Alan Shearer (right) in the St James’ Park commentary box with Mick Lowes (left) and Mick Martin
Much has changed around Newcastle United over the past 25 years but there has been one constant – the presence of commentator Mick Lowes.
Lowes calls his final Magpies game on Saturday when Blackburn Rovers visit St James’ Park in the Championship.
BBC Sport looks back on a quarter of a century of highlights covering the Black and Whites.
Keegan the catalyst
Before arriving at the BBC in Newcastle, Lowes had commentated extensively for London station Capital on a World Cup and hundreds of games across the Football League. Swapping the metropolis for the provinces proved no less high profile thanks to one man in particular – Kevin Keegan.
“My whole Newcastle career really comes down to one morning in February 1992,” Lowes told BBC Sport. “We turn up at this press conference and there he is. Kevin Keegan.”
“I wasn’t here when Keegan was here as a player so at the time I didn’t fully appreciate what his homecoming meant. But I did within hours and days. The first game on the Saturday against Bristol City was sold out and from there on in it was a rollercoaster. It was amazing.”
“It goes to show you can have all the ability in the world, you can have the best intentions, think you’ve made the best move in the world, but you need to get lucky,” Lowes added. “The morning I got called to the press conference to meet Kevin Keegan, we all got lucky. The city got lucky.” ‘Wor Al’
If Keegan started it all and laid foundations, the man who helped lift Newcastle to new levels was Alan Shearer. The fans’ favourite fitted the bill perfectly – the hometown hero back to fire in the goals. Lowes was able to catalogue them all from his commentary position.
“To scream Shearer 200 times, you don’t imagine how much pleasure that gives,” said Lowes on commentating on Alan Shearer’s goals for Newcastle United.
“Shearer may somewhere along the line have come back to his beloved city, but he would not have come back in 1996 without Keegan being here already and having set up Newcastle in the way there were set up.”
“He may well have come back towards the end of this career, maybe as a goodwill gesture but he came back in 1996 because Newcastle were genuine contenders.” ‘Mags on Tour’
Having started his Newcastle commentary career at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, for a 2-1 Second Division victory in August 1991, within three years the Magpies were strolling through Europe. It became a regular jaunt for Lowes, the club and especially the fans – enjoying the delights of Antwerp, Milan, Barcelona and others.
“With Newcastle we were so lucky,” Lowes added. “I can’t remember how many different little stunts we managed to pull to get into Europe, but almost season on season we got into Europe even when we finished nowhere near the top six.”
“The trips were fantastic, Sweden, Norway, France, all over. For the Newcastle fans it was a great reward and a chance to fly the flag. Going to the San Siro [to play Inter Milan] was special. Fans still remember that.”
“I remember the Uefa Cup and Marseille. There was a fire behind the goal at one point. After Didier Drogba had won the game for them, I remember Alan Shearer saying ‘I’m not going to be around forever, we’ve got to go out and get him to St James’ Park’. He wanted Newcastle to go out and make a big push to sign him. They lost out to Chelsea, and if you just look at what he did there in the Premier League, it would have been perfect.” Tino’s night
“To play Barca under lights, with this mercurial figure Faustino Asprilla who’s 5ft 11in or 6ft, but leaping 7ft 6in to head these crosses in – it’s just magical. Another game that had it gone on for 15 minutes more Newcastle might not have won it. Hanging on. Nights like that were fantastic.” Heartache on Tyneside
“The 1-0 defeat by Manchester United and Eric Cantona was probably more memorable for the wrong reasons. Even if Newcastle had drawn that night, Manchester United wouldn’t have left St James’ Park in the same frame of mind. They smelled blood, sensed fear, and went for it.”
“The biggest heartbreaker was the 4-3 at Anfield, that’s the closest to tears I’ve ever come in a press box. It was just gut-wrenching. Even thinking about it now, it’s got me prickly. To see Keegan slumped over the advertising hoardings. It was a bodyblow.” Old Trafford delight
“I’m just glad I was able to finish having finally laid the hoodoo of Old Trafford to rest, having seen Newcastle United win at Old Trafford. Yohan Cabaye’s goal was a special moment.” Long journeys, technical issues and work-arounds
“You and your summariser become a double act, both with Mick Martin beforehand and now John Anderson (above) you have a symbiotic relationship. You don’t have to let them know when you want them to speak, they don’t need to know when to speak. You travel miles with them, stay in hotels and hotel bars with them, get drunk, laugh and cry with them. They become part of your life.”
“The facilities have changed, the stadiums are amazing now. We used to to turn up at the stadium with four wires, hoping in the press box you could find another four wires that matched up with yours so you could speak to someone 250 miles down the road.”
“You also wonder how you did a commentary in terms of material and background without internet access, when at one time all you had was the Rothmans yearbook and all it told you was the height, weight and age of a player. Now you know how many operations he’s had, what he had for breakfast and what his children are called.”
“Famously, I remember a game in Sofia with Newcastle, and England v Tunisia in Tunis that I did on the phone. I also commentated on Millwall v Cambridge with a phone to my ear for output and a microphone to commentate from.” Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
“You grow to enjoy and like it, I’m convinced the best commentators are essentially at heart very nerdy. My mother always told me I learned to read and write on the basis of football reports, I never read books. You look at words and you formulate words on the basis of football reports.”
“Bastian Schweinsteiger was the next big thing for Bayern we were told, he’s gone onto have a great career.” Rafael Benitez and full circle
There are huge similarities between the club that Lowes began commentating on with Keegan turning up on Tyneside, and the revitalised model of 2016-17 under Rafael Benitez. Can Benitez follow in Keegan’s footsteps and once again restore Newcastle to England’s elite? He has already made strides towards that goal, and can make it 10 straight wins – a club record – with victory against Rovers in Lowes’ final game.
“I honestly believe we are where we were when I started with Keegan. In terms of where we were in 1992, it was dishevelled, with a board crisis, set to be relegated until Kevin arrived. The same could be said of Rafa – disconnect with fans, resentment towards the club and attitude on the field.”
“Like Keegan. Rafael Benitez didn’t turn it round initially, but he too in his first full season has the opportunity to get them out of the division.”
“Keegan won 11 straight league games and took Newcastle up in a blaze of glory in 1992-93. Benitez can make it 10 wins in a row [in all competitions] for the first time in the club’s history on Saturday against Blackburn. They were both ex-Liverpool. They’re both cult heroes. Keegan reunited Newcastle, Benitez is reuniting not just the football club but the city, the fans and the people – it’s identikit. It’s spooky.”