Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Families in Football’ series. Over the next few weeks, we take a look at siblings, cousins, and even parents and children that have played the beautiful game. Some have played cup finals together while others have been on opposing sides. Today we look at Shola and Sammy Ameobi.
Families in Football: Shola and Sammy Ameobi
Born in Nigeria, Shola Ameobi arrived in Newcastle upon Tyne when he was five years old. He entered the Newcastle United academy at a young age and came out the other end years later. On September 9, 2000, he made his first-team debut against Chelsea and finished the season with two goals in 20 appearances.
Despite not scoring in the league the next year, Ameobi performed in the highest club arena: The Champions League. In the 2002/03 iteration, Shola equalised against Barcelona, before the Catalans won 3-1, and he bagged a brace in a 3-1 victory over Bayern Leverkusen.
His highest goal tally in the Premier League came in 2005/06 where a run of six goals in 12 matches allowed him to finish the season with nine goals in 30 appearances. Another brace in Europe, this time in the Intertoto Cup against Lillestrøm SK, saw him rise to second on Newcastle’s all-time scorers on the European stage.
Ameobi, clocking at 6′ 3″, never was a prolific goalscorer in his career. Instead, his size and strength were used to bully defenders and aid his teammates. This became even more valuable when injuries began to make incur his playing time. Hip surgery in 2006/07 kept him out for numerous months.
At one stage, Ameobi’s love affair with Newcastle was close to ending prematurely. Sam Allardyce sent him on loan to promotion hunters Stoke City the following year and he would have signed for Ipswich Town in 2008 if it were not for a failed medical. Instead, the relationship continued and Shola scored a penalty against Sunderland to bring up his 50th for the club. His seven career goals against Sunderland earned him the tag the ‘Mackem Slayer’.
Following a dismal relegation from the Premier League, Shola exceeded in the Championship with ten goals. However, persistent injuries stopped Ameobi from extending that record further. A return to the top division came at the first time of asking. With Ameobi’s sporadic form and playing time, his threat off the bench became useful for future managers as he made more frequent substitute appearances in his last four years on Tyneside
As Ameobi’s 19-year association with Newcastle ended in 2014, so did his career with Nigeria. He made ten appearances and scored two goals for his national team.
He then moved to Crystal Palace for a season before dropping down to the Championship with Bolton Wanderers, then League One with Fleetwood Town and then League Two with Notts County.
Sammy Ameobi, 11 years his brother’s junior, began his career the same way his brother did: a debut against Chelsea for Newcastle United, but in 2011 rather than at the start of the millennium.
Nevertheless, Sammy was unable to make the same impact as his brother in his family’s city. Sammy’s first full season with the first team came and went with substitute appearances and a five-month knee injury.
Inconsistent game time persisted the following year, leading to a short-term loan in the second half of the season to Championship side Middlesbrough. As a pacey, tall winger, Boro perhaps expected more than just one goal and one assist in nine appearances.
Sammy returned to Newcastle and fulfilled the same role he had last year before his loan. He recorded just 12 appearances for the season, three of which were starts. Circumstances finally changed during the 2014/15 season with game time and starting minutes becoming regular. His standout moment came away to Tottenham Hotspur. A crucial equaliser immediately after half-time put Newcastle on the path for a 2-1 victory.
He joined Cardiff City in the Championship on loan, where he scored one goal and made three assists as a consistent starter and substitute. He returned again to Tyne side, but, under Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle in the Championship, Ameobi was loaned to League One outfit Bolton Wanderers for the first half of the season. When he arrived back, Benitez chose to leave Sammy out of his squad for the majority of the season.
Sammy eventually departed in July 2017 for Bolton. The newly-promoted side just avoided relegation with two goals late goals against Nottingham Forest earning them a 3-2 victory to survive. In 2009/10, as Wanderers plunged into financial crisis, Sammy remained critical to Bolton’s starting line-up. However, Bolton were relegated in April and the club entered administration the following month.
Ameobi left for Nottingham Forest on a free transfer where he stayed for two years. In the summer of 2021, he returned to Middlesbrough but is yet to make an appearance due to a knee injury.
Games Played Together and Against
Despite 11 years separating their debuts, Shola and Sammy Ameobi played 19 times together for Newcastle United. In that time, they recorded 511 minutes on the pitch together and won on three occasions (one being a penalty shootout League Cup third-round match against Nottingham Forest).
Nonetheless, they did combine once for a goal. Sammy assisted Shola who scored the equaliser in the Europa League group game against Club Brugge in 2012. They also scored on the same night against Morecambe in the League Cup in 2013.
The two brothers never faced each other whilst Shola was playing.
From the moment Shola joined the academy in 1995 to Sammy leaving in 2017, it meant Newcastle always had an Ameobi within the club for 22 years. This end was brief as Shola returned to Tyne side in 2019 as the club’s first loan manager.
The Ameobi’s also made history by being the first siblings to play for Newcastle in 59 years when the brothers played together for the first time in May 2011.