On Saturday the 5th of February 2011, Cheick Tiote etched himself into Premier League folklore.
While Newcastle United’s fight back from a 4-0 deficit may have been written in the stars for some as we look back now, it’s important to remember Arsenal were just about holding out, heading into the final seconds of what would turn out to be a famous night at St. James’ Park.
Despite a wonderful attacking performance in the second-half of that game, it had begun to look as if the Toon Army had run out of ideas.
Indeed, the away side had even cleared a late Joey Barton free-kick with relative ease, before the Ivorian stepped up to score a goal so often replayed in compilations showing the best examples of why the Premier League is considered the most entertaining product in world football.
When a beleaguered Gunners backline headed Barton’s cross away in the final moments of a Newcastle siege, they must have thought they had done just about enough to halt one of the most celebrated comebacks England’s elite division had ever seen.
Tiote, had other ideas.
We’ll never forget you, Cheick. pic.twitter.com/c8aO6EyW5w
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) June 5, 2017
Having positioned himself around 30 yards out – perhaps to even stop an Arsenal counter – the recently-signed former FC Twente man struck a powerful volley to send the St. James’ Park crowd into a frenzy not seen in years.
Naturally, his sensational goal sparked wild celebrations from everybody connected with Newcastle United on that bitterly cold afternoon on Tyneside. Now, it takes on even more poignancy, following Tiote’s tragic death at the age of 30 earlier this week.
Upon the awful news breaking, his goal against Arsenal must have been played thousands of times as a tribute to the midfielder, as rightly it should have been.
As if watching that strike wasn’t enough to show just how emotionally connected Newcastle fans were with Tiote, putting his screamer into context only furthers the fighting spirit of the club he embodied with a flawlessly executed volley under immense pressure.
At the time, Newcastle United’s status as a Premier League was far from certain. Though Alan Pardew’s side were not embroiled in the relegation battles Tiote would fight so fiercely in over the following years, there was an element of doubt surrounding the Toon Army.
Little under a week beforehand, star striker Andy Carroll was sold in the closing stages of the January transfer window – albeit for £35m – and much of the fanbase remained at odds with Mike Ashley. The Sports Direct mogul had only recently replaced the popular Chris Hughton with Pardew, who never truly saw eye-to-eye with the club’s support.
Though he had enjoyed a decent enough start to life in the North East – resoundingly beating the likes of Liverpool and West Ham United – their visit of Arsenal came just a month after one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent memory, a 3-1 loss to Stevenage in the FA Cup.
For a club such as Newcastle United, one fraught with emotion, it would have been easy to capitulate under Ashely’s rule.
Not for the fans. Not for Cheick Tiote.
His goal epitomised the fighting spirit they managed to find within themselves during the Championship-winning campaign, one that’d see them battle for the top four during the next campaign too.
Cheick Tiote’s contribution to the black and white cause reaches far beyond that, however. Following the arrival of Yohan Cabaye a few months after the Arsenal game, the bustling Ivorian would form one of the best central midfield partnerships the Magpies had seen in years.
“Some days we would have to pull him out of training because he was such a ferocious competitor, such a winner. He was a warrior and could play too.
“He loved playing football to look after his family.”
– Steve McClaren
It was from the solid platform he provided in front of the defence that the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse were allowed to flourish. That was Cheick Tiote, putting the needs of the team first.
He quietly formed part of the base upon which Newcastle fans were once again allowed to dream about challenging the Premier League’s top order, however brief they were.
Few Newcastle fans will forget his stoic performance in front of the defence during a famous 3-0 win over Manchester United at St. James’ Park in January 2012. That was the Ivory Coast international at his best, forming a one-man colossus clad in black and white.
As the emotional tributes pour in from former managers and teammates, you can really start to get the measure of the man. Loved by all those to have worked with him, all those who watched, his tireless work ethic and commitment to the cause are some of his most praised characteristics.
Off the pitch, it’s his infectious smile and willingness to help others that will be sorely missed to those around him, after his life was cruelly snatched away from him far too soon.
Newcastle United fans demand ‘a club that tries’. In Cheick Tiote, they had a man willing to run through brick walls for them.