David Kelly arrived at St James’ and claimed possession of the famous number 9 shirt when times were bad. Really bad. It was December 1991, off the pitch the club was financially broke, attendances were low and the concrete terraces of St James Park were crumbling beneath our feet. On the pitch Ossie Ardiles young team were getting beat week in week out as a season which had started with us as promotion favourites saw us staring into the abyss, the third division and oblivion. The final role of the dice for Ossie was to gamble £250,000 on the striker from Leicester City.
By January though Ardiles was gone and Kevin Keegan had took up the reigns. Kelly scored twice at the Gallowgate end in Keegans first match against Bristol City in a 3-0 win in front of a packed St James’. For a while, things started to look up, we beat the Mackems 1-0 (Kelly scored) but a bad run of form which included a 4-1 defeat at Derby (where three Newcastle players were sent off) soon saw us slide down the division. Newcastle fans surpassed themselves that day with the support they gave the team and Kelly realised this. At the end of the game, having ran his socks off for 90 minutes Kelly showed his appreciation by removing his shirt and throwing it into the massed ranks of Newcastle fans behind the goal. This wasn’t the badge kissing rubbish we see these days, this was for real.
With two games remaining against highly fancied Portsmouth and Leicester, the future of Newcastle United was in doubt. Time for heroes. Time for David Kelly. Around 25,000 were in St James for the game against Portsmouth which, with 85 minutes on the clock was heading towards a 0-0 draw. Eventually a long ball from Ranson at right back was headed on by Quinn, then with his right foot, Kelly struck a shot toward the top left hand corner of the Gallowgate goal. For a moment time stood still but then the ball hit the net and the loudest, most mental celebrations of a goal I can ever remember broke out. David Kelly had scored probably the most important goal in the history of Newcastle United. Its funny looking back because this is one of the few goals I still picture from the angle I saw it at the match (I was stood in the scoreboard) and not from how I remember seeing it later on the TV.
The following season Kelly helped us to promotion with 25 league goals as we went up as champions. Throughout the season Kellys contribution was immense, he played like a fan would and every goal he scored was celebrated as if it was the winner in the cup final. He simply loved wearing the black and white shirt and we loved him for it. Promotion had been confirmed with a 2-0 win away to Grimsby where Andy Cole scored one and Kelly scored the winner that clinched it. Kelly’s old club Leicester City provided the opposition for the Championship celebration in a game televised live on National TV. What a game, but while Andy Cole was just starting to write his name in Newcastle folklore and Robert Lee the same, David Kelly was saying goodbye. The final score was 7-1 and Kelly signed off with a hat-trick.
Kelly was replaced at St James with another Newcastle hero Peter Beardsley as the team took the Premier League by storm. Newcastle fans never forgot though that the “Entertainers” and the reconstruction of St James’ would never have been possible without the help of David Kelly so when he has returned he was always been guaranteed a standing ovation. The fact that one of these standing ovations occurred when he was wearing the red and white of sunderland says it all.