Hibs & Newcastle fan Richard Hunter reminds us of the Toon debut of a top-class striker…
As I type this I’m sitting in Aberdeen waiting to go on stage and trying my best not to mention the night of my most treasured Hibee memory – Scottish Cup 4th round where we beat Aberdeen on penalties and a young lad called Kevin Harper scored the winning spot kick after a match full of abuse from the Pittodrie crowd. Incidentally my Uncle met Kevin in the pub a few weeks ago and nearly made a tit of himself whilst talking about the “good ol days” and then singing Hibs songs with him. I removed some of the euphoria of the next day for him when I reminded him that after he left Hibs, Harper was done for assaulting his wife in a pub. Still, he’d left us and gone down south at that point so out of sight…..
Aberdonian memories aside I thought I’d tell you about my experience watching a player putting in an average performance on his debut then turning out to be a bloody superstar. This, sadly, does not take place under the sunshine of Leith, but in the slightly warmer – or at least the lack of jackets would have you believe that – climate of Newcastle. It was 1999 and a young lad had come over for a trial from French club Metz, who incidentally I’d always thought sounded more like a trendy bar in Central London than a French Division football team. The rumour was that he was due to replace the late Gary Speed in that night’s game versus Coventry and that it may be the only chance he would get to impress. I suppose at this point you’re expecting me to trawl through all my memories of the evening and then tell you the name of this player, but no. I’ll tell you now. Louis Saha. Thats right, we had first pick only to reject him and then watch him go on to a glowing career at Man Utd.
As it turned out, Mr Saha hadn’t been picked to replace Speed that night, but instead was moved up front to partner Alan Shearer. As I remember it, Coventry drew first blood though a decent Noel Whelan effort but Shearer ran straight down the pitch from kick off and equalised. In the 2nd half Gary Speed scored to put Newcastle one up, and then came Louis’ big moment. A corner he met with a belter of a header to score on his debut, whilst on loan. Not too shabby, and indeed it wouldn’t have been if he had continued that form. Unfortunately, 11 further appearances before the end of that season produced no more goals. Thus, he was shipped off back to that elusive London nightspot, but it wasn’t long before another London spot came calling. Fulham to be exact. Now, a quick google search shows that he enjoyed a blistering season at Championship level with them…but then struggled for a couple of seasons at Premier League level, as he had at Newcastle. Then 2004 hit and what a year that was for him. 15 goals by Christmas and a move to the Red Devils of Manchester. We all probably know where that led to, so let me take you back to my first impressions from that debut night…..
Mainly it was “Oooft, that lad seriously needs a barber!!” For some reason he’d opted to combined miniature dreads with having the sides of his head shaved. I personally can’t remember this look ever being cool. Not that a pasty white kid from Scotland would necessarily be the foremost authority on popular black hairdo’s of the 90s. It really did look bad though, trust me. In fact hopefully there is a picture to illustrate.
The second thing was how ungainly he seemed to be, like if Peter Crouch had mated with Bambi (oh deer) and the offspring had taken its first steps. It really seemed that he had no chance. I’m fairly certain that he had another fairly good opportunity from another corner in that game but only managed to swing his right leg around so far that he nearly kicked his left hip in the crossfire.
In the end i didn’t think much of his on pitch skills, but I really liked him. Probably because this was before the invention of Louis Spence and so everyone called Louis seemed pretty cool. Also, he had spent plenty time playing for a team named after a trendy London Establishment.
All in All 8/10 for a debut, a goal is all you really want, 4/10 for the rest of the season and 7/10 for a magnificent (though injury-hampered) career. Just do not leave Everton this month for Sunderland!
About the Author
Richard Hunter did his first stand-up gig in 2007, and that experience turned out to be so amazing he didn’t set foot on stage again until 2009. In Australia. After 2 years of travelling around the land Down Under (leave that joke alone) he came back to Britain and started gigging 9 months after his return. Apparently it takes time to get of your arse and look for gigs, plus it was best if he waited until his teeth stopped chittering. He has been taking stand up seriously for around 8 months now and has written for News Jack on BBC radio 4 and is to be seen in new BBC Three comedy drama Pram Face. Although if you go to make a cup of tea you will probably miss him. He is a lifelong Hibernian fan/sufferer who sincerely believes that he will see Hibs lift the Scottish Cup before he gets married, but please don’t pass on that information to his current girlfriend as she may want to be married before 2050.
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“Can you please clean your room and do the bloody dishes“
Every person I’ve ever lived with. 1990-Present