AMONGST everything that has been said and written about Michael Owen this week – not least by the man himself, or at least his ghost writer – a wholly false narrative has begun to take hold. There is a view that Owen was already washed up by the time he signed for Newcastle United, that his best days were behind him and therefore he could hardly be blamed for spinning out one last pay day. It is complete nonsense.

When Newcastle paid a then club-record £16m fee to sign Owen in the summer of 2005, they thought, quite justifiably, they were getting a world-class centre-forward at the peak of his powers.

Yes, Owen had failed to live up to his billing at Real Madrid. Yes, he had already suffered the first of a series of ankle and hamstring injuries that would go on to blight his career, and that had perhaps begun to blunt the searing pace he had relied on at Liverpool.

But when he was paraded in front of 20,000 fans at St James’ Park, earning the first of his £120,000-a-week pay packets, he was still just 25. He was England’s number one striker, the key attacking threat in a side that also featured the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and should arguably have had ten good years ahead of him. That his unveiling on Tyneside proved to be the beginning of the end was not predestined, it was purely of his own making. He decided he no longer wanted to be a footballer during his time in the North-East, surely the most damning accusation that can ever be levelled at a professional player. That is why he will rightly be remembered as the worst signing Newcastle have ever made.

Because for all the embarrassing acts that peppered the end of his Magpies career, it is also wrong to suggest Owen was a failure from start to finish. That is another narrative that has taken hold as time has passed since his retirement, but like so much else, it does not wholly ring true.

Owen actually scored seven goals in his first eight Newcastle appearances, a run of games that also featured that memorable night in Geneva when his two last-ditch strikes secured England a 3-2 win over Argentina. Even now, with all the acrimony that has subsequently built up, I still regard his performance at West Ham in December 2005 as one of the best, if not THE best, individual display I have seen from a Newcastle player in my decade-and-a-half covering the club. Newcastle were outplayed for most of the game, but Owen got three half-chances, scored with them all, and the Magpies left with a 4-2 away win.

So, forget the notion that it was never going to work for Owen on Tyneside, or that the Newcastle fans were always set against him. The stark reality is that from the West Ham game onwards – or perhaps more specifically, from the moment when he broke his metatarsal at Tottenham a few days later on New Year’s Eve – Owen’s attitude to his responsibilities at Newcastle was at best a dereliction of duty, at worst a complete and utter disgrace.

In the next three-and-a-half years, he earned around £21m in wages, yet his approach both on and off the pitch was desultory. Where do you start with his failings? Maybe the regular helicopter trips back to his native North-West? What about the period when Kevin Keegan inexplicably made him captain, only for him to refuse to conduct any interviews and fail to display any kind of leadership at a time when his team-mates needed it most? How about the row about whether or not he was willing to play at Aston Villa on the final day of the season under Alan Shearer, when Newcastle’s Premier League status was hanging by a thread? Or what about his subsequent comments, belittling Newcastle and portraying his four years at the club as a complete waste of time?

Those comments have been spiced up this week because he has a book to sell, but in truth, very little of what he has had to say has been new or revelatory. Newcastle fans had Owen worked out a long time ago, so do not need reminding of the contempt he clearly feels for them.

Like the man himself, Newcastle supporters look back on Owen’s time at their club as a period they would rather forget. But they are right to deny him the easy excuse that it was always going to turn out as it did. It could easily have been different. That it was not was solely down to the failings of a global superstar who turned out to be a footballing pygmy.


UNLIKE Owen, who is nothing more than a footnote in the story of North-East sport, Fabulous Flournoy, who left Newcastle Eagles this week to take up a coaching role in the NBA, is a titan.

The Northern Echo: Fabulous Flournoy, the inspirational coach of the Newcastle Eagles, sharing lessons on leadership and teamwork at Redworth Hall, near Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

For 17 years, Flournoy presided over a run of success that is unprecedented in the region. The Eagles won their first BBL title in 2006, and went on to claim the crown in six of the next nine years. In the same period, they also won five BBL Trophies and three BBL Cups.

Not only did Flournoy oversee a remarkable transformation on the court, he also led Eagles’ growth and development off it, helping the club move into their purpose-built Eagles Community Arena, a facility that benefits the whole of Newcastle, at the start of this year.

His legacy will be long-lasting, and it is to be hoped he enjoys more success with his new club, the Toronto Raptors. Fabulous by name, and certainly fabulous by nature.


HAVING previously criticised the FA for their failure to bring international women’s football to the North-East, it is only fair I now congratulate them for their decision to stage next month’s friendly between England and Brazil at the Riverside.

It promises to be a fantastic occasion, giving a generation of North-East supporters an opportunity to see two of the best women’s sides in the world going head-to-head, and to pay tribute to the North-Easterners who were so integral to England’s run to this summer’s World Cup semi-finals.

If you can get along to Middlesbrough on October 5, do so. We like to tell the rest of the country we “love our sport” up here – now, we have to prove it.