Gavin Peacock may have been born and bred in London but his connection to the North East and Newcastle United came well before his move to the club in 1990 – and forms a large part of his autobiography, A Greater Glory – Pitch to Pulpit.
Gavin Peacock said “I’m like a captain there. Little did I know that 15 years later I would actually be captaining the team. There’s a black and white thread running through the whole the book – it runs through my whole life, it’s in my DNA. My grandad Tom and Gran Lydia from South Shields – they were very proud Geordies. My grandfather was a World War Two veteran who served in the Royal Navy – he was a good, honest humble man. He was Newcastle United mad, who got to watch the likes of Hughie Gallacher and Jackie Milburn. The day I signed for Newcastle, no one was more pleased than my Grandad Tom.”
Jim Smith was the manager who brought Peacock to St James’ Park in November of the 1990-91 campaign for £275,000 and it was the start of a journey for Peacock which saw two managerial changes, a relegation scrap and a promotion success. Peacock, throughout his three years on Tyneside, gave his all and puts that largely down to the ethos of his Grandad.
Gavin Peacock said “He told me that if ‘you sweat blood for the team, the fans will forgive for many things on the field’ – I never forgot those words. That was the reason I got off to a good start with the fans and plus I had all my family around me in the North East too. The fans took to me straight away, there was just a love affair from the start.”
It’s a love affair that continues to this day – even with Peacock’s focus now on his work in the church – football, Newcastle United and its fans are never far from his mind. The message from his grandad – one of giving 100% – is for many Newcastle supporters the only demand they give to players who pull on the black and white shirt, and Peacock, as he says, took that advice straight on board. He arrived at Newcastle with a reputation as an attacking midfielder but when Ossie Ardiles replaced Smith in the dugout, there was a request Peacock put in the extra hours and worked on his goalscoring.
Gavin Peacock said “I came to Newcastle and there was a true number nine there in Mick Quinn. I was watching him in training, he was a goalscorer – I enjoyed playing with him on the pitch, he had a good footballing brain and was strong. I’d watch him, carefully, how’d he get into positions and that ruthless streak in the box. I used to practice, we both did after training alongside Ossie Ardiles who put on after-hours sessions. I was a midfielder but I had the goalscoring instincts of a striker – and I was ruthless in and around the box but that didn’t come overnight, it came with practice. It’s an insight into what it takes to become a professional footballer but also what it takes to stay there. When you consider someone like Alan Shearer – take into consideration the injuries he had – you realise it was magnificent what he did, to be able to stay at that level, to continue that goalscoring premium which is the hardest thing to do in the game. He was so consistent, it was remarkable.”
Peacock didn’t reach the 206 goals Shearer put home but 43 goals in 114 appearances is not a record to be sniffed at – especially when you consider the importance of some of the goals Peacock scored. Arguably the most important one of those came on the final day of the 1991-1992 season with Newcastle at risk of falling into the Old Third Division for the first time in the club’s history. The Magpies travelled to Filbert Street to take on promotion-chasing Leicester City.
Gavin Peacock said “It was quite the game – we had got the result the week before through David Kelly but we still went down to Leicester knowing we needed to get a result. The pressure was immense – it was huge. The following year we had pressure at the other end of the table to see us over the line for a promotion but this sort of pressure is just massive – 5,000 Geordies in the corner of Filbert Street, out-singing the Leicester fans. If we had got relegated, we would have gone down to the Third tier for the first time in Newcastle’s history – it was huge pressure. We go a goal up, I get it and then we had given the lead away so many times that season so it was bound to happen, Walsh equalised. We didn’t know what it meant – there weren’t the mobile phones then, so we didn’t know if a point was enough. Should we hold out for that point? Or do we go for a win? I’m shouting to the bench ‘what do we do?’ – no one really knows. Tommy Wright punts the ball down-field, it’s a massive kick – I’m chasing it, my socks are around my ankles and there is cramp gripping my calves. I feel though that I’m getting to it, if I get onto it then I’m scoring but Walsh is chasing me, his big long leg dives in and he pokes the ball. I think ‘oh no, he’s cleared it’ but it goes past his own goalie. The fans are on the field. The game is over. We’ve won. We’re safe. I’m like ‘yes!’ but I’ve seen all the Leicester fans coming onto the field and I’m peeling away toward the Geordie fans but they’re on the pitch now to celebrate but also some to confront the Leicester fans that are coming at them. I’m in the middle – the furthest away from the tunnel, I then had to make it somehow across that field. I remember getting there and jumping on Steve Waston – it was just euphoria. What a day it ended up being. It was like promotion in the sense of that feeling. So many Newcastle fans remember that day as so pivotal – it was something special.”
It was the beginning of arguably the most memorable period of Newcastle United’s recent history – the Entertainers Era as the club enjoyed European football, breaking transfer records and title challenges. Of course, Peacock didn’t play a part in those campaigns but his role in getting United to the Premier League cannot be understated – as team captain. He scored 12 goals and took on the armband for most of the campaign – starting with a game at St James’ Park against West Ham.
Gavin Peacock said “Captaining Newcastle is one of biggest honours of my life. Every now and then I see a clip of me coming out of the tunnel, we only had black tape not a proper nice armband like now, and I’ve got the ball in my hand, armband on and I take a deep breath as I come out of the tunnel and as I hear the noise of St James’ Park – I’m just thinking ‘I am the captain of this team’ – that breath in was me telling myself ‘it doesn’t get much better than this.’ When you put that armband on, it helps you run an extra mile.”
Family reasons – his son Jake was born with complications – would see Peacock ask for a move back to London in the pre-season of the club’s Premier League debut. Manager Kevin Keegan was keen to keep him and play him in a system alongside Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley but begrudgingly agreed to sell him to Chelsea. Even after 27 years, Peacock’s memories of his time at Newcastle are still cherished, and the passion and love he has for the supporters and the city – and the desire for the club to succeed is clear.
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