Pav would be the first to admit that his earliest performances in the first team under Ardiles were erratic to say the least. Nervous, often looking ungainly, unable to speak the language and hence communicate effectively with his teammates, Pav conceded an average of more than 2 goals a game and lost his regular place to Tommy Wright when Keegan replaced Ardiles as manager as part of Sir John Hall’s revolution to save the club from what seemed like impending relegation. Survive they did and Pav went on to regain his place in the first team when Wright picked up an injury in November 1992. He went on to make a total of 32 league appearances that season as Keegan’s team stormed the division with 96 points; 8 clear of second placed West Ham United.
Despite the success of the Magpies under his stewardship, it always seemed Keegan lacked faith in Pav, signing Mike Hooper in 1993 and Shaka Hislop two years later as supposed first choice keepers, though neither impressed sufficiently during their time at St James’ Park to make the No1 shirt their own. It could be said that the only real consistency during this period among the keepers was the presence of Pav as Hooper moved on and he and Hislop swapped places with regularity over the next few seasons before Keegan departed and Dalglish bought Shay Given for £1.5m in the close season of 1997. Pav made only one appearance in the 1997/98 season and in July 1998 both Hislop and Pav left the club on free transfers.
Pav was more than a goalkeeper; he was a footballer. And while his style of coming off his line and taking on the opposition with the ball at his feet may have sent his managers into a state shock; the Gallowgate crowd loved it; although I must admit that he left me many a time looking up to the sky in prayerful thanks rather than in awe!
Pav rejoined Banik Ostrava at the start of the 1998/99 season, making six appearances before moving back to the premier league and when he returned to St James’ Park with his new club Sheffield Wednesday in November 98, he was cheered from the pitch at the end of a 1-1 draw. Over the following few seasons he turned out for Brescia, Cosenza, Portsmouth, West Ham and Beira Mar, though he was to make one further appearance in front of the fans who loved him best at St James’ Park. In December 2006, Pav signed once more for Newcastle United answering a call ironically from Steve Harper whom he mentored as a youngster, on behalf of then manager Glen Roeder. Two days before Christmas, with the team easing to a 3-1 win over Spurs, Pav was called from the bench in the 87th minute, receiving a tumultuous reception from the 52,000 crowd as he rolled back the years and saw the game through without incident replacing the injured Shay Given.
On Boxing Day 2006 he was then called into action again with both Given and back up keeper Harper ruled out through injury. Pav lined up against Bolton Wanderers behind a back four of Taylor, Ramage, Edgar and Huntingdon; a midfield of Milner, Dyer, Parker and Butt and a strike force of Sibierski and Martins. Newcastle lost the game at the Reebok 2:1 despite taking the lead through Keiron Dyer. Peter Ramage (og) and Nicolas Anelka hold the distinction of being the players who scored past Pav in his final Premier league outing. He stayed with the club until the end of the season in a goalkeeper coaching capacity as well being registered to play but wasn’t called on again, and he retired in the summer of 2007.
During the intervening years Pav returned frequently to Tyneside, participating in charity games, talk-ins and personal appearances and proved a big draw. His personality and big heart lent itself to the talk in circuit where the “Pavel is a Geordie” mantra first seen on a t-shirt given to Pav by Lee Clark during the 1992/93 promotion party became his theme song; being belted out in pubs and clubs wherever he appeared.
In 2011 Pav was part of the Entertainers Reunited charity XI led by Kevin Keegan who played a Liverpool XI at a packed out Kingston Park helping raise thousands of pounds for local charities in the North East and at his last talk in at the Tyneside Irish Centre on 16th December Pav talked of plans to reprise the game in 2016; bringing back the stars of yesterday to perform one last time before age and arthritis got the better of them!
The night saw Pav at his best, with fans queuing for well over an hour while he signed copies of his recently released autobiography; aptly titled, Pavel is a Geordie. He talked; he posed for photographs he signed books, photos, gloves; indeed anything that was put in front of him! Nothing was too much bother for this humble and warmly generous man. He talked of his upbringing; his love of football and Newcastle United his hopes and fears for the club in its present predicament; his dream of one day returning in a coaching capacity and his love for the region, the city and the fans.
His stay on Tyneside promoting the book was short and he flew home the next day fresh in the knowledge that his time on Tyneside had not been in vain. The book launch had been a resounding success; eight month in the planning and wonderfully put together by Pav himself, his co author Will Scott and the production team led by Stu Wheatman at Mojo Risin Publishing and his promoter and agent Steve Wraith.
The terrible news that came out of Prague in the early hours of Monday morning on the 21st December that Pav was seriously ill in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest was therefore so hard to comprehend. One can only imagine what turmoil his family and friends both here and in the Czech Republic were going through as the hours and days passed until finally word came that Pav had lost his fight for life and had passed away on 29th December 2015. He was 47.
Pavel was a Geordie. He may have been born thousands of miles away in what was Czechoslovakia in 1968. He may have arrived on Tyneside without a Geordie accent or any inkling of what a Geordie was but somehow he got it. He was quickly adopted as a Geordie; it got into his skin and he never let it shake itself out. He lived with us; he started to talk like us; he entertained us; he was one of us. He was a gentleman and a Geordie and his place will forever be written into the history of Newcastle United.
We love you Pavel,
we love you!