Obituary: Pavel Srnicek, footballer and honorary Geordie

Pavel Srnicek was loved by the Newcastle United fans. Picture:Mark  Thompson/Allsport
Pavel Srnicek was loved by the Newcastle United fans. Picture:Mark Thompson/Allsport
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Pavel Srnicek, footballer.

Born: 10 March 1968, Bohumin, near Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Died: 29 December 2015 Ostrava, aged 47.

Pavel Srnicek was the son of a woodcutter who fulfilled his dream of playing in the English Premier League when he left the Czech Republic to join Newcastle United as their goalkeeper in 1991, and was a key member of Kevin Keegan’s memorable 1995-96 free-flowing team that almost won the title, losing out to eventual champions Manchester United. During the 1990s, he became the longest-serving foreign Newcastle player, passing the time spent at the club by Chilean brothers George and Ted Robledo in the 1950s.

Embracing his new Tyneside home, Srnicek was always happy to meet fans and became a firm favourite with the Geordie faithful. He went onto to make 190 appearances for the club over two spells while earning 49 full caps for the Czech Republic, between 1994 and 2001, and was a member of the squad that lost to Germany in the Euro 96 Championship final. He was also first-choice goalkeeper when the Czech Republic came third at the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup and contested Euro 2000 in France.

Former Newcastle player and England international Peter Beardsley said, “I played with Peter Shilton, Neville Southall, and Bruce Grobbelaar - some of the very best keepers. But in terms of fitness and sharpness, Pav was probably the best I’ve ever played with in.”

Srnicek collapsed after suffering a heart attack while jogging. He was put into an induced coma at Ostrava-Poruba Hospital, but, because he had not been found for at least 20 minutes, had suffered irreversible brain damage. His family took the decision to turn-off the life support system nine days later. He is survived by his wife and their two children, son Maxim and daughter Venty.

Born into a poor family in the small town of Bohumin in the north-east of the Czech Republic, in 1968, Pavel Srnicek’s first job was a soldier in the Czech army. A keen footballer from a young age, he joined his local team Banik Ostrava in 1990, where he attracted widespread attention.

Incredibly, after just one professional season, although failing with a trial at Leicester City, he impressed then Newcastle manager Jim Smith, who signed him for £350,000 in January 1991; Smith departed however two months later, and it was Ossie Ardiles who handed him his debut.

Although tall and imposing, Srnicek initially struggled to cope with the pace and physicality of English football and the language was a problem too.

“At school under the communist regime we only learnt Russian, so speaking to the Geordies for the first time was very hard for me to understand,” Srnicek later recalled.

With the arrival of Kevin Keegan as Newcastle manager, in February 1992, the whole atmosphere at the club changedthe Czech emerging as a key influence as Newcastle were promoted to the Premier League. With his grasp of the English language and Geordie accent improved, an already warm relationship with the Geordie faithful was cemented when, during a lap of honour following a famous 7-1 thrashing of Leicester City, he pulled up his goalkeeping jersey to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with “Pavel is a Geordie”.

Srnicek remained an important member of Keegan’s famous “Entertainers” squad, which held a 12-point lead in January 1996 and came within touching distance of winning the title. However, a run of five defeats in eight matches saw them finish second.

He later returned to Banik before spells with Sheffield Wednesday, in Italy at Brescia and Cosenza, Portsmouth, Portuguese side Beira-Mar and a brief return to St James’ Park.

He later opened the Srnicek School of goalkeeping in the Czech Republic and was on the coaching staff at Sparta Prague.

Newcastle’s players paid tribute to him after his death by wearing specially made T-shirts picturing his face.