in the fleshpots of Burnley, if he’d been given access to the personal fortunes amassed by chairmen these days.

Barcelona in the Champions League excepted, the football Newcastle United have churned out this season has been so dismal that the national media has ignored the team, except during the public relations suicide pact with Stevenage chairman Victor Green. Indeed, one fanzine editor has gone so far as boycotting home games to voice his displeasure at the club. The local papers, sick of home defeats by Wimbledon and West Ham, have been their usual selves, wheeling out a so-called Newcastle fan, Coronation Street star Denise Welch, to comment on the allegation that Tyneside women are all dogs, or former chairman Gordon McKeag and his solicitor brother Clive, to make solemn and shallow pronouncements about how this sort of thing never went on when they were in charge and that it’s the fans they feel sorry for. All of this despite the fact that Gordon described ownership of Newcastle United as “the family silver” not ten years ago.

However local coverage reached its nadir with speculation of a putative takeover by the Sultan of Brunei (an unfortunate name since the Geordie homonym ‘Broon Eye’ means sphincter) who would of course bring back Keegan as manager. Whoopee, as most Fulham fans would say.

It does seem likely, from the noises Sir Terence Harrison made when announcing Sir John Hall’s Lazarus act, that the Prince of Wynyard’s comeback will be a short term measure, possibly heralding a share sale in the summer. For the sakes of their pockets alone, the board of Newcastle United plc will be keeping their fingers tightly crossed that Dalglish manages to rouse his team sufficiently to maintain a place in the Premiership. Personally, if someone could guarantee a cup win at Wembley and three points at both Gigg Lane and Edgeley Park next season, I’d take it. I mean Boro seem to have enjoyed themselves this year.

From WSC 135 May 1998. What was happening this month

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