How Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' began their dramatic rise - remembering Newcastle United's first Premier League campaign

As Newcastle United rounded off another eventful chapter in their Premier League history, it’s easy to forget that it’s a quarter of a century since the Magpies ended their maiden campaign in the new-look division.

By Mark Carruthers
Saturday, 1st June 2019, 9:24 am
How Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' began their formative years
How Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' began their formative years

Tyneside was a very different place back in the summer of 1993 as it struggled to free itself from the shackles of a Margaret Thatcher-led destruction of the region’s key industries – meaning unemployment remained at a high level.

The conclusion of a Conservative government was four years away and the city still had a wait until its impressive regeneration got underway.

Yet for all of the negativity, something was stirring, and a buzz was noticeable in the area.

Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United side – not yet the Entertainers, but certainly on their way to having that title thrust upon them – had romped to the old Division One title and were preparing for their first-ever season in the new-look Premier League.

The post-Italia 90 euphoria had brought football out of the shadows and, with Sky Television now providing a new, modern coverage, the Premier League was the place to be.

Big names were linked with a move to a rapidly-changing St James Park, but Keegan settled for just one as he brought former team-mate Peter Beardsley back to Tyneside and paraded him in front of the newly-extended Leazes End.

He wasn’t the only new addition as Scottish striker Alex Mathie and Cypriot winger Nicky Papavasiliou both joined the club from Greenock Morton and OFI respectively.

There was a pre-season injury blow as Liverpool defender Neil Ruddock quite literally elbowed Beardsley out of action for six weeks, as he inflicted a broken cheekbone on the forward in a testimonial game.

That thrust Keegan back into the transfer market and Millwall forward Malcolm Allen was an emergency signing on the eve of the season – albeit one that would provide a fair return on the modest outlay of £300k.

United stuttered out of the blocks and a Teddy Sheringham goal gave Spurs all three points at a packed St James Park on the opening day.

A midweek reverse at Coventry City sent Keegan’s side into a daunting trip to champions Manchester United without a point to their name.

They must have feared the worst when Ryan Giggs crashed home a 25-yard free-kick five minutes before half-time.

But the Magpies regrouped, and Andy Cole grabbed his first Premier League goal of a historic season to ensure that his side had a point on the board at last.

It was a result that gave the United players a belief that they belonged at Premier League level according to former midfielder Lee Clark.

He said “We were excited going into the season, but there was trepidation because it was the unknown for us too.

“We had belief that was given to us by the manager and the coaches, but it took a knock because we didn’t start well against Tottenham and Coventry.

“We went to Old Trafford and they were champions, but we played really well, and we probably could have won the game.

“That was the game that gave the group confidence that we could go on and perform at that level.

“I think we always knew that really, but Coley’s goal and our performance just hammered the point home.”

A first win was secured at St James Park as Malcolm Allen grabbed his first goal for the club and the only goal of the game against Everton.

Two draws against Blackburn Rovers and Ipswich Town followed, before St James Park hosted a live Sky game as a Sheffield Wednesday side containing former Magpie winger Chris Waddle came to Tyneside.

What followed is still one of the most iconic games in the club’s Premier League history.

Waddle was majestic and he tormented Magpies left-back John Beresford throughout the 90 minutes, but two goals from Cole and one apiece from new additions Allen and Mathie – the latter an acrobatic volley – helped United to a 4-2 win.

“That was a remarkable game when you think about it,” explained midfielder Rob Lee.

“There was a buzz about the place because it was on television.

“But there was something about St James being under the floodlights for a night game.

“It created a special atmosphere and the supporters that night were as loud as I had heard them.

“We played well, Coley scored as he always did and we deserved to beat a very, very good side.”

Clark got himself on the scoresheet in a 2-2 draw at Swindon Town as Beardsley made the first appearance of his second coming at the club.

But a rocky spell was just around the corner as the young midfielder incurred the wrath of Keegan with a show of petulance when he was substituted in a 2-1 defeat at Southampton – a game famous for Matt Le Tissier added two special entries into his catalogue of outstanding goals.

A midweek League Cup exit at the hands of Wimbledon was overshadowed by the absence of an AWOL Andy Cole – it was the darkest week in a largely positive season.

But within days of their Selhurst Park defeat, United exacted revenge on the Dons as a Beardsley hat-trick and a goal from the returning Cole put them on their way to a 4-0 win in a Premier League game at St James.

“We were a highly-motivated group and we loved to win,” said the Geordie midfielder.

“As individuals, we had a great desire to be the best we could be and Kevin (Keegan) encouraged that.

“When he made certain decisions that upset us, there was always time for a conflict, but it was never in disrespectful way.

“We just had that fire in our belly, and we knew we were being challenged by the manager.

“We always knew he was in charge, the respect and the esteem that we held him in was huge.

“Those events don’t mean any disrespect, we loved Kevin and we just wanted to do our best for him.”

The Wimbledon win sparked a remarkable run of form and the devastating partnership of Cole and Beardsley came to the fore to inspire United to memorable wins over Liverpool, Oldham Athletic, Spurs and Everton.

The Entertainers had arrived and the fledgling coverage from Sky Sports had received an unexpected boost.

“I suppose we were quite important to Sky when you think about it,” said Lee.

“They were still new, and we played the sort of football that people like to see.

“The win over Liverpool, with Coley getting the hat-trick, that meant a lot because of the opposition.

“And winning at Spurs and Everton was special, because they were established clubs at that level.

“They called us ‘The Entertainers’ after the win at Oldham and Kevin loved that, because that’s what he wanted us to do for the supporters.

“He always said that they spend their hard-earned money to watch us, so the least we could do is give them something worth watching.”

A United side flowing with confidence were sat in fifth place in the Premier League table by the time the turn of the year arrived.

The New Year would bring new challenges, but the Magpies were ready to face them head on.