Thursday, 10 August 2017

1989: Mick Quinn's Newcastle debut

It was hardly the welcome that Mick Quinn would have dreamed of when he signed for Newcastle in the summer of 1989. Walking through the city after agreeing terms with the club, Quinn stumbled upon a protest group called the Boardbusters, who, as their name would suggest, were not best pleased with the members of the Newcastle United boardroom. Relegated from Division One in the previous campaign, many were prepared to boycott matches at St. James' Park in order to get their views across to the directors.

Quinn's move from Portsmouth had apparently not improved the mood of the group. Purchased by Jim Smith for £680,000 after a tribunal - Newcastle had offered £425,000, Portsmouth wanted £850,000 - Quinn must have started to wonder what he had walked into, when he read a banner that openly questioned "Who the f**k is Mick Quinn". The centre forward had attracted interest from other clubs, notably Watford. He could have been forgiven for questioning his decision to move to the North East.

Quinn recalls the incident in his Who Ate All The Pies autobiography. Walking with his girlfriend at the time, Quinn was understandably cock-a-hoop after putting pen to paper. "I turned to Sheila and said, 'Darling, this is one of the proudest moments of my life. It's what I've been struggling to achieve since I practised kicking a tennis ball against a wall every night.'" But Quinn was soon brought down to earth with a bump as the chants of "Sack the board" grew louder and louder, and that banner came into view.

Fortunately, Quinn would provide an immediate answer to the question posed by the protesters. Facing an expensively assembled Leeds United team on the opening day of the season, containing the likes of Mel Sterland, Vinnie Jones, Gordon Strachan, and John Hendrie, the atmosphere within St. James' Park was hardly one filled with optimism, excluding the 3,000 or so Leeds supporters in the crowd of 24,482. Yet come the end of the 90 minutes, Quinn had silenced the doubters and spread a little happiness amongst the Geordie faithful.

"When the whistle went, I was like a pit bull terrier straining at the leash," Quinn writes. When Jim Beglin conceded a penalty after tripping another Newcastle debutant in John Gallacher, Quinn was determined to grab the ball in order to get off the mark. "It was a cocky thing to do in my first game, but I was desperate to score a goal. I wasn't going to miss the chance of getting off the mark."

Placing the ball on the spot, Quinn followed his usual routine of facing away from the keeper until the referee blew the whistle. Immediately spinning around, the striker placed his penalty to Mervyn Day's right, and wheeled away in delight, scoring just 18 minutes into his debut. There may have been genuine joy for Quinn and Newcastle, yet soon the hope had turned into disappointment. Goals from Bobby Davison and Ian Baird saw Leeds go into the break 2-1 up.

Quinn would not be denied, however. Just two minutes into the second half, Mark McGhee flicked on a corner allowing Quinn to head in from close range, and more good work from Gallacher set up Quinn for his hat-trick twenty minutes later.

"I went nuts and ran towards the Gallowgate, arms outstretched," Quinn explains. "'That's who f**king Mick Quinn is!' I screamed, almost tearful." If Quinn's arrival in the city had been a nightmare, his debut was the stuff of dreams, with Jim Smith later describing it as "Roy of the Rovers stuff".

There would be another dollop of icing to add on to the cake, though. Gallacher capped a great debut by scoring Newcastle's fourth, and on any other day his exciting performance would have been the main talking point on the terraces.

But Quinn would rightly hog the headlines. Running on to a Kevin Dillon through ball, Newcastle's new number nine rounded off the perfect day, scoring his fourth goal, and the 150th League goal of his career. "I unleashed a right-foot thunderbolt and the ball cannoned into the bottom left-hand corner of the net, Quinn states. "I thought the roof was going to explode off the stands."

As Quinn left the field, he received a much warmer reception than he had from the Boardbusters. "You are a f**king bargain, Mr Quinn! Now, go and get us promoted," Smith shouted, according to Quinn's recollections of the day. After a few pints in the players' lounge with his dad, the pair made their way to a restaurant, where the celebrations continued, many of the drinks sent to Quinn's table by jubilant supporters. Quinn's glorious day was drawing to an end, yet he still had time to discover the plus side of success in a Newcastle shirt.

Desperate for a wee in his hotel, Quinn unwisely chose to relieve himself in a plant pot next to the lifts. Quinn's version of events differ from his book to this interview on the Chronicle Live website; in the former he refers to the night porter, whereas the hotel manager is quoted in the latter. But either way, the gentleman concerned clocked the offender and informed him that if he scored four goals every week then he could wee or poo wherever he wanted. But maybe not in Sunderland.

It would become apparent in the next few weeks that Quinn's goal scoring exploits would not be limited to one magical day in the August sunshine. Scoring in his first six League games, Quinn went on to score 36 goals in his first season at Newcastle, as the club narrowly missed out on promotion, sadly at the hands of their rivals Sunderland in the play-off semi-final. Another twenty goals followed a year later, yet an injury, and then a fallout with Kevin Keegan spelt the end of his love affair on Tyneside.

"Four goals for Mighty Quinn," declared the headline in The Pink, after Quinn's memorable debut. His introduction to the city may have been an eye opener, yet Quinn made sure that everyone would know his identity from August 19 onwards. "I will never have to buy a pint in the Bigg Market ever again," Quinn states in his autobiography. Let's just hope he leaves the plant pots well alone, though.

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