I have had this subject eating away at me for a very, very long time, and funny or sad, it only really dawned on me many years after Hillsborough.
I was 17, just joined the Air Force and was training near Wolverhampton. I had been a regular (every home game) at St James Park prior to that but never been to an away game.
So it was on Saturday the 19th of November 1983 (trip organised on bonfire neet) my new found friend (who I can’t remember his name, but his Dad commentated on a radio station at that time) set off from Wolverhampton to Sheffield.
I can remember a lot about that day, you always would for your first away game. We got to the ground early (as you do when you are 17 :-) ) and remember the sunny cold day it was.
In the away section we were fenced in by these ridiculously high mesh fences. We’d had a burger and were just taking in the strangeness of being in a different ground when this policeman approached the mesh fence on his way round the pitch. He had several pips on his shoulder making him out to be some very superior policeman and he had a peaked hat (just joined the Air Force so you see things like that).
He came right up to the ‘safe side’ of the fence and kind of beckoned the nearest fans in hearing to approach. We were on the fringe and just joined in (do policeman do this every game to away fans – remember it was our first one). Once he had a good enough audience he looked at us (probably 30-40 of us) and laughed, “You didn’t do very well against Chelsea did you ?” A few lads swore – but not like rushing to the fence aggressively or anything – and my mate and I just stood their slack jawed. We had lost 4-0 the week before at Stamford Bridge.
I was really naive at the time and couldn’t believe that what I guessed was probably the most senior Policeman there, was goading the away fans (he may not have been the most senior but he had pips not stripes). He walked away laughing and I’ll never forget it.
Unfortunately, we lost 4-2 and for some reason I always thought it was Keegan two penalties – funny how the memories distort. I think he missed one (McDermott got the other goal), which was unusual for him…
(41,134 were there to see the 4-2 defeat, NUFC lining up: Martin Thomas, John Anderson, Steve Carney, Wes Saunders, John Ryan, Neil McDonald, Kenny Wharton, Terry McDermott, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Kevin Keegan)
Another memory from the game was taking the very long walk back to the station in the dark and a car pulled up right in front of us, two lads jumped out looking for aggro. Sadly (or luckily) they were Newcastle fans and we uncovered our jackets to show we actually supported the same team – they laughed, jumped back in and drove off.
You learn a lot quickly once you start to follow the Toon, or maybe you used to.
After that I spent a good few years, a good few quid, following the Toon and was lucky enough to be at some cracking games, even becoming one of those lads who would started the songs. Ahhh yesteryear. Now I have to watch at two in the morning (living in Australia) but still jump out of my skin when we score – it’s in the blood.
I know this is a very sensitive subject and some wounds are probably best left healing. I really never put my experiences together with the Hillsborough disaster until very many years later ( slow on the uptake – and maybe totally unrelated – could be that the officer was never there, but it won’t leave me alone).
Would be very interested if anyone else was in the ground early that day and remembers.
Keep up the very good work you do. For people like myself who now live on another planet, you are our link to that thing which you just can’t replace .
(PS: I bought my first season ticket after Keegan kept us up and my brother has just bought his again after Rafa stayed on. We live on scraps and dream of feasts.)
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])