Thommo, Watto and Howey who, alongside Clarkie and Elliott, were the boys of yesteryear done good; Ossie’s Boys who made the grade and went on to become Newcastle stars in their own right, after a baptism of fire that is.
During the early nineties the Magpies were on the blink of oblivion, staring relegation to the old Third Division point blank in the face and, with then manager Ossie Ardiles having blooded the kids into the St James Park cauldron, the onus was on them to get United out of a very fine mess.
Something had to give, and, unfortunately for Ardiles, it was his job that was sacrificed, in came Kevin Keegan and the rest is, as they say, pretty much history.
The first of the Magpies ‘famous five’ to debut was Steve Howey, wearing the number seven, on May 3 1989, some 27 years ago, at home to West Ham. It would be mid-way through the 1990-91 season that Lee Clark (vs. Bristol City, as a sub for Neil Simpson) and Steve Watson (vs. Wolves) made theirs.
Come March 1991 Robbie Elliott would come on a sub against Middlesbrough and eight months later the fifth, and final debutant from the United Youth ranks, Alan Thompson, would make his bow away to Swindon, coming on a sub for Andy Hunt – it’s certainly a bygone era for the stars of yesteryear and for the three of them, Steve Howey, Steve Watson and Alan Thompson, they wouldn’t change it for anything.
“I made my debut way back under Jim Smith in 1989, playing three times at the end of the season (against West Ham, Millwall and Manchester United),” began Howey.
“However, I didn’t play the following season and had to wait until August 1990 to pull on a first team jersey again. By this time Ossie (Ardiles) was in charge and, although it was actually difficult to play the game with kids and struggled, he was actually brilliant in other aspects and brought us on really well.
“I can actually lay claim to having played in three decades at Newcastle, the eighties, nineties and noughties under managers who liked me and thought that I could play football.
“Having started as a junior with the club I’ve played under (Jack) Charlton, (Jim) Smith, (Ossie) Ardiles, (Kevin) Keegan, (Kenny) Dalglish, (Ruud) Gullit and Sir Bobby Robson before moving to Manchester City, coincidentally under Kevin Keegan.
“Keegan kept the likes of us kids when he joined the club (towards the end of the near disastrous 1991-92 campaign) and went on to bring in stronger players, building up the club up with us as foundations.
“He did the same with City as well (also winning the Championship title), forging a great set of players who could match others around them. We had some really good players in both sides and it showed – the commitment and effort shone through with both sides.”
If Howey was at the forefront of United’s younger generation, Watto can lay claim to being the youngest, when on November 10 1990, he burst onto the scene away to Wolves, at the tender age of 16 years, 7 months and nine days, a record which still stands today.
For Watto, the dark days of the past are a time which are levelled by the success they achieved, just one thing they believe they could have done better with.
“It is a pity that we never managed to win a title for all else that we accomplished during that period,” added Watto.
“The famous example of what can be achieved was the Man. United class of ’92; us, at Newcastle’s School of Excellence, had been at school together since we were six and we always hoped that things would get better, be successful and there was plenty of dark days and you have to learn from those experiences and take it forward into what you do next.
“What Keegan did though, the impact he had during those years, was unexpected and the club has been up and down since then. He was one of several, high profile managers that I enjoyed playing under, some good people irrespective of club but the memories, they stay.
“Highlights, then there’ll always be making your debut at St James’ back in November 1990; that along with the games against Man United, Barcelona, both the Liverpool games, and of course winning promotion – that was special.”
The last of the five, Alan Thompson, was shorn of luck during his spell with his hometown club but went on to win honours galore north of the border with Glasgow Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.
He also went on to enjoy coaching spells with both clubs between 2008 and 2012 but being at Newcastle United is an opportunity too good to turn down, in any capacity; those and testimonials play rise to similar feelings of satisfaction.
“It was a great opportunity for the younger lads and, although it wasn’t ideal where the first team were placed at the time, to pull on that jersey, in front of those fans, was absolutely amazing,” Thommo continued.
“My chances though were limited so ended up moving to the North-West and Bolton where there was a completely different feel, a change compared to what life was like at Newcastle.
“When I moved onto Celtic (after a spell at Aston Villa), I was involved in what was probably the most successful period in their modern history (European Cup in the sixties aside). At a club like Celtic, it’s all about the winning.
“I then came back to Newcastle for a spell on the coaching staff which I absolutely loved although going back to Parkhead was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”
Three of United’s ‘famous five,’ Steve Howey, Steve Watson and Alan Thompson, will be appearing in the ‘Entertainers 20th Anniversary Game’ at Kingston Park in aid of the Alan Shearer Foundation between Newcastle Legends and Manchester Select.