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Shay Given exclusive: Newcastle belong in Champions League; Souness challenged Bellamy; Ashley locked me out!

The Toon Army are taking full advantage of Newcastle playing in the Champions League this season, creating a massive backing for the "Magpies" whether home and away. But how does a former player feel about seeing the club back in the European limelight?

"It's exciting! It's so long ago. I played in the last Newcastle-team to reach the Champions League which is over 20 years ago. It's crazy to think about for a club of that stature and size," says Shay Given who went to Dortmund himself to back Eddie Howe's men at the Signal Iduna Arena purely as a fan.

"It was my son's birthday, so we flew over for the game," explains Given, who enjoyed seeing the Geordies fill up the town square.

"They're buzzing to be back in Europe," Given continues with a smile as connect with the Newcastle-legend over zoom. But while he enjoyed himself, there was also a bit of disappointment towards the result.

"Dortmund seemed to get out pretty easy after the 2-0 goal. The second goal took the wind out of their sails, but they're still in with a chance, and people gave them no chance before a ball was even kicked, so they've got to take the positives out of it," says Given encouragingly.

Newcastle followed up their defeat in Dortmund by losing against Bournemouth for the first time in nine encounters, perhaps proving how difficult it is after a big midweek European night by playing a somewhat lesser opponent in the league at the weekend?

"It's a mindset thing, I think. You're standing in the line-up with the Champions League music on. The stadium is absolutely rammed. It's bouncing. You then go to Bournemouth at the weekend, one of the smallest stadiums in the Premier League. It is difficult," admits Given who tried it himself a few times during his illustrious career at St. James' Park.

Not allowed in at St. James'

It was a career that saw him feature in more than 450 matches for Newcastle, which didn't hand him any favours up north, though.

"Under the previous ownership, I wasn't even allowed into the place. It's quite refreshing for myself and all the other former players as well. They're opening the doors," explains Given who has taken up invitations from Eddie Howe to join the group on various occasions.

"I was lucky enough to travel pre-season with them in America for a couple of weeks. Doing a little bit of ambassador stuff. Eddie was open to having me around for meals with the players. Just being around the place. Eddie and his staff were so welcoming to me personally.

"I think Eddie Howe's one of the top managers as well. He's really focused on people's families and their personal situations. I think all that plays into getting the best out of a player on matchday. Eddie's brilliant at that," says Given, who was also invited along to Milan for the opening Champions League match.

"It's nice to be back at the club. I think it's important as well for the club to have that bond with older players as well, and that was the club I gave my prime years to."


Robson lifted the whole city

Speaking of those years, he fondly remembers being given his big break by Kenny Dalglish.

"He brought me from Celtic to Blackburn and then to Newcastle at 21, where he gave me the number one jersey. As a goalkeeper, with Shaka Hislop, Pavel Srnicek and Steve Harper there as well. He put huge faith in me."

Shay Given also enjoyed the tutelage of Sir Bobby Robson.

"The club was struggling when he came back, but he just lifted the whole city. Being from Durham in the North East, he knew the club inside out. His message to the players was how lucky we were to represent Newcastle, to wear that badge. It's a real working-class city and people work hard for everything they get. The least we can do as players is give them everything we can to get results. Sir Bobby got the balance absolutely perfect," Given says of the legendary manager who incredibly ended up getting booted.

"He got sacked because he just missed out on the Champions League. The club went on a huge decline afterwards, it was very harsh, I would say," thinks Given while offering a little insight into why Robson was shipped out.

"There was talk that Bobby was losing the dressing room and that discipline wasn't there."

In came Graeme Souness, no less, and out went Craig Bellamy which still floats around Toon Army folkore.

"You wouldn't want to mess with Graeme, that's for sure. He's a disciplinarian, and at one of his first meetings, I think he offered Bellamy to take it outside!" Given says with a wry smile suggesting he might remember a little more than he is letting on.

Remarkable turnaround

In an almost mind-boggling turn of events, Shay Given also had Joe Kinnear as manager.

"There was a distance between Mike Ashley and the fans and the club. It was a real tough time for everyone. I'm not saying he was, but it came across to everyone that he was doing things almost to upset people at that point."

There is none of that under the current ownership and Given is full of praise of how the club is run these days.

"They haven't gone crazy with the spending; they've been very clever with their recruitment. They're in the Champions League. The turnaround to where the club was, when Eddie Howe came in is totally remarkable," says Given as a parting remark.

Shay Given was speaking to on behalf of CopyBet.

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