As part of ‘The Moments That Made Me’ series, Premier League record goalscorer Alan Shearer sits down with James Robinson to reminisce about his career. Episode 1 looks back at the trials and tribulations of making your debut.
Can you remember the first time you ate steak? Probably not. In all likelihood the event holds no significance in the rich tapestry of your existence. Or maybe you’re just a vegetarian.
But for Alan Shearer, scorer of a record 260 Premier League goals, recalling his first encounter is no problem, given it is inexorably tied to another momentous event in his life.
The sequence of events started when Danny Wallace was ruled out of Southampton’s game against Arsenal on the eve of 9th April 1988. Southampton manager Chris Nicholl was left with little choice but to partner Northern Ireland international Colin Clarke with a fresh-faced 17-year-old from the youth team.
Shearer, whose only previous first-team experience amounted to a single substitute appearance off the bench, recalls: “Nicholl, came to me and said you’re in. There was no time for any of my family to come down from Newcastle, and there was no time for me to get nervous.
“I had my pre-match meal which, I’ll always remember, was fillet steak. I’d never had fillet steak before in my life. The only reason why I asked for it was because one of the big hitters, Jimmy Case, had said he wanted it.”
With a belly full of steak, Shearer went out and scored three past John Lukic, in the process breaking Jimmy Greaves’ record as the youngest player to score a top-flight hat-trick. “I was on cloud nine, I just didn’t know want to do,” Shearer smiles.
“I’d announced myself to the world. But that’s when it became a lot more difficult. The manager told me to come in the next day and clean the kit, because I was still an apprentice. We were cleaning the toilets, the changing room, the boots. It was his way of keeping our feet on the ground.”
A debut is the realisation of years of hard work. It comes tied to various emotions- from nerves and anxiety to ecstasy and jubilation- all depending on the player and the circumstances in which the debut is taking place.
Over the course of his record-breaking career, Shearer made three club debuts. His first, for Southampton, went so well that the Roy of the Rovers writers would have found it too far-fetched to publish.
But, after five seasons at The Dell, and with the first season of the newly formed Premier League ready to get up and running, it was time for Shearer to make debut number two. As fate would have it, Arsenal were the opponents once again when Shearer stepped out in front of his home fans for the first time.
“I’d got a call off Southampton to say Blackburn were interested in buying me, and I was more than willing to speak to the great Kenny Dalglish. I went up and I signed, and then we went to Crystal Palace away, where I scored two decent goals from outside the area.
“Like everyone else, I couldn’t wait to get our season underway at home for the first time in the Premier League, especially against the mighty Arsenal. Some of the names in that Arsenal team were special- Tony Adams, David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Alan Smith- but I still remember now the buzz in our dressing room and the belief that we could go out and win the game.
“There was a huge excitement just to get on the pitch because they had to walk out of the visitor’s dressing room and across our team. We were hard to stop. With our crowd behind us and with the ability in our team we knew that we were going places.”
Arsenal’s back four that day- Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn- would become synonymous with the pinnacle of defending in English football, and for 84 minutes they kept Shearer at bay. But, just as with his full Southampton debut, Shearer wouldn’t be denied.
“I’d peeled off the defenders and nudged Jimmy Carter to the touchline before heading straight for goal. I looked up and saw two defenders coming towards me so I thought ‘Why not just have a pop?’, which I did.
“It took a little deflection, just a little deflection, and then I just saw it going over David Seaman’s head and into the back of the net. The crowd went mad. As any forward will tell you, if you get off to a good start then it doesn’t half help.”
Help it certainly did, as Shearer scored 112 league goals in 138 games for Blackburn to secure a first Premier League title, two Premier League Golden Boots, the PFA Players’s Player of the Year and Premier League Player of the Year across four prolific seasons at Ewood Park.
Having already broken the English transfer record when swapping Blackburn for Southampton in 1992, Shearer went one better with his next move. The £15million Newcastle paid to take the local striker home broke Ronaldo’s world transfer record and set up an emotional third club debut.
“This one was a little more different because we had played in the Charity Shield against Man United and we’d been dumped 4-0,” Shearer says. “We then went and played Everton away and got beaten 2-0, so my first two games I’m thinking ‘Oh god, what have I done here’.
“But then it came to my home debut against Wimbledon. I remember the feeling of walking out, it was as though everything I’d ever wanted had come true. I’d stood on those terraces as a kid and now I’m walking out onto the pitch at St James’ Park with the number nine shirt on my back as the world’s most expensive player. It was my club. I just felt extremely proud.”
As with his Southampton home debut, the 80-minute mark came and went without Shearer scoring. A restless St James’ begged for the opportunity to release a cacophony of noise in the direction of their homecoming hero but, heading towards the 90th minute, it looked like they would have to wait.
Shearer recalls: “It was late on in the game and we had a free-kick on the left-hand side down at the Leazes End, where I was brought up. The pressure was on, I had to start and deliver as soon as possible. I picked my spot, about 25-yards out, and I just remember hitting it and curling it and then that was it.
“The roof came off. The ball was in the back of the net, and then there was that feeling of ‘Wow, this is what I’ve waited for all these years’. That was what I’d come home to Newcastle for. We’d won the game and I’d scored, so it was a pretty perfect night really.”
Shearer’s strike against Wimbledon completed a hat-trick of goalscoring home debuts. Unsurprisingly, the rush of scoring in front of your home fans for the first time is something Shearer misses to this day.
“It’s just really difficult to describe how you feel, the buzz of running out and scoring and winning. You can never ever get that back so I do miss it, yeah.”
As any youngsters making their debut, Shearer has some simple advice. “You have to realise why you are making your debut in the first place, because you are good enough,” he says. “I know it’s very difficult when everyone tells you to try and enjoy it but you really, really should because you’re in such a privileged position.
“Millions of kids want to do what you’re doing, in terms of walking out on a football pitch, live on television in front of 60,000 people. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than that. That’s what you want as a kid. That’s what you kick a ball around in the yard, or the school playground for. Now you’ve got the opportunity. Don’t throw it away. Just give everything.”
If you’re going to take advice from anyone on how to handle your debut, take it from the Premier League’s record goalscorer.
WATCH: ‘The Moments That Made Me – Road to 260’ Episode 1 (The Debuts):