Shaka Hislop reflects on time with Newcastle United, European ambitions and England

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The former Magpies goalkeeper reflected on his time at St James Park and looked at what could lie ahead for his old club.

Shaka Hislop could not have picked a better occasion to be back at St James Park.

With a successful battle against relegation from the Premier League fought, and a mid-table position secured, the former Newcastle United goalkeeper watched on as the famous old ground was shaken to its foundations and Eddie Howe’s Magpies steamrollered Champions League-chasing Arsenal with a performance full of energy and drive.

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A stunning pre-match display from Wor Flags encompassing all four stands set the tone, and the crackling atmosphere was unrelenting with the St James faithful roaring their support as the men in black and white claimed a 2-0 win that was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested.

Hislop’s mind cast back over quarter of a century as he remembered the halcyon days he spent as part of Kevin Keegan’s revered ‘Entertainers’ side that came agonisingly close to delivering a first top-flight title since 1927, the same year Newcastle Brown Ale was brewed for the first time and just a year before the Tyne Bridge was officially opened by King George V.

Signed in the same summer as Warren Barton, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola, Hislop formed part of an iconic United side that went toe-to-toe with Manchester United in one of the most remarkable Premier League title battles in the 30-year history of the competition, only to fall short in the final days of the campaign as the Red Devils got their hands on the trophy.

That remains the closest the Magpies have came to claiming a Premier League title, but there are hopes European football and a genuine push for silverware could be back on the agenda as Eddie Howe’s side prepare to return to league action at Leicester City on Boxing Day. Sat in third place, talk of a push for a first return to the Champions League since the days of Sir Bobby Robson, Alan Shearer and Laurent Robert may be premature - but Hislop insisted some of the old emotions from his playing days are now being felt by a new generation of United supporters.

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He told NewcastleWorld: “I am loving everything that is happening. I was in Newcastle in May this year and the atmosphere was as close as I have seen it to the 1995/96 season. I walked around the town and spoke to fans - which I couldn’t do when I was playing - and seeing their own excitement about the new ownership, the type of football the team is playing, the results they are getting it was absolutely fantastic and now to see the team continue on this season in that same vein it is exactly what the city needs and exactly what it deserves.

“Newcastle is a football town, St James’ Park when the team is playing well it is like no other ground in the country it is great to see! I hope it continues I’m loving it now as much as I did back then. I think we can push for European football, we have had a good run but this break for the World Cup you are never quite sure how it is going to effect teams and players who have gone to that tournament and how teams will fair on the other side, we just don’t know because we have never had a tournament in the middle of the season like this.”

“I look back now through a different lens and set of emotions”

It was hard for Hislop not to reflect on his own time at St James Park when he made his return to his former home after being awarded freedom of the city for his role in the creation of anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card, who continue their non-stop work around the country to this day.

Shaka Hislop in training during his time at Newcastle United (Photo: Stu Forster /Allsport)Shaka Hislop in training during his time at Newcastle United (Photo: Stu Forster /Allsport)
Shaka Hislop in training during his time at Newcastle United (Photo: Stu Forster /Allsport)

Just as he was as a player, Hislop was embraced by Magpies supporters as his return to St James Park - although he admitted the personal and professional experiences caused contrasting emotions.

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“I look back and feel differently to how I did then,” he explained. “Back then there was professional disappointment - I think best way to phrase it! - having let that lead slip and remembering how that felt as a player. I look back now through a different lens and set of emotions. I came back to St James; Park (for the Arsenal game), interacting with the fans, reminiscing about that season and time it felt so different.

“After 25 years of separation, and recognising how they embraced not just the team but what we were trying to do – starting Show Racism the Red Card, there was a sense of pride in the campaign being started by players at Newcastle United, it was humbling to see that 25 years on.”

“We were from two separate ends of the earth but coming together in the North East”

One of the key factors in Hislop’s career on Tyneside was his relationship with fellow goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek. Under the management of Kevin Keegan and his successor Kenny Dalglish, the duo vied for the number one shirt as United secured successive second place finishes and a first ever campaign in the Champions League.

Shaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek enjoyed a positive relationship despite competing for a place in the Newcastle United starting eleven (Credit:Ben Radford/AllsportShaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek enjoyed a positive relationship despite competing for a place in the Newcastle United starting eleven (Credit:Ben Radford/Allsport
Shaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek enjoyed a positive relationship despite competing for a place in the Newcastle United starting eleven (Credit:Ben Radford/Allsport

Former Czech international Srnicek sadly passed away in just under seven years ago and remains much-loved figure for United supporters - and despite their competition, that is a similar feeling to the one experienced by Hislop during their time together.

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“Kevin Keegan (was the key factor in joining Newcastle). He called me, I was playing at Reading and getting a lot of interest but Keegan called and wanted to bring me to the North East, I was a big Kevin Keegan fan, once I got to speak to him and know of his interest first hand it was pretty much a done deal.

“It was fantastic. (It is) always a difficult one to manage when you are competing for the same shirt, but Pav and I we got on so well. We were from two separate ends of the earth but coming together in the North East. I had the understanding that to make Pav a better goal keeper I had to push him and he recognising exactly the same for me. As much as we were competing we were also supporting each other and a lot of what we shared was mutual.”

“Understanding that those differences in history and what shapes us ultimately lifts us”

Driven on by the competition with Srnicek and Shay Given, Hislop’s form during his time at St James Park brought international recognition after he was named in an England senior squad for a friendly against Chile in February 1998, the same game that saw future Magpies striker Michael Owen make his senior debut.

The ‘Fabric of England’ shirt produced by Show Racism the Red CardThe ‘Fabric of England’ shirt produced by Show Racism the Red Card
The ‘Fabric of England’ shirt produced by Show Racism the Red Card

The Hackney-born keeper remained as an unused substitute but his interest in the Three Lions remained strong, despite making a belated international debut in the colours of Trinidad and Tobago just months after his England call-up. And that is why he was so proud to see Show Racism the Red Card launch a unique England World Cup shirt that gives a nod to the ‘migration stories’ of members of Gareth Southgate’s squad.

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The international colours of the likes of Jamaica, Republic of Ireland, Canada and Barbados are all shown in a patchwork England kit in a display Hislop believes is crucial to understanding what the current crop of England stars are all about.

He said: “(It is) important to always recognise histories and how much has gone into our shared history it’s never as straightforward as it appears to be. Understanding that those differences in history and what shapes us ultimately lifts us. And you see that in the England team, players who have never have had to face racism are standing up now and understanding the issues and challenges of those who have. Ultimately being English is a number of different histories, cultures and personalities and that is what has shaped our country.”

For more information on Show Racism the Red Card’s #FabricOfEngland shirt and for more on the charity click here.

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