Obituary: Former Owl Srnicek will always be a Toon legend

Pavel Srnicek never managed to get his hands on major silverware in a Newcastle shirt, but for a generation of the club’s supporters he will always be remembered as fondly as if he had earned a full set of medals.

Liverpool's Michael Owen challenges  Owls' 'keeper, Pavel Srnicek.
Liverpool's Michael Owen challenges Owls' 'keeper, Pavel Srnicek.

The 47-year-old lost his fight for life on Tuesday, nine days after suffering a cardiac arrest while out running, and his death will be mourned not only in his home city of Ostrava, but in England, Italy and Portugal, where a likeable personality won him lasting affection.

His passing will be felt acutely on Tyneside.

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The 49-cap Czech Republic international returned to Newcastle earlier this month to promote his forthcoming autobiography, titled ‘Pavel is a Geordie’, and was greeted as warmly as during the days when he was an integral member of Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’.

In the book, Srnicek recalled the excitement of those days and his affection for Newcastle.

He wrote: “Football hasn’t made me a rich man in monetary terms but the memories of my time at St James’ Park have made me the wealthiest man in the world.”

There were downs as well as ups for the fiery character, and Srnicek also described a moment he tried to hit then manager Kenny Dalglish after being left out of the squad for the FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United in 1998.

Srnicek’s love affair with the Magpies began when, after a successful trial, the former soldier joined the club in a £350,000 move from Banik Ostrava in February 1991.

His early months in the north-east proved testing. He spoke little English on arrival and endured a baptism of fire under then manager Jim Smith, with Newcastle attempting to fight their way out of the old Second Division.

Smith’s departure soon afterwards saw Srnicek lose his place as successor Ossie Ardiles rang the changes, and it was Keegan who handed him the chance to finally make his mark when he ousted Tommy Wright and played his part in promotion back to the top flight at the end of the 1992-93 season.

However life, on the pitch at least, was rarely straightforward and Mike Hooper and later Shaka Hislop were drafted in to compete with Srnicek. The capture of Shay Given and subsequent emergence of Steve Harper limited his chances further and led to his departure after 190 appearances in July 1998.

Following a brief spell back at Banik, Srnicek returned to England with Sheffield Wednesday and later played for Brescia and Cosenza in Italy before short back-up roles at Portsmouth and West Ham. He effectively brought down the curtain on his career with Portuguese outfit Beira Mar.

But there was to be an emotional, if fleeting, swansong on Tyneside when, amid a goalkeeping crisis, the Magpies once again turned to a cult hero in October 2006.

Srnicek was playing in the Italian fourth division at the time and contemplating the end of his career when he received a phone call from Harper asking him if he wanted to come back to Newcastle.

The Czech thought his friend was joking but the invitation was genuine and, after then manager Glenn Roeder had run the rule over him, he was given a contract.

“I would have played for nothing,” he said.

He replaced the injured Given to rapturous applause from the St James’ Park faithful in a 3-1 victory over Tottenham before pulling on the shirt for the final time in a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat at Bolton.

The reception he received against Spurs was the most emotional moment of his Newcastle career.

“I wouldn’t swap a World Cup, Champions League or Premier League winner’s medal for that reception,” Srnicek explained in his book. “The cocktail of euphoria, adrenaline and fear was coursing through every vein of my anatomy as I ran towards the Gallowgate End.

“I tried to compose myself but I was struggling. Then I ran up to take the goal kick... and made a right a**e of it. The ball bobbled about 50 yards along the ground.”

Srnicek maintained links with Newcastle, combining his most recent role as goalkeeping coach at Sparta Prague with writing a regular column for the city’s Sunday Sun newspaper, and admitted recently that he dreamt of returning to the club one day.

That dream never did materialise, but he was - and always will be - an honorary Geordie in the eyes of those who took him to their hearts.

The son of a woodcutter and middle child of five, Srnicek leaves behind a daughter, Vendy, and son, Maxim.