In the 1993-94 season, Andy Cole scored 34 league goals as a newly-promoted Newcastle United side burst onto the Premier League scene in style. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson met the former Magpies marksman to discuss his time on Tyneside and Newcastle’s current attempts to succeed in the top-flight


ANDY COLE knows all about successfully establishing yourself in the Premier League. As the current Newcastle United side look to cement their position in the top-flight following last season’s title triumph in the Championship, Cole has found himself looking back on his own attempts to help the Magpies follow a triumph in the second tier with a successful season in the top-flight. His conclusion? That plenty has changed in the last 24 years.

Back in the summer of 1993, Cole was preparing to lead the line as Newcastle experienced their inaugural taste of life in the Premier League. He had been signed from Bristol City the previous February for a then club-record £1.75m fee, and scored 12 goals in as many games to help the Magpies claim the First Division title under Kevin Keegan.

Could he prove as prolific in the Premier League? Just about. Cole’s maiden season in the top-flight saw him score a remarkable 41 goals in 46 matches in all competitions. His 34 league goals earned him the golden boot, and helped Newcastle finish in the top three, securing a place in the following season’s UEFA Cup.

It was a sensational season, with the Magpies playing a swaggering style of attacking football that led to them being branded ‘the Entertainers’. More often than not, it was Cole, with his own terrace anthem extolling his goalscoring exploits, putting the ball in the back of the net.

Fast forward almost a quarter of a century, and the current Newcastle side could hardly be more different. Rafael Benitez’s tactics are all about organisation and work rate, the side’s leading striker, Joselu, boasts two goals from 11 matches, and if the Magpies avoid relegation next May, the season will have been deemed a success.

The change reflects the way in which Newcastle’s status has shifted since the halcyon days of the mid-1990s, but also highlights the extent of the transformation at the top of the Premier League, with the top five or six clubs now operating on a different financial plane to the rest of the division. Cole is proud to have passed the 40-goal mark in a black-and-white shirt, but readily admits it would be all-but-impossible for anybody to do the same thing again.

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“Football’s different now,” said the former number nine, who spent two years on Newcastle’s books before leaving in a controversial move to Manchester United. “Back then, you could get promoted like we did and realistically hope to make your mark at the top of the table.

“It was an amazing time to be a Newcastle player. The club was on such a high after a fantastic season in the First Division, we had a squad full of amazing players, and in Kevin Keegan we had a manager who wanted us to go out and express ourselves. He wanted us to be exciting and adventurous – he didn’t really focus on the defence.

“So when we got promoted, we were always pretty confident of doing well in the Premier League. I could never have imagined I’d get more than 40 goals, but I was confident in my ability and knew I’d get chances because of the players I was playing with.

“Now, it’s pretty much impossible for a newly-promoted side to think like that. The biggest teams get so much money from the Champions League and TV deals that it’s impossible for a team like Newcastle to get promoted one season and then finish in the top four the next. It just doesn’t happen like that anymore, so you have to set your sights accordingly.”

Cole went on to win five Premier League titles and a Champions League winners’ medal with Manchester United, but regards his two years on Tyneside as some of the happiest of his career.

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He was part of a club threatening to sweep all before it, and was a firm fans’ favourite thanks to his success in front of goal. When Keegan agreed to sell him, the Newcastle manager had to explain himself to impassioned supporters who had flocked to the steps in front of the Milburn Stand.

Cole is proud to be part of Newcastle’s rich heritage of number nines, but wants to correct one false opinion about his time in the North-East.

“People say I was an important part of that promotion team, but that’s not true,” he said. “I just came in at the end and scored a few goals towards the end of the season – all the hard work had been done by the time I was signed.

“As soon as I walked into the dressing room, you could tell there was a group of players there who knew they were going to be champions. They were the architects of that title win – not me.

“I got my chance to show what I could do the following season, and hopefully the fans look back fondly on some of my goals. I loved my time at Newcastle – it was the making of me really. It’s a privilege to have been part of such a great club.”

Cole spends some of his time as a pundit nowadays, and was back on Tyneside last week to help BT celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Newcastle contact centre which employs more than 900 local people.

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Now 46, he suffered a major health scare earlier this year that forced him to undergo kidney transplant surgery, but a complete recovery means he is able to continue to cast his eye over the footballing scene.

He has been impressed with Newcastle’s performances under Benitez this season, and while it might be a while before his former club are qualifying for Europe again, he does not anticipate them being sucked into a relegation battle.

“I was a bit worried about Newcastle before the season began,” he said. “But I feel a lot better about them now. They’ve been good so far, and they certainly don’t look like a team who will be battling to stay out of the bottom three.

“I was up there earlier this season when they beat West Ham, and they played really well that day. For a newly-promoted team, that was a really good display.

“Rafa Benitez has them really well organised, and you can tell there’s a really good spirit in the team. There are quite a few young players, but they clearly get on with each other and that’s important whatever level you’re playing at.

“There’s been talk about a possible takeover, so hopefully when it comes to January, there’ll be a bit of money to spend. If they can make a couple of additions, and continue playing as they are, there’s no reason why they can’t finish in the top half.”