The Resident reporter GEORGE FLETCHER caught up with current Newcastle captain and one of England’s best loved former captains, Alan Shearer, after a day on the greens for an EXCLUSIVE interview – the only one he has given this year about the upcoming Euro2004 championship. Alan had just come off the greens after winning his game that day. He was in the Algarve taking part in a tournament arranged by Chris Parker, Chairman of Concept Software Systems, between the Concept Software team and players from Newcastle United. As he relaxed with a beer in the library of Chris’ beautiful home in Pinheiros Altos, I asked him about his incredibly successful career and what the future holds.
You have had an enviable career. How does your time at Southampton compare with captaining England?
It’s a huge difference. I went to Southampton to learn, because I knew that it is more difficult to start off at some of the bigger clubs. I also knew of young aspiring footballers that went there because the youth academy is so good. Probably one of the best decisions I have made during my career was going to Southampton to learn my trade.
I joined the club’s Youth Training Scheme and earned 27.50 pounds sterling a week. It was back when you had to do all the things that are no longer allowed – cleaning the toilets and stands and all the behind the scenes stuff. It is a shame they do not still do that, because it teaches respect and gives trainees an opportunity to learn about the other side to football.
When you were there, did you have any idea that you would be so successful?
No, it is not something I expected, although it is probably most boys’ dream to be the England captain. There have only ever been about 102 people that have actually done it, so it is a great honour. I consider it the best thing that will ever happen to me in my career. To represent your country as England captain is unbeatable.
If that is the case, why did you quit the England team?
Firstly, because since 1992, I have had three serious injuries and secondly, trying to do both jobs became tough. It is tough at the best of times, but I was getting older and I think something would have suffered eventually, be that either Newcastle or England. And I did not want that to happen. I was also spending a hell of a lot of time away from my family. It boiled down to the fact that I could not give up Newcastle, so it had to be England. But, it was definitely not a decision that was taken lightly.
Do you have any regrets?
Of course, I would love to still be playing, but I think that it was the right thing to do for me because I wanted to prolong my club career and stay at a level of performance that I had always been used to.
So, what are your future plans with Newcastle?
I’m retiring next year, so I only have one more season.
What are you going to do when you retire?
I don’t know, to be honest, I have a few different things going on. I’m doing my coaching course at the moment and I have passed the first exam, with two more to go. I also love commentating because it keeps you involved in the sport.
Will you be doing any commentating during Euro 2004?
No, because the televised matches are on terrestrial channels and I have a contract with Sky, so sadly not.
But you will be here during the tournament?
I’ll probably be back and forth.
What do you think England’s chances are?
Very good. They have got the essentials of a very good side. If they can keep their main players fit and playing well, i.e. Michael Owen, David Beckham, Gerard, Scholes and Sol Campbell – they have every chance. I’d certainly put them up there with some of the favourites. They play France first and I would not be surprised if they met them again in the final.
What about the Owen and Rooney partnership up front?
I think it’s got potential. Owen will always score goals – he’s proved that. Particularly last Saturday when he scored against us (laughs). And Rooney is going into his first ever big competition, which, if he has a bit of luck on the way, could take him to the very top without a doubt. He definitely has very good potential.
What is the difference between running on to the pitch wearing the Newcastle kit for a premiership match and running out on the pitch when playing for England?
When you play for your team you go to lots of away grounds and get booed by the opposing fans. But, when you play for England you find the same fans are suddenly cheering for you. That’s what makes football a crazy game. When you play for your national team you are suddenly paired with people that week in week out you are trying to beat. But, that is a great team building experience.
England is getting a bad reputation abroad because of England fans – other countries are judging Britons by their soccer louts – what do you think, if anything, could improve this situation?
First and foremost, we are talking about a very small minority of fans. I don’t think it is just England that has this problem. A lot of other countries also have that small minority. This problem is also not only in football, but in society as a whole. If there was a definitive answer to it, I’m sure somebody would have thought of it by now. And I haven’t got one. All the players can do is ask the fans not to do it. The reality is that England fans do misbehave, and this could jeopardise England’s chances of being successful, because I imagine UEFA will come down pretty heavily if the fans act up.
So, will we see a repeat of Euro 2000 in Brussels when England was almost kicked out of the tournament?
I do not think it got as extreme as that, but there was definitely a severe telling off. That’s why you will see the players and the management publicly asking the fans to behave before the tournament kicks off. It is, however, important that people realise that basically we are talking about a very small minority. The vast majority of England fans want to watch the match to enjoy it.
Does it make you angry when you’re playing and you see this hardcore element that take it so seriously?
No, because we are out there to do a job and to win. We can’t control what goes on off the pitch, regarding fans. Hopefully, if the authorities can keep them out, it should be no problem, but that’s easier said than done.
How long have you had a house here and been playing golf at Pinheiros Altos?
I first came here when I was with Southampton at 19. We stayed in the Dona Filipa in Vale do Lobo.
Not bad for someone on 27.50 pounds a week!
That’s one of the plus points of being with a football club – sometimes you went away to train and that was when I got into playing golf.
Are you any good?
I’m all right. I won today with the rest of the lads, but then I don’t know if that was me being so good, or the others being so awful.
You obviously like the Algarve, if you have been coming over here for so long!
I love it, I think it’s great. I get no hassle, people are always friendly, restaurants are good and the weather’s good – apart from today.
It must be a contrast from Newcastle?
It is a bit different, but I love them both, believe it or not. We certainly don’t have the weather in Newcastle, but it has everything else. If Newcastle did have the same climate as the Algarve then there would not be any reason for me to leave. The golf courses in Newcastle are fantastic and the beaches are also good.
Any plans to move here?
No, I love it here, but Newcastle is my home.
Finally, who is going to beat Arsenal next season? Will it be Newcastle?
(He laughs) I’d love to say that it would be, but I think more likely Chelsea. They will probably spend a fortune this summer, and the same with Manchester United. What an amazing achievement though – to go through the season unbeaten – it is a fantastic success. They’ve set the standards for everyone else.