About 15 years ago Jack Charlton and I were strolling the touchline of a quaint little ground in Cork, Republic of Ireland, with a massive slope from one end to the other.

We hadn't seen each other for a while but had to stop our eager conversation before we reached the halfway line as the band struck up the Irish national anthem. Looking out the corner of my eye I noticed Jack's lips were moving but no sound was coming out. I mumbled 'come on, sing up' knowing full well he didn't even know the words.

As the music finished I remained standing to attention ready for God Save the Queen when Jack, walking away, shouted over his shoulder 'what you standing there for?' This was the first time I realised that only the home national anthem was played.

This was at the beginning of Jack's under-21 team and they were playing England Under-21s which I managed.

We continued exchanging quips and reminiscences as we watched the game from between the two trainers' boxes.

At one stage our centre forward picked the ball up wide on the touchline and started off for the Irish penalty area. Jack, forgetting which side he was with, started to say 'pass it.' After my man went past one defender and drew another Jack said in a milder voice 'pass it, man.' As the number nine evaded his third defender, Jack considered an expletive, but stopped as my man rocketed the ball into the the net. Jack turned to me and said 'bloody hell, what a goal!' It was the first of many at international level, 13 in fact in 11 under-21 games, for Alan Shearer.

Although I had signed Alan as a schoolboy at Southampton, I had left the club by the time he made his league debut in 1988 as a 17-year-old with that hat-trick against Arsenal, the stuff of dreams.

He continued knocking in goals and creating headlines for the right reasons from then right up until Easter Monday. Even then, in his last game - if that's what it proves to be, he still played the comic strip hero, scoring against his team's biggest rivals on their own ground.

The fairytale story goes back to when he was 12 years old and, like most Tyneside schoolboys, desperate to play for the Magpies. Starring for a local boys club earned him a trial with the mighty United. But the man in charge that day must have had many a nightmare since.

Having realised there was only one goalkeeper, he asked for a volunteer for the other goal. Young Alan stuck his hand up and, on that showing, wasn't invited back!

I had already set about expanding my scouting network and had heard that the hugely successful north-east scouting group under Jack Hixon had left Burnley so I made contact and had him in my employ. He and two partners covered from the borders of Scotland down to Middlesbrough, concentrating mainly on schoolboy football.

The first two players to come down and sign for me were George Shipley and Tony Sealey, who was actually a substitute when we played at Wembley in the League Cup final in 1979.

Jack was probably the best scout in the country, a great character who once a year more or less took over the scouts weekend which I had, bringing them from all over the country to a Southampton hotel on a Friday evening when my staff and I would host dinner.

The junior game would be staged on a Saturday morning with the first team in action at The Dell in the afternoon and another trialists game on the Sunday.

Jack was the life and soul of those get-togethers but repaid the club with a constant stream of youngsters such as Neil Maddison, Tommy Widdrington and many more. He also helped me organise what was probably the first academy of its sort and I knew from my experience of opening up the gymnasium under the stand at Gateshead athletics stadium what a good facility it was.

I arranged to hire it through Brendan Foster, and Jack and his pals brought in trialists they had picked out for training under the watchful eye of a couple of old pro friends of mine, including Jimmy Montgomerie, famous for that wonderful save he made in the Cup final.

The pick of the bunch were then sent down to us in the school holidays. Alan joined the club and, thanks to the good grounding given by my staff, particularly Dave Merrington, he not only got into the first team at 17 but carried on to have one of the finest careers in the British professional game.

In addition to his wonderful goalscoring exploits - 404 goals in 780 league and international games - he never forgot how he was taught to behave off the field. He has regularly given credit to the start he was given at the Saints and Jack Hixon, now in his 80s, was quoted this week saying Alan still rings him on about four occasions each week.

Looking at the European semi-finals in the same week Alan more or less had to hang up his boots, the comparison is there with arguably the two best strikers in the world at present - Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho.

With due respect to Alan, the two highlights from both games were the wonderful incisive passes both gave for someone else to score the winning goals. They also score goals themselves of course .

Alan was never one really to give passes to others when he thought he could get there himself as Jack Charlton found to his cost. But he had something the others never had, an ability to be at the sharp end at all times, taking the heavy tackles, putting his head in and accepting the many injuries that go with his combative style of play. He really was typical of the players we used to fantasise about in comic books and probably, just like those books, his sort will not very often be seen again.

Alan is naturally very strong-minded, which was shown when he made the decision not to continue with international football which undoubtedly extended his league career. While he has been part of a caretaking managing set-up which has seen Newcastle United climb the table, he has stated he will now take time off and I don't think anyone will change his mind.

I know he has a television contract. He will then be able to slot into the world of Lineker and Hansen, who are acknowledged to be among the best and travel the world in style - and improve their golf handicaps at the same time.

Although Alan has his coaching qualifications, I personally think once he gets a taste of the TV life, he may be tempted not to return to the game.

Having had an illustrious international career might get you in the football door and give you a honeymoon period but the frustrations for a great player are greater having to handle players who can't do what you found easy. If the results turn in the wrong direction even your most ardent supporters can turn against you.

Shearer has earned the right to spend time with his family, and on the golf course and our TV sets. I'm sure everyone in this area will take a special pride in being in at the beginning of his career and will wish him well.