Tino Asprilla: Girls, Guns and Goals
By Steve
Wednesday 08 Jan 2014 14:04:00
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1969 is best known for man taking his first steps on the moon, the birth of Monty Python and Newcastle United Football Club winning a piece of silverware, it was also the year that Faustino Hernán "Tino" Asprilla Hinestroza was born.


He was brought up in Tulua an impoverished city in Coulmbia and was playing football from an early age. He started out at Carlos Sarmiento Lora School and was picked up at the age of 18 by Cucuta Deportivo before being transferred to Atletico Nacional where he scored 35 goals in 78 games. It didn’t take long for the big teams to sit up and take notice of this bandy legged goal machine and Italian giants Parma won the race for his signature paying over $10M US dollars. Tino had hit the big time and he was going to enjoy every minute of it.


“ I played football from an early age and was determined to make it to the very top level. I always had a good eye for goal, it just came naturally to me and when my big chance came with my move to Parma I grabbed it with both hands.”


Parma from a football perspective was the most successful time in his career as he helped his team win the European Cup Winners Cup in season 92-93 scoring four goals in eight matches. Injury denied him the opportunity to play in the final and he sat on the bench as an unused substitute as Parma ran out 3-1 winners against Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp. Parma then went onto win the European Super Cup over two legs against Milan with Tino playing his part in both games. The following year saw them reach the Cup Winners Cup Final again but this time they lost 1-0 against Arsenal. Season ’94-95 saw Tino finally grace the Cup final stage and he didn’t dissapoint. He had been instrumental in Parma reaching the UEFA Cup final with three goals over two legs in the semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen and he played both legs of the final which saw Parma defeat Juventus 2-1.


“ Parma was a very special time in my career. I loved the place and loved the people and we had a very successful team. Missing out on the Cup Final against Antwerp was a bitter blow. It made the win over Juventus in which I played both legs of the final very special.”


His reputation as a World class player was cemented with inclusion in the Columbian national team and expectations were high as the team won the South American qualifying group for the 1994 World Cup Finals. “ We had beaten everyone in our group including Argentina 5-0 and the people of Columbia expected great things. We finished bottom of the group after 1 win and 2 defeats. It is one of the lowest points in my career.”


The players all headed home and were told to take precautions on their return because feelings were running high in the country and there were rumours that big gambling syndicates had lost millions on the teams demise. One of Tino’s team mates Andres Escobar had the misfortune of scoring an own goal for his country against USA and whilst socializing in the Medellin suburb he was surrounded by three men and shot dead. Over 120,000 people attended his funeral.


“ Andres death shocked us all. He was a great footballer and a good friend and he did not deserve to die like that. I had traveled back from the World Cup with him and he had warned me about going out to soon on our return. I’m so glad I took his advice.”


Off the pitch his reputation as a player that liked a party built up momentum to. In 1995 he fired eight shots in the air outside a disco in Columbia. He was arrested and charged and was eventually given a suspended sentence. In Parma rumours of all night house parties, late night liaisons with beautiful women and a fight with a local bus driver all surfaced during his time in Italy but were quickly denied by the player know as ‘The Octopus’ in his home land because of his voracious appetite.


“ I admit I missed the 1993 Cup Final because of my argument with a bus driver in Columbia. He crashed into my car and I really angry. I got out of my car and tried to get onto the bus to confront him but he shut the bus doors. I kicked the doors but my foot went through the glass and I ended up injured. I did like to party a lot when I was younger and I’ve always had a fascination with guns and girls which have both caused me a few problems in the past.”


Tino found himself out of favour the following season in Italy and after making only six appearances in the opening five months of the season found himself on a plane to Newcastle in February 1996 to join Premiership leaders Newcastle United who were managed by Kevin Keegan at the time.


“Newcastle had to gain a work permit for me to enter the country which was proving difficult due to my firearms conviction but they overcame the issue and I flew to Newcastle to meet manager Kevin Keegan. Kevin sold the club to me in one meeting. He had such an enthusiasm for the club and the area and they were top of the League at the time. I remember arriving at the club and it was snowing quite heavily. I had never seen that type of white stuff before!”


Christened Tino by the Geordie fans he made his debut in the Tyne/Tees derby after sinking a glass of red wine at the pre-match meal much to the amusement of his new team mates and astonishment of his new manager. He had a lot to lean about the dos and don’ts of Premier League football. It did not affect his performance as he went on to set up the winner after coming off the bench. His first goal came soon after and his wild cartwheel celebration became a regular site at St James Park in his first season.


Newcastle lost a 12 point lead in the Premiership that year and were beaten to the title by Manchester United. Many neutral fans and commentators blamed the arrival of Asprilla as the catalyst for the Geordies failure, something he is keen to dismiss.


“ One man cannot be guilty of a teams failure. It was not meant to be. Our team played some wonderful attacking football, certainly the best football in that league at that time, but we conceded too many goals. Manchester United would win, 1-0 at home and then 1-0 away. Ultimately their two victories over us won them the title.”


During his spell at Newcastle there were two great clubs. One the bastion of invincibility at St James Park and the other a small nightclub called ‘Julies’ on Newcastle’s Quayside which Tino would frequent most weeks.


“The Newcastle women were referred to as dogs by one of the owners but I always found them to be very attractive. They seemed to like me to. It’s a city that never sleeps and one of the party capitals of the world and that is why I look at Newcastle as my second home. My soul is in Columbia but my heart remains in Newcastle.”


His career at Newcastle was inconsistent to say the least. His best form came in the following two seasons again in the UEFA Cup where he had performed so well for Parma. Five goals in the competition in 1996 including one against FC Metz where he celebrated by removing his shirt and hoisting it into the air on a corner flag and that unforgettable hat-trick against the mighty Spaniards Barcelona meant that he would never have to buy a drink again on Tyneside.


“ Those European nights were very special and more so at Newcastle. My celebration with the corner flag was my way of telling the fans that I felt Newcastle should be at the very top of the world because of their support. The night against Barcelona in the Champions League was of course very special to me and I will never forget the feeling when the third goal went in. The bond I have with Newcastle and it’s people is down to that moment and for that I’m very grateful. It’s a game I almost missed. The manager Kenny Dalglish was angry that I had not returned on time from International duty. I had decided to stay an extra night to party. I was surprised to see my name on the team sheet, but I guess it worked out well for both of us in the end.”


Controversy was never far away though and in 1997 Tino found himself in the witness box at Southwark Crown Court, after giving money to a fellow Columbian to help with an accommodation issue. The friend was subsequently arrested in possession of 41.4g of cocaine. He was found guilty and jailed for possession. Tino knew nothing about his friends habit but the story had given him headlines for the wrong reasons once again.


Those three goals against Barcelona would prove to be his last for the Magpies and he was sold back to Parma in 1998 with manager Dalglish finally losing patience with the Columbian enigma.


“ I could not really understand anything that Kenny Dalglish said so we we did not really argue. He obviously did not feel that I suited his teams style and a move back to Parma suited us both.”


In football they often say you should never go back to a former club and Tino struggled to find fitness and form in Italy. After a second short spell at the club he moved to Palmeiras in Brazil where he had success in both league and cup. His career petered out with a handful of appearances for the likes of Fluminense, Atlante, Atletico Nacional and Universidad Chile. In 2002 a return to the UK made the headlines when third division Darlington under the stewardship of former safe blower George Reynolds offered him a contract. Tino was paraded in front of the fans but this would be the only appearance he would be making.


“ The contract I was offered over the phone and what I was offered face to face were two completely different things. I wanted the move to England but the money was obviously not there and so the deal was off. I felt sorry for the fans but it wasn’t my fault.”


In 2007 Tino found himself back in the headlines once again for all the wrong reasons. He was linked to Newcastle gangsters through a mutual friend who were planning to forge links between themselves and South American drug cartels. Tino had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had no idea of what was going on around him at these meetings.


A year later he was placed under house arrest after allegedly going on a shooting spree with a machine gun near his farm in south-west Columbia. He was charged with criminal damage and illegal possession of weapons. The Police claimed that Asprilla had sprayed the machine gunfire towards a security checkpoint after they had refused entry to three females and a bodyguard in April of that year. At the time Tino was quoted as saying “ This situation reminds me of the film Minority Report, in which people end up in jail even before you’ve committed the crime or even been tried.”


Nowadays Tino spends his time between his farm in Columbia and Newcastle. He has posed naked for a well known South American magazine and appeared on two reality shows. His ambition is to return to football in the UK in a coaching capacity.


“ I have had talks with Newcastle United about coaching and about a possible role in Columbia looking for new talent but as yet I have no offer on the table. There are a lot of talented youngsters in Columbia looking to play at the top level in the UK and I promise they are very well behaved young men.”


So can he still do the cartwheel celebration?


“Yes, but these days I save that for the bedroom.”

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