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Cheick Tiote – A Newcastle United Legend

Tuesday 6th June 2017
As Newcastle fans, players and club officials digested the terrible news of Cheick Tiote's sudden death in China, they were also reminded of the untimely loss of former goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek who died at the age of 47 while jogging in his native Ostrava just 18 months previously.

Both players acquired legendary status on Tyneside with Srnicek prone to the odd error as a goalkeeper, but equally capable of producing outstanding saves as when twisting in mid-air to prevent a deflected Everton shot from entering the top corner of a St James' Park net. The Czech ‘keeper would also not hesitate in dribbling around an onrushing attacker when attempting a clearance.

Yet the death of Tiote is even more difficult to comprehend as he was still playing for Newcastle earlier this year. He was officially declared as 30-years-old, but birth certificates from his home country of the Ivory Coast have often been described as unreliable with young football trying to satisfy the demands of football agents so prevalent in West Africa.

Although Tiote first began playing in Europe in 2005 when featuring for Anderlecht, he became a key member of the FC Twente team which claimed the Dutch Eredivisie title in 2010. His displays were noted by Newcastle scout Graham Carr, and Magpie boss Chris Hughton signed the Ivory Coast midfielder during that summer as he sought reinforcements for a team only just promoted from the Championship.

Cheick Tiote helped to stabilise the Newcastle midfield during that first season back in the top-flight and he eventually formed a useful partnership with another cheap import Yohan Cabaye. During Tiote's first two seasons on Tyneside, he arguably produced his best performances for the club as injuries later curtailed his progress, but he also became frustrated by the number of yellow cards received for some apparently innocuous tackles. Tiote could never be described as malicious, but he was a genuine ball-winning competitor prone to mistiming on occasions and earned the distinction of being a ‘serial offender' by one football commentator.

As the tributes flowed when his unexpected death was announced, many people remembered this equalising goal during the 4-4 Premier League draw against Arsenal in February 2011. Those Newcastle supporters privileged to watch that volley fly into the net at the Gallowgate End of St James' Park will never forget the crowd reaction to that goal, and many fans will have replayed the videos on several occasions when hearing the tragic news.

However, that game against Arsenal was one of the most dramatic matches ever to be staged on Tyneside. Leading striker Andy Carroll had just been sold to Liverpool without an adequate replacement arriving at Newcastle, and there was an air of despair among the home supports arriving for the match. That same despondency appeared to be prevalent among the players as they were embarrassingly outplayed by Arsenal, and were fortunate to be trailing by just a 4-0 scoreline at the interval.

Newcastle emerged for the second half in a more determined mood with Tiote winning more balls in midfield, but it was the dismissal of Johan Djourou which altered the course of the game, and which eventually led to United levelling the contest.

Cheick Tiote never scored another goal for Newcastle although another long-range effort netted against Manchester City was controversially disallowed for offside. During his final appearance for Newcastle in 3-1 FA Cup tie win against Birmingham at St James' Park during January, Tiote was applauded from the field when substituted later in the game after producing another typically competitive performance with the occasional wayward pass. It was another honest display by the Ivory Coast midfielder prior to his China transfer as he faded from the long-term plans of Rafael Benitez.

Newcastle fans showed their appreciation of Cheick Tiote that evening but could not have believed that his death would be announced just six months later. But Tiote will always be remembered on Tyneside for ‘that goal' and as a true Black and White striped legend.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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