By Suresh Nair
PETER Beardsley, one of England’s prodigious strikers, is now in hot soup at Newcastle United. Allegations of racism and bullying young players have surfaced and the club’s Under 23 coach has now taken an “agreed period of leave” as formal investigations start.
The winner of two Premier League titles and a FA Cup with Liverpool, as well as the holder of 59 England caps, is surely red-faced as he’s placed on gardening leave from his job as accusations fly about his rather uncharacteristic unsporting behaviour.
Newcastle’s Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, a 22-year-old Londoner of Moroccan heritage, has accused Beardsley of bullying and is supported by written submissions from five team-mates. Beardsley is also said to have made an allegedly racist comment to an African academy player.
In a statement issued through his solicitor, Beardsley – who will be 57 next Thursday on January 18 – vehemently denies all allegations.
According to The Guardian newspaper, potentially the most damaging is Beardsley’s alleged – “you lot should be good at this” – comment when a couple of African players struggled with climbing apparatus at “Go Ape” during a squad outing to the Tyneside adventure playground. He is understood to adamantly maintain this was a general reference to the entire group of fit, young, supposedly agile footballers, and had nothing to do with ethnicity.
A parent of a 19-year-old trainee told The Sun: “If you are in his good books, he can be your biggest advocate. If you are not, he’s your biggest enemy.”
It is understood Beardsley maintains he behaved properly. But stacked against him are allegations have grown in recent days as complaints have seriously become public.
MOCKING YOUNG PLAYERS
Beardsley has also been accused of mocking a badly injured youngster. A source claimed: “The lad was limping off and Peter came over and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you should be playing on’.
Beardsley, even beyond his home town, is considered one of the greatest players England has produced. I clearly remember his image as that of a very respected and popular former England international who won 59 caps and played at two World Cups, won two league titles with Liverpool and transcended Merseyside rivalries when he joined Everton before returning to Newcastle for a second spell as one of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers.
He was outstanding with the ball as a striker or midfielder between 1979 and 1999. In 1987, he set a record transfer fee in the English game and represented England 59 times between 1986 and 1996, once as captain, taking part in two FIFA World Cups in 1986 and 1990 and UEFA Euro 1988. At club level, he played for Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton, having also had spells with Manchester United, Vancouver Whitecaps, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City, Fulham and the Melbourne Knights. He was briefly appointed as Newcastle caretaker manager in 2010.
I read reports that when his England career came to an end before Euro 96, a room of journalists gave him a standing ovation and he has remained feted in the press.
Today, however, Beardsley is fighting for his job. There are, of course, those who speak very well of him and there are scores of players who are honoured to have been coached by one of their idols.
However, in light of this week’s serious allegations, several former players and coaches have portrayed Beardsley in a different light.
One former academy hopeful told The Guardian: ‘His bullying is like a tap — drip, drip, every day. The worst thing you can do is play for the first team or go away with your country.”
‘When you come back to the academy it’s things like, “You’re big-time now” and “You think you’ve made it”. It’s not said in a nice way, it’s nasty and belittling in front of everyone.
‘It’s as if he doesn’t want you to do well. You lose confidence and hate going in to training. He won’t speak to you or you’ll find you’ve been dropped or made to play in games beneath your age level. It humiliates you.’
It is understood that this sort of treatment was one of the reasons why highly rated England Under-17 defender Lewis Gibson decided to quit the club last year in a £6million move to Everton. It is said Gibson was even advised by one of Beardsley’s coaching colleagues that he should leave for the good of his career.
SIDELINED AT NEWCASTLE
When legendary first-team coach Rafa Benitez arrived in 2016, one of his first instructions was that Beardsley and the Under 23s be relocated to the academy. The reason discreetly given was that he wanted the first-team headquarters to be less crowded and exclusive to his squad.
Prior to Benitez, Alan Pardew arranged for Beardsley to have a separate office at the training ground away from the main coaches’ room. But it was Glenn Roeder who confronted Beardsley when he got the manager’s job in 2006, letting it be known he did not want him at the club.
Beardsley moved into a marketing and public-relations role before returning to the academy in 2009. He was later promoted to reserve-team boss.
The former England hero categorically denies all of the allegations made against him by the club’s academy players. But it would appear that the allegations — whether proven or dismissed — have encouraged others to speak out against him.
The big question begs: Several leading British newspapers questioned why an investigation into racism and bullying has taken this long. The Daily Mail says that the family of England youth international Lewis Gibson contacted Newcastle in 2016 to raise concerns about Beardsley’s treatment of their son.
A grievance meeting was then scheduled in spring of last year and was attended by the player and his family, as well as Beardsley, (chief executive) Lee Charnley and academy director Joe Joyce. But it is understood Beardsley refused to accept he had done anything wrong and said he would not change his ways.
It was believed at the time that an investigation into Beardsley’s conduct would follow, but it never did, even though the club was presented with a timeline of alleged bullying.
The Times reported Newcastle has been in possession of witness statements from players in relation to their current investigation since before Christmas, yet Beardsley carried on coaching those who have brought the allegations. One of the reasons suggested for the delay over the allegations is that Charnley has such a heavy workload given that owner Mike Ashley has, in effect, left him to run the entire club on a daily basis.
The FA are monitoring developments as they did not instigate the internal inquiry. But they are set to ask for Newcastle’s observations when the investigation is complete.
The good end of Beardsley is his other champions – and there are many loyal Newcastle academy graduates who believe his brand of tough love has been the making of them as footballers and people – talk of a man who goes the extra mile to maximise the talent of those displaying promise and desire.
Now he is walking the tightrope with a previous similar record: A Premier League inquiry cleared Beardsley of bullying allegations brought by youth players in 2003 but personality clashes with senior figures partly explain why he took a three-year break from coaching Newcastle’s junior sides from 2006.
Given the serious nature of the allegations, it seems certain Beardsley, who enjoyed two successful stints at Newcastle as a player, before becoming a coach, will be dismissed if they are proven, but he is determined to clear his name and has, through his solicitors, claimed media reports which have carried details of the allegations are “inaccurate.”
Their statement read: “Peter Beardsley is aware of inaccurate media reports which result from unauthorised leaks. Allegations of unfair treatment have been made, which are currently being investigated. He categorically denies the allegations. It is hoped the investigation will conclude quickly.
“He will not be making any further comment at the present time and until investigations conclude. Peter respectfully requests that his privacy and that of his family is respected.”
Newcastle chief executive Lee Charnley is determined to ensure a proper investigation is carried out before deciding whether to terminate Beardsley’s contract and will interview all the players who have accused him of mistreatment, as well as any witnesses who are willing to support them.
Newcastle said in a statement: “After discussions with Peter Beardsley, it has been agreed that he will take a period of leave, to commence immediately, whilst the club conducts its investigation into allegations made against him.
“It would be inappropriate for the club to comment further until the conclusion of this investigation.”
End of the day, allegations of racism and bullying young professional players are very serious and can instantly ruin the reputation of Newcastle, ranked as among the top-supported British clubs, with weekly crowds of 65,000.
It is right Beardsley has been placed on gardening leave from his job as accusations fly about his rather unsporting behaviour. Let’s pray justice prevails for the sake of longer-term youth football development.