“Thinking about him always makes me smile,” says Warren Barton. Tino Asprilla joined Newcastle United from Parma in 1996 and is almost as legendary as his time on the pitch with his introduction to life on Tyneside. The Colombian appeared in an enormous fur coat in a raging snowstorm.
It was a movie star presence for an 18-month hit that Hollywood was unable to compose. The box office was everything that Asprilla did. He is one of Newcastle fans’ most memorable stars from a history frozen in time. Kevin Keegan and his band of entertainers, who gave up a 12-point lead to Manchester United at the top of the Premier League, will be remembered as one of the greatest teams to ever win the trophy.
In certain aspects, their disappointment just adds to the romance, as over time, Asprilla became an easy target. Before he came, Newcastle were in the ascendancy, and they claim he interrupted the balance of the game somehow. Robbie Elliott says, “That’s bollocks,” He was the team’s life and soul. We were a really tight-knit group and he came in and contributed. He integrated very quickly; he was infectious with his smile every morning. You could always hear his voice. He had an interpreter, but his English was better than he let on. “He was the life and soul of the team. We were a very tight-knit group and he came in and contributed. He integrated very quickly; his smile every morning was contagious. You could always hear his voice. He had an interpreter, but his English was better than he let on. ” There were explanations for every signature Kevin had. It was the impredictability with Tino, he only unlocked teams. The Octopus was his nickname because his legs were everywhere and you had no idea what he was going to do, literally.””He was a pleasure to be around,” Barton says. “I have so fond memories of him. He was also a first-class player.
Because of his antics and the way he played, a lot of it was lost, but what a player. He has been phenomenal.
He appeared at the end of the game as if he had been dragged backward through a hedge with his pants pulled down, his shorts tassels undone and his shirt hanging open.
But he was fast, smart, and had great feet. “Asprilla immediately cut a fine figure on his debut against Middlesbrough – the same day he was signed -. He was not meant to play, but in case of emergency took a place on the bench. Newcastle was down at the Riverside Stadium 1-0 and in need of inspiration, so Keegan called him in. He definitely made his impact.
Until Les Ferdinand scored the winning goal, a Cruyff turn and cross for Steve Watson equalized. “He’d just got off the plane, it was freezing cold and he obviously felt a bit relaxed, like any of us,” Ferdinand remembered. “You just signed with a new club and you don’t expect to play.”
It showed his natural abilities that he was called upon by Kevin and he did what he did. After the Middlesbrough game, Ferdinand admits the tactical move, when Keegan tried to incorporate Asprilla into the squad, played a role in the fatal loss of form later in the season. “We had to do a bit of reshuffling,” he says. For the first half of the season, Keith Gillespie and David Ginola were the regulars. When Keith got hurt, Keegan put Peter [Beardsley] on the right side because he wanted to try and get me and Asprilla into the squad. I felt it made us a little lopsided.
Perhaps that was the secret to us not scoring as many goals as we did in the season’s first half.
The problem was, he played so darn well that we didn’t think we should leave him out there,’ added Barton. The unique personality of Asprilla instantly endeared him to his teammates and fans of Newcastle.
But even those who saw him every day were not quite able to figure him out.
“Alan Shearer joined the club the following summer and Barton recalls the relationship between the two: “He was an enigma,” says Barton. “There are so many stories and you just think, ‘That’s Tino! ‘He’s been doing stuff that you wouldn’t expect an adult to do; he’s a grown man wearing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shirts.
But that’s part of it. We don’t know anything, and it would be boring if we did it. He was still having fun, whether he was in the locker room, warming up before a game or at a restaurant on the wharf.
He was a nightmare in school.
Alan Irvine [the director and coach of the academy]was very special; he laid out all the balls, set up the structure, and all that sort of stuff. He was a very good, very coordinated coach. Tino used to come over and put all the balls on the spot.
It only cracked the ice, so you were able to see how Alan was.