Belfast Telegraph

Above all else, Freddy Shepherd was a Newcastle fan

Above all else, Freddy Shepherd was a Newcastle fan.

Geordie by birth and black and white by inclination, he had a dream for the club he supported and very nearly saw it come true.

Part of the consortium which answered Sir John Hall's call to arms in 1992, Shepherd, along with his brother Bruce, played a pivotal role in the Magpies' return to prominence and having been elevated to the role of chairman, established what he hoped would be a platform for lasting success.

It was he who brokered the then world-record £15million deal which brought Alan Shearer back to Tyneside to sign for his home-town club in July 1996, in the process convincing Hall that he was the man to succeed him.

During his time in the boardroom, Newcastle won promotion to the Premier League and twice finished as runners-up, while reaching the FA Cup final on two occasions and enjoying 11 seasons of European football, two of them in the Champions League.

In addition, he oversaw the redevelopment of an ageing stadium, boosting its capacity from around 36,000 to in excess of 52,000.

There were, however, regrets, and not all of them surrounded the Magpies' wait for major silverware which to this day remains ongoing.

It was Shepherd who, in the wake of Rudd Gullit's demise at St James' Park in September 1999, turned to former England manager Sir Bobby Robson - then just plain Bobby - to rekindle not-too-distant memories of Kevin Keegan's thrilling first reign.

It was he too who, after Robson had guided the club to fourth, third and fifth-placed finishes in successive seasons, decided the time had come for a parting of the ways just four games into the 2004-05 campaign.

That decision haunted him long after his association with the club ended.

He said in 2015: "When I had to let him go I never felt so emotional. It was like shooting Bambi. I regret to this day we had to part company."

It was an arrival rather than a departure which also played on Shepherd's mind for some time after he allowed his heart to rule his head in bringing England striker Michael Owen to the north-east in 2005, a move which sadly for him, proved far from value for money.

Shepherd, along with vice-chairman Douglas Hall, had briefly stood down from their positions in 1998 after finding themselves the subject of lurid tabloid headlines when they were caught by a News of the World sting in which they were reported to have called Tyneside women "dogs" and referred to Shearer as "Mary Poppins".

But he had little control, however, over the move which was to herald his permanent exit from the club he loved as Mike Ashley launched his ultimately successful takeover while he lay ill in a hospital bed with no opportunity to fight for his club.

Shepherd's critics would argue that he did very well from his association with Newcastle United, but he put his money where his heart was and his legacy is there for all to see.

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