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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Green’s green grass of home

Andrew Clarke meets Whitehaven AFC coach Stuart Green and hears how he lived his footballing dream

HE’S played with Alan Shearer, negotiated contracts with Sir Bobby Robson – and even made sure David Ginola was well-stocked with his post-match wine and cigarettes. It’s fair to say that Stuart Green has lived the dream.

A top-level football career spanning more than a decade took him from Marchon FC to the Millennium Stadium – via an unforgettable spell at Newcastle United – touching the heights of promotion and big contracts to the lows of injuries and managerial bust-ups.

And speaking from his new position, in the dug-out of his hometown team Whitehaven AFC, Stuart reflects on a career he describes simply as “one big adventure”.

“All I ever wanted to do was play football,” says Stuart, 31. “From kicking a ball about in my back garden with my brother, Stephen, to five-a-sides at Whitehaven Sports Centre, playing for St Benedict’s School and at Marchon [who would become Whitehaven AFC], I was only ever interested in becoming a pro.”

The night Stuart ‘made it’ came on August 25, 1999, when he took his place on the subs’ bench for Newcastle for the first time in their Premiership clash with arch rivals Sunderland. But it was no ordinary subs bench.

“I got to the ground and I had been named as a sub. I had been doing well in training and for the reserves, but this was still a massive thing for me at only 18. On the subs list there was me, Aaron Hughes, goalkeeper Steve Harper – then unbelievably Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson.

“Manager Ruud Gullit left probably the country’s two best strikers at the time on the bench. It caused a sensation. The cameras spent more time focusing on the bench that night than the game! At one point, Shearer nudged me and said: ‘Do you know these cameras are here for you!’”

Stuart didn’t get on the pitch that night – and it was the closest he came to playing for Newcastle’s first team – but it was a night he’ll never forget.

“Being part of it was amazing; 57,000 people there and you feel they’re all looking at you! It was a proud day for my family and a dream come true for me.”

His connection with Newcastle had started six years previously, when he was spotted during a try-out game at Whitehaven Miners FC.

“Newcastle scout Peter Foley brought their under-14s to Whitehaven to have a look at what we had here. I was only 12 in an under-14s game so only got on for the last 15 minutes.

“After the game, a man I now know as John Murray [Newcastle’s youth development officer] came over and asked me outright if I wanted to be a pro footballer. I said ‘yes’ and he replied ‘you will be’ and walked off.

“My dad, Ian, had been my coach right through the age groups and he was fantastic; he always told me what was expect of me and made me want to work at my game. Once this interest from Newcastle came, we spent every spare minute training and working hard. In a way, I wish I had given more to school – St Benedict’s was a terrific place – but it was football 24/7.”

Stuart couldn’t sign schoolboy terms with Newcastle until he was 14, so continued to play locally and in the youth set-up at Carlisle United. But when the time came, he signed for Newcastle despite interest from Manchester United, Liverpool and Blackburn; a two-year schoolboy deal followed by a two-year apprenticeship.

“During the schoolboy years [14 to 16], I still lived at home and my dad drove me over for training and games after school and at weekends. I got a shock because I was so far behind the other players in terms of technique, so I needed to practice every night in order to progress as I did.

“They also encouraged us to train with the first team, managed at the time by Kenny Dalglish. So I’d be a 15-year-old schoolboy in a geography lesson one day, and training with Shearer, Ginola, Peter Beardsley, Rob Lee the next. It was superb.”

He moved over to Newcastle when he signed £55-per-week YTS forms at 16 and lived in a hotel for the next two years while playing for the youth team trying for a pro contract, alongside the likes of the Caldwell brothers (Gary and Steven) and Shola Ameobi.

In the meantime he was assigned a pro “to look after” – French maestro David Ginola. “I had to do everything for him; clean his boots, run his bath, make sure he had his wine and cigarettes for after the game. What a guy – and what a player.”

Another icon in the Newcastle dressing room was Alan Shearer. “He and I were once injured at the same so we spent a lot of time in rehab together. He’s a real gent and really cared about me and wanted to help me through my injury.”

D-day came in the summer of 1999 and, to Stuart’s joy, he was awarded a one-year pro contract. During a first season filled with upheaval – including the Sunderland game which was soon followed by Gullit’s resignation – Sir Bobby Robson came in as manager and offered Stuart a four-and-a-half year deal.

“That was a major step for me, I had grown in stature and Sir Bobby liked me as a player. I thought I deserved a shot in the first team at that time, but it didn’t come.”

He asked to go on loan to Carlisle – then languishing near the bottom of the football league – and Sir Bobby reluctantly agreed. His first professional game followed – a 0-0 draw at Swansea – and then his first goal in the next – in a 3-1 win against Rushden & Diamond at Brunton Park.

On his return to Newcastle, it became apparent his first-team chances would be limited so he opted for a move to Hull City – signing for £150,000 on a three-year deal in 2002.

He enjoyed a fine career at Hull – with a second loan at Carlisle in the middle – and scored 18 goals in 123 games during an upwardly mobile time for the club. His next port of call was Crystal Palace, where he spent two seasons, before departing for what turned into an unhappy spell at Blackpool in 2008.

Badly affected my the sudden death of his mother, Judith, Stuart admits to “losing interest” in the game during that time. “That was a killer for me. She was my best friend and my number one fan, and when she died, football didn’t matter.”

He got the coaching bug at Blackpool, and was involved in their youth setup, but, on the pitch, he started to struggle with injuries. He moved to Wycombe Wanderers – linking up for the third time with manager Peter Taylor – but at only 28, he knew his time was winding down.

“My son Joshua was born and he became my priority – and I wanted to bring him home.” A contract offer from Workington Reds gave him this chance and he penned a two-year deal there in 2011.

“There are some terrific people at Workington but I was injured on my debut and it was stop-start. Things just didn’t work out there.”

A way out for both parties was offered last summer by Bill Robson, chairman of Whitehaven AFC, when he approached Stuart to become their new manager.

“I’m loving being here. We have a great bunch of lads, and although it’s early days, we can really go places here.

“My football career was amazing; one big adventure. And now I’m here at Whitehaven AFC at the start of another one.”

Have your say

I support Hull City, and Stuart was my favourite player throughout his time at our club. It was always a pleasure to see him playing because he was such a skillful player. All the best Stuart!

Posted by Lee Verity on 12 February 2013 at 22:23

Stuart -am originally from the area-did you spend any time with jim nelson at the club?a good friend of mine-have nt seen him for years but was a top man-I believe he is still there at 68!
Good luck with new job

Posted by James hall on 8 February 2013 at 14:27

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