If supporting football is likened to a rollercoaster ride, then supporting Newcastle United has been more like bungee jumping. As I passed my teens and into my early twenties, I thought the club’s highs and lows might begin to affect me less and my nerves handle the drama better. Oh how I was wrong.
It was the end of 2008 when I finished university in my home country, South Africa, and decided to put off joining the nine to five working world for a while. I bought a one-way ticket to Colorado, loaded my backpack and left the comforts of home behind.
Over the past three and a half years I have lived and worked in five different countries, but my eye has never strayed far from the hallowed ground of St. James’ Park (yes, as it will always be known). Looking back at each different country brings with it a wave of memories, and the fortunes of our beloved Newcastle have become intricately connected to these recollections too.
You just never think the day will come, but Sunday May 24, 2009 it all came crashing down. I sat, bleary eyed after a big Saturday night, in the reception of a hostel in San Francisco and watched our 16 year stay in the top flight come to an end. It was only when the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, with a concerned look on her face, that I realized tears were streaming down my cheeks. As it was useless trying to explain why this ‘soccer’ game had meant so much, I retired to my room where the reality of championship football set in.
After ridding ourselves of the rats who saw fit to jump ship (you know who you are), the remaining squad came together and showed immense strength of character to bounce back. My endearing memories of the season are feigning sickies to get off work and watching the Championship games on dodgy internet streams in my hotel room in Colorado. Working my second season on the slopes of Aspen meant that most of my workmates were aware of my love for the Toon, but they struggled to believe how passionate I remained despite our relegation and prolonged lack of success. They obviously hadn’t met too many of us Geordie fans because when it comes to sticking by our boys there are few better.
With promotion secured, it was time to set about re-establishing our Premier League credentials. I had the pleasure of watching our 5-1 demolition of the mackems in a seaside bar in southern Portugal with a bunch of Man Utd fans. They shook their heads in disbelief as I set off on celebratory laps of the bar after each goal. There is little, maybe even no greater satisfaction than clobbering our rivals from across the Tyne and this was one victory that was certainly washed down with a ‘couple’ of beers.
I also remember watching Ben Arfa’s wonder goal against Everton whilst at work and whooping with delight as the patrons looked on at their clearly deranged barman. We all knew he was a talent but he surprised even the most optimistic of us with some of those showings last season!
Then of course, there was the greatest comeback in Premiership history. I was living in Kitzbuhel, Austria above the restaurant where I worked as a chef with two lifelong Wolves fans running the show. They agreed I could start work later in the evening so I settled in to watch us take on the Gunners. At half-time the abusive texts duly came from the bosses, although one did say it’s a funny old game and the lads might turn it around. I snottily replied if we came back and won the game I would work the rest of the season for free, 45 minutes later, and frothing at the mouth with excitement, I couldn’t have cared less if they paid me in potatoes as Kevin Nolan almost grabbed all three points.
The season finished with us narrowly missing out on a top half finish after squandering a three goal lead on the final day. However, having bolstered our ranks with a couple of inspired signings we looked set to give 2011-2012 a real good run for its money. We were not disappointed. I spent the last few weeks of my summer in Bergen, Norway doing two things: ogling Scandinavian women and watching with delight as we strung together a run of great results, leaving us sitting pretty as I set off for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The disappointment of watching the Spingboks lose to the Aussies in the quarters was softened only by the continued success of the Toon, inspired by Demba Ba.
By the time I arrived in Melbourne to call the city home for the summer, Demba’s scoring streak had hit full throttle. I spent a good few Sunday 2AM mornings explaining in detail to my bemused Indian flatmate the joys of supporting Newcastle. He soon came to his senses and vowed to be a lifelong supporter. He even likened Ba to Virender Sehwag. I said he was Tendulkar-esque but he wouldn’t stand for it. Our 3-0 drubbing of Man Utd, Shola’s last gasp effort to silence the mackems and Papiss Cisse’s wonder goals (take your pick, he scores them by the truck load) all bring back great memories. Let’s also not forget Colo at the back, our Ivorian hard man and French ‘Dreamboat’ bossing the midfield, plus our tireless Argentinean Spiderman who never stops fighting for the cause.
So it is here, four days shy of our season opener against Spurs, in a tiny farming town in New South Wales that I write this. Never have I been as excited to see a season get underway. Here’s hoping that the lads can provide some respite from my daily activity of pruning vines and keep the city of Newcastle smiling.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, once a Geordie always a Geordie. Howay the Lads!
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The following six matches have already been confirmed as televised live, with no doubt many more to follow.
Spurs (H) – Saturday 18th August but moved to 5.30pm (ESPN)
Chelsea (A) – Saturday, 25th August but also moved to a 5.30pm kick-off (ESPN)
Everton (A) – Monday 17th September 8pm (was Sat 15th Sept) (SKY)
Manchester United (H) – Sunday 7th October 4pm (was Sat 6th Oct) (SKY)
Mackems (A) – Sunday 21st October 1.30pm (was Sat 20th Oct) (SKY)
Liverpool (A) – Sunday 4th November 4pm (was Sat 3rd Nov) (SKY)