It was in the spring of 1978 when my Grandfather died. A few weeks later Newcastle United were relegated . Only one of those events made me cry.
No doubt you can guess which one.
Nearly 40 years have passed since then, but writing that sentence still makes me blush with embarrassment and shame. How could I have got my priorities in life so mixed up that the demise of a crap football team should have meant more to me than my own flesh and blood.
I guess I can put it down to the fact that I was an 18 year old kid, who simply knew no better. Newcastle and the lads I travelled the country with were my family.
A Saturday afternoon on the Gallowgate terraces was the most important thing in my life. Nothing else came close.
The club I had started to support nine years earlier had won a European trophy and had been to Wembley twice in that time, so to see them relegated was utterly devastating. The overall emotion I felt was grief and it literally ruined my entire summer.
My first relegation left me feeling like I had been beaten to a pulp.
My second relegation in 1989 was not met with grief. This time it was anger. Anger bordering on hatred. I was angry with McKeag and the mess the club was in, I was angry with the Government and the state our region was in and I was very angry with a team who had given up well before their fate was finally sealed.
The fact that we had started this season really fired up and full of optimism for the future, only for it to go so badly wrong, meant that this relegation really hurt me.
But it didn’t hurt quite as much as the first time.
Relegation number three in 2009 was met with bewilderment, as I struggled to understand how a team who had been regular European qualifiers in the seasons before and had recently been bought by a billionaire, had somehow gone down.
I watched the Villa game in the Garden House in Durham, where the pub was split with us in one half and the mackems in the other. As they watched their team survive and we watched our team go through the motions for 90 minutes, I expected the pub to explode and to resemble a scene from Gladiator. That’s people without limbs, not strange beasts roaming up North Road (That’s usually Friday nights).
Not a bit of it. Virtually to a man, everyone just shrugged their shoulders, and walked out the door without looking back at the red and white celebrations going on. The fight had been knocked out of everyone by a season of utter crap football.
Relegation three didn’t make me cry and it didn’t make me angry. The truth is it just left me numb and confused.
And so we come to relegation number four. What emotion do I feel this time? Sadly, the best word to use will be apathy. I had accepted where we were heading months ago, only for Rafa to come along and poke me with his stick of hope for a few weeks.
So the bunch of millionaire mercenaries who happen to be wearing a Newcastle shirt in 2016 were not as good as the bunch of millionaire mercenaries wearing the shirts of the other teams.
Who gives a toss.
I know it’s generalising and it won’t apply across the board but watching this team go down will affect you much more the younger you are.
As you age, the more used to disappointment you become and the more you realise that crying over the fate of people who live in a totally parallel universe to you is just bloody stupid.
My priority has to be keeping my job and paying my mortgage, while those that are responsible for this mess wo’nt give the team, town or region a second thought as they fly away to their new employers.
Ten years ago, I worked with a lad from the Midlands, who despite living in the North East was still mad about his local club. They were some bunch of no-hopers who played in the Conference called Burton. While I could go and watch European football, he would look forward to his lot playing at Gateshead. He took some fearful stick for his devotion ( stupidity) to the cause.
Well Simon, who is laughing now?
Next season we meet as equals, and quite frankly, at this moment in time I know where my money will be when we come down to the Pirelli stadium.
Burton Albion, a real club, superbly ran and superbly managed by Rowett, then Hasselbaink, then Clough. They deserve their success, just as much as Newcastle deserves it demise for being the complete polar opposite.
So as we head back to the Championship, what awaits (apart from Burton)?
Will it be the catalyst for change that everyone wants and for the first time since 2012 people might look forward to going to a match. We may see the club reborn and come back much stronger.
Then again, we could go straight through the division and be playing Oxford United in two seasons time. Only time will tell.
I appreciate that this isn’t the time to try and find a positive from our relegation but to paraphrase Martin Luther King…I have had a dream.
Our first away game in the Championship will be Millwall, just like in 1978. Then in May 2017 I will be walking down Wembley way to watch my team take part in the Championship play off final. Against Leeds.
Now there are two games that would kick-start my weary old black and white heart back into life.
Because make no mistake, my heart and my club are both in need of CPR.