THE offices of Shepherd Offshore Group stand on the banks of the River Tyne.

Outside, there are cranes, pipelines and the remnants of the former Swan Hunter Neptune shipyard that has been transformed to help provide employment for a workforce of around 3,000 in modern ‘green manufacturing’ roles.

Inside, there are two artefacts that sum up the life of Freddy Shepherd, who died earlier today as the head of the family business along with his brother, Bruce. The first is the marine engineer’s uniform that Freddy wore for eight years in the late 1950s as he delivered plans and drawings to the bustling workshops at Swan Hunter. The second is the Spitting Image puppet of Paul Gascoigne that he bought at an auction. There was a time when the worlds of business and football stood separate. Shepherd was one of the first North-Easterners to bring them together.

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The son of a Tyneside transport magnate, Shepherd was already a well-known figure in North-East boardrooms when Sir John Hall persuaded him to step into the inner circle at St James’ Park in the early 1990s.

He had helped evolve his father’s haulage business into a sprawling network of marine, specialist transport and property development companies, so when Hall came calling for a £250,000 investment into his newly-formed Magpie Group, it seemed a natural fit.

Shepherd handed over the money, and was immediately charged with the task of persuading Kevin Keegan to come out of retirement to lead a club on the brink of relegation to Division Three. Keegan said yes, and within just over a year, Newcastle were promoted.

Five years later, and with Hall wanting to retire to Spain, Shepherd took over as chairman. He would remain in the position for ten of the most remarkable years in Newcastle’s history.

“It was an exciting time we had at Newcastle, I don’t think anyone would deny that,” he said, in an interview with The Independent earlier this year. “What was it like as a Newcastle lad and a Newcastle fan? Fantastic.”

The statistics speak for themselves. During Shepherd’s time at the helm, Newcastle recorded two second-placed finishes in the Premier League, reached two FA Cup finals and two more semi-finals, and played in a UEFA Cup semi-final and the Charity Shield.

There was the Champions League win over Barcelona, the thrashing of Manchester United, and the appointment of Sir Bobby Robson in the manager’s chair. Shepherd was also involved in the world-record deal to bring Alan Shearer back to Tyneside, not to mention the rather less successful club-record signing of Michael Owen.

They were heady days, with Shepherd ensuring Newcastle were at the vanguard of football’s transformation at the start of the Sky Sports era.

“I tried to concentrate on getting top managers,” he said. “If you look back at them, they all had a history. Keegan, Dalglish, Gullit, Bobby Robson, Souness. You have to have that personality.

“They all had it in them, that desire to be the first one to win a major trophy in so long, and when you look at them, they were all at the height of their careers. I went through seven of them, and they were good guys.”

Unlike Newcastle’s current owner, Mike Ashley, Shepherd was a born-and-bred Geordie with a lifelong emotional attachment to the club. That meant a majority of supporters respected his attempts to punch alongside the heavyweights of Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool, but it would be wrong to suggest his reign was not without controversy.

The decision to fire Robson in particular was hugely controversial – “it felt like I was the person shooting Bambi” as he so memorably put it – and Ashley will argue that many of the club’s current problems stem from the financial problems he inherited when he bought out Hall and the Shepherds in 2007.

Then, of course, there was ‘Toongate’, when a News of the World ‘Fake Sheikh’ sting recorded Shepherd and Douglas Hall criticising Newcastle supporters and the North-East’s women.

“It was very difficult,” recalled Shepherd, “It went on for three weeks. It was unbelievable. It was much ado about nothing, but I’m not bitter. It was two blokes having a chat over a beer letting their mouths go.” The pair resigned, but were reinstated to their former roles six months later.

While Hall was keen to sell to Ashley ten years ago, Shepherd always maintained he would have put up more of a fight had he not been seriously ill with severe pneumonia and a collapsed lung at the time of the sale.

The Shepherds made around £38m from the sale of their shares, but there was still a sense of regret when the time eventually came to stand down.

“It (was) a great privilege and honour to have been chairman,” said Shepherd. “I would not have missed it for the world.”