Newcastle United cult hero cheekily eyeing St James' Park return in January - 10 years after exit

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One former Newcastle United star believes his side can achieve significant success over the coming years.

James Perch’s introduction to life at Newcastle United was somewhat brutal - but he was something of a cult hero by the time he departed three years later.

The versatile defender was Chris Hughton’s first signing during the summer of 2010 following the Magpies promotion back into the Premier League as the former Nottingham Forest star was offered a first chance to shine amongst the elite of English football.

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Hughton’s side were handed a baptism of fire as they visited defending champions Manchester United on their return to the top flight - and Perch endured a torrid night as he was booked in a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford.

A pattern had been set as Perch set an unwanted record by being booked in his first five Premier League appearances - a record that led to some justified criticism from Magpies supporters according to the man himself.

Speaking exclusively to NewcastleWorld after returning to the North East at the weekend, the former Magpies star said: “At first, the fans were on my back a little bit, but rightly so because I wasn’t very good.

“I’d just come from the Championship, I wasn’t up to speed and it was a bit of a struggle.  But the manager trusted me, he put me in different positions and I think Newcastle fans realise if you’re out of position but give 100 percent, they’ll always back you and get behind you.

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“I think they realised I would give 100 percent every time I went on to the pitch and Newcastle fans, more than most, appreciated that.”

After a challenging start to life on Tyneside, Perch gradually found his feet and flourished under Hughton’s successor, Alan Pardew.

Although versatility may hamper some careers, Perch used his ability to adapt to his benefit as he featured at full-back, in midfield and at the heart of the defence in a Magpies side that caused a shock by challenging for a Champions League spot during the 2011/12 season.

Impressive performances in a memorable 2-0 home win against Liverpool and a 2-0 win at Chelsea during the final months of the campaign remain true in the memory - despite Pardew’s side falling just short of a place at European football’s top table.

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The consolation prize, although it seems cruel brandishing it as such given the lack of progress afterwards, would be a place in the Europa League - and Perch was part of the side that reached the quarter-final of the competition before a 4-2 aggregate defeat against Portuguese giants Benfica ended any thoughts of silverware.

Remarkably, that remained United’s last European appearance before the current group of Magpies heroes led the club back into the Champions League by claiming a top four finish last season.

Perch reflected on the memories of representing Newcastle on the continent as ‘a brilliant time’ - and shared his admiration for the players carrying the hopes of Tyneside in their latest quest to end the club’s long wait for a trophy.

“I always say being at Newcastle was probably the best time in my career,” he explained.

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“Even though I played for my hometown clubs with Forest and Mansfield, coming up here and doing well after a rocky start in my career with Newcastle, finishing fifth, playing in Europe, they were just brilliant times.

“All of those years ago, when we finished fifth, it was a great achievement for us because it was unexpected.  It’s a similar achievement to the boys now, finishing fourth and getting into the Champions League.

“The manager they’ve got, the investment, the style of play that’s good to watch.  I love watching them, they’ve got that belief in their side and nobody deserves it more than the Newcastle fans because they’re fantastic.”

As he assessed the current situation at St James Park, Perch admitted he had been impressed with the rapid progress his former club have made under Eddie Howe over the last two years and insisted the Magpies can become regular challengers for domestic honours.

“I think they can go right to the top,” admitted Perch.

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“You see what Manchester City are doing with their backing, I don’t see why Newcastle can’t do the same.  It’s about building blocks and they are probably ahead of where they planned to be.  Maybe they’re a couple of years early but that’s not a bad thing.

James Perch played 190 times for Nottingham Forest before joining Newcastle United for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £1 million, on 5 July 2010.James Perch played 190 times for Nottingham Forest before joining Newcastle United for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £1 million, on 5 July 2010.
James Perch played 190 times for Nottingham Forest before joining Newcastle United for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £1 million, on 5 July 2010.

“They’ve done well in Europe, they’ve held their own with some top European teams and that’s only a good things.  Now it’s about taking the next steps and I’m sure the January and summer transfer windows are going to be huge for them as they look to do that.”

As Newcastle challenge at the top end of the game, Perch remains a key figure with his current club in the seventh tier of English football.

The former Magpie captained Northern Premier League Premier Division club Ilkeston Town in their 2-1 defeat against Morpeth Town on Saturday after joining the Robins during the summer following his departure from League Two side Mansfield Town.

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Now 38-years-old and in the winter of his career, Perch’s appetite for the game remains as prominent as ever and he cheekily suggested he still has his eyes on one last shot at the big time with a certain club not too far from Morpeth’s Craik Park home.

“I am still enjoying it and if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“It’s good to be with the lads, staying in that environment within the dressing room and trying to keep myself fit but I am enjoying and that is the main thing for me.

“Hopefully I can keep playing and keep fit so Newcastle can come back for me in January.”

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