Never meet your heroes? That wasn’t the case with Pavel Srnicek

Pavel Srnicek
Pavel Srnicek

They say never meet your heroes.

And that adage can be particularly true in football.

But it didn’t apply to Pavel Srnicek, who died this week at the age of 47, nine days after suffering cardiac arrest in his native Czech Republic.

I was glad I got to meet one of Newcastle United’s unlikelier heroes when he returned to the club at the end of his playing career.

I had watched Srnicek, signed from Banik Ostrava in 1991 by then-manager Jim Smith, during his first spell as a player at St James’s Park.

Srnicek, after a difficult start to life in English football, won over the club’s fans.

The bond became unbreakable during the promotion season of 1992-93, when he helped the club reach the newly-formed Premiership.

Team-mate Lee Clark handed him a “Pavel is a Geordie” T-shirt on the pitch as they celebrated after the final game of the season, a 7-1 home win over Leicester City.

And the rest is history.

Srnicek, however, found it harder to win over some of his managers.

Kevin Keegan signed Mike Hooper from Liverpool before the club kicked a ball in the top flight. It wasn’t a popular move at the time, but Srnicek wasn’t beaten.

He proved an able top-flight goalkeeper, and he didn’t leave the club until 2008. But what I remember most about Srnicek as a player wasn’t him with the ball in his hands.

Instead, it was his fondness for taking on an advancing striker or winger with the ball at his feet before making a pass or launching it upfield.

It was infuriating at times, exhilarating at others. But Pavel was Pavel.

That was what he did. And we all loved him for it.

Srnicek returned to St James’s Park in 2006 as cover. The first time I spoke to him was in the tunnel after a reserve game at Kingston Park.

He was in his late 30s at the time, but he was far from jaded. Quite the opposite.

He was everything you’d hope a hero would be when you meet them in the flesh.

What I recall fondly was his boyish enthusiasm and his love for the game and the club with which he had become synonymous.

Months later, he was roared on to the pitch at St James’s Park when Shay Given suffered an injury.

Srnicek, sadly and cruelly, is gone, but he’ll never be forgotten on Tyneside.