My Week: Gary Oliver

Even in a season of much change at Newcastle United, it’s hard to think of a more eventful day at the office than 16 January, 2008.

A week had passed since the club had begun the search for a new manager.

A week of fielding endless enquiries from media outlets both at home and abroad wanting confirmation/denial on who the new appointment might be.

A week of satellite news trucks parked around-the-clock on Strawberry Place.

A week where anyone nipping into Shearer’s Bar for a quick pint or coming out of the club shop found themselves having to sidestep camera crews demanding their opinion on who should get the job.

Forget the race for the White House; the 24-hour sports news teams of Sky and Setanta (not to mention an army of radio stations and newspapers) were only interested in one leadership contest. And every passing day brought a new name.

It all changed at 4pm that Wednesday evening, when chairman Chris Mort informed me that Kevin Keegan would be returning to Newcastle United for his third spell, and second as manager.

From the minute the news was made official on the club’s website, nufc.co.uk, the frenzy began.

Huge queues began to form around the stadium as fans descended on the ticket office (we were playing Stoke City in the FA Cup that night) – providing easy vox-pop material in the process as news teams mobilised.

To its credit, the city’s Evening Chronicle managed to put out a special late-night final in quick-fire time. KK-mania had once more officially gripped the city.

With all due respect to Stoke, the game became a sideshow to many in our Media Suite. Suddenly everyone wanted to know if Kevin would be at St James’ Park that night, and it seemed that every second person walking up to the stadium was carrying a camera.

Trying to keep his entrance as low-key as possible (and the game was at least 20 minutes into play before Kevin arrived at the ground), was easier said than done.

A shot of his entrance was set up for the television crews – for the photographers, the picture they all wanted came when Kevin took his seat in the directors’ box as word of his presence filtered around the ground.

Leaving the stadium quietly that night, it was agreed Friday would be the day Kevin would face the media to speak about his return. Still, Graham Courtney (Newcastle’s press officer during Kevin’s first spell as manager) was able to pull off a genuine scoop and get the first interview for TalkSport that evening.

Come Friday afternoon, and what would have been the usual manager’s pre-game press conference (we were playing Bolton at home the following day), saw the St James’ Media Suite full to capacity as everyone jostled for position.

Making sure television, radio and newspapers (dailies, Sundays and locals) all got a fair slice of things in the time allowed is always the challenge you face, but Kevin has retained that great knack of keeping back a line for each group to go home happy with.

One final observation on the coverage of the past few weeks, and sadly it did feel as though many outside the region saw a chance to sneer at all things NUFC-related, the club’s supporters especially. While Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle crafted editorials that neatly captured the mood of a city excited by the news, there were others who couldn’t resist using the word Geordie unless it was prefixed by ‘deluded’.

People rarely spotted at St James’ Park were suddenly experts on the club, filling up column inches with cliché-ridden copy.

Take a tip: simply fitting Brown Ale, Bigg Market, Quayside, Whey Aye Man and the names of assorted Viz characters into an article does not – and never will ­– pass for informed comment on Newcastle United and its loyal supporters.

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