Peter Beardsley’s downfall, and ultimate disgrace, is arguably as much about a systemic failure at Newcastle United as the shortcomings of one painfully inadequate coach.
In hindsight, the depressing path towards the former England forward’s 32-week suspension from all football activities after the Football Association found him guilty of racially abusing young black players in his care – charges Beardsley denied – was clearly signposted.
It should have been blocked off for good in 2006 when Newcastle’s then manager Glenn Roeder discreetly and diplomatically removed one of the club’s greatest players from his youth development role, shifting him to an ambassadorial post where, by all accounts, Beardsley excelled.
Back then there were no suggestions of racism, more a sense of disquiet about his already dated brand of “tough love” when it came to the man-management of young players.
Yet such concerns had seemingly evaporated by the time of Beardsley’s reinstatement as a junior coach by Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley in 2009. From then a conspicuous lack of communication and common sense – not to mention emotional intelligence and education – allowed him to continue running his former under-23s fiefdom at Newcastle’s outwardly modern academy base in a 1980s time warp.
This “Life on Mars” type disconnect may explain that, while the FA commission punished him for “three obviously racist remarks” they were satisfied he was “not racist in the sense of being ill-disposed to a person on grounds of their race or ethnicity”.
Those who know Beardsley well believe part of his mindset was stuck back in 1979 and a formative experience under the late Bob Stokoe at Carlisle United. He then was 18 and had broken into the professional game after a stint sweeping floors for £90 a week at a Tyneside factory. Stokoe ruled by crude, military style, discipline and, in an era when football training grounds were often brutal places where senior players delighted in seizing on any perceived weaknesses among teammates, the young newcomer was bullied mercilessly, both physically and mentally.
Teetotal in a hard-drinking habitat and, with that unfashionable pudding bowl haircut instantly setting him apart as a strangely old-fashioned teenager, Beardsley received what was euphemistically known as the “full treatment”.
If the experience toughened him to the point where he was able to impose his once fragile talent to often stunning, bewitchingly shimmying effect at Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton, it also molded a frequently insensitive coach of the future.
While many young Newcastle footballers would emerge from his school of hard knocks believing that passive-aggressive brand of sometimes scathing, scornful “tough love” – cutting put-downs and sometimes cruel humor rather than conventional shouting and swearing – was the making of them, others floundered in its unforgiving face.
Thirteen years ago Roeder wanted to implement a very different coaching philosophy and, after he confronted Beardsley over their divergence of opinions, the parting of ways proved no surprise.
After all, warning bells had first sounded at St James’ Park in 2003 when, despite Beardsley being cleared of bullying academy players by a Premier League inquiry, disquiet lingered in certain quarters.
Damningly, it was still there when, in January last year, complaints of racism saw him first suspended, then removed, from his post. This time the allegations were more specific – and damaging – but it seemed that his allegedly careless, hurtful, offensive use of language was symptomatic of a wider problem stemming from an era when the term “woke” was still to be coined, football was a “man’s game” and mental health a taboo subject.
If the written submissions defending Beardsley’s character supplied to the FA by colleagues – some black – including John Barnes, Andrew Cole, Les Ferdinand and Kevin Keegan emphasize that this was a complex, nuanced case, there can be little doubt that Beardsley struggled to adapt to changing times.
Ashley had believed Beardsley’s enduring fame would serve as a magnet, attracting the best youngsters to Newcastle, but the local hero turned out to not so much have clay feet as a wooden-headed mindset. It contained a self-destructive resistance to spheres such as psychology and emotional intelligence which have helped a host of coaches, Sam Allardyce and Gareth Southgate included, refine their modus operandi.
By turning a blind eye to Beardsley’s increasingly square-peg-in-round-hole persona, Newcastle’s hierarchy exacerbated the problem. Exposure to more coaching courses might have helped but, remarkably, he did not complete his Uefa A license until 2018.
Given that his future employment prospects in football look extremely slim, it is likely to be of little use to a man who has morphed from local Tyneside icon to someone people point at in the street for all the wrong reasons.