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Saturday Spotlight: Brothers in arms aim to give Newcastle lift off
Shola and Sammy Ameobi made history in midweek when they both scored to become the first brothers to find the net in the same match for Newcastle United. Shola told chief football writer Paul Fraser how he is helping his younger team-mate mature at St James' Park
“FOOTBALLERS are like sheep and once someone starts something, people follow.” Shola Ameobi uttered those words earlier this year when his tendency to read a book on an away trip was being copied by his team-mates.
Shola is used to having others follow his lead, after all his younger brother Sammy has been inspired by his elder sibling's achievements through life. Just as he was in midweek, in the lower league surroundings of Morecambe.
Just when it seemed Newcastle United were heading for trouble in the Capital One Cup, the Ameobis delivered. Fittingly Shola's opener six minutes before the end was followed by Sammy's coolly taken second in added-time.
The pair made history in those closing stages at the Globe Arena by becoming the first brothers to score for Newcastle in the club's history. An extremely proud moment their family will never forget.
“There’s obviously a real sense of pride when I see him play well and obviously seeing him score is magnificent, regardless of where you’re playing or who it is against,” said Shola.
“We were speaking after the game, and you could see the smile on his face and obviously he’s elated.
History makers: Sammy Ameobi slots the ball home to put Newcastle 2-0 up minutes after his brother Shola opened the scoring against Morecambe on Wednesday night
“As a brother, I want to wish him as much success as I can. He’s shown that he’s becoming a good player and he’s understanding the game. He’s turning into a player that Newcastle can really make into a great player. I feel a lot of pride in that, being his brother.”
In many respects, although he will not be thinking like this yet, Shola has had his time at St James' Park. He is 31 now and has entered the final year of his contract. At the start of the summer he had even hinted to manager Alan Pardew that it could be time to move on.
The pure fact there has not been much progress on the recruitment front, however, has meant he has stayed around at the start of this campaign. That allowed him and his brother to be history makers in midweek.
Not content with just the tag of being the first siblings to start a first team competitive game for the Magpies in more than 50 years when they played in the Europa League last season, they went one better than the Robledo brothers of the 50s by each bagging an important goal over by Morecambe Bay.
Whatever direction Shola takes, and Pardew thinks he could have an important part to play this season because of the World Cup ambitions he holds with Nigeria, he is of the opinion Sammy could surpass his achievements on Tyneside.
Sammy Ameobi in action as Newcastle took on Motherwell in a pre-season friendly in July
Sammy, an England Under-21 international like his brother was during Sven Goran Eriksson's era in charge of the national team, has undoubted potential and has developed in to a player with plenty promise since the school days when he was not even interested in football.
Rather than kick a ball he tended to play Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo – until he went to watch Shola in action for the first team and suddenly he thought 'that's what I want to do'.
Progress from there was quick. Playing for Walker Central FC, where his brother played in his younger days, he was spotted by Newcastle scout Brian Clark. Clark once said: “Sammy (when he was eight) was running up and down the pitch, jumping in the air heading an imaginary ball. I went over and said 'what you doing son?'
“He said he was doing what he had seen Shola do, obviously mimicking him warming up. When he did get the ball, it was clear he was a natural.”
That was the year Shola made his debut at Chelsea for Newcastle. Fast forward 12 years and Sammy, who turned 21 in May, is already at a stage in his professional career where he feels he needs to deliver or risk having his childhood wish of playing for his hometown club come to an end.
“This is a big season for me, it's make or break. I will either be playing Premier League or further down the leagues,” Sammy said. “I want to be here at the top level, I had a good pre-season I want to keep that going.
“I’ve started to realise what it is to be a professional footballer. It’s made me a better player. I think the penny’s dropped now. Hopefully, I can continue to do what I’m doing and get in the team. This is my dream.”
It should help Sammy having an older family member who has experienced all the highs and lows of being a professional footballer on Tyneside, where there is a clamour for local talent to be given a chance at the same time as a demand for money to be spent on new signings.
Shola said: “Obviously we speak all the time. Last season he was in the team, and then out of it. But he’s started this season with the first team, he’s worked really hard off-season to get himself in the right shape, as have I. He understands he’s got the ability, it’s about applying it on the pitch.
“The manager has spoken to him and he’s encouraging him. You can see that it’s paying dividends. He’s starting to understand what it is to play for Newcastle United.
“It’s not an easy thing, especially in front of our fans. You have to prepare mentally as well as physically and I think he’s getting to that stage now.
“I’d like to think he turns to me for advice. I never try and bombard him with things. If he needs my help, I’m there. It’s great that I’ve been through it, and he understands that.
“He knows that I might not have as much ability as he does, but I’ve got a wise old head on me and I can guide him in any way, shape or form that I can. It’s great that he feels comfortable that he can come to me. I want him to do as well as he can.”
But it is not all about the future of Sammy. Shola still feels like he has plenty of life in him yet and this could be the biggest year of his career.
He is due to travel with the Nigeria squad for a World Cup qualifier with Malawi this week and he has every intention to stay in the mix for a place in the Super Eagles squad for the Brazil finals next summer.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time and it has given me a real lift,” said Shola. “But certain things have happened and decisions have been made that have stopped that.
“Any professional footballer wants to play at the highest level and international football is where it’s at. I’m just really excited that I’ve been given this chance, later on in my career, and I’m going to grab it with both hands.”
To improve his hopes of staying in the World Cup frame, he could do with more goals like the one which helped Newcastle through in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. Another against Fulham today would be nice – and it would be timely for Newcastle too.
“That’s why it was so important that we beat Morecambe. Going into Fulham off the back of another loss wouldn’t have been great for our confidence,” said Shola. “We got a good draw on Saturday against West Ham, which obviously we would have liked to have won, but it’s important that we win this next one, because this Premier League is getting tougher and tougher every year.
“When you have a small squad and you know it’s going to be a tough old season, you’ve got to make sure your home form is really where it should be at. St James’ Park has been a fortress for us in the past.
“We’ve spoken about making sure it’s that again this season because that’s what is going to determine where we finish this year. It’s important that we started the season off with a win and I think that wouldn’t be too bad a season if we get three points on Saturday.”
Shola, though, has experienced the highs and lows of one crisis after another at St James' and knows how easily the tension inside the ground can grow when things aren't going to plan.
Today could be another one of those anxious days if Newcastle start poorly, having heard the travelling support at Morecambe demand money is spent by owner Mike Ashley and new signings are made by controversial director of football Joe Kinnear before Monday's transfer deadline.
“I’ve been here a long time,” said Shola. “I know what it’s all about. As players we’ve just got to get on with it, regardless of who comes in, who is here, who is not here.
“We’ve got to go out on the pitch and focus on what we’ve got to do. Obviously we would love to have a ton of players in the squad to help us. But we just have to focus on what we’ve got and let the people upstairs deal with it.”
Whatever happens at Newcastle, Shola and Sammy will have each other for support.
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