I don’t remember much about Peter Beardsley’s first spell at Newcastle United. I was only 10 years old when the mercurial Geordie forward was sold to Kenny Dalglish’s all-conquering Liverpool side in 1987 for what was then a UK record fee of £1.9 million. At that point I’d only seen United play once in the flesh and that was a 4-0 hammering at home by champions-elect Everton on Boxing Day 1986. Beardo played that day but obviously had little to zero impact as United were torn apart by far superior opposition on a bitingly cold day.

However, I was certainly aware of him, not only through the videos I’d seen of him playing alongside Keegan and Waddle in the 1983/84 promotion season (the chip against Brighton during KK’s final game is no doubt etched in the mind of many a United fan) but also because of the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Beardsley was part of Bobby Robson’s England squad and despite not being a first choice at the start of the tournament he was given a chance in the final group game against Poland as Robson was forced into a tactical change due to an injury that captain Bryan Robson couldn’t shake.

England had to beat Poland after losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco. Beardsley was paired with Gary Lineker and was instrumental in the 3-0 victory that meant qualification for round 2. He was superb in the 3-0 victory over Paraguay and scored the second goal. He played in the 2-1 quarter final defeat against Argentina, the Hand of God game, and I remember being awestruck at the thought that there was a Geordie who played for my local team starring at the World Cup and getting to play against Maradona.

Despite him no longer playing at Newcastle when I started attending matches regularly, he was always a player for whom I held affection. He was a star in a Liverpool team that included the brilliance of John Barnes, Ian Rush, Ronnie Whelan and Alan Hansen. A machine of a side of which the Geordie lad was a vital component. He was also the perfect partner for Gary Lineker at the international level and no doubt laid on a fair few of his 48 England goals.

Even when the human wrecking ball that is Graeme Souness sold him to Everton he went on to prove that he was far from finished as a top-level performer by banging in 20 goals in his first season with the Toffees.

Everton didn’t want to sell him but in 1993 they were having serious financial issues and when Kevin Keegan came calling with a £1.5 million offer for the by then 32 year-old the club couldn’t turn it down. KK had to convince John Hall that he’d be worth the outlay despite his age as he’d be the ideal foil for the young Andy Cole. KK, as usual, was proved to be correct and at the age of 16, just after leaving school, I was going to get the chance to see a player who is one of the best I have ever seen not only in the black and white stripes but in the game in general.

Beardsley was magical, he scored tap-ins, long rangers, volleys, he skinned players and bamboozled them with more or less the same move every time, the shimmy that you knew was coming, that the defender facing it knew was coming, but still couldn’t be defended against. He scored penalties, won plenty of penalties and was instrumental in the 41 goals scored by Andy Cole in the 93/94. Beardsley himself notched 24 in 41 games that season. He was sensational and I loved the fact that he became involved with the Club in a youth coaching capacity after his playing career finished.

It is from this point onwards that rumours of him communicating with his young charges in an inappropriate and disturbing manner began to surface. However, he was cleared of bullying charges made against him by youth players James Beaumont and Ross Gardner. He left United in 2006 as it would seem that Glenn Roeder, appointed permanent boss during the summer of that year, had a different vision of where he wanted the Club to go and it would seem this didn’t require the input of his former team-mate.

Beardsley returned in 2008 in an ambassadorial role as new owner Mike Ashley looked to someone held in great affection by the fans to fill the role. By 2009 he was coaching the under 23s and acting as cheerleader for Ashley, stating in 2012 of the owner that ‘Unfortunately, he hasn’t been given the support he deserves…. We have got a brilliant owner’. The defence of Ashley took a significant bit of gloss off my feelings for him as a club legend but it was something that didn’t take away from the joy of the memories of watching him play.

However, he’s now been found guilty of racially abusing 3 young black players at the Club and has been banned from football for 7 months. The comments that he made were abhorrent, and even if the panel decided it doesn’t believe him to be ‘a racist’ there can be no doubt what he said was racially charged.

Quite simply the comments addressed to those players were racist stereotypes and there are no excuses that can be used to justify what he said, regardless of the many big names in the game that might have defended him. He accused the 3 players of making it up for financial gain which was an act of cowardice. My memories of him as a player will be forever tainted.

– Norman Riley