The little-known story of how 'stand out from the crowd' Graeme Jones started his coaching career – with Newcastle United

When Graeme Jones pulls on a Newcastle United tracksuit this week, it won’t be for the first time.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 4:50 pm

Not only is the former Belgium, Bournemouth, Everton, Luton and Wigan coach a lifelong Newcastle United fan – but he’s also worked with the club before, albeit in a voluntary capacity.

Roll the clock back to the late 1980s, early 1990s and Jones, like many of his age, started his coaching journey with the club he loved.

When Jones walks out on to the club’s Benton training facility fields, those steps are likely to bring back fond memories, as only a matter of metres away, on the Northumberland FA pitches of Darsley Park, marks where the new Newcastle United assistant made his first fledgling steps into the coaching game.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 28: Jeff Clarke (l) and Glenn Roeder (r) combine to thwart Tommy Caton of Arsenal during a First Division match at Highbury on September 28, 1985 in London, England. (Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images)

Jones still had a career as a player to chase – one which started in the North East non-league scene with the likes of North Shields and led to playing alongside long-term friend Roberto Martinez at Wigan as well as lower league stints north and south of the border – but as part of a PFA-led Football in the Community scheme, guided by coaches from Newcastle United, Jones earned his stripes, and his badges, that would set him on the path to one day being recommended to the United hierarchy in what’s being viewed very much as a Steve Bruce revival mission.

And one of those coaches, former Newcastle United and Sunderland defender Jeff Clarke, remembers the impact of ‘stand out from the crowd’ Jones.

"He was above the average type of person we got through the door,” said Clarke, who at 67 is still a physio at Scottish Premiership side Dundee United.

“Graeme had a lot about him, a football background and from a coaching sense, even at that age – he’d have been in his late teens – you could sense he would be better than your average.

PRESTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: Manager Graeme Jones of Luton Town reacts during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Luton Town at Deepdale on December 14, 2019 in Preston, England. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

"He was smart, well-presented, a good representative of the club, knew his football inside out and was a joy to coach. A polite, lovely lad, who you could talk to for hours.”

The scheme involved spells coaching in schools across the region and holiday football boot camps, held at Darsley or the Civil Service pitches a mile or two down the road in Longbenton.

"It was about giving lads a chance, getting them some work experience. Some of them had not worked before and just needed that confidence boost,” said Clarke.

“Graeme was different. The coaching he did with us maybe helped him fall in love with the game again and he went on to have a fantastic career as a player. He was too quick for me back then when we played five-a-side. A real attacking player, with a keen eye for goal.

"It was impossible to tell back then if he would have a career in coaching, but he did display all the early signs you need to be a success. His manner was particularly good – and that is something I know he has taken with him into the senior game.”

North Shields, Bridlington Town, Doncaster Rovers, Wigan Athletic, St Johnstone, Southend United, Boston United, Bury, Clyde and Hamilton Academical. Looking at Jones’ playing days it’s a less than glamorous path walked.

Swansea City was his first senior coaching break, then the Latics, the Toffees and brushing training ground shoulders with Thierry Henry, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and more, with a trip to a World Cup semi-final thrown in. It’s fair to say his coaching days have already outshone the afternoons and evenings bouncing around the seaside towns, port outposts and backwaters of non-league and the Football League.

"I’ve kept an eye on his career,” said Clarke, who had a spell as physio with SAFC in the 1990s.

Jones has also worked as assistant manager to Darren Moore at West Brom, had a failed spell as Luton Town boss, then became No.2 to Jason Tindall with the Cherries on the south coast.

“When I was a reserve coach at Newcastle I would be sent out on scouting missions and would see Graeme at Wigan. He deserved to make it in the game.

"We next crossed paths when he was working with Roberto Martinez at Everton and he brought his team up to play at Dundee in pre-season (in 2015).

"He still had that glint in his eye, that love of football, that same one he had as a young kid starting out in the game.”

Just as we’re about to wrap up the call Clarke pauses, questions himself, then says: "I’ll tell you a story, more of a hiccup. He might not like me telling you this, but I am sure he will have a laugh. We all did.”

Clarke recalls how one day when ever-helpful Jones offered to take some coaches to a session at a school in his own car when the club found themselves short on transport. Things didn’t quite go to plan.

"An hour after he was meant to arrive, still no sign of Graeme and the others,” he said. Clarke and those who made it, took the session, finished up and still no sign.

"We had no idea at the time but Graeme had borrowed the family car and on the way to the session had flipped it on the central motorway. Luckily everyone was OK, well apart from Graeme who had to explain it to his mother.”

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