When two of your players are having a fistfight in the middle of the court, both are sent off, and it’s not the most ridiculous thing that happens in the game, you really have to wonder what the hell is going on.
On April 2, 2005, Newcastle fans really wondered what the hell was going on. In addition to the fighters, they had Steven Taylor to thank.
As soon as we mention fistfighting, you might have an idea what we’re talking about, especially if you’re a Newcastle fan over 20.
Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer went down in Premier League history for their contributions to Newcastle’s home game against Aston Villa. 10 minutes before the end, the teammates exchanged blows and were dismissed.
It was the headline moment and what is best remembered. Incredibly, however, it wasn’t the most bizarre did-that-really-just-happen? Event taking place on the lawn of St James’ Park this afternoon.
The Madness Prize for this game (and for several years in Newcastle history, if we’re honest) can only go to Steven Taylor.
Taylor, a 21-year-old aspiring local defender, went straight to Jack Nicholson to keep the ball out of the magpies’ net and delivered more Hollywood than the guys.
Before the game, there was an atmosphere of intense frustration surrounding St. James. Newcastle had won two at the time and drew one of the last three, but that was a rare positive run in a season that hadn’t gone as planned at all.
Bobby Robson had led Newcastle to fifth in the Premier League and the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2004, but two wins and two draws in the first four games of the 2004/05 season gave Douglas Hall and Freddy Shepherd the excuse to choose wished to fire him.
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It was a bizarre decision and the long-term impact it had on Newcastle is not a discussion we have room for here. But even in the short term, the removal of Robson did not bring the desired upswing.
Graeme Souness struggled in the lower midfield for most of the season. When they had talents like Dyer, Craig Bellamy, Patrick Kluivert, Laurent Robert, James Milner, and Alan Shearer on hand, it fell far short of expectations.
The early stages of the game against David O’Leary’s Villa did little to lift the mood. After just four minutes, Juan Pablo Angel rammed a shot from 12 yards after Newcastle failed to clear the lines.
Newcastle did little to suggest they would get back into the game, and in the 72nd minute Souness’ January newcomer Jean-Alain Boumsong Nicky Butt played the ball who somehow managed to make a very good impression of a Ronaldinho- To make stepoverthan he should have kicked an the ball to control it.
Darius Vassell picked up his bag and set off, charging towards Shay Given, sliding the ball around him, and skipping his challenge. There was only one man who could still save the day. Take the left stage, Steven Taylor.
Taylor had come on as a substitute for Andy O’Brien just 20 minutes earlier. Here was his moment to make himself a hero and possibly save the game for Newcastle.
And he prevented the ball from hitting the net. But that he was doing this with his left arm outstretched would have been clear even to a myopic Villa fan at the back of Leazes End.
— ToonArmy (@toonarmy_com) 2. April 2021
That wouldn’t stop Taylor from getting away with it, however. He clutched his side, arched his back at an almost impossible angle before falling to the ground and turning around.
The referee was not in the least fooled. When Traylor finished his double pike, he looked up to see a red card high above his head.
“I almost broke my back!” Taylor told us last year. “I was on the bench that day and came in. Nicky Butt lingered on the ball, Darius Vassell burst through and he ran past Shay Given, then I was against him.
“I thought I was going to try to show him my eyes, I dodged in one direction, but he just hit too high. It hit my hand and I thought, “Ahhh no!” Praying to God I wouldn’t be sent away as I knew everyone would be talking about it in front of 52,000 fans.
“I didn’t know how close the referee was, but when I saw it was curtains, see you later.”
There were only 10 men left in Newcastle, and Gareth Barry squeezed the penalty down vigorously. Villa won another penalty seven minutes later and Barry took that too. Then the punches broke out and Newcastle had really hit rock bottom.
That Taylor’s efforts ended in miserable failure, however, was irrelevant. It was wonderful that he’d had the nerve to try.
To repeat it again: A soccer ball hit his arm in front of 52,000 witnesses. Aaron Hughes later called it “one of the clearest things I have ever seen in my life”.
But Taylor went down as if he had been hit in the side by a bullet from the sniper rifle of a crack shooter high up on the roof of Gallowgate.
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Why? Well, because he was committed to the cause, committed to the assembled Geordie masses. He was one of them, he grew up with them. More than anything, he wanted to send her home happy.
So much so that he was willing to surrender a significant portion of his dignity for a tiny glimmer of hope that the referee, two assistants, and fourth official at that moment might all have been distracted by a pigeon, and as a result, bought into his Theatre.
We saw some suggest that Taylor’s was Oscar worthy. It was not. It wasn’t even worth an award for Most Enhanced Actor in the fundraiser for a local am-dram group. We have seen the henchmen of Bond villains go under more convincingly. But that doesn’t stop it from being wonderful.
Taylor was never the most gifted footballer or the silkyest defender, but he always showed a desire to make his adoring public home happy in his own weird way.
There were many moments later in his time at St. James that were almost as scratchy as handball.
This is the man who once performed the mating ritual of a rare Amazon bird to stop Thomas Sorensen from a Yohan Cabaye free kick.
— ToonArmy (@toonarmy_com) 27. September 2021
Taylor was the mime villain of the Northeast, the player other fans like to hate and love his own fans. He would do anything – and we mean anything – to help the toon army.
In that game against Villa, 24 hours after April 1st, Steven Taylor made a fool of himself. But he did so with pure intentions in his heart, as it did in all of his strange moments.
For this he received a standing ovation when he left the pitch against Villa. It is a standing ovation that we are repeating now. Steven Taylor, we greet you.
Through Joshua Law