I’m fortunate enough to be just slightly too young to remember Chris Waddle playing for Newcastle.
I say fortunate because, when I first became aware of him as a footballer, he was a Spurs player and his past association with the black and whites meant little to this fledgling Sunderland supporter.
As a kid growing up in Consett, I loved Gabbiadini, Pascoe and Gates, who were starring for Sunderland at the time.
But I was simply mesmerised by Waddle.
His swagger and nonchalance on the ball were endearing; his touch and ability to create astounding.
In an era of fast, hard, direct football, and defenders who’d take the man first and ask questions later, Waddle’s ability to sidestep one way, weave the other, and create a bit of magic out of nothing was simply breathtaking.
The fact he was a northeast lad too – a Sunderland supporter no less – and had begun his career at Tow Law, a place we drove through most Sundays to visit my Grandma in Shildon, made him an instant hero.
Every time Spurs or England played on TV I was glued, watching Waddle’s every move.
I started wearing my shirt outside my shorts when playing for the school team.
I practised the ‘Waddle stepover’ endlessly in the back garden, with admittedly mixed results.
I wanted his mullet. Thankfully, my mother persuaded me otherwise.
I even went to Kenny Wharton’s testimonial at St James Park to watch him play as part of a Kevin Keegan England XI (although, in mitigation, I did wear my Sunderland shirt, and jumped up in joy when Viv Busby netted a goal for Sunderland in the pre-game Sunderland 73 v Newcastle 74 exhibition game), provoking an angry reaction from the locals.
And I cried real, genuine tears on the morning GMTV (or was it TVAM in those days?) announced his £4.5m move to Spurs to Marseille. There was no way of getting any coverage of French football back in those days. I was heartbroken.
Upon Waddle’s return to England with Sheffield Wednesday, I subconsciously adopted Wednesday as a second favourite team, always making a point of watching them and wanting them to win, purely because of Waddle.
While he stayed at Wednesday for six years, he was linked heavily with a move to Sunderland on more than one occasion, something I prayed and prayed would happen. It seemed increasingly likely (to me anyway) when Terry Butcher was in charge – he had money to spend, and had played with Waddle for many years with England – but it never transpired, despite seemingly endless newspaper reports to the contrary.
Upon promotion to the Premier League in 1995 we had once again been linked, but to no avail and Waddle went off to Falkirk. A few games up in Scotland and he turned up at Bradford in (old money) Division Two; still showing he had it with a wonderful goal at Goodison Park as Bradford sprung a surprise in the FA Cup against the Toffeemen.
Of course, later that season, he did – eventually – pull on the red and white, as Peter Reid turned to him in an attempt to keep us up. I believe if he’d joined at the start of the season, we wouldn’t have been in trouble, but hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?
It was, of course, too little too late. But during his seven games for us, he showed all of that swagger and skill I’d lapped up over the years.
He set up a goal for Bally on his debut against Forest, and in the following games showed he’d lost nothing bar a bit of pace. His free kick in the final game at Roker Park seemed a fitting finale on a number of levels.
I’m still disappointed we didn’t offer him a contract the following season; he was joyful to watch and could have seriously helped a young, developing team settle in at the Stadium of Light.
But that’s by the by. Another what if.
Happy 60th birthday Chris Waddle – a true footballing hero.