I loved my time at Newcastle United, but very nearly lost my job before I started! I was headhunted by Kevin Keegan and Sir John Hall. The club needed a shake up, and they asked me to change the hosting and entertainment. So one afternoon, Sir John told me to get down to St.James Park, for a photo session on the pitch, to release to the press. So later that day I was hosting the Night Owls show and said “Newcastle United made an incredible signing today…he was on the pitch getting his picture taken with Sir John Hall this afternoon!”. Unbeknown to me the local press always monitored the show to pick up stories, and they released the story nationally and internationally. The club were receiving hundreds of calls per hour from across the globe. No one would tell them anything (because they didn’t know) and this made it even worse. Sir John rang me playing hell, but eventually saw the funny side.
As a young’un I was one of those standing in the Leazes end, watching ‘Pop’ Robson (no relation), Wyn Davies, Malcolm MacDonald and my favourites John Macnamee, John Tudor and Tino Asprilla. John Mac was certainly not an artistic example of our beautiful game, but I do remember him giving Jackie Charlton a forearm smash once, when the rough Leeds United back line were kicking lumps out of the team. Later in the same game, Jackie looked reluctant to mark John Mac, as he did pull ups on their cross bar, he was great! In a game against Manchester United George Best lobbed a ball over Macnamee’s head, and Brian Kidd and John Aston began rocketing towards the ball. Willie McFaul came out, seeing that John Mac would get there first. Willie screamed “Don’t touch it…I’ve got it”. But his blood was up and he hoofed that ball harder than anyone I have ever seen, up into the air, I think it must have bounced off the moon, and certainly would not have touched the ground until it passed over Newcastle Central station!
John Tudor was United’s Denis Law, he could fly as high as Wyn The Leap, and made goals for all around him, a solid pro with an immaculate touch.
What can you say about Tino, half the time it looked like he was going to fall over the ball, but no one could get it off him. He gave ‘The Toon’ some European nights no one could ever forget.
I was there when they won the EUFA cup, and the night they brought the trophy back. I was there on the day Rangers tried to get the match cancelled because United were beating them. In fact I was marginally involved in the battle of their fans running across the pitch into our crowd, scary quarter of an hour that!
My first job for the club was to bring in a proper theme, so I introduced ‘The Theme From Local Hero’ by Mark Knopfler. It is now a huge part of the United experience, and I’m proud to say that was down to me. I ended every game with Whitesnake’s ‘We Wish You Well’, but once I left it was discontinued, but is still the best ender, sung by Redcars David Coverdale. When I interviewed Mark he was very grateful to me for doing that, it sent sales of the track and album into the stratosphere.
My pet peeve nowadays is the playing of that orchestral tune ‘O Fortuna’ by Carl Orff from ‘Carmina Burana’. Firstly it was regularly played by Sunderland, and I used it on ghost shows on radio. It was not meant for football arena’s as it is supposed to curse the user with bad luck. Newcastle United has always had enough of that without tempting providence.
My broadcasting booth was right next to Sir John’s box, and he often shook his head at some of the things I introduced. I got on particularly well with his wife Lady Mae, who is an absolute diamond. I once organised a race of lookalikes, Elton John taking on Pavarotti on a race around the pitch. I brought in cheerleaders, I invited music stars to play at the ground and walk on. I brought in a weekly ex Newcastle star walk on, adding the Northern stars to pitch walk ons like Ant & Dec etc. I also played recordings of ALL Newcastle United goals from the previous games to warm up the crowd, helping inspire the club to promotion in my first season there.
I remember hosting a party outside the Civic Centre to welcome the teams open top bus after they won promotion. Ned Kelly and Nicos Papavasiliou gave me their shirts to give out as a prize. I decided to give Nicos shirt to anyone who could spell his name, it took twenty nine goes before someone could. The crowd were so loud and happy, I can’t wait to see the City come alive like that again. I always lived by Kevin Keegan’s adage ‘You may not have as much talent as others, so you must work harder than them!’.
Many believe that the host is just someone who plays a bit of music, but it can be so much more. During Newcastle’s promotion push they were at home to Luton Town, languishing in the relegation zone whilst Newcastle were up top of the league. When they came out I decided to share some stats with the two teams warming up and the massive crowd. I started saying something like “Luton Town are our guests today, let’s see what they are all about, they’ve played 25 games and have Lost 21, drawn 4 and are on 4 points. Now on to Newcastle United who have played 26 games, won 23, drawn 2 and sit top of the league with 54 points! The crowd went crazy and were howling laughing, the Newcastle team were all giggling too, whilst the Luton squad looked mortified. One of their coaching staff put in a complaint against me, and the Newcastle hierarchy said I’d gone too far. Yet their Manager David Pleat was kind enough to send me a letter saying that he thought it was the very best game hosting he had ever heard! He added “It was brilliant Alan, my team was beaten before the game began, all because of you!”. It was probably the thing that helped me keep my job. Gavin Peacock loved the stunt and invited me to his place in Durham and gave me his shirt.
Got on really well with Pavel Srnicek, here on Robsonsworld there is an amazing and thorough chat with him before he died. He said it was the best interview that he ever had! We also had a great conversation with Lee Clark too, another great guy.
I used to get plagued by Terry MacDermott on match days, he always wanted ‘Rescue Me’ by Fontella Bass played. On one occasion instead of putting the ‘Entertainers’ through their paces during the warm up, he’d look up at my box and start Dad dancing, hilarious!
I worked there for years when St.James Park was a fortress, and I prided myself by helping just a tad, for the atmosphere around that time was electric! If the crowd are up for it, it’s like starting one goal up. There is so much you can achieve from that broadcast box if you have initiative and invention.