Civil War: When Ruud Gullit Left Alan Shearer Out In The Cold

Civil War: When Ruud Gullit Left Alan Shearer Out In The Cold
06:10, 24 Aug 2019

On August 24, 1999, Ruud Gullit didn't just lose a derby against hated rivals Sunderland, he ultimately ended up being defeated in a bitter civil war which would lead to him being relieved of his duties having picked a fight with Newcastle United's greatest ever goalscorer.

Gullit had been involved in something of a war of words with the club's record signing for much of the season before deciding to make it personal in the biggest game of the year against Newcastle's fiercest rivals and many still say that before the game against Sunderland that night the Dutch legend didn't hand-in a team sheet, he submitted a suicide note.

Alan Shearer had signed for Newcastle in the summer of 1996 for a record £15 million fee from Blackburn Rovers, where he'd won the title 12-months before and his arrival prompted scenes of mass hysteria in his native North East when he arrived at the ground he used to attend as a boy.

At the time, Gullit, who had won the 1988 European Championships with Holland, was a huge fan of Shearer's ability and goal-scoring exploits; but as a manager felt the star and fan favourite wasn't living-up to his expectations and was required to earn his place in the starting XI.

Having already clashed with Rob Lee after taking away his regular squad number the Toon boss then turned his attentions to Shearer in a battle which no manager, however highly regarded in the game, was ever going to win.

The 29-year-old striker, who had scored goals for fun since joining the club four years previously, was seen as un-droppable by many St James' Park regulars though Gullit seemed to disagree.

Feeling he commanded too much respect and was living off past reputation, he left Shearer and Duncan Ferguson out of the starting line-up for the club's biggest game with unknown Paul Robinson coming in to take his place.

“When we got Newcastle’s team news I didn’t need to give a team talk,” said Sunderland manager Peter Reid. “He’d left their two best players on the bench and we were delighted. It did wonders for the lads.”

As the metaphorical storm clouds gathered the weather at St James' Park that night was equally miserable with rain falling throughout the entire 90 minutes in a game which couldn’t have gone much worse for Gullit and his Newcastle side; though not before Kieron Dyer, who had joined the club for £6 million from Ipswich a few weeks earlier, had opened the scoring with his first goal for the club.

However, Despite Newcastle's encouraging start, things quickly deteriorated in the second half and as the weather worsened, the hapless Paul Robinson was replaced by Duncan Ferguson who had been fuming on the bench next to Shearer for much of the night.

His introduction did little to revive the Magpies' fortunes though, as shortly afterwards, Niall Quinn equalised. With thousands of Newcastle fans chanting Shearer’s name, Gullit had little choice but to throw him on with 18 minutes remaining, but the damage had already been done as in the closing stages of the match Kevin Phillips scored Sunderland’s winner.

Not content with humiliating two of the club's most high-profile names Gullit couldn't resist twisting the knife a little more when, in the post-match press conference, he suggested that the match had been lost because he had brought Ferguson and Shearer on. “We were winning before that,” he told stunned reporters.

Despite obvious anger, to his credit, Shearer remained controlled, though the same couldn't be said of Ferguson who is said to have kicked the manager’s door off its hinges at the training ground the following morning.

Gullit may have won the battle but he had lost the war and fully aware of the fate that awaited him he handed in his resignation to chairman Freddie Shepherd just four days later though made no mention of his row with the strikers in his resignation letter.

Instead, he claimed he was tired of living in a city where his “private life has been invaded in a bad way. I know there are still a lot of people who want me to stay, and there are a lot of people who want me to go, but I think that the moment has come to resign.”

Speaking about the incident some years later Shearer revealed how there were no bad feelings after he and Ferguson had been publicly humiliated in that infamous defeat to Sunderland and how the hatchet had well and truly been buried when, at a party in Rio for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, their paths crossed once more.

“I introduced him to my wife and I said this is the fella who left me out,” Shearer explained. “He said: 'look, I am really sorry, I was Dutch, I was young and I was arrogant, I am totally different now - I got it wrong and I apologise’ and we have been good friends ever since.”

The arrival of Bobby Robson, who replaced Gullit at Newcastle in 1999, would give Shearer a new lease of life and he would stay at his boyhood club for another seven years, ultimately with his 206 goals making him the most potent marksman in the club’s history - including five in Robson's first game in charge against Sheffield Wednesday – as well as becoming the Premier League's all-time top scorer by finding the net 160 times – a record which still stands today.