Mike Newell

Former Player Remembers: Mike Newell

Earlier this season, Club Historian John Hutchinson spoke to former centre-forward Mike Newell, who played for Leicester City, Everton and Blackburn Rovers among others.
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A Club-record signing for City in 1987 from top flight side Luton Town, Mike transferred to Everton for £1.1M in 1989.

He moved to Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers in 1991, for whom he scored the winning goal against the Foxes in the 1992 Wembley Play-Off Final for a place in the newly-established Premier League.

In 2006, meanwhile, he declined the chance to become City’s manager. Liverpool-born Mike began, however, by explaining how he went to Liverpool’s School of Excellence from the age of 12.

He said: “When I was 16, I started playing in the A and B teams but I was never a regular. I was a slight lad and still growing. Liverpool were the top team in Europe and when I was 18 they couldn’t offer me professional terms, but they got me a trial at Crewe, who signed me on a month’s contract. I played three games for them in the old Fourth Division. Then Wigan offered me a year’s contract, which gave me a platform to play in the Third Division on about £50-£60 a week.

“Wigan had a great side at the time. I didn’t really get into their side regularly until the beginning of the next season when I was 19. Then I became a regular, scoring goals. Future Leicester players Walshy [Steve Walsh] and Lowey [David Lowe] were in the team. We were all about the same age and got on very well. There was also a sprinkling of experienced players. We won the Freight Rover Football League trophy at Wembley in 1985.

"Myself, Lowey and Tony Kelly, who had more talent than all of us, scored and we beat Brentford 3-1. By that time [future Leicester City manager] Bryan Hamilton was the boss. He had played at a high level with Everton and Northern Ireland. I found his training really good.”

In those days there were no agents. It was just a case of the manager selling the club to you. I was planning to meet (Leeds manager) Billy Bremner, but Bryan was desperate to get me and Leicester paid a Club-record £350,000 for me.

Mike Newell

In January 1986, David Pleat signed Mike for Luton Town, who were then playing in the top flight.

Thinking back, Mike recalled: “Luton had had a mix of good young players and experienced lads. They had top players like Mick Harford, Brian Stein, Ricky Hill, Steve Foster, Mal Donaghy, Les Sealey and Ashley Grimes. We had the advantage of the plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road. It wasn’t ideal to play on because you’d get aches and pains and grass burns but we became accustomed to playing and training on it and it gave us a definite advantage."

Highlights of Mike’s time at Luton included scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool and being selected for the England Under-21s side, but in September 1987, he dropped down a division to sign for Leicester City, who had been relegated four months earlier.

Mike explained: “That was a funny one. I’d played every game in the league in the previous season season and we’d finished seventh in the First Division which was the highest Luton had ever finished. However, when Ray Harford took over as manager, he didn’t show the same sort of faith in me. Luton had to sell players to keep going. There was a lot of interest in me and there were bids from Leeds and Leicester, who were managed by my old Wigan manager Bryan Hamilton.

"In those days there were no agents. It was just a case of the manager selling the club to you. I was planning to meet [Leeds manager] Billy Bremner, but Bryan was desperate to get me and Leicester paid a Club-record £350,000 for me.

“Although I was coming down a division, I knew Bryan and he’d shown lots of faith in me. Also, without any disrespect to Luton, Leicester was a bigger club. There were good players there like Walshy, Gary McAllister, Ali Mauchlen and Paul Ramsey. They were a good set of lads. Penya [Ramsey] was captain at the time. He was really good in the dressing room. He was a proper down to earth lad. He didn’t get carried away and kept people’s feet on the floor."

Three months after Mike’s arrival at Filbert Street, Leicester City were struggling and Hamilton was replaced by Pleat.

“I knew Pleat was going to play me because he’d signed me for Luton," Mike added. "After he arrived at Filbert Street in December 1987 we had a real revival for the second half of the season.

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Mike Newell
Mike Newell

Newell quickly became a popular figure at Filbert Street.

“We were amongst the favourites to go up the next season but it didn’t happen for us. We were never actually in the running for promotion. On our day we could beat anybody, but we weren’t consistent enough.

“I enjoyed it at Leicester. The Club had its own training ground. This wasn’t the norm in those days. At the time, even teams like Tottenham didn’t have their own training grounds. At Belvoir Drive they had all the facilities, like an indoor gym, a weights room and a canteen.

"You could carry on working and practicing, instead of getting onto a bus after training to go back to the ground. Pleat did more coaching at Leicester than he did at Luton. I enjoy coaching but when I was a manager, I stepped away during the week. If a manager coaches during the week, his input doesn’t have the same effect on match day because the players have been listening to him all week. At the end of the day, the manager’s most important job is picking the side."

In June 1989, Mike signed for Everton for a fee of £1.1M.

He continued: “There had been all sorts of rumours about clubs that were interested in me. At one stage, Ron Yeats, the scout at Liverpool, had been on to somebody close to me and said, ‘Tell him to stay by the phone’.

"I got all excited about that but then Liverpool re-signed Ian Rush from Juventus, so that put the blocks on that one.

“Then I got a phone call from Everton’s manager Colin Harvey. I knew what he was going to say so there was nothing to think about! Everton was a massive club and I’d be going home to my own city. They had won the league in 1985 and 1987 and the FA Cup in 1984. There were no negotiations. I went up to Everton and I’d signed in about an hour and a half! I met Colin Harvey at the Bellefield training ground and then we went down to Goodison to sign the papers. Done and dusted!

“I started playing up front with Graeme Sharp. Tony [Cottee] had played the previous season and started on the bench that year. Then Sharpy got injured and I played with Tony for a bit. Right through the side, there were good players from their successful period when they were winning the league. Unfortunately, a lot of them were getting to the end of their careers so it was a time to bring other younger blood in. Bearing in mind the standards that Everton had set in the recent past, coming sixth in my first season was a little bit disappointing."

In his first season at Goodison Park, Mike was selected for Bobby Robson’s England squad: “I was in the squad soon after joining Everton and went with England to Poland for a World Cup qualifier in October. I didn’t play, but that was a great experience. I also played in the England B team twice. I was playing with Paul Gascoigne. Robson was holding him back a bit. He didn’t want to put too much pressure on him. He wouldn’t really play him in the full England team until the start of 1990.

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Mike Newell
Mike Newell

Newell scores against the Foxes at Wembley.

"He was the best player I ever played with. I’ve played with and against some of the best players of my generation. Gascoigne stands out by a mile.

“Unfortunately, I picked up an injury whilst I was away with England and it niggled for a couple of months. I had to get it seen to eventually, and I was out from about Christmas time until March. When I came back, I was playing catch up."

In November 1990, Howard Kendall returned as Everton’s manager with Colin Harvey as his assistant.

Mike recalled: “His second spell was nowhere near as successful as his first one. The players that he’d brought in, the success that he’d had and the camaraderie that he had built up all indicated what a magnificent manager he was. He had that aura about him when he came back but it was a bit like when Ray Harford took over at Luton. He saw things differently and, although he played me in the side, he was looking for something else.

"At the end of the first season, Blackburn made an approach for me. Howard asked me if I wanted to speak to them. He said it was a great club and a lot of money had been put in by Jack Walker. I was sitting in his office at Bellefield, I looked around at the training ground and facilities and said: ‘You can’t replace this’.

“I spoke to Blackburn out of courtesy because I knew that Howard was trying to sell me. I told their manager Don Mackay that I didn’t want to drop down out of the First Division. He replied that if I wasn’t getting a regular game he might come back for me at some stage. Within five or six weeks Kenny Dalglish had taken over at Blackburn and then it became a totally different story."

We beat Derby in the semi-finals and then faced Leicester at Wembley. It was the hottest day in history! It was weeks after the season had finished. Everybody was on holiday. This wasn’t ideal. The best thing that Kenny did was to give us all five days off before we came back to prepare against Leicester.

Mike Newell

Mike signed for Blackburn in November 1991, a move which saw him face Leicester City at the end of that season in the Wembley Play-Off Final for a place in the new Premier League. He has clear memories of the events of that year.

“In the February of my first season at Blackburn I broke my leg, playing against Newcastle at Ewood Park," he said. "We were going really well at the time. We were top of the league, winning every week. It was frustrating because we then won one out of 10 games whilst I was out.

"Thankfully we rescued it in time and got into the Play-Offs. We beat Derby in the semi-finals and then faced Leicester at Wembley. It was the hottest day in history! It was weeks after the season had finished. Everybody was on holiday. This wasn’t ideal. The best thing that Kenny did was to give us all five days off before we came back to prepare against Leicester.

“The Play-Off Final was a massive game. It was a nervous occasion. There was so much at stake, but we won 1-0. I scored with a penalty although I missed a second penalty. For the first penalty, at the end of the first half, I was very nervous and was almost shaking. It took so long for the ref to blow his whistle, but I scored. I had no nerves for the second penalty which I missed because I was absolutely drained! You can’t really practice for that environment when there are 80,000 people there."

Mike stayed at Blackburn for five seasons, finishing fourth and second in the Premier League, before winning the title in 1995.

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Mike Newell
Mike Newell

Newell was also a success at Blackburn.

His strike partner was often Alan Shearer and he scored a nine-minute hat-trick in a UEFA Champions League fixture against Rosenburg before playing for Birmingham City, West Ham United, Bradford City, Aberdeen, Crewe Alexander, Doncaster Rovers and Blackpool.

His achievements as a manager in achieving promotions to the third tier with Hartlepool United in 2003 and to the Championship with Luton Town in 2005 alerted Leicester City, who were interested in appointing him as Craig Levein’s successor in 2006, as Mike explained.

“I had two meetings with the Chairman Jim McCahill at his house”, Mike recalled. “At the end of the second meeting, when there were a couple of other directors present, I asked whether Rob Kelly, who was in temporary charge at Leicester and who’d had a couple of good results, might get the job permanently if he won his next match which was at Brighton.

"Mr. McCahill very honestly replied that this was a possibility. I said that I couldn’t go back to Luton and say I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be leaving them until the Brighton result and that I would therefore stay at Luton.

"I was never formally offered the job but I might have been Leicester’s manager."

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