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Stelling proud to celebrate best of Newcastle United
HE is best known as a supporter of Hartlepool United, but thanks to his County Durham roots, Jeff Stelling regards himself as a champion for the whole of North-East football.
The popular television presenter has entertained audiences in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough recently, and this evening he will be at St James' Park as the Newcastle United Foundation stage their inaugural Hall of Fame dinner.
The Foundation will induct a first batch of Magpies legends into the newly-created Hall of Fame, with players, managers, teams and community champions all set to be honoured.
And while Newcastle might not have claimed any major silverware for more than four decades, Stelling cannot think of too many clubs with a more illustrious history to celebrate.
"My favourite memories are things like the joys of talking to Sir Bobby Robson," said Stelling, whose Soccer Saturday show has become a staple of most football supporters' weekend television viewing. "It was just such a delight to be in his company. He was such a passionate, infectious guy who had a great sense of humour as well. That stands out.
"Newcastle have had some tough times, but people have some fantastic memories because there have been some fantastic players. Over the years, I look back at some of the great number nines, remembering all the way back to people like Wyn Davies, Malcolm MacDonald and so on and so forth.
"Obviously the Entertainers team, the David Ginola team. That was special and everyone remembers that night at Anfield (when Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3)."I remember it vividly. I was down in Plymouth covering snooker, and trying to find a pub where I could watch Liverpool vs Newcastle in one of the dodgiest parts of the city was not easy. Lots of great memories."
Tonight's event will reawaken some of those memories, with members of Newcastle's board, backroom staff and first-team squad set to join fans to celebrate the past.
The night will also raise funds for the Magpies' charity, the Newcastle United Foundation, which seeks to maintain and strengthen the bond between the club and its surrounding community.
"Historically, this was always a working-class area - ship-building, steel and Northumberland and Durham's coal fields," said Stelling. "In those days, football was a working-class sport."We were very much from the same sort of areas and it's been handed down through the generations. It's tradition that you go and support your hometown club.
"It's a passion, isn't it. It's a release. You go to the football and you're all in that together. It's a fantastic escape from the realities of how tough it can be.
"It's so important clubs are taking their work in the community so seriously, and there can't be a club that's more important to its community than Newcastle."It's fantastic that they are so involved in educational work, charitable work and showing kids how they can live their lives.
"Footballers and football clubs can set a fantastic example for everyone. I know from being on the fringes of the game that footballers get a bad press and people don't hear half of the fantastic things they do. I think it's great they're so involved now."
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