Tackle on Haidara brought back bad memories for ex-Newcastle player

KNEE PROBLEMS ... former Newcastle star Peter Kelly recovers from one of his operations.
KNEE PROBLEMS ... former Newcastle star Peter Kelly recovers from one of his operations.
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THE horror tackle that buckled Massadio Haidara’s knee made one former Newcastle United star wince – and brought back memories of his own injury problems.

THE horror tackle that buckled Massadio Haidara’s knee made one former Newcastle United star wince – and brought back memories of his own injury problems.

Peter Kelly was, like Haidara, a full-back of great promise when his career was ended by a serious knee problem 30 years ago.

Ravaged by a ligament problem, the defender played just 38 times for the Magpies before retiring at the age of just 25.

And while he’s confident Haidara will make a full recovery after the horrendous challenge by Wigan’s Callum McManaman at the weekend, Kelly admits the Frenchman is lucky his injury wasn’t more serious.

“I have seen the McManaman tackle – it was horrendous,” said the Scotsman. “How people can say he went for the ball is beyond me.

“It’s hard to believe, especially when you see how Dave Whelan’s career was ended by injury, that he can come out with comments like that.

“I’m surprised that it didn’t break his leg. It could have been a lot worse. He was nowhere near the ball.

“We have seen other players’ careers ended by tackles like that, but hopefully Haidara will make a good recovery.”

For Kelly, it evoked memories of his playing career which was curtailed by knee problems.

Handed his Newcastle debut in 1974 by Joe Harvey – just two days short of his 18th birthday – in a League Cup tie against Chester, Glasgow-born Kelly was tipped for big things.

But the next six years saw him make just 37 more appearances as a succession of knee problems and operations stunted his progress.

“When I was injured, it wasn’t a bad tackle as such, more just circumstances,” he saoid.

“I came down to Newcastle when I was 16, and I was playing in the reserves when I first snapped my medial ligaments. I was only 18.

“I was operated on straight away and was out for about nine months. I came back and was OK at first, but then I strained it a couple of times and there was always a weakness there. The final one was against Luton and I really badly strained it then.

“They tried a revolutionary operation which had only been done a couple of times – once on a rugby player and once on a horse! – where they replaced my ligaments with carbon fibre.

“My knee was quite unstable and there was no other choice – it was either have the operation or pack in there and then.

“They did the operation and it was a success at first. I was in hospital a month, but then my body started to reject the carbon fibre and they had to go back in and take it out.

“I played for another six months to a year after that, but my knee was never the same.

“The club sent me down to Harley Street and the specialist told me to stop playing or I’d end up crippled. I’m 55 now and I need two new knees as it is.”

His last game for United was against Swansea City on October 18, 1980, a 2-1 Division Two defeat.

Kelly, living in South Tyneside at the time at the home of his team-mate Eddie Edgar, now had to find a new life.

“I think with it not having been just the one tackle, then finished – it was a build-up – it wasn’t a shock,” he added. “I’d known for 18 months that I was really struggling.

“I was 25, so I just had to think of other things to do.

“I was staying with goalkeeper Eddie Edgar’s parents in Jarrow. I’d lived there for about five years, but then Eddie got released and went over to Canada to play.

“He invited me over and I played a season part-time in the Canadian national league. I was all set to emigrate, but Eddie was getting married and his wife’s best friend flew over to be bridesmaid. We got together and decided that there was more for us back in the North East.

“Terry Hibbitt was ending his career at the same time, so the two of us got a newsagent together in West Denton, and then I got another in Gallowgate. I did that for 18 years and then had a sandwich company. Now I’m working as a support teacher at Castle View Academy, in Sunderland, which is great.

“It shows that there is life after football. The difference now is that players are much more likely to be set for life with wages and pensions when they stop playing. When I finished playing at Newcastle, I just had a year’s salary.

“The ‘70s was a great time to play, with all the characters. But all of the ex-players I played with have had to get jobs, none have been set up for life.

“Sometimes you think what would it have been like if I’d been born 10 years later. But I always wanted to be a footballer, and I can say that I did it, and played at the highest level.”