An uncomfortable rumour that has been circulating the outer margins of English football for years now was finally confirmed this week, thanks to Twitter.
The rumour – hard to believe for anyone who saw him in his early days on the BBC punditry sofa, doling out platitudes and say-what-you-see match analysis (“Ramsay’s put the cross in, Ozil’s got a head on it, Walcott’s made a run…”) – is that ex-England and Newcastle captain Alan Shearer is actually a good laugh.
Former teammates had been saying it in interviews for years, but no one choose to listen. The ‘Shearer’s actually a laugh’ theory was first presented to me by none other than Peter Beardsley, my boyhood hero and the closest thing the Premier League has ever had to a moral compass*.
(*I am basing this on the fact he once said he ‘enjoyed providing an assist more than scoring a goal’ – almost Jesus-like, when you think about it – and on that bit in Keith Gillespie’s autobiography in which he remembers downing a bottle of red wine in sixty seconds and being driven home paralytic by the teetotal Beardsley, who didn’t even complain when the Irishman vomited all down the interior of his car).
“The thing with Shearer is,” Beardsley told me, leaning forward, his magnificent face heaving with sincerity, “is that he’s actually a good laugh.”
I wanted to believe Beardo, I really did. But Shearer, the joker in pack of Kevin Keegan’s swashbuckling mid-90s Entertainers side, a team that included Gillespie, Faustino Asprilla and a 6ft 3 Belgian with a moustache called Philippe Albert who, on the greatest day in history, had the audacity to chip Peter Schmeichel from outside the box? In that team, Shearer was the go-to gag man? The laugh-a-minute guy?
“Pedro,” I told him. “I just can’t see it mate.”
But Beardsley was right.
This week, Big Al joined Twitter, and– with expectations at absolute rock bottom – started slotting them away for fun.
Be warned. Any abuse and I'll come round and give you Newcastle tickets!
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) May 13, 2015
This was the big man’s gentle opening salvo, a tweet that nodded cannily to his awful recent Barclay Card adverts, the depressing plight of his former club and the propensity for arsehole-lery among the Twitter masses all at the same time.
Fair enough, you might think, not bad. But anyone can be funny once. Lenny Henry’s probably been funny once. Mark Lawrenson was probably funny once, when he got a plastic bag stuck on his foot or something. But then the abuse started, and Big Al didn’t start handing out Newcastle tickets, he started handing out smack downs.
I know and imagine how many more European cups you would have won ���� https://t.co/CD5C7tL3wi
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) May 30, 2015
“Just think of all the medals you could have won had you joined Manchester United,” said no one called Jambo Ian, goading Shearer with what non-Geordies have always mistakenly believed to be the great regret of Al’s career.
“I know and imagine how many more European cups you would have won,” retorted Shearer, before adding a lethal double-crying-with-laughter-face emoji.
Bloody hell, Britain thought as one. Shearer's just been funny. Again.
In the days that followed, Twitter’s footballing elite lined up one by one to have a pop: Le Tissier, Savage, Lineker. And one by one Big Al crushed them like a centre half’s cheekbone, leaving them writhing on the floor as he nodded home the corner and wheeled off pointing to the sky.
Rob Lee got it. Ant n Dec took a battering. Demonstrating an unknown flair for topicality, even Sepp Blatter was burned. And in-between all of this was Shearer on auto-pilot, effortless thwarting garden variety trolls and giving the odd amusing update from a charity golf tournament.
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) May 22, 2015
And it dawned on me, watching Shearer’s public coming of age as A Man With Banter, that we – I, at least – should have known to trust the rumours all along.
Because Shearer is Newcastle. He’s more Newcastle than a Greggs steak bake. More Newcastle than Cheryl Cole’s arse tattoo. More Newcastle than a hen do floating down the Tyne on giant Brown Ale bottle pulled by magpies.
And Newcastle – despite what any Scousers might try and tell you – is home to the funniest people in the world.
Newcastle is where you can stand on the terraces getting beat by 5 nil by Liverpool on Boxing Day and a topless man shouts "next goal’s the winner!" before starting the eleventh rendition of The Blaydon Races. Newcastle is where a tough old bird in her sixties can shoo a gang of teenage delinquents out of her shop with a single caustic one-liner moments after selling them four crates of Stella. Newcastle has the funniest taxi drivers, the funniest nightclubs, the funniest old men at the bar who can humiliate you in four words if you're wearing a mildly subversive item of clothing, then cheerfully and sincerely ask you where you’re from and wish you all the best afterwards.
The problem is that Newcastle’s funny is not BBC funny. It’s not the kind of funny you can squeeze into a 15 second segment on John Terry's positional awareness. Because Newcastle funny – Shearer funny – is about taking the piss, and you can’t take the piss on the tele without the Daily Mail starting a petition to get you sacked.
Who knew, this whole time, that Shearer was actually a laugh? The same people who know he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a player, despite scoring more goals in the Premier League than anyone else while starting for some of its most comically awful teams. The same people who know why, for Shearer, not picking up a few baubles for his mantelpiece with Man United was a small price to pay for the immortality he achieved instead. His people – the people of Newcastle.
Thankfully, Twitter is a bit like the North East of England in that people aren’t afraid to talk to each other, no one is too big or too important to get the piss taken out of them and your wit and kindness are the main qualities people give a toss about. In that sense, Big Al is home, and now we finally know for sure that the rumours were true: Shearer is a laugh. Alan Shearer is actually a good laugh, after all.