When Pavel Srnicek signed for Newcastle United in late 1990 from Banik Ostrava, his home-town club, it’s fair to say that the news was not greeted with rapture. This reaction was no slight on the man himself, merely that he was a largely unknown young goalkeeper joining a poor second division team. It was time, as a Newcastle fan, to be underwhelmed.
His early days at Newcastle did nothing to dispel that feeling. Srnicek appeared nervous, hesitant and error prone. The club was desperate to escape the second division, and it appeared that they would do so. Relegation to the third division was hardly the desired route.
Then, just as in 1982, came Kevin Keegan. Keegan had inspired Newcastle to promotion in 1983-4, but this time, the stakes were even higher. For a long time, it looked a lost cause. Then, a late David Kelly goal against Portsmouth and a heart-racing, nerve-jangling final day, during which a whole host of teams could have been relegated, saw Newcastle win at Leicester and avoid the drop.
Newcastle, with their very own messiah back in place, never looked back. Promotion was achieved the following season and “Keegan’s Cavaliers” were up and running. Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, David Ginola. Wonderful players for wonderful times. We could mention Rob Lee, John Beresford, Barry Venison, Paul Bracewell, Phillipe Albert and many others. And among them, Pavel Srnicek.
During those years, he was capped by his country, winning 49 caps in total. He was the reserve goalkeeper during the Czechs’ fine performance at Euro ’96 in England, when they reached the final and were unlucky to lose to Germany.
His time at Newcastle came to an end – at least for now – with the appearance of Kenny Dalglish as manager. Though the team continued to compete at the top end of the table, Dalglish’s somewhat dour image was reflected in their play. The Cavaliers had become Roundheads.
After a short return to Banik Ostrava, Pavel Srnicek moved on to Sheffield Wednesday, where he spent two years. He then joined Brescia, which must have been an intriguing time, as he could count the likes of Pep Guardiola, Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo as team-mates.
His peripatetic existence continued with brief spells at West Ham, Portsmouth and then Beira Mar in Portugal. Remarkably, though, Newcastle hadn’t seen the last of “Pav.” He returned to the club in 2006 as cover. When Shay Given was injured in the final minutes of a 3-1 win over Tottenham at St James’ Park, Srnicek came on for his second Newcastle debut, heartfelt chants of “Pavel is a Geordie!” ringing in his ears. He started the following game at Bolton on Boxing Day, his last-ever appearance for the club. He played for Newcastle 151 times in league games.
After he retired from playing, he set up a goalkeeping school in his home country, where he also coached at Sparta Prague. Sadly, he passed away at the age of just 47 after suffering a heart attack. He may never feature as one of Newcastle’s greatest goalkeepers, but he was surely one of the most popular. His autobiography reflected the mutual affection; it was entitled Pavel is a Geordie.