From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.37 :: Sep. 16, 2010
Andy Carroll has been prolific upfront for Newcastle.
Great jubilation and excitement in Newcastle: The Magpies seem to have found yet another prolific local centre forward. This time in the formidable six foot three shape of the 21-year-old Andy Carroll, born at nearby Gateshead just across the river Tyne. The town where alas one of the fiercest of all Magpies centre forwards, sturdy little Hughie Gallacher, a dazzling star of Scotland's 1928 Wembley wizards, 5-1 conquerors of England, wretchedly killed himself on the railway line being due to appear in court for allegedly maltreating his son.
As it happens, Andy Carroll is due come October in Crown Court, charged with assault in a local night club. There is certainly an element of violence about him as late last season, in what appeared to be an altercation on the training ground, he broke the jaw of the Newcastle centre-back Steve Taylor: As it happens, another local man, in a row over a girl.
Understandably enough, Carroll's idol has been Alan Shearer, he too a local man, an England international and a huge hero on Tyneside. The irony being that he eluded the Magpies as a youngster, moving all the way down from the north-east to the south coast of England to join Southampton; where he made a sensational teenaged debut scoring three times against Arsenal. Later he would win a league championship medal finding his way at long last to St. James' Park. The season before last saw him even become briefly manager of Newcastle but for all his huge prestige and popularity he couldn't save them from relegation nor could Carroll's 17 goals.
Shearer himself was not always the mildest of people. He was known for a sometimes swinging elbow under challenge and shortly before the 1998 World Cup Finals in France, at St. James' Park, he swung round on the field and kicked his opponent Neil Lennon, currently the manager of Celtic, full in the face. For this he should plainly have been suspended but the craven and devious Football Association's disciplinary committee absurdly decided that he had been trying merely to “free” himself! He was exonerated.
From the Gallowgate terraces, Carroll watched Shearer from boyhood and of course would play briefly under his managership. A fulminating hat-trick at home to Aston Villa made nonsense of the way he was impugned by a leading sports columnist after Newcastle had been annihilated 3-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford in their opening premiership game of the season. Operating alone in front, Carroll had just one real chance in the whole game and he missed it.
On the basis of this, the columnist went to some length to warn Carroll that this by contrast with the championship was how life would be in the top division. Carroll's prompt reply was to fire in his hat-trick against Aston Villa though opposed by as formidable a centre-back as Richard Dunne. Carroll in fact began with Newcastle as a left-back but was perceptively moved up to centre-forward by John Carver then the youth coach.
Needless to say Chris Hughton was delighted and I was delighted for Hughton, that most modest of managers. Nobody expected that Chris, when he moved up from coach to stopgap Magpies manager, would last any time. By sharp contrast with the various prominent figures who had tried to run the club — enlisted by the noisily flamboyant entrepreneur who'd been trying with desperate lack of success to unload it, as his millions powered down the drain and his sports goods business foundered — Kevin Keegan, Shearer, Dennis Wise causing background confusion, Chris was so quiet and self-effacing. In his playing days he had been a competent left back for Tottenham and Ireland for whom, though very much a Londoner, he somehow qualified.
Even when against the odds and with a top position he brought the Magpies back into the top division, it was generally assumed that the chairman and owner the rotund, bombastic Ashley detested by the fans would appoint a far more glittering figure. But by that time he probably could not afford to and Chris has stayed in office.
Inevitably perhaps given the severe shortage of adequate England centre-forwards, Wayne Rooney after his wretched World Cup has surely become a busted flesh, Heskey just didn't score goals. Zamora, Defoe, Crouch that giant rabbit killer and Bent are essentially club rather than true England strikers. So could Caroll, relatively inexperienced at the highest level prove the answer? Hughton is understandably cautious. Michael Owen and other dazzling teenaged prodigies, which Rooney once seemed, are few and far between. “Whether it's too early for that is a decision for the England manager,” said Hughton after the Villa game, “But he has developed his game and added goals. How far he goes will be up to the environment he's in and up to himself. He has got the attributes to improve even more. As a centre-forward it is all about scoring goals and the challenge for him is to do it week in and week out in this division.”
Newcastle didn't punish Carroll for punching Steven Taylor, and Hughton has a notoriously violent player in Liverpudlian Joe Barton, imprisoned for a brutal unprovoked assault on a young victim in his native city. There was also a notorious assault from behind on a teammate in training at Manchester City.
No such stigma attached itself to the legendary lightning quick Jackie Milburn, a local man again, scorer of two super goals I saw in the Wembley Cup final of 1951 still an unforgotten hero on Tyneside. Can the mild-mannered decent Hughton cope with Carroll, let alone the thuggish Barton? We can only wish him luck. He may well need it as will the Magpies.
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