Fear. It’s a funny thing isn’t it? It’s probably different for all of us.
Spiders, clowns, the dark, Mackems; whatever we have fear of, I think it’s more about what might happen than the thing itself. For example, I don’t have a fear of being alone in a dark forest, my fear would be that I was in a dark forest and I wasn’t alone!
Anyway, I’ve never felt so much fear sitting in St. James Park than I have these last ten or so years. Fear of failure. Fear of humiliation. Fear that I’ve paid forty quid to watch our goalie pick the ball out his net six times. It wasn’t always like that though.
It must have started somewhere. In the first game I went to, I watched Ian Rush destroy the Newcastle United back four, scoring both in a 2-0 win whilst Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley were scurrying about looking lost. Apart from thinking, wow, the people with red scarves jumping up and down in that corner are happy, I didn’t feel that sad.
I think the first time I felt ‘the fear’ was the season Newcastle United nearly got relegated where Paul Goddard saved us single-handedly. That was the first time I felt really nervous that we could lose and if we did, it would really matter. Since then, I’ve seen the team relegated under Willie McFaul/Jim Smith – a season where, since the 4-0 thrashing at Everton in the opener, I never really expected us to beat anyone and it came as a huge surprise when we did.
After a few quite fun years in Division 2 under Smith and then Ardiles, worshipping Mick Quinn and Mark McGhee, I started watching the team struggle against the likes of Oxford United. Even when Keegan arrived, it was all still a bit stressful, losing 1-0 at home against a terrible Brighton side, losing away to Wolves 6-2 and Derby County 4-1. It was all a bit bleak until David Kelly’s ripsnorter against Portsmouth which triggered the meteoric rise to the top of the Premier League.
That’s when I lost ‘the fear’. It went away but it wasn’t replaced with blind arrogance or a false sense of entitlement, it was replaced with hope and belief. Something I’d never previously encountered where Newcastle United were concerned.
Watching Scott Sellars, Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole and Rob Lee jogging out of the tunnel at the start of each game, there was a genuine absence of fear that we’d lose, no matter who we were playing. No fear that going 1-0 up would result in us sitting back and eventually conceding two goals in the last two minutes. No fear that we’d get completely outplayed on national television and concede six second-half goals. No fear of losing a 3rd round FA Cup tie against lower league opposition for the third year in a row. Of course, we did lose some games which turned the stomach (Liverpool and Blackburn away in 1996 spring to mind) but there was no fear there, just excitement and hope and belief.
As I mentioned at the beginning, these last 10 years have seen clown after clown sitting in the dugout, players ambling about looking like they’re more interested in what they’re having for tea that night than trying to get a tackle in and an owner who has no idea of the dangerously fast heartbeat of this beautiful football club since he arrived (Renaming St. James Park, a monument to Geordie passion, was like inviting Alan Shearer to walk into the centre circle on match day as a ‘half-time hero’ and then Ashley punching him in the face).
However, things seem to have changed. I’ve seen too many false dawns to start believing completely, but I feel a lot like I did when Sir Bob took over in 1999. Things were going a bit awful, he steadied the ship, had a modest season due to Bassedas and Cordone but then we took off like a space ship full of helium. It feels a lot like that again.
Under Keegan, there was no fear; even at 2-0 down with five minutes left, you still felt we could grab a point. Under Robson, there was no fear (the Robert, Shearer, Bellamy period at least) and next season, with the right player retentions and recruitment there should once again be no fear.
It’s not arrogance that we should sweep all before us, it is that we’ve all rediscovered that passion for the club that had slowly shrivelled up under the previous eight managers. The return of that genuine belief that the players on the pitch are actually working for the manager and that the manager is a man who knows exactly what he’s doing; even if he does something a bit weird, we trust him and believe that it will work.
That’s what’s been missing these last ten years, that’s why the passion has died in a lot of Geordie eyes and that’s why we’re all back together as one, supporting the club, the players and most of all, a world class manager who may well awaken ‘Newcastle Van Winkel’ from its seemingly eternal slumber.
One last thing – I’ve never punched the air when Manchester United scored a goal, not even against Sunderland. However, I did it twice last Saturday after Crystal Palace manager, Disco Stu Pardew did ‘that’ dance.
However, I may personally break out a cheeky electric boogaloo if we’re holding aloft a shiny Championship trophy come next May. It probably won’t be at Wembley in front of millions of people who can see me doing it though.