Published: 06:00, 08 January 2021
Nicky Southall’s claim to fame as a youngster at Newcastle was a punch in the stomach from Paul Gascoigne.
Southall, born and bred in Middlesbrough and a huge Boro fan, joined north-east rivals Toon as a youth-team player.
It was a good time to be at the Magpies with Gascoigne bursting on to the scene and Mirandinha, the first Brazilian to play in England, doing his stuff.
But there was a sobering moment for young Southall when he bumped into Gazza at the training ground.
“Watching Paul Gascoigne train was just amazing,” said Southall, now assistant manager at National League Dover.
“He was the hero and the main guy and I always remember one day I opened the door and he just randomly punched me in the stomach and I went to the floor.
“He picked me up and gave me a cuddle and a bear hug and said 'You all right, kid?' and just walked away.
“I was thinking, 'Wow, I've just been punched by Paul Gascoigne!'”
Another cracker from Southall’s back catalogue comes from his days in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers.
He played under Sam Allardyce and, inevitably, there are a few stories to tell.
A favourite of Southall’s came after a 4-0 defeat by Tottenham in the FA Cup when the team were called in to watch the video of their first-half horror show in the club theatre.
Japanese player Akinori Nishizawa made the mistake of falling asleep - and you can guess how Allardyce reacted.
Southall said: “We’re watching the game on this massive screen, it’s something like 9am on Sunday and at half-time the lights come on and all you could hear was Akinori snoring away.
“Sam Allardyce had this big cane and he’s crept up the stairs and shouted ‘******* wake up!’ and he’s just jumped out of his seat. We were all creasing up.
“He’s come back down the stairs and next thing his cane’s snapped and he couldn’t reach the screen.
“Another time we had a documentary crew in and Sam was wired up to a heart monitor.
“We were 2-0 down against Leicester with nine men and basically they said he should have had a heart attack. His heart stopped beating where he was that wound up.
“Anyway, second half we’ve come out and nicked a goal then I’ve whipped in a cross for Michael Ricketts in the 95th minute and he’s made it 2-2.”
Southall shared his anecdotes in a 2017 interview with former club Maidstone, where he served as assistant manager under Jay Saunders, helping the club reach the Conference.
He also told how he ended up in goal on his Grimsby debut, in what’s now the Championship, after goalkeeper Paul Crichton was sent off against Portsmouth.
The reason? He shared a surname with the great Neville Southall.
There was no sub goalie in those days so with a name like Southall, his team-mates decided he’d do a job.
The moment Nicky Southall goes in goal for Grimsby Town (watch from 3:15)
He said: “Everyone was looking round going 'Who goes in goal?'
“Obviously with the name Southall - Neville Southall at the time was one of the world's best goalkeepers - they said 'You can go in goal.'
“We were leading 2-0 and I ended up going in goal and the first job was to face a penalty.
“We won 2-1 and I was better than Lee Worgan, honestly.
“I made a one v one save and had great distribution from the back.
“I was pinging it about everywhere. I ended up in goal for Bolton as well, exactly the same scenario, after Jussi Jaaskelainen was sent off in the Premier League.”