Last weekend on boycott day our routine started as normal, checking out the news of the weekend before identifying the topics of conversation for the 2 hour drive to Newcastle.
Could Ashley really have changed his mind about prioritising cups? Have there really been 3 FA Cup tie victories in the Ashley years since 2007?
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Any excuse to reminisce! The first of those cup tie wins heralded Keegan’s return, 4-1 against Stoke in a replay. Next up was the Lovenkrands hat-trick, completed before the sad death of his father. Most recent was Blackburn at home, with those goals from Ben Arfa and Jonas. Would the latter be playing at left back, on the wing or central midfield today?
The other big talking point was the latest transfer rumour from mighty Wigan, Jame McClean who is better known for being a former Mackem favourite and perhaps the only player in the top levels of English football to have refused to honour those who died for democracy with a poppy on the shirt.
Yes, he has the credentials to be an Ashley signing. Even the returning Coloccini and cancer victor Jonas, despite the Falklands, honoured the dead of two world wars and numerous conflicts.
So we arrived in Newcastle where our party of 3 was supplemented by two more for a lovely tapas lunch in Grey Street. The final member of the party joined us at the feet of the great reform campaigner, Lord Grey himself. What a timely reminder of the history of the region, the famous causes championed, not least the Jarrow March to remind those on power about neglect in the north east.
Our march from La Vina to the Gallowgate was both a lot shorter, more leisurely and more comfortable, than those who left Jarrow. At least we could lend our voices and our presence.
It was welcome to see that there were far more than those of us who had taken part in the open top bus tour to celebrate NUFC’s balance sheet success last April. The same banners were on display, supplemented by the ashleyout.com handouts.
It was a curious feeling, seeing those on their way into the ground. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the architecture of St James’ Park now and to realise that there were people in the ground watching us through darkened glass. As we left shortly before kick-off, more fans could be seen trickling into the East stand and the Leazes. Was our trip in vain?
We paused in Leazes Park, gazing across the pond towards SJP. In anticipation of the feeding frenzy that awaited them, we started some token chants of ‘you fat mallards’. When we realised that we were also in line with the director’s box, the last word was changed.
It was obviously a pleasant afternoon. An oriental group utilised the barbecue facilities in the park, the dulcet tones of Spurs supporters could be heard over what was obviously a peaceful protest from Newcastle fans in the ground.
There had been a lot of choices as to what to do on match day. We didn’t opt for the cheap drinks in toon, but for a quiet pub in Jesmond. On our way, there was an aerial reminder that since unpopular decision 7,423, the sacking of Chris Hughton, Ashley has somehow orchestrated a record of 5 defeats against 1 victory. 5under1and took on a new meaning.
The Collingwood Arms has always been a favourite pub. The landlady keeps beer well and the provision of games allowed us to indulge following the match via the BBC commentary on the mobile phone.
Our choice of Scrabble clearly required more organisation and effort than JC and the players were simultaneously expending over the other side of Exhibition Park. A pint of Martson’s Help for Heroes bitter was raised to the impending arrival of the Wigan winger.
A surge of disappointment hit our group at half time when the BBC announced the gate as 47,427. Colback equalised and a wave of passion spread around our table.
Normal service resumed with 2-1 down, followed by the inevitable last minute goal from Kane. Clearly, those who were not boycotting got all they deserved. Coincidentally, the last word played in the Scrabble game was ‘money’.
The journey back down to Yorkshire started perhaps earlier than it should. The non-boycotters dribbled into the pub, some of them strangely delighted to talk about some of the events on the field.
My own employment in the Collingwood Arms had been at around the time of Richard Dinnis, the last coach to take over from a manager who resigned. I don’t remember being that jolly after a defeat.
Radio 5 always accompanies a post-match drive. Since Pardew left, his former FA Cup final team mate, Ian Wright, has become more outspoken about Ashley. Some supporters who had gone (to the match) called in, some who had boycotted did too.
Finally, on arrival home, it was time to watch the recording of the match. Attention was more focused on the empty seats than the play. A surf of the net also showed that Jonas was not injured, that the propaganda to put bums on seats has given way to discarding the biggest victor at Newcastle United this season.
The final feeling before bed time was that if JC did not want to talk about Jonas, he deserves to gain a place in history as the first manager in Newcastle history to lose 7 in a row. For some reason, Sandy Shaw’s Eurovision winning song sent me to sleep.
The morning press confirmed the sentiment behind the round journey for a game of Scrabble in the Collingwood Arms. In our own small way, we contributed to a point being made. Congratulations to all who boycotted, particularly those who are season ticket holders. It must have been a harder decision than for those of us who had not paid anything.
For details of protests planned for today’s match go HERE