Ex-Newcastle United youth on devastating Peter Beardsley meeting, training with 'magician' Yohan Cabaye, 'unplayable' Hatem Ben Arfa, Steve Bruce's big question and rebuilding his career

Greg Olley’s life and his football career stood at a crossroads as he sat in his car outside St James’s Park.
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Moments earlier, he had sat in a meeting with Magpies legend Peter Beardsley and Ben Dawson and been told the devastating news that his 12-year association with Newcastle United was being ended.

From shining in the development centre at the age of six to progressing into the club’s U18s and U23s sides, Olley had spent the majority of his 19 years with the club he grew up supporting as a boy.

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He had trained alongside Cheick Tiote (“I didn’t tackle him; he just ran over me”), tried to beat Tim Krul (“an outstanding goalkeeper”) and worked alongside Yohan Cabaye (“a magician on the ball”).

Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Emilio Andres Leal Kirtley.Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Emilio Andres Leal Kirtley.
Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Emilio Andres Leal Kirtley.

He had even tried to get the ball from Hatem Ben Arfa (“unplayable when he wanted to be”) when the enigmatic French winger had been condemned to training with the U23s just months after helping United into the Europa League.

But now his dreams of walking out at St James's Park alongside the likes of Cabaye were over.

Although the intention was not to be cruel, the Durham-born midfielder was told that he had come out on the wrong end of a 50/50 decision on whether to offer him a professional contract with the club he loved.

It was of little consolation.

Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Charles Waugh.Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Charles Waugh.
Greg Olley in action for Gateshead, picture by Charles Waugh.
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Olley explained: “I was so proud to represent the club that I had supported from such a young age.

“I had taken myself back from being a Newcastle United supporter a little bit because when you are in there, it becomes like a job.

“You want someone to get injured or suspended, you want the team to lose form, because that’s the only way you will get your chance.

“You fall out of love a little bit, not with the football club, I wanted to be playing so it’s a shift in how you look at football.

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“It was tough, and I didn’t really feel I was ever close to getting in the first team.

“I was told to meet them at St James's, and you knew what was coming.

“I got told that it was a 50/50 whether to give me a pro deal and they decided against it.

“I didn’t take it great, I didn’t have a go, I bottled it up as I walked away, but it all came out when I got in the car, I sat on my own, drove back to my digs and got very emotional.

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“It was a case of ‘oh s**t, the safety net has gone, what do I do now?’”

As many of his former team-mates in United’s academy walked away from football or tried to rejuvenate their careers in the North East’s flourishing non-league scene, Olley assessed his options.

They were few and far-between – patience was needed, and it would be rewarded.

Championship club Hull City came calling and the move came about thanks to a Newcastle United stalwart and the man currently in charge of first team affairs at St James's Park.

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“Steve Harper was at Newcastle when I was there and he stayed in touch with me,” explained Olley.

“He was at Hull at this point and he had found out that I had been released.

“He must have spoken to Steve Bruce; I went down for a trial and was offered a contract after playing against Burton Albion at North Ferriby’s ground.

“I was given a one-year deal to start with and I went in for pre-season with their U23s.

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“It was a relief – but I had to grow up because I was living on my own for the first time.”

After weeks of panic over his future, a first meeting with his new manager brought some light relief as a key question that divides people in the North East was posed to the young midfielder.

“The first day I met Steve Bruce, I walked into his office and he introduced himself.

“He wanted to know who I was and when he heard my accent he asked if I was a Newcastle or Sunderland supporter?

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“I told him Newcastle, luckily, and he started laughing – I think he knew it was the right answer.”

The midfielder remained in the Tigers U23 set-up as the Bruce led the club back into the Premier League with a 1-0 win in the Championship play-off final in May 2016.

But a number of first-team departures during a troubled pre-season handed Olley an unexpected opportunity.

He was named as a substitute for the opening day of the following season as Bruce’s side shocked reigning Premier League champions Leicester City.

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Olley stayed on the bench for the 90 minutes, but he kept his place in the matchday squad for a 2-0 win at Swansea City and a home defeat against Manchester United.

“I had gone from the devastation of being released by Newcastle to this,” revealed Olley.

“All of a sudden I am looking alongside me and Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford are on the opposite side of the tunnel.

“I am sat on the bench just thinking wow, it was a real turn of fortunes.”

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A senior debut would follow as Olley lined up alongside England international Harry Maguire and current West Ham United star Jarrod Bowen in a 3-1 win at Exeter City in an EFL Cup tie – not quite the St James's Park where he had hoped to make his first senior appearance.

But the Tigers season fell apart.

Bruce had departed in the summer after a breakdown in his relationship with the club’s owners, assistant manager Mike Phelan stepped up but was sacked in January of the same season.

Portuguese manager Marco Silva was appointed and despite being “having the best training methods I have seen” according to Olley, he was unable to keep the Tigers in the Premier League.

Former Russia coach Leonid Slutsky took over and handed Olley a second senior appearance in a 2-0 defeat against Doncaster Rovers in the EFL Trophy.

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The revolving door continued to spin as Slutsky was sacked in December 2017 and was replaced by former Southampton manager Nigel Adkins – who would go on to be the man that would release Olley at the end of the season.

Once again, offers were sparse, but another former Magpie gave Olley a chance to rejuvenate him career back in the North East.

Gateshead – then managed by former United star Steve Watson – handed Olley a one-year deal after he scored five goals in two pre-season fixtures.

Olley’s form led to a call-up to the England C side and he proudly wore the Three Lions on his chest for the first time in a 2-2 draw against their Welsh counterparts in March 2019.

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But the disastrous ownership of Dr Ranjan Varghese and Joseph Cala was taking Gateshead to the brink of closure.

Bills went unpaid, players went without wages for weeks and the club were evicted from the International Stadium.

Steve Watson departed for York City, Heed legend Ben Clark came in as his replacement but was immediately hamstrung by the departure of key players.

Olley explained: “The squad was thin, we were travelling long distances on the day of a game, key players left, Steve Watson left, Ben Clark took over, he was great and one of the nicest men you could meet in football, but the situation was tough on us.”

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The Heed were punished for financial irregularities under the former owners as the National League demoted the club to non-league’s second tier.

Surprisingly, Olley remained on Tyneside and signed a new one-year deal after tentative interest from two other clubs.

“There was interest and I almost signed for a National League club, it was so close, we had meetings, but a deal wasn’t offered in the end.

“Another National League North club came in, but they wouldn’t give me any time to decide, but I loved it here, I still love it now, it is moving forwards.

“We have a tight-knit group, we want to help the club put last year behind them and anything is possible now.”

No longer at the crossroads, Greg Olley’s career is only moving in one direction.