Growing up in Ireland you usually have two choices when it comes to supporting football teams; it’s either Liverpool, or Manchester United & Celtic. If you choose (Manchester) United, then it is almost an unwritten rule that you will follow Celtic’s progress in Scotland as well. My uncles however were different and supported a certain Newcastle United.
Through viewing various magazines and TV programmes, Newcastle United and that memorable/forgettable 1995/96 Premier League season really lured me in, ever since then I’ve been a passionate Toon fan. They were different to Manchester United or Liverpool, even the colour of their jersey – the simple and Black and White stripes – appealed to me.
It was Sir Bobby Robson’s era that I can remember the clearest however; Newcastle United managed a Top 4 finish and signings such as Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert excited the fans, plus we played some brilliant football as well. Memorable victories away to Arsenal and Leeds United captured the imagination and there was a possibility that we were going to win the Premier League. As we all know, it didn’t happen – but we did manage Champions League football.
One of the most memorable games of the 2002-03 season was away to Feyenoord where Newcastle United’s Champions League fate hung by a thread. We had to win to stand a chance of progressing to the next phase of the competition while Feyenoord themselves knew that victory could give them an opportunity of making the next round.
We took a two goal lead through Bellamy and a rare Hugo Viana strike, and looked good for qualification. However, the Dutch side fought back and managed two goals of their own through Bombardo and Lurling. It was difficult to watch us throw away such a lead, and it looked like we we’re going to crash out of the competition until the footballing Gods decided to grant us a favour.
With seconds left, Kieron Dyer ended up in the box with the goal gaping and for some reason he decided to delicately side-foot it into the bottom corner rather than power it home. The keeper pushed it away, right into the path of Craig Bellamy who tried to thump it at goal from an acute angle. The strike was too powerful for the Feyenoord keeper to take hold of and it skewed away into the bottom corner. The away support erupted – and despite losing our first three group games, Newcastle United had managed to qualify for the next stage. Sensational.
My excitement of course, was of no interest to my pals though since Manchester United were already through a week previous and Liverpool were knocked out.
As we know, NUFC were then handed an incredibly difficult group with Barcelona, Inter and Leverkusen to contend with. Two early losses to Inter and Barca gave us very little chance of qualifying, however we did manage a double over Leverkusen, and a draw away in Milan in the following fixtures. We ended up finishing third with seven points to our name – we held our heads high, well I did anyway.
As readers of my site will know, I backed the board on their stance regards the sale of Andy Carroll, and knew we had got the better deal. Since his sale, we’ve certainly ended up the winners; finishing above Liverpool to top things off.
As I write now, I can only reflect on the end of the 2011/12 Premier League season in a similar fashion to the days of the late, great Bobby Robson. We signed French talent this campaign, we have a striking partnership that bang in goals, we’ve got a sturdy back four, St.James’ Park is rocking again and in August, will host European football once more.
Fifth place in the Premier League this season, and narrowly missing out on Champions League football has been nothing short of sensational from all involved at NUFC. We’ve done so well, that even people from my area are talking about NUFC as realistic Top 4 challengers for years to come. Everyone has been taken aback by our signings and how they’ve turned out so well.
This season, for the first time in a long time, I’ve been the one boasting about wins over the ‘big boys’. Manchester United fans, Liverpool supporters and Chelsea followers have all been well reminded of their encounters with Newcastle this season.
The upcoming 2012/13 season is sure to be an interesting one for the Magpies. Can we sustain another Top 6 finish, and perhaps give the Champions League hopefuls another run for their money?
It all depends on what we do this summer in the market, but regardless of what happens in July and August, or throughout the season for that matter, my allegiances lie strong as ever with the magnificent club that is Newcastle United.
(The author also has his own Newcastle United blog – Tynetime)