The usual suspects. That was the headline that greeted Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, Carl Cort and Andy Griffin when they returned to Tyneside.
They had been sent home from a training camp in Spain after missing a dinner in honour of Sir John Hall, Newcastle United’s former chairman.
Dyer, Bellamy, Cort and Griffin had instead gone out on the town. And the newspaper I was working for at the time went to town with its front page.
Photographs of Dyer, Bellamy, Cort and Griffin had been mocked up on a backdrop inspired by the film “The Usual Suspects”.
“I knew what was coming,” said Dyer. “I knew the news would get out fast and that there would be a backlash.
“In many ways, what happened in Marbella, which was relatively innocuous, marked the beginning of the idea that there was a group of players in Newcastle who were out of control.
I wasn’t blameless. I admit that. I have spoken several times already about the guilt I feel over mistakes that I have made in my life. My role in the sacking of a man I admired and revered more than any other man is something that I will always regret, too.Kieron Dyer
“The fact that we had missed a meal in honour of Sir John Hall fed this idea that we had no respect for the club and its traditions, and that we were a group of blinged-up brats beyond the reach of a decent old football man like Sir Bobby Robson.”
I saw the front page being drawn up across the newsroom and knew the quartet wouldn’t be speaking to my newspaper any time soon.
The Robson years were memorable for so many reasons, not least the success on the pitch.
I was lucky, in my early years as a sports writer, to write about this chapter in the club’s history.
There was the experience of Alan Shearer and Gary Speed and the youth of Dyer, Bellamy and others. It was a potent, and powerful, mix.
Dyer – whose new autobiography “Old too soon, smart too late” is out tomorrow – has a story to tell.
There’s honesty and humour in Dyer’s account of his turbulent St James’s Park career.
Dyer, a midfielder, was signed from Ipswich Town by Ruud Guillit in 1999.
“He told me he didn’t sign English players, because they drank too much beer, but he had done his homework on me and he knew I didn’t drink,” said Dyer.
“He obviously hadn’t done his homework very well.”
Dyer liked Guillit, who resigned a month after his own arrival. However, he loved Sir Bobby Robson. He flourished under him.
The midfielder, in his early years at the club, was seemingly unstoppable on the ball, despite his slight build.
He was dynamic and energetic. He ran and ran, riding tackle after tackle.
Robson’s team topped the Premier League one Christmas in 2001 and reached the second group stage of the Champions League the following campaign.
The arrival of Bellamy in the summer of 2001 had been the catalyst after an indifferent campaign.
“Craig’s arrival had made a huge difference and he and Alan were working brilliantly together up front,” said Dyer. “Laurent Robert was providing a lot of assists and we were playing terrific, attacking football.
“I came back into the first team in December in the midst of a run of six wins in seven league games that took us to the top of the table at Christmas.
“We beat Leeds 4-3 at Elland Road on 22 December. Sir Bobby attached a lot of significance to that result because it suggested we had overtaken Leeds as one of the main challengers to the dominance of Manchester United and Arsenal.
“Top at Christmas. We started to dream of the title.”
That dream, sadly, never became a reality, but Newcastle were a joy to watch.
United were exuberant on the field and some of the club’s younger players, notably Dyer, were exuberant off it. They played with a freedom on the pitch, and played freely off it.
There were many, many more front page headlines in that era, and Dyer recounts some of the episodes, including the time he crashed his £120,000 Ferrari on the Swing Bridge, in his book.
He says he hit “Peak Newcastle” during the 2002-03 season when he was dating fledgling pop star Cheryl Tweedy, who would later marry his England team-mate Ashley Cole.
“I suppose that time was pretty much what they now might call Peak Newcastle for me,” he said. “I was going out on dates with a beautiful pop star, I was earning money beyond my wildest dreams and I was playing the best football of my career in a successful side. It was a brilliant time.”
It really was a brilliant time. Sir Bobby had transformed his beloved club, and the youthful energy of Dyer and Bellamy, was a big part of that transformation.
But did those “blinged-up brats” hasten Robson’s exit in 2004?
“I wasn’t blameless,” said Dyer, who famously had been left out of the starting XI against Middlesbrough after telling Sir Bobby that he didn’t want to play on the right wing on the opening weekend of the 2003-04 season.
“I admit that. I have spoken several times already about the guilt I feel over mistakes that I have made in my life. My role in the sacking of a man I admired and revered more than any other man is something that I will always regret, too.
“I had my reasons for behaving the way I did, but I wish now that I had acted differently.”
* “Old too soon, smart too late: My story” by Kieron Dyer is published tomorrow by Headline priced £20.