Moving on from my previous article on Gary Speed, it is now time to profile another ex Newcastle United legend from the past decade. This time focusing on current Manchester City and Ireland international goalkeeper, Shay Given.
Born April 20th 1976 in Lifford, County Donegal, Ireland, Shay started his career at his boyhood club, Celtic, before moving onto Blackburn Rovers. Whilst at Blackburn he spent loan spells at Swindon Town and Sunderland. It was at Sunderland where Shay won his first trophy, picking up the Football League Championship in 1996, this was also the same year he won his first cap for Ireland, in a friendly match against Russia at Lansdowne Road.
He joined Newcastle United In the summer of 1997, signed by former Magpie’s manager Kenny Dalglish for £1.5 million from Blackburn Rovers. This was the second time Dalglish had signed Given, previously signing him for Blackburn from Celtic in the summer of 1994. Demonstrating his athletic nature and sharp reflexes, Shay spent a total of 12 excellent seasons on Tyneside. In my opinion, he was the best ‘keeper Newcastle have ever had, certainly in my lifetime so far anyway, and one of the best shot stoppers the Premier League has ever had.
His outstanding shot stopping ability was evident from the moment he first featured for us, in a pre-season competition ‘The Irish Tournament’ at the start of the 1997-1998 season. United subsquently won the tournament (anybody else remember Rob Lee shaking the trophy over his head like a mad man?) and as an impressionable 12 year old boy, I remember thinking, not only about how much are new green ‘keepers top looked like a Crocodile / Human hybrid skin shedding, but also that we potentially had got ourselves a great player. I also remember really wanting a pair of Adidas ‘Fingersave’ gloves like Given’s and how I would be able to convince my parents to get me a pair!
Given made the first of his 354 League appearances for Newcastle in the first game of the 1997-1998 Premier League season, a 2-1 home victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Shay quickly established himself as the number one ‘keeper, ahead of Pavel Srníček, Shaka Hislop and Steve Harper.
In November of that season during a 2-2 draw against Coventry City at Highfield Road, Given caught a cross, and without noticing Dion Dublin standing off the field behind him, proceeded to roll the ball in front of him to make a clearance only for Dublin to nick in front of him and pass the ball into the net. It has been voted as one of the Premier League’s most bizarre goals of all time. Given also featured in our Champions League adventure, including the famous 3-2 victory over Barcelona at St James’ Park. United finished the season in 13th place with Shay making a total of 24 Premiership appearances. The seasons end also saw Given between the sticks in our 2-0 F.A. Cup final defeat at the hands of Arsenal at the ‘old’ Wembley.
As United’s trophy dream ended in the capital that year, so did another one. After persistent begging for my parents to get me a pair of Adidas ‘Fingersave’ ‘keeper gloves throughout the season, I had to settle for ordinary Mitre ones. I didn’t get to don our Crocodile skin ‘keeper top either, but that didn’t bother me nearly as much!
After the 1998-1999 season, Newcastle had again finished in 13th position, with another F.A. Cup final defeat, this time inflicted by Manchester United. Given did not feature in the final this time as Ruud Gullit, who replaced Dalglish at the start of the season, opted for Steve Harper instead. Shay amassed 31 Premiership appearances that season.
The 1999-2000 season saw Given witness another managerial change as the great Sir Bobby Robson took charge after United had started the season in terrible fashion under Gullit. Newcastle ended the season in 11th position, with Given collecting 19 Premier League appearances. Newcastle and Given just missed out on a 3rd consecutive F.A. Cup final appearance after losing 2-1 to Chelsea at Wembley, with Gustavo Poyet scoring either side of a great header from Rob Lee. United performed much better than the previous two recent visits to the capital and didn’t deserve to lose.
The 2000-2001 season had Shay feature more than the previous one, getting himself 34 Premiership appearances and helping United to another 11th place finish, as we rapidly began to improve under Sir Bobby Robson. December of that season though saw Given have a written transfer request, after losing his place in the team to Steve Harper, sternly rejected by the board. Sir Bobby Robson commented at the time:
“The board’s decision is that his transfer request has been turned down,” I would expect him to react to that in a professional way.
“He’s made a request which has been denied. I would hope he would accept that and get on with serving this football club on the contract he signed, take it on and go step-by-step.”
Given said of the request being denied:
“As I got on the team coach, I was handed a letter from the Chairman saying that the board had turned down my transfer request.
“To be perfectly honest, I am pleased to know where I stand. My intention was simply to express my frustration at being left out of the team after I had missed the Leeds United game through injury.
“As I pledged at the time, I am 100 per cent committed to Newcastle United and am as much a part of the team now as ever before. I have been training hard and am determined to win back both my place in the team and my excellent relationship with the fans.”
By the end of the 2001-2002 season, Shay had played every Premier League game that season, and most notably, our first victory at the Stadium of Light, a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Nikos Dabizas header. During that match I remember Shay producing 3 or 4 world class saves. Among them was my all time favourite one, when he somehow managed to tip over a 20 yard curler from Kevin Phillips, to keep United ahead. It was an absolutely stunning save, and is hands down one of the best saves I have ever seen.
Newcastle finished the season qualifying for the Champion’s League knock-out stage, after securing a 4th placed finish. Given’s excellent form throughout the season saw him rightly named in the PFA Team of The Year and rewarded with a new 5 year contract in May.
Given stated at the time:
“I know there was talk about me possibly moving, but I wanted to stay and I am delighted to have signed, especially as it is for five years. I have already been at the club for five years and, with another five, hopefully, I can end my career there.”‘
Given also played every match for the Republic of Ireland in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea / Japan but could not prevent them from being knocked out by Spain in a penalty shoot-out.
“Shay is an example of a player who’s managed to maintain his form all season and he’s been a real star for us. When I look back I realise he’s had very few ordinary games.” - Sir Bobby Robson on Shay Given.
“Shay is the best goalkeeper in The Premiership. His main attribute is simply that he stops the ball going into the net. He has always been a high-class keeper. I would say he is the most agile keeper too. He does things in training that get a round of applause for the saves he makes.” - Former Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy on Shay Given.
This concludes part one of my look back at Shay Given’s time at Newcastle United.
Stay tuned for part two featuring Shay’s international record, Premier League consecutive appearance record, league and European adventure and more past quotes from and about, one of my Magical Magpie legends.