Having travelled to Cardiff with over four thousand other Newcastle fans to watch NUFC win their record 14th away victory, on the final weekend of the season I was up in Newcastle from Somerset, with the hope of witnessing us lift the Championship trophy.
I was amazed that I was able to get tickets. I had kept checking in and, as a member, managed to nip in before general sale. I quickly snapped up two but could only get seats in the top corner of the Leazes End, next to the away fans.
Here is my own unique view of the game, from up in the Gods.
I was so looking forward to this one. Newcastle fans are renowned for being some of the best around. Unfortunately, at St James Park we rarely live up to it.
Away from home we’re vocal, we’re lively, but at home, like most other teams’ fans, you’ll rarely hear a peep all game. It’s only really when the fans feel aggrieved by certain decisions (Burton) or when there’s some real importance on the game (Leeds, Tottenham last season) that we truly make our voices heard.
I’ve traversed the length of the country a fair few times to watch my team but never witnessed St James’ Park rocking. If ever there was a time for the home crowd to play its part, this was going to be it.
Me and a mate got a flight up on the Saturday, went out that night and were up bright and early to grab some grub and head on over to the stadium. Having clambered up so many sets of stairs that I thought we might have clouds for company; we found our seats. Looking at the pitch, although we were very far away, we were quite happy with our positioning as we felt we’d be able to see the entire spread of the game.
The Barnsley fans were right next to us, about ten seats and a dividing barrier from my position. The first thing I noticed as the game kicked off was that I couldn’t get any signal on my phone. I was trying to load up the live updates from the Villa/Brighton game but couldn’t get a whiff of signal.
Throughout the first half I kept checking my phone but there was nothing. I’d have to rely on others in the stadium to inform me of developments elsewhere. And at one point I thought they did precisely that. Randomly, a cheer went up in one section of the stadium which spread around the stands quicker than bird flu.
We screamed and cheered. We were top of the league once more. Except we weren’t. Despite the fact that I had the big screen a stone’s throw away from me, the powers-that-be hadn’t come up with the simple idea of keeping the Brighton score in the bottom corner. So we continued, unsure of the score.
A fantastic move down the left involving Atsu, who has been my man of the last two matches, led to a clever flick by Perez finding the back of the net. Now we were definitely top of the league providing Brighton weren’t winning.
“We are top of the league, we are top of the league,” rang around the stadium.
At half-time I went to grab a pint and managed to get signal. Brighton were still 0-0 so I’ve got no idea what that cheer was for. If anyone knows and can enlighten me in the comments section I’d be much obliged.
The second-half we were very much in charge apart from a couple of moments where Rob Elliot was called into action to make smart saves with his feet. When Mbemba smashed in the second just before the hour we fell into full party mode.
But it was short-lived…
A few minutes later Brighton scored and Villa had a player sent off. I didn’t know until after the game that Villa had spent half an hour playing with 10 men. I only knew Brighton scored because the Barnsley fans went crazy.
This was a shame in my opinion. Fair enough there’s always banter and mockery between fans but Barnsley could have been part of the party atmosphere rather than our antagonists.
I wasn’t there when we last won the Championship but I remember watching the game on TV where we beat Plymouth Argyle to win the league and relegate them. Their fans stayed behind and applauded us in good numbers. I’ll always have a respect for them for that. There was no expectation for the Barnsley fans to follow suit but it would have been better for everyone if they did.
The cheering led to bitterness between both sets of fans and soon various items were being flung back and forth. Some guy was so annoyed at them that he marched across the entire stand to confront the away support. I’m not entirely sure what his end game was but it was never going to end well.
Even if he had managed to clamber over the ten stewards and barrier to get to the fans he would then have been one against three thousand. I don’t think even Tyson Fury would fancy those odds. The fan was arrested and, as a consequence, would go on to miss the most magical ending to a football match I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh.
The Barnsley fans were mocking us for a while but we were right back at them with chants of, “we are going up, we are going up’.
A lofted long ball in the last minute was met by the head of Mitrovic and landed at the feet of Dwight Gayle, who had come on as a late sub. He notched up his twenty third goal of a very productive season and ran into the corner toasting the fans with a ‘going up, going down’ celebration.
As I began to settle down I noticed a fan shaking his fist and grabbing his friend. The volume steadily rose as other fans clocked on that something had happened at the Villa game. Suddenly, the stadium erupted to such a degree that I was tempted to take a Richter scale reading. Everyone was singing and shouting and hugging.
Still I had had no confirmation as to what had happened, still there was no communication on the electronic score board. I turned to my mate and commented how embarrassing it’d be if that was another false alarm.
When the game finished all we could do was wait. The players were huddled on the pitch and the crowd had descended into a nervous tittering bordering on silence. Then the players start to jump around and celebrate and the stadium explodes again.
My job requires me to do a lot of talking on the phone and there was a point that I felt I may have to book the week off. I was so hoarse from the singing and shouting.
If I had truly reached a cloud after my lengthy ascent it would be cloud nine. True delirium. ‘We love you Villa we do’ was sung amongst some of our more traditional chants.
After a couple of minutes the screen was finally utilised as an image of the team with ‘Champions’ superimposed across it was shown and ‘We Are The Champions’ was played through the PA.
Then it was a case of waiting to see the trophy get lifted and the team complete their lap of honour before heading off to Nandos and then into town for some post-match jars.
This day goes down as one of the greatest I’ve had in my life. What an experience!
You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin
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