How a New Book is Celebrating Newcastle United Heroes
Football fan and writer Jake Rusby has teamed up with talkSPORT's chief football correspondent Alex Crook to pen Newcastle United Match of My Life
Newcastle United Match of My Life gives the loyal Toon Army the opportunity to hear unheard stories from more than 20 of the club’s most famous former players, including their favourite matches and moments. Jake Rusby used to be a news and sports reporter on the South Coast before moving to Newcastle around 10 years ago, and Jake’s former boss Pat Symes wrote several books with Alex Crook based on the theme of ‘Match of my Life’. Sadly Pat passed away last year. ‘Pat was like a mentor to me, and a friend as well as a colleague and boss,’ says Jake.
Jake flew down to Portsmouth for the memorial service for Pat and, on the plane, was thinking about what he could do to honour him. ‘I remembered the books he and Alex used to write,’ Jake says. ‘I thought it would be brilliant if someone wrote one about Newcastle United. It has such a loyal fanbase and there’s so much positivity around the club at the moment.’
As soon as Jake landed, he shared his idea with Alex and set the ball rolling, helped by the contacts Alex already had at NUFC. ‘Once we had people on board, we were able to approach more, and honestly the list of names we had was incredible,’ Jake says. ‘It’s really a who’s who of Newcastle legends. It’s like a hall of fame. I’ve had such an incredible experience as a football fan, travelling around and talking to all these footballing legends.’
The idea was that the players simply shared their favourite game in which they played, but through interviewing them Jake and Alex have discovered amazing stories that may not have been heard by fans before. ‘Highlights for me have been chatting to players like Bobby Moncur, who still lives locally, and captained Newcastle for their last major trophy in 1969,’ says Jake. ‘I went to his house and sat with him as he tucked into cake and we had a chat about his time at the club. I was in my absolute element with some of the names he came up with (players he played with and against). We talked to Alan Shearer about how he felt breaking Jackie Milburn’s Newcastle United goalscoring record, and Dan Burn about scoring in front of the Gallowgate End having stood on those same terraces as a boy cheering players on. I spoke to Jonás Gutiérrez about overcoming cancer and then coming back to full health, and making his way back into the team and scoring the goal that kept Newcastle United in the Premier League.
‘I had a phone call from Rafa Benitez out of the blue. I’d been emailing his agent in Spanish and I’d told him the premise of the book. The following day I had a phone call from a withheld number and it was him. I talked to Rafa for an hour about his feelings about the fans, the club and Mike Ashley, and to be on the phone in my dining room to a Champions League-winning managerial legend was very surreal, but an absolute treat. There are so many individual stories from these players but what shone through is that every single player has such a bond with the club, the city and the fans. It’s in the way that everyone talks about them – you can tell there’s a genuine love there. It’s been joyous to witness that.’
Jake hopes that when fans read the book, they’ll feel that love too. ‘I really think they’ll come away from reading the book feeling more of an affinity with the players – even guys who’ve gone on and played for multiple clubs in their career, for example Papiss Cissé who is still playing with France. He says “Newcastle United is my club” and he talks about wanting to come back to the city and feeling like a Geordie again. It’s really heart-warming stuff. I think readers will come away feeling like they’ve found out more about their favourite players, games and the club in general, but also having learned about how their favourite players feel about them.
‘Because we’ve got players from the current team (including Dan Burn) as well as legends such as Bobby Moncur and Frank Clark, I feel like anyone who reads the book will be able to feel a connection to it. I hope this will get people to realise that if you keep playing, magical things can happen for you. There are players like Dan Burn, Lee Clark and Frank Clark who all went to watch Newcastle United play, and all have managed to achieve the dream of every footballing-mad child that there is. I hope this will help others realise that you can achieve anything and I hope it will continue to inspire and to fan the flames of love of the game. As someone who’s played football since I was a kid, I know anything that can encourage people to keep doing that is a really good thing.’
Newcastle United is a huge part of the North East spirit. ‘One city, one club,’ as Jake says. ‘When fans are positive about the club, life up here feels more positive. I feel like the future holds good things for them. They’re going about things the right way, they’re really engaging with the supporters to keep fans on side, and they’ve got this real bond which is so strong and that’s only going to go from strength to strength. Even though results may go up and down in the coming seasons, the positivity right now is the most important thing. I hope this book will add to, and reflect that.’
Jake is proud of the book he and Alex have written and they’ll be celebrating with a launch party at the Playhouse, Whitley Bay on Friday 24th November, where fans can get their copy signed and have questions answered by Toon legends. ‘Hopefully it’ll be a really interesting experience to get to speak to players from across three decades,’ Jake says. ‘When we first put together this initial list of players, pretty much every big name we wanted said yes. It’s been a special experience and I’ll be looking back on this time in years to come with so much nostalgia.’
‘I remember when I was under 10 and my grandparents took me to an Arsenal game. It was against Sunderland weirdly enough and I remember walking up the steps at Highbury and looking out into the stadium and for the first time in my life seeing that many people all around me. The affect that has on you the first time you see 40,000 just takes your breath away. I can still remember that moment despite being so young. Otherwise, Euro ’96 was a big year for me. Seeing my favourite player at that time, David Seaman, save a penalty against the old enemy was a moment that really stuck with me.’
'I love Dennis Bergkamp. He was a real artist with the ball. We interviewed Nikos Dabizas for the book who was marking Dennis Bergkamp for arguably the greatest goal the Premier League has ever seen where Dabizas was behind him as the ball was coming towards Bergkamp and he flicked the ball around Dabizas and scored. It’s one of those goals that’s real magic. Dabizas looks back on it positively because he was part of footballing heritage.’
‘I used to play in goal when I was at school and I was pretty good but in the last few years I’ve played a lot of five-a-side where you don’t really have a position. Unfortunately I did my achilles and since then I haven’t been able to play, so actually this book has given me an outlet for my love of football.’
Where to Watch
‘I love watching the games at home. My little boy sat and watched almost all of the World Cup with me, and the Euros before that. If I was to go somewhere else, Ouseburn has the best vibe because of how quirky it is – that would be the place I’d choose to go to a pub.’
Players of the Matches (of All Time)
‘Bruno Guimarães is a fantastic player. Nick Pope as well. But I think the player that encapsulates everything and has been the catalyst for what Newcastle has done is Kieran Trippier because he’s an international with experience and he’s so important in terms of leadership and what he actually does on the pitch. He is arguably the club’s most important player. I think him signing when he did was a bit of a sign to other players that something is happening at Newcastle and he wanted to be part of that. You need big name players to start that influx and that’s what he did – showed the footballing world that this is the place to be.’