Gavin Peacock special part TWO: Newcastle hero opens up on remarkable story behind SHOCK United exit, returning to Gallowgate & inspirational leader Kevin Keegan
In 1993, having led Newcastle United to the First Division title and promotion to the newly-formed Premier League, Gavin Peacock – the Magpies’ team captain, goalscorer and talisman – walked away.
But why? What makes a player so integral to a promotion challenge, on the cusp of realising a dream years in the making, leave? The answer is a tale which has turned out to be, in his own words "a story of courage and strength in the face of adversity”.
"My Newcastle United departure is an important part to tell,” said Peacock, speaking to the Gazette as part of his promotional push for autobiography ‘A Greater Glory: From Pitch to Pulpit’, which is set for general release on May 7 through Christian Focus Publications.
"It was the end of the season, we had won promotion and I was team captain, although Brian Kilcline was still club captain at the time,” recalls the 53-year-old.
"My wife Amanda was in labour and eventually our son Jake was born – he was born with one hand.
"This was the crux of why I decided to move back."
Peacock was sold to Chelsea that summer for a fee of around £1.5m.
"We were in absolute shock. It was a very difficult time for us – and I have to say that Kevin Keegan was great,” said Peacock. “I told him the news and he was purely concerned for my wife and child. In time I explained to him that we needed to be closer to all of our family. He looked after me and made sure I would never be priced out of any move, and I left for Chelsea that summer.
"He showed great compassion and that is something I will never forget.”
The story does not end there, though.
While Gavin went on to play in an FA Cup final with the Blues and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup semi final before hanging up his boots, young Jake’s journey has proven even more remarkable than anyone could have possibly imagined.
Despite the fact he has just one hand, Jake Peacock has defied the odds to carve a career for himself in Muay Thai, a combat martial art often referred to as ‘Thai boxing’.
“We are so proud of what he continues to achieve,” said Peacock of his 27-year-old son, his pride beaming down the phone, as we chat from Tyneside to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“We call him Geordie Jake. One of my friends at the time gave him a little gift when he was born – a Geordie passport.
"We think he might one day fight in Newcastle – and I think he’d have a big support there, unless of course he was fighting a well-known Geordie.
"He does fight for the North American title at super welterweight in Kansas on April 9, which is a big deal, especially as it is being shown on the UFC Fight Pass.
“Jake has his own family now with his wife Christa giving birth to son Charlie six weeks ago – so the journey continues.
“His is a real story of courage and strength in the face of adversity.”
Peacock senior’s story too is an interesting one. A story of United roots, despite the accent, and wearing black and white as soon as he was old enough to kick a ball.
"My Grandfather Tom and Nan Lydia were both from South Shields,” he said.
"He was a war veteran who served in the Royal Navy on a minesweeper. Looking to find work he moved south and that’s why my family ended up where it did.
"He was a massive fan and the first ever kit I had was a Newcastle one.
"The day I signed there was no one prouder. I remember he told me if I sweat blood for the fans they would love me for it. And he was right.
"It always felt like we had an extra man with the fans – and I don’t say that lightly.
"They made me feel like I could do something special. Give me the ball and I will score at St James’ Park, that’s how confident I felt.”
And score he did, not only the 46 in 120 in all competitions, by his own maths, for United, but also for Chelsea on his first return after leaving the club.
Peacock recalls: “I came back with Chelsea the first time and I realised just how tough a place it was to go to get a result.
“I scored, we lost 4-2. I scored at the Gallowgate and for a moment I thought the goal had been disallowed. Dennis Wise jumped on me and wondered why I was not celebrating more. It was because I was so used to the Gallowgate erupting when I scored and it was just deathly silent.
“The fans are everything to that club.”
Keegan proved an inspirational figure for Peacock not only as a man off the field, but also on it, too.
Keegan’s man management is a well known trait but Peacock does not think his ex-manager gets the credit he deserves when it comes to coaching.
"Keegan was a bolt of electricity. He came in and told us: ‘you can leave the club, just tell me now and I’ll help you – but if you want to stay and play, we’ll take off. And we did,” he said.
“He was a motivator. A very quick learner. He could stir something up inside you, a belief that meant you could do something you never thought previously possible. He was just that kind of personality. He understood NUFC and the people.
“Keegan taught me many things – how to play up front, when size is not on your side. Movement, skills, tricks, how to win balls in the air, everything. I scored a lot of headers in my career because of those lessons, worked through for hours after training had finished.”