That may sound like a ridiculous, if not sacrilegious, contradiction in terms. But I’m from Yorkshire.
I was born and raised in Hull, a Town where if, like me, you were a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, football was low down on your list of passions (at least as far as your home town team went, languishing throughout this era as they perennially were in the lowest depths of the old Football League).
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Rugby League was the thing, and all that mattered was which side of the River Hull you were born on. West meant you were Hull FC – black and white. East meant you were Hull KR – red and white. Rivalry between black & white and red & white was intense. It still is. Victory in the local derby conferred bragging rights like no other. It still does. A straw you could clutch at in an otherwise barren season was to ask ‘did we finish higher in the division than they did’? It always will be. Any of this starting to sound familiar?
I was Hull KR – a staunch Red. Black and white was total anathema, colours you would not be seen dead in.
Life changes. You grow up a bit (or think you do). You get older. You move on. By the early 90’s I had followed my fiancée to Newcastle. She was graduating as a Teacher; I was working for a Bank. We both fell in love with the City. We were living together and free from the constraints of parental oversight for the first time in our lives. We didn’t have the proverbial pot to you know what in, but that didn’t matter; these where great days.
Then, one night in 1992, they got even better. Keith and Neil were 2 Geordie lads I worked with. They asked me if I wanted to go to that night’s match at SJP against Luton, and I said ‘yes’. It was about mid-way through that famous “Ten out of Ten” start to the 92-93 season (for which I still own the video of the same title, but have nothing to play it on). Newcastle won 2-0. Lee Clark played a blinder. If their keeper hadn’t have been on fire, they would have won about 9-0. More significantly, I was hooked for life. NUFC became an all-consuming passion.
You never forget your early days watching your club, mine perhaps just came a bit later than most as I was now 22. There have been dozens of highs and lows since that first game, but nothing since has quite recaptured that excitement of the promotion season, not even the following year when we were dubbed ‘The Entertainers’ and became everybody else’s second favourite team. Not even when we were 12 points clear and then imploded.
My passion was so overwhelming that I was able to ditch my hatred of black and white, fostered during my Rugby League loving youth. I could muse on the irony, but even though I was a proud Yorkie (and still am), Newcastle were my club and nothing in life’s rule book said that the Fog on the Tyne couldn’t be mine all mine as well.
Lots of people reading this will consider themselves Geordie by birth and upbringing. I can’t claim that right. But for me, ‘Geordie’ is only really a state of mind. If you’ve got that, and a blind devotion to a total lost cause in the face of all logical sense and reason because you hope against hope that one day, it just might change; you are in as far as I’m concerned.
Work took me back to Yorkshire in late 1996. My last game was the 5-0 drubbing of Man U – what better way could I have signed off? It was a result that felt like a coda to my time in Newcastle, as if some sort of line had been drawn and to go back could never hope to top that moment. And I didn’t go back for over 17 years.
The club was still in my blood, I followed events closely, I just wasn’t there in person, only spirit. I could still hear the sound of that crowd in my head and remember that Saturday ritual of Football Focus, a few pre-match with the lads, the game itself, and then a few more in Town afterwards poring over ‘The Pink’. The possibilities of it all.
Then I did go back – FA cup tie against Cardiff Jan 2014. I took my youngest lad, Ben. “Wait until you hear this crowd roar” I kept telling him “you will have never heard anything like it in your life”. I hadn’t banked on the atmosphere being livelier in the local Asda. Something had changed – something wasn’t right. We lost and deserved to, but I went back again for the Man City game a week or so later and then for a few more games as that season fizzled out to mediocrity.
I’ve been to 10 games this season, sometimes with my lads, other times on my own, always largely against my better judgement given the state of events on and off the pitch. But it’s still there – that passion. It had just gone to sleep. I still get that sense of excitement on a match day, but don’t know why, given what has been served up to us in the Ashley/Pardew/Carver era. 50,000 idiots turning up out of little more than habit, and I’m back as one of them but now with a round car trip of 180 miles to boot.
Full Circle: last game of the season against West Ham. After telling anybody who cared to listen for at least 6 weeks that we didn’t have a prayer and I wouldn’t back us to stay up even wagering Confederate dollars, something strange compelled me to be there. It felt like I had no choice.
The irony that my home town club would send us down if they won and we didn’t, was not lost on me. Thank the football gods that didn’t happen, because you know what folks, surely none of us really wanted to be playing in the Championship next season.
I never bought that “it will be the best thing/will finally convince Ashley to get out” line. Trust me, I now work with a load of Leeds fans, and if you think we’ve been in dire straits, they would swap places with us in a heartbeat.
We bounced straight back last time, but my strong sense was we wouldn’t if the worst happened this time. It didn’t. We got the result we needed; the atmosphere was like I remembered it because we all knew what was at stake. I have total respect and sympathy for the ‘Ashley Out’ campaign, but I think we needed to come together and be bigger than that for 90 minutes.
Our great club will still be there when we, and him, are long gone (even though it doesn’t feel that way at the moment). The fact it was Jonas that got us the 2 goal cushion has given me just the faintest glimmer of hope that magic can still happen. The dream is battered, bruised and has been dragged through the dirt to the point where we have the status of a laughing stock. I don’t like that – but the dream is alive.
To keep it that way, Ashley now needs to put his money where his mouth is. He must know that if he doesn’t, the loathing of him will only intensify still further. He may be many things my friends, but there aren’t too many stupid billionaires in this world. Time will tell.
Get me a team of lads who would go to Hell and back for the shirt, who entertain me, who ask for nothing less than 100% effort of themselves and each other, a Manager who is backed and who understands that the only trophy we are ever going to win now is the FA Cup or League Cup, and this Yorkie/Geordie will have a reason to believe again.