Newcastle United last won an English league title in 1927, but the Magpies were agonisingly close to ending that drought under the management of Kevin Keegan in the mid-1990s.
Having been promoted to the Premier League in 1993 and immediately finishing third in their first season back in the top flight, Keegan’s side became known as ‘The Entertainers’ and that team remains one of the most revered cult sides in English football history.
At one stage of the 1995/96 season, Newcastle held a 12-point lead over eventual champions Manchester United, only to run out of steam in the second half of the campaign and finish second.
Among that squad, which was later supplemented by the £15m world record signing of Alan Shearer the following summer, were some of the best players the Premier League had to offer at that time. But the team broke apart without ever fulfilling its potential when Keegan quit suddenly in early 1997 and players invariably got older or simply moved on.
This is where Newcastle’s entertainers from 1995/96 are now…
Czech goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek was brought to England by Newcastle as early as 1991, although he was in and out of the team for much of his time at St. James’ Park. The 1995/96 season no was different in that respect, but he still became the club’s longest serving foreign player.
Srnicek lost his place permanently when Shay Given arrived in 1997 and later played for Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham. He also had a brief second spell at Newcastle in 2006/07, but he tragically died at the age of just 47 in 2015 after suffering a heart attack.
Shaka Hislop was brought in from Reading in 1995 to compete with Srnicek and the pair traded duties throughout the next two seasons. He also briefly served as back-up to the aforementioned Given, before moving on to West Ham in 1998.
Hislop was better able to establish himself as number one with the Hammers and then later with Portsmouth. He retired in 2007 after a short spell in MLS with FC Dallas and has since been a lead pundit and analyst on ESPN’s football coverage.
Warren Barton cost £4m to buy from Wimbledon ahead of the 1995/96 campaign, making him the most expensive defender in English football at that time. But he was rarely without strong competition for the right-back berth throughout his Newcastle career.
Barton was sold to Derby in 2002 after Aaron Hughes made the permanent breakthrough and finished his career in 2005 following a short non-league stint. He began coaching in the United States soon after and has more recently forged a successful media career on American television.
John Beresford helped Newcastle secure promotion to the Premier League in 1993 following his arrival from Portsmouth and remained a key player until he left the club in 1998, after which the left-back played only sparingly for Southampton.
Beresford gets gigs on the after dinner speaking circuit and has turned his hand more to business and investment than a direct involvement in football since his retirement. He is also a prominent anti-racism campaigner and was awarded an MBE in 2017.
With his long hair making him instantly recognisable, centre-back Darren Peacock was at Newcastle between 1994 and 1998. He had earlier been a regular for QPR in the top flight and would later play for Blackburn and Wolves until 2000.
Peacock’s career ended suddenly at the age of 32 during his time at Wolves, on loan from Blackburn, because of a serious neck and spinal injury. He managed non-league Lancaster City between 2013 and 2015 and now leads a grass roots development centre in the same area.
Steve Howey was one of a handful of local players in the Newcastle ranks in 1995/96, having signed his first professional contract with the club in 1989. He even played his way into the England fold by the mid-1990s and was part of the squad at Euro ’96.
The centre-back eventually left St. James’ Park in 2000 to join newly promoted Manchester City, also playing for Leicester, Bolton, New England Revolution and Hartlepool by the time he retired in 2005. Now, Howey does some media jobs, as well as working with the Premier League on referees.
Although primarily a right-back, Steve Watson was noted for his versatility and played virtually all over the pitch for Newcastle at one time or another. He had come through the youth ranks and was a regular as early as 1990 aged just 16, eventually leaving in 1998.
Watson played for Aston Villa, Everton and West Brom in the Premier League thereafter, before retiring with Sheffield Wednesday in 2009. He went into coaching, holding several roles, and has been York City manager since 2019 after previously being in charge at Gateshead.
Fringe left-back Robbie Elliott was another to emerge from Newcastle’s youth ranks, although he played only sparingly in the Premier League in 1995/96 – just five games as a starter. He moved to Bolton in 1997, but had a second spell at Newcastle from 2001 until 2006.
Elliott finished his playing career in 2008 after short spells with Sunderland, Leeds and Hartlepool. Post-retirement, he worked at Newcastle as an assistant fitness coach, before moving to the United States for a role with U.S. Soccer. He is still based stateside, but now works for Nike.
Philippe Albert is best remembered these days for his moustache and that utterly delicious chip in the 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United in October 1996. The 1995/96 season was his second at Newcastle and the Belgian was one of relatively few foreign players in the squad.
After a loan at Keegan’s Fulham in 1999, Albert rejoined former club Charleroi and retired in 2000. Seeking a normal day job after football, he worked as a greengrocer selling fruit and vegetables for 11 years. Now, he appears on Belgian television and helps out with his wife’s equestrian business.
Having already played nearly 350 games for Charlton, Rob Lee joined Newcastle in 1992 to help with the promotion charge and soon established himself as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, regularly chipping in with goals.
Lee signed for Derby in 2002 aged 36 and quickly dropped out of the top flight, but was still playing for Wycombe in League Two after his 40th birthday. He has done various bits of media work since then, including punditry for networks in Asia, and appeared in Harry’s Heroes on ITV.
Local player Lee Clark emerged from Newcastle’s youth ranks alongside the aforementioned Watson and Elliott, playing a particularly key role in the 1992/93 promotion season when he scored nine times in the league from midfield.
Clark dropped down a division to play for Sunderland in 1997 and also later helped Fulham get into the Premier League, before a final season with Newcastle in 2005/06. He has managed six clubs since 2008 and is now director of football at non-league Newcastle Blue Star.
David Ginola brought gallic flair to Keegan’s Newcastle side following his 1995 switch from Paris Saint-Germain and made himself a cult hero, not just at St. James’ Park, but in the wider English football community.
Ginola was later PFA and FWA player of the year while at Tottenham and also played for Aston Villa and Everton until 2002. He has done plenty of media work since, while he was briefly a candidate for the FIFA presidency in 2015. The former winger also survived a heart attack in 2016.
Keith Gillespie joined Newcastle as part of the deal that saw Andy Cole join Manchester United in 1995. He had a reputation as an exciting winger while with the Magpies, but he was sold to Blackburn soon after Ruud Gullitt arrived as manager in 1998.
Gillespie played for Leicester, Sheffield United and a string of other clubs. Off the pitch, he struggled with a gambling addiction and was declared bankrupt in 2010, having estimated his losses at more than £7m. He has since launched his own agency operating in his native Northern Ireland.
Peter Beardsley was in his second spell at Newcastle in the mid-1990s, having made his name at the club a decade earlier and played for both Liverpool and Everton. He was already in his mid-thirties by then, but continued playing for several other clubs, including Bolton and Manchester City.
In retirement, Beardsley has been heavily involved in coaching at Newcastle, managing the reserve side for most of the last 20 years. But he left the club in 2019 after being charged with three counts of using racist language towards players and was banned from football for eight months.
Newcastle effectively replaced Andy Cole by signing Les Ferdinand from QPR for £6m in the summer of 1995. He carried on his prolific goalscoring at St. James’ Park, getting 25 in the Premier League in 1995/96 and later formed a productive, if brief, partnership with Alan Shearer.
Ferdinand left for Tottenham in 1997 and played on for five more clubs until he was 39. After retiring, he returned to Spurs as a coach to work with the club’s forwards and stayed until 2014. He then became QPR director of football in 2015 and has remained there ever since.
Brought in midway through the 1995/96 season, Faustino Asprilla is often unfairly blamed for the club’s collapse, which has been widely refuted. But the Colombian often struggled for consistency throughout his time at St. James’ Park and had gone back to Parma by January 1998.
Asprilla is still a Newcastle cult figure, despite his brief stay, and spent the rest of his career until 2004 at various clubs across Latin America. He is usually remembered as unpredictable character and launched a line of condoms in 2014 that was still going in 2020.
Paul Kitson is better remembered in the Premier League for a five-year spell with West Ham, but his first taste of top flight action was with Newcastle. He finished 1994/95 as first choice striker when Andy Cole was sold, although was soon relegated to the bench by Ferdinand’s arrival.
Kitson was gone by 1997 and later wound down his career in the early 2000s, a decline seemingly accelerated by injury. A couple of failed businesses in retirement and bad financial advice during his playing days led to him being declared bankrupt in 2017 and he’s now available for appearances.
For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!