Newcastle's Number Nines

Newcastle's latest No. 9 Andy Carroll still has a great deal to learn, an opinion with which Chris Hughton, Newcastle's able manager, least flamboyant of figures, agrees. But that headed goal against Arsenal at the Emirates Hill, long lingers in the mind and at a time when centre forwards are at a premium his future looks bright, writes Brian Glanville.

Andy Carroll, Newcastle United's latest star centre forward, was born nearby in Gateshead. Hughie Gallacher died there. Died a suicide some years ago on the railway line, days before he was due in court, accused of ill-treating his son. I don't suppose the 6-foot 3-inch Carroll, with his record of impressive goals and sporadic off the field violence, has ever heard of Gallacher, yet Hughie was arguably the first of the Magpie's long and distinguished list of centre forwards. The idol of Tyneside.

Where Carroll is tall, Gallacher was stocky and short, the hero of the fans at Gallowgate or St. James Park, if you prefer it, way back in the 1920s. In his own way, as explosive of temper as Carroll, who last season on the team's training ground broke the jaw of his teammate, the centre half Ryan Taylor in an altercation over Carroll's ex-girlfriend. Carroll's own appearances in court tend to involve women, too: at present he is awaiting a court appearance, prior to which he has been obliged to live with his team captain, Kevin Nolan. An arrangement which seemed a little dubious when, after a recent triumph at Arsenal, where Carroll soared to head the spectacular one goal of the game, a party took place at Nolan's home, where cocaine was ingested, though not, it was stressed, by either of the players.

Gallacher had superb control and incisive finishing powers. He was endlessly provoked by the centre halves who marked him, and who knew how easy it was to make him explode. He led the Scotland attack known as the ‘Wembley Wizards' which in April 1928 played England off the park and won 5-1.

The tale is told of when in his Chelsea days, later on, a visiting team arrived in London on a Friday evening and were walking along Chelsea's Kings Road, they passed a pub where a man was thrown out and landed prone on the pavement. Looking down they saw to their amazement that it was Hughie Gallacher. The following afternoon at Stamford Bridge he ran their defence ragged.

By contrast, Carroll is very much a local product, who joined the club as a youth, and began as a defender. He shone and scored in the so called championship last season, materially helping Magpies to promotion but initially there were doubts whether he could be as effective in the Premiership. These have been thoroughly laid to rest, so much so that he was called up for the recent international at Wembley against France, at a time when English centre forwards are at a premium, though a groin injury, suffered the previous weekend, playing against Fulham, made him doubtful to start. Slight mystery surrounds the fact that despite his assault on Taylor, the club took no disciplinary action at all. But soccer is full of surprises.

The second centre forward in the Newcastle pantheon tends to be forgotten, but the red-headed Albert Stubbins, born close to Newcastle at Wallsend, was a major figure on Tyneside in his time. A time cut short in 1946 when he was sold to Liverpool for the then vast fee of GBP13,000. Of Stubbins, I wrote in my “Footballers who's who” book in 1951: “On his day the complete centre forward…. Big and ginger headed, his footwork is clever, he keeps his line together brilliantly (All those far off days when clubs actually had a real forward line!) shoots and heads with force and wanders most disconcertingly.”

During the war, Stubbins kept out of the armed forces because he was in a reserved occupation as a draughtsman. This enabled him to score a multitude of goals for Newcastle in the Transnational Northern League competitions, and he was picked to play for England in a so called victory international which didn't carry a full cap, versus Wales in 1945. England lost and Stubbins was never picked for another international. He did however score a vital winning goal for Liverpool in the final match of a prolonged season afflicted by bad weather in May 1947, beating Wolves and snatching the championship for Liverpool.

Jackie Milburn was perhaps the hero of local heroes among Newcastle's famed centre forwards. Born at Ashington, a nearby township famous for footballers — not least his relatives, the Charlton Brothers — he joined Newcastle as a teenaged outside right and as such used his exceptional pace to great advantage. But it was in 1944 when he was converted to centre forward that he became a true Tyneside hero, his tremendous speed complemented by a fiercely powerful left foot.

I still remember seeing the goals he so forcefully got against Blackpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1951. The first followed a run half the length of the field: no defender could catch him. The second came when his little inside right Ernie Taylor back heeled the ball to him just outside the penalty box, to the right of the goal, and he smashed his left footed shot into the far top corner. In 1952 he helped Magpies beat Arsenal in the final and in 1955, most untypically, he actually headed the first goal for Newcastle, when they beat Manchester City in the final.

As a young journalist, I came to know him well and appreciate his wry outlook on the game, not least on the Newcastle United directors, who in one way or another, made money out of the club: one as a surgeon doing all the knee operations, one as a builder working on all the club houses, which were the fashion of the time, another, Stan Seymour ex-left winger, but then the all powerful chairman of the club, as a sports goods dealer.

Not to forget a powerfully left footed successor in the Londoner Malcolm Macdonald, who left Fulham as an unwanted left back, moved out of London to Luton Town and there became a centre forward of great acclaim, strongly built, fast and a deadly finisher. The Tyneside fans accepted him warmly as one of their own. He played 14 times for England between 1972 and 1976, once scoring five goals at Wembley against Cyprus. Arsenal persuaded him to return south, where he continued to score goals. Recently, he declared that Carroll still had a great deal to learn, an opinion with which Chris Hughton, Newcastle's able manager, least flamboyant of figures, agreed. But that headed goal against Arsenal at the Emirates Hill long lingers in the mind and at a time when centre forwards are at a premium. His future looks bright.