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Geremi interview


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Saturday August 18, 2007

The Guardian

 

When you have come from a trophy-grabbing machine as prolific as Chelsea, it must be strange joining a club where it sometimes feels like cynicism has set in like cement. Geremi Sorele Njitap Fotso - or Geremi, as he is simply known - is still learning the history of Newcastle United but it has not taken him long to establish why, in the corridors of St James' Park, the photographs of the club's most cherished European nights are all in black and white.

 

The colour system is through age rather than choice. Which, unfortunately for Newcastle, is the way it has to be when there has been nothing but hard-luck stories since their last trophy, back in the days when the Uefa Cup was known as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

That was 1969 and, in the St James' Park press room, a framed edition of the following morning's Newcastle Journal still hangs on the wall, bearing a front-page photograph of Bobby Moncur, the victorious captain. Further down the page, the main news headline belongs to a sepia-tinted past. "Kray men moved to E-wing," it reads.

 

Four decades on, the Krays are buried at Chingford Mount Cemetery and Newcastle's pursuit of silverware has become an annual grind of near-misses, cyclical failure and profound unhappiness. When will it end? That is the unanswerable question. Yet Geremi knows a thing or two about winning trophies and has been encouraged by what he has seen so far.

 

"This is the challenge," he says. "Can we win a trophy for our supporters? Can we make them happy? We have a new manager, a new owner and new players and I have to say my first impressions of the club are very positive. I know the supporters have heard this before but I do think we are ready, finally, to fight for a trophy for them. Newcastle used to be a big, big club and it still is, in many ways, but it has been almost 50 years now and that is too long."

 

In fact, it is 38 years, but Geremi can be forgiven for inadvertently adding another decade or so to the club's barren run. Even the most self-respecting Geordie must lose count sometimes and the important thing is that Newcastle's newly appointed captain understands the deep sense of pent-up frustration and yearning.

 

"One of my first games was against Hull in a pre-season friendly and it really made me think," he says. "There were so many Newcastle fans there and I just kept wondering, 'why would so many people want to see us play Hull?' We played Celtic (at St James' Park) as well and there were 30,000 people inside the ground. For a friendly!

 

"Then you look at the number of people who come to the stadium every day; you see the fans who watch us train, and you see how many people are walking round Newcastle in black and white shirts. Every day since I arrived, I have thought to myself, 'if we can achieve something here, just imagine what it would be like...' My girlfriend asked me what was on my mind a few days ago. 'We have to win,' I told her. 'We have to win.' I told her that we needed to do something for these people. It's so important because you can see how much they love this club."

 

These are the kind of statements to which Newcastle's fans gratefully cling and there are already signs that, if Sam Allardyce is to break the cycle of dissatisfaction, Geremi is willing and able to make a significant contribution. At Stamford Bridge, Geremi had tired of not being one of Jose Mourinho's "untouchables" and of having a frustratingly peripheral role. Newcastle have presented him with a three-year contract and, fitness permitting, the status of a mandatory first-team pick. Already, he says, he feels happier.

 

"London is a nice place to live but I decided at the end of last season that I had to leave," he explains. "Some players might be happy to stay where they are, despite not playing regularly, but that is not my mentality. I quit Real Madrid for those reasons [in 2003] and now I have quit Chelsea, too. I'm almost 29 and, at this stage in my career, I have to be playing all the time. So the first thing on my mind was to go somewhere I could play regularly.

 

"As soon as Newcastle came in, it was an easy decision. I knew about the club. I knew about the atmosphere here from playing with Chelsea. There was a new challenge. So it wasn't a wrench to leave Chelsea. I enjoyed my time there but, for me, I can't be truly happy unless I am playing."

 

Softly spoken, yet steely in what he says, Geremi might be the type of sturdy character Newcastle require and there is strong evidence that his acquisition, on a free transfer, constitutes one of the more astute pieces of summer transfer business. Geremi was, by consensus, the outstanding player when Newcastle opened their season with a 3-1 victory at Bolton last weekend and today, at home to Aston Villa, the Cameroonian will lead out the team for the first time in their own stadium.

 

He [Allardyce] didn't talk to me at first about being captain," says Geremi. "He simply gave me the armband to wear against Hull. I think he had been observing me closely and, looking back, I think that game was a test for me. I didn't think it would be permanent but then, two days before the start of the season, he called me to his office and asked me, 'can you be the man?' I'm under pressure now, of course, because it has been so long since a Newcastle captain lifted a trophy. But it didn't take long to say yes."

 

In doing so, it is fair to assume Geremi has become the first polygamist's son to captain a side in the Premier League. His father, Samuel, was a Cameroon international of the 70s, nicknamed "Poison Arrow" because of his powerful shot, and in the Bamileke tribe of Bafoussam, he was afforded the social status to marry as many times as he wanted.

 

"He had five wives," explains Geremi. "It is very different in Bafoussam to here in England. I also had 17 brothers and sisters. It is a big, big family and, when I get settled, they will be coming to see me play."

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"This is the challenge," he says. "Can we win a trophy for our supporters? Can we make them happy? We have a new manager, a new owner and new players and I have to say my first impressions of the club are very positive. I know the supporters have heard this before but I do think we are ready, finally, to fight for a trophy for them. Newcastle used to be a big, big club and it still is, in many ways, but it has been almost 50 years now and that is too long."

 

"One of my first games was against Hull in a pre-season friendly and it really made me think," he says. "There were so many Newcastle fans there and I just kept wondering, 'why would so many people want to see us play Hull?' We played Celtic (at St James' Park) as well and there were 30,000 people inside the ground. For a friendly!

 

"Then you look at the number of people who come to the stadium every day; you see the fans who watch us train, and you see how many people are walking round Newcastle in black and white shirts. Every day since I arrived, I have thought to myself, 'if we can achieve something here, just imagine what it would be like...' My girlfriend asked me what was on my mind a few days ago. 'We have to win,' I told her. 'We have to win.' I told her that we needed to do something for these people. It's so important because you can see how much they love this club."

 

Top fella :)

 

Knee Tap is a Geordie

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