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All different, but all heroes to us Toon fans; From Wor Jackie to Big Al, we've had so many stars.

Byline: JOHN GIBSON

GEORDIES are warm-hearted folk who take readily to those who do them proud.

They become friends for life, men who are held in the highest of esteem.

Legends indeed if they are footballers who transcend their own lifespan and gain a place in Geordie folklore. And if they were privileged enough to have worn the No 9 shirt of Newcastle United then all is secured.

Centre-forwards are the silver thread that runs through the tapestry of United's history.

They are gifted men, warriors waging war on our behalf.

Fathers will captivate sons with talk of their great deeds, just as grandfathers had before them. Thus Hughie Gallacher and Wor Jackie, SuperMac and Alan Shearer walk hand in hand through history. They will never be forgotten and nor should they be because all of a black and white persuasion owe them a great debt of gratitude.

I grew up on stories of Wee Hughie and on the sight of Wor Jackie running like the wind to unleash thunderbolt shots upon target.

Still a small boy, I sat transfixed in my Auntie Grace's living room watching a black-andwhite telly as United won the FA Cup three times in five years. She was the only person in our family with a TV set and the wooden chairs were arranged in long lines before the small box so all of us could gather and witness great deeds.

There were many fifties superstars, of course, but Jackie Milburn was my favourite. The man in the No 9 shirt.

If Gallacher launched the centre-forward legends Wor Jackie cemented the thought of it being an elite club.

He was a wonderful, humble, deadly No 9. Fleet of foot and handsomely athletic, he was a winged god. His mam must have been clairvoyant because she Christened him John Edward Thompson....JET. And wasn't be just!

Jackie was the scorer of unbelievable goals, picture goals, in the days when immortals like Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Wilf Mannion shared England's front line with him.

Milburn was so revered that a statue of him, right foot cocked like the hammer of a gun, was mounted in the city.

Ah, dear old friend. I was privileged to unveil the statue at its original site in Northumberland Street and equally pleased to be asked by his widow Laura to speak at a memorial service in his native Ashington.

It is said you should never meet your boyhood hero because he'll disappoint you. No one can be as good as you recall through biased eyes.

However, Milburn lived up to every young expectation when I got to know him through our seats in the St James' Park Press box. We became close friends and I wrote a number of books with him as well as setting up his This Is Your Life telly appearance.

SuperMac - quick and deadly like Wor Jackie - was another idol who became a close pal. I was his best man when he married the lovely Carol a few years ago.

Malcolm Macdonald walked with a swagger, drank champagne, and smoked a big cigar but when on the field he delivered. Oh, how he delivered.

He not only scored in every round on the way to the 1974 FA Cup final but did so every time away from home.

His explosive pace and leftfoot shot on the run that was guaranteed to punch holes in a steel plate were the main two weapons in his armoury, but to supplement them Macdonald was no slouch with his head and he possessed bravery in abundance.

To me, the sight of SuperMac in full flight, hair flowing in the wind and arms pumping the air as he bore down on goal was a spectacle to be treasured.

Big Wyn Davies was a different sort of line leader. He wasn't quick nor did he possess a shot like the kick of a mule. He was simply the very best in the air since Douglas Bader!

Wyn was the battering ram of United's 1969 European Fairs Cup winning side. Not a solitary Continental centre-back could handle his aerial domination.

Tall with a ramrod straight gait, Davies was the original Welsh dragon snorting fire yet he was an introvert who shunned publicity and has only blossomed into someone content within his own nature during retirement.

It was Shearer of course who claimed the mantle of Newcastle's best ever goalscorer from Jackie Milburn and so it was kept in the family. A Geordie No 9 handing on to another Geordie No 9. Big Al walked into deserved retirement well decorated - Newcastle's greatest ever marksman, the most prolific goalscorer in Premier League history, captain of United and England. A man's man, the last of the English bulldog centre-forwards.

Shearer sacrificed a shedful of medals to turn his back on the seduction of Manchester United and come home to entertain his own folk. That's a dedication deeply appreciated by those of the faith and is why a sell out crowd packed St James' Park for his testimonial.

Immensely strong and superb at holding the ball up, Shearer's thunderous shot and bullet headers peppered many a keeper into submission.

His 206 goals which took him beyond Wor Jackie's record to the very pinnacle of United's goalscoring charts stands for every young buck who wants to take aim. However in today's moneyobsessed environment, I wonder if any footballer will remain loyal enough to one club to overhaul such a mighty figure.

Shearer operated in the minefield that is the penalty area, a back alley of flick knives and muggings rather than long-distance cannon fire. His was the most pressurised of jobs, a place where there is no hiding but much glory for the successful.

Alan was rock hard, a No 9 who gave as much as he took. Central defenders who played against him couldn't bully him. Fear wasn't an emotion he recognised.

The Magpies have had many other great No 9s of course.

Albert Stubbins, a gentleman who also made the St James' Press box, but whose fine goalscoring was blighted by the war years; Len White, the best uncapped English striker of his generation; Peter Withe, a big man who was to win the European Cup and play for England; Andy Cole, scorer of so many goals in one season, topping 40, that he became a record breaker; Sir Les (Ferdinand) who wore the coveted shirt before Shearer signed and took it off him; and, yes, even the guy who ate all the pies, Mick Quinn.

Papiss Cisse, the latest holder of the treasured No 9, has a long way to go to join the hallowed ranks, despite his initial explosive introduction.

Who was the very best of all? It matters not. Each and every one ought to be cherished for themselves, for their goals and their glory.

Above all they are winners, every man jack of them, and deserve our grateful thanks for mighty deeds done and memories secured.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2013
Words:1164
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