Former Newcastle skipper Rob Lee admits close friend and long-time team-mate Alan Shearer is arguably the greatest player ever to pull on the famous black and white shirt.
Lee, now 40 and on the books at Wycombe, will return to St James’ Park on May 11 to play in Shearer’s testimonial game in little doubt as to the stature enjoyed by a man who has established himself as a legend at the age of 35.
Shearer eclipsed Jackie Milburn’s 200-goal mark earlier this season and, although he will retire without having lifted a single piece of silverware since his £15m (€21.7m) move home, he will do so as a local hero.
“Alan is a consummate professional, his career on Tyneside is second to none,” said Lee. “He has broken all records, he is Newcastle United’s and the Premiership’s all-time leading goalscorer.
“It is a great honour. He is a great man and probably the greatest player ever to have played for Newcastle United.”
Lee was today confirmed as one of a quartet of old boys who have play a big part in Shearer’s Newcastle career who will turn out when he celebrates a decade of service at St James’ Park.
He, former strike partner Les Ferdinand, midfielder Gary Speed and fellow Geordie Steve Watson have all accepted invitations to play for Shearer’s select XI against Celtic in his sold-out testimonial game.
The proceeds from the game – expected to be in excess of £1m (€1.4m) – will go to charity, and also fund a football scholarship.
“When I walk out on to the pitch on May 11 at St James’ Park, it will be one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Shearer.
“I am absolutely delighted Les, Rob, Gary and Steve have accepted my invitation to play for my select XI.
“Celtic will be fielding their strongest possible present-day team and I want the game to be as competitive as possible.
“When I partnered big Les up front in the 1996-97 season, we plundered 44 goals between us, so who knows – there might just be one or two more to come!
“With the potential presence of Roy Keane and Neil Lennon in midfield, Rob and Gary are likely to be very busy throughout the 90 minutes.”
Ferdinand’s short-lived but devastating partnership with Shearer was one of the highlights of Newcastle’s return to prominence, and a period in his lengthy career which the former QPR man remembers with intense satisfaction.
“Alan Shearer is probably one of the most gifted and talented goalscorers ever to play in the Premiership and the modern game,” he said.
“It was one of the highlights of my career to partner big Al up front for the Toon. Sometimes when we were attacking the Gallowgate End, it was almost inevitable what was going to happen.”
Lee and Speed were part of the midfield around which Sir Bobby Robson built his side as they established themselves as Champions League contenders.
“The roof will be off the stadium when big Al runs out for one final time in front of the Toon Army, and you just wouldn’t back against him scoring against Celtic,” said Bolton midfielder Speed.
“It will be a real honour for me to return to St James’ Park and an opportunity for the fans who have supported him so well throughout his career to give him the send-off he deserves.
“The atmosphere will be truly electric.”
Local boy Watson, now at West Brom, admits he would have been there anyway, but is delighted to have been asked to take part in the game.
“The testimonial game will be one of the most fitting tributes to a true Tyneside and footballing legend,” he said.
“I was intending to go to the game as a fan, so when Alan telephoned me to ask me to play, I was absolutely delighted.
“To be on the pitch for big Al’s farewell game will be a tremendous honour and something I will remember for many years to come.”