Last week NUFC announced the addition of Steve Harper to their backroom staff. The former Newcastle #1, who gained almost 200 appearances during his 20-year spell, will now take charge of coaching the club’s Under-18 and Under-23 goalkeepers. Given such an appointment, it is always interesting to look back at the variety of player-turned-coach examples throughout the years – especially roles within the same club where the player made a name for themselves.
There is something commendable and somewhat poetic about the return of a former great, dedicating their post-playing career to a club which they served for so long.
The likes of Seymour, Harvey, Keegan, in addition to the more recent – and a little less poetical – Roeder and Shearer come to mind. But interestingly enough, unlike Harper, none of these were goalkeepers.
There is one stand-out example of a former NUFC goalkeeper who became the club’s head coach – and it so happens to be one of the most interesting and down-right crazy ventures into management there is.
Willie McFaul was Newcastle United’s goalkeeper from 1966 to 1975, racking up just under 300 club appearances. After the resignation of Jack Charlton in 1985, he took his first step into management, going on to spend the next three years as head coach. Yet McFaul’s career didn’t stop there, he would go on to spend a few years at Coleraine in his home nation of Northern Ireland before entering the new millennium with a dabble into International football.
I took the time to dive into the former NUFC goalkeeper’s unorthodox managerial career. In 1998, McFaul would take the reigns of a nation populated by under 200,000 and who’s average FIFA ranking to this day is 190:
The Guam national team.
It is Spring of 1985, the Kenilworth Road riot is still fresh in the minds of the British public and Eastenders has made its debut on BBC One. Up in the North East, however, a young lad by the name of Paul Gascoigne is about to make beginnings of his very own.
Brought on by Jack Charlton against QPR, the 17-year-old would help his side to a 1-0 home win and the rest, as they say, is history. Yet even though Charlton is credited as the manager who gave him his debut, it was another who directed him down the path to greatness.
Chaos ensued at the start of the 1985-86 season with Charlton’s resignation. The task was handed over to Willie McFaul, who would take charge of the Tyneside club six days before the start of the 1985-86 season, naming Gascoigne in his first starting eleven.
Nine goals later, one of United’s stand-out young stars “Gazza” found himself on the cover of the Rothams Football Yearbook (now known as Sky Sports Football Yearbook) – a breakout season for a man who would go on to become the most gifted English midfielder of his generation.
As for McFaul, his first season would also be deemed a success – an 11th place finish despite the initial disorder off the back of Charlton’s departure. Following years saw McFaul reach the highs of 8th as he crafted a team around the likes of Beardsley, Gascoigne, and record signing Paul Goddard. Yet after their subsequent sales in the 1987-88 season, the man from Coleraine’s team would lose its form and he would go on to lose his job.
His home-town eventually came calling, a disappointing three-year spell followed and 1992 seemed to mark the end of McFaul’s managerial adventure.
Well, it was, until a small island in the western Pacific came calling.
McFaul had initially agreed to be in charge of the Guam national side for a year, but due to admiration from the board, fans and players his spell would last until 2003.
“I remember my first training session and just seven players turned up,” he told The Belfast Telegraph in 2008, “but we worked hard and as time went by the numbers increased and the boys responded”.
NUFC fans have always valued a player who puts in a shift – giving his all for the badge on and off the pitch. It is this very same effort that Rafa Benítez currently values, with the manager himself claiming that mentality is vital in his recruitment process.
This very same resilience of his players seems to be what kept McFaul around for so long – despite the number of goals conceded.
“They never get the stuffing knocked out of them,” he told nufc.com in a 2001 interview. Discussing a commendable 2-0 loss to the Philippines off the back of 19-0 and 11-0 demolitions during Asian Cup qualifiers, McFaul applauded his team’s efforts, stating his sheer joy at the fact that “it was scoreless after 75 minutes”.
Combined with the backing of Guam’s fanbase, McFaul felt at home, despite being 12,000 km away from Coleraine. “The local people were very good to me and my wife. It is an American territory and there were big air force and naval bases there. It was an interesting time in my life.” he said, speaking to The Chronicle in 2008.
Despite drawing similarities to Benítez’s relationship with the Toon faithful, the same can’t be said about McFaul’s discussion with Guam’s hierarchy, indicating that he felted wanted – by fans and by the board: “When I was finished the directors asked me to stay, but I refused.” further stating that he returned home with “a treasure trove of memories”.
Steve Harper could be in for some wild ride yet.