The Best Newcastle Match I’ve Ever Been To
“What’s the best match you’ve ever been to?”
“Easy”, I replied, “I was behind the goal when Tino completed his hat-trick against Barcelona in 97”.
Just then, a thousand Toon memories flashed before my eyes. Was that match, only my fourth ever appearance in the stands, really the best I’ve ever been to?
A conservative estimate of my own Newcastle United history, starting at home to Monaco in the 96/97 UEFA Cup up to the away match at West Ham last week, is that I’ve attended around 250 matches (roughly 60 away from home) so how can one game really stand out head and shoulders above the rest?
Obviously the Barcelona match went down in history as Dalglish’s Toon stunned the Catalan giants in a game we were widely expected to lose but what about the other 249 matches, surely some can compete. My first game at Wembley ended in a painful defeat to Chelsea but still remains one of my favourite matches of all time, Bobby’s team defying the odds to batter a Chelsea side competing in the last stages of the champions league. Clear as day, I can see Robert Lee’s header finding the top corner of the net to send 40,000 Newcastle fans wild.
My next away came in December 2001 and was possibly even better, Solano scoring a last-minute winner against Leeds as the Toon came from 3-1 down with 20 minutes to go and found themselves top of the league (Bellamy, t and Shearer (pen) scoring the others).
Bobby Robson provided many of the great recent memories held by Toon fans, unfortunately I wasn’t at Highbury as we won 3-1 or away in Feyenood as Bellamy blasted a late winner so they can’t count. I was though at the Man United home game as Robert smashed in an early free-kick and Shearer scored near the end (later, wrongly, classed as a Brown OG), Roy Keane last his rag and the Toon ran out 4-3 winners. The next season, one of my favourites was seeing Ameobi and Shearer each score a belter as we beat Chelsea 2-1 on our way to finishing 3rd in the Premiership after reaching the last 16 of the Champions league (if only we could say that now).
Derby victories are always special, more for the relief than anything else. I’ve been fortunate to see three wins over the Mackems (2 separate 2-0 wins) but my favourite was when Shola Ameobi began his legacy as the Mackem slayer with 2 headers at the Leazes before Emre hit the Winner with a stunning free-kick, O’Brien, Sellers, Shearer, Emre and Taylor over the wall, all heroes for scoring free kicks in famous derby victories.
In recent times, as the Toon have dropped from the highs of 3rd in 2003 to the bottom half of this season’s premiership, via a relegation, you maybe expect for the amount of special games to have dried up. Newcastle United by their very nature however still manage to provide entertainment when you least expect it. I was in the Gallowgate the night Keegan was announced to be coming back, the whole city celebrated a 4-1 victory over Stoke in the FA cup.
The next season was a relegation nightmare and despite getting to eight games I didn’t see one single victory so no competition to the Barca match there. The Championship however provided lavish entertainment, it really didn’t matter which division we were playing in, we only need loads of victories and goals to keep us happy (!). I managed to get to the Peterborough and Preston away victories but perhaps my favourite match that year was at home to Cardiff City, a supposedly tough match was totally swung in our favour as we raced into a 3-0 lead and went on to beat the Welsh team 5-1 (unfortunately I didn’t make a certain other 5-1 victory at St James’ Park that calendar year but certainly celebrated like all other Geordies the world over!).
Back to the Premier League and my trip to Everton was superb, Ben Arfa scoring a wonder goal on a day when Tiote bossed it and you really started to think, ‘hang on, if we can just stop dropping silly points at home we could really make some noise in this league’. Unfortunately, I missed the Villa 6-0 but I’m sure that any Toon fan there would rank it right up as one of the very best as we ruthlessly gained revenge on a set of supporters that really should have shown a lot more class in May 2009, we also destroyed Sunderland and Liverpool at home that season as well as coming from 4-0 down to get a point against Arsenal. I missed those games but did manage to get to the evening game at home to West Ham when Leon Best scored a hat-trick and the Toon ended a resurgent Hammers’ good form to win 5-0!
Last season also provided many cherished memories, far too many to recall, but the best for me was being in the Leazes End as we gave Man United the runaround, they never got a sniff as we ran riot with an easy 3-0, who saw that coming?
Perhaps during long hard slogs like this campaign when you trudge disconsolately home after another defeat, wiping the rain from your brow and the tears from your eyes, with that familiar disappointment heavy in the pit of your stomach, it’s important to remember that are some nights, very occasionally, when it really is worth it.
Howay the lads!
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