I scored Newcastle Champions League hat-trick, but wild party nearly stopped me playing
Newcastle United fans are often reminded of their Champions League tussles of yesteryear with one man and one match sticking out above all others.
After 20 years away from European football’s top table, the Magpies make their long awaited return against AC Milan at San Siro on Tuesday evening.
A new generation of supporters will see their team compete in the competition for the first time and for others, memories will flood back of Newcastle exploits in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Supporters of a slightly older age will have told the story of a special night in 1997 when Barcelona came to town, only to be sent packing by a Colombian wizard.
Barca boasted world-class talent such as Rivaldo, Luis Figo and Luis Enrique but were edged out in a thrilling 3-2 defeat.
That night, Newcastle were reeling. Alan Shearer ruptured ankle ligaments in pre-season and Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Peter Beardsley had been sold weeks earlier. But fear not, Faustino Asprilla was ready to step up against Europe’s elite.
Well the Colombian certainly thought so but his preparations for the game were hardly the conventional way, so much so that he almost didn’t play in the game.
“I’d been away on international duty, but instead of going back to Newcastle I went to my ranch and had a party with lots of girls,” Asprilla told FourFourTwo magazine in 2017. “[Manager] Kenny Dalglish was furious,” he added.
But Asprilla found himself in the starting line-up against the Catalan giants and alongside Keith Gillespie, the pair ran Barcelona ragged at a raucous St James’ Park.
“He was one of the fastest players I’d ever seen,” he told UEFA of Gillespie whose pinpoint delivery led to two of his goals on the night.
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“He wouldn’t cut back and look up, he’d get to the byline and cross it in.
“I will never forget the Newcastle fans singing my name. I didn’t understand them as it was in Geordie, but I could still tell that they were really happy!”
Asprilla, who also netted from the penalty spot on the night, signed for the Magpies from Parma in 1996 for £6.7million.
Newcastle legend Shay Given was also quick to praise Gillespie’s role in that game as well as the Colombian.
Given exclusively told talkSPORT’s Alex Crook said: “Tino Asprilla got a lot of the headlines because he scored a hat-trick but Keith Gillespie was like a man possessed and had probably his best ever game in a black and white shirt. The Barcelona full-back could not get near him.”
He continued: “The first goal was a penalty and then Tino scored two almost identical headers, one in each half, with Keith flying down the right wing and putting in perfect crosses for Tino, who seemed to have extra time to hang in the air before powering the ball home. They were both brilliant headers.
“Tino was a mad character and a bit out there. Maybe different is the best way to describe him. His English was not great but every time he saw me, he would say, ‘Hey Given, Bastardo!’ I would reply, ‘Your English is getting good’, but then I would just see his big teeth start laughing at me.
“He was so laid-back, even with some of his performances and that could look like he was not bothered, but he just played with a relaxed vibe. As he proved that night, when he is on song he is a top player and that is why he was brought to the club.”
He scored 18 goals in 63 games for the club before returning to the Serie A club two-years later.
But the eccentric striker wasn’t just scoring on the pitch during his time in England, something that helped him stay insulated from the north east chill.
“The women were divine… haha! I had… well, I don’t know how many girlfriends I had in Newcastle, “ the Colombian cheekily recalled.
Asprilla remains a cult hero on Tyneside even if his stay was short and eventful but fans will never forget the evening of 17 September, 1997 when against all the odds, ‘Tino’ single handedly downed a European giant.
Given was exclusively speaking for the new book ‘Newcastle United Match of My Life’ is available to pre-order here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Newcastle-United-Match-My-Life/dp/1801506418
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