A Geordie Christmas Carol
Welcome to a Geordie Christmas Carol.
Walking home in the dark late one Christmas evening, pondering the fortunes of my beloved Newcastle United, an ominous feeling engulfed me.
As I approached my flat, I couldn’t shake the other-worldly awareness of a presence watching my every move.
Desperate to find solace in the familiarity of a hot cup of tea in my Alan Shearer mug, I fumble for my key only to see not my house number as expected but a cold emotionless face. Only for a second before it disappeared, I could have sworn Joe Harvey was staring back at me. Convincing myself it was merely a trick of the light, I enter my flat, turn on the lights and fill the kettle.
Trying to rid my thoughts of those ghostly eyes, I slump into my sofa. Holding my head in my hands, I see something out of the corner of my eye. Something bright, something shiny, something I have never seen before and yet something that is so familiar. Could it be? How is the FA Cup standing in the corner of my living room? Where did it come from? The cup seems to emanate a glow, making it stand out in the dark. I carefully, timidly approach the item of my affection, something I have coveted for so long. As I draw near, I see words clearly engraved near the base ‘Newcastle United 1952’.
A voice behind me makes me jump as out of nowhere I hear “aye lad, those were the days”. Startled, I see Joe Harvey stride in, holding the Fairs Cup in his hands! The cup is adorned with a black and white scarf and seems filled with Champagne. The temperature drops further as I realise how long ago the achievement took place. “What do you want with me” I stammer towards the late legend.
Joe pauses for a second, watching me intently before taking a victorious swig of the Fairs Cup bubbly. “Never seen one of these have you lad?” I shake my head violently as images from the 98 and 99 cup finals scorch my brain. “A trophy boy, can’t be that hard, We’re Newcastle – what’s gone wrong?” I’m puzzled, his tone seems almost accusatory. “We came 5th two years ago” I try to mutter but he cuts me short “aye lad, bet you swigged plenty of champers out of that 5th place trophy they hand out at the end of every season” as he roars with laughter, I drop to my knees.
“Please Joe, how can we do it? Please tell me it’ll one day happen, we need it, Wigan and Swansea won cups last season, we deserve this!” his laughter stops abruptly “that they did Son, this needs to be put right”. Frightened of where this conversation is going, I’m desperate for Joe Harvey to leave “Don’t worry lad, I’ll be off soon enough. My time here grows short. You will be haunted though, 3 spirits tonight will teach you valuable lessons that you must take on board” by this point I feel I’ve had enough of being haunted and begin to protest “without these visits you cannot hope to avoid a terrible fate. Expect the first ghost as the clock strikes 1” and with that, Harvey, the FA cup, the booze filled trophy and the black and white scarf disappear.
I try to gather my thoughts and take a swig of tea which is now stone cold. It must have been a dream I keep telling myself. I must have nodded off in front of an old Toon DVD. Exhausted from the experience, I slump into a dreamless sleep but not before nervously checking my watch to see just how close the time is to 1 o’clock.
I wake up with a start and immediately check the time. 00.59, if I can just stay up for one more minute I’ll prove to myself it was all a dream and Joe Harvey hasn’t sent any more visitors to teach me lessons about Newcastle United. Just as the clock strikes one I scramble out of bed as a figure appears in my room. The dim light makes it hard to tell who this figure is, sometimes he looks like Kevin Keegan, other times Bobby Robson, I was sure I could also see Ruud Gullit dreads. It appears this spirit took on many forms, in sequence I see Keegan, Dalglish, Gullit, Robson, Souness, Allardyce, Kinnear, Hughton and then Alan Pardew.
“Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?”
“I am” is the reply
“and what is your business here?”
“come, there is much to see”
We cover much ground and see some truly awful matches – losing away to Blackburn in 96, Derby 97, Leeds 3-0 and 98, we witness Owen’s toothless return to Anfield, back to back defeats at Wigan have me tearing my hair out.
“Spirit, why do you delight in torturing me?” I snap but the spirit merely replies “These are the shadows of things that have been, they are what they are, do not blame me”. I sit in the away section at Ewood Park (or is it Wigan? The mist makes it so hard to tell) and weep at the injustice of it all. The spirit’s voice cuts into my consciousness
“You were happy some Christmases though” just as he speaks these words I see Solano blast in a fabulous free kick against Leeds and Bernard smash the 3rd against the smoggies. At that point I remember Bobby Robson’s team topping the league at Christmas 2001 and start to weep again, I took that team for granted, expecting trophies and now it’s gone. The spirit seems to be able to read my mind “remember that” he says “enjoy the good times rather than focusing on shallow ambitions such as trophies, remember how much joy can be had over one weekend with a simple win. My work here is done” and with that I find myself alone in my room, I crawl back into bed and slip into a troubled sleep awaiting the next encounter.
Awaking during the middle of a particularly long snore, a strange feeling consumes me, I’m convinced I’d been woken at this very moment for my second visitor of the evening. I am prepared for anyone between Fumaca and Alan Shearer it must be said! Being prepared for anything however, meant the last thing I am prepared for is nothing at all. Lying in bed, listening to the ticking of the clock is driving me madder than Ruud Gullit on derby day, eventually I get up to grab a glass of water.
Leaving my room, I notice bright light and Christmas music streaming out of the living room. Slowly entering, not wanting to startle anyone, I hear a voice “come in and know me better man” (the word ‘man’ at the end of this sentence certainly doesn’t conceal a southern accent!). Good God! Alan Pardew is sitting on the sofa with a bottle of Champagne and some kind of award (is it the Manger of the year 2012 or the Manger of the month for this November? I can’t make out the words) he beams a smile and beckons for me to join him. “Lancaster? Bit far for you isn’t it mate, come on, we both know where you’d rather be” with a flash of his teeth and click of his fingers we’re no longer sitting on my sofa but in the dugout at St James’. The pitch looks in pristine condition, I see Remy scoring goals galore and jump in the air as Sissoko slams in the winner against West Brom this November. “Had fun this year haven’t we mate?” says a beaming Pardew as snowflakes fall on the turf, adding to the picturesque scenery.
“Sometimes” I reply “I loved November but it hasn’t all been good this season” Pardew’s tone becomes noticeably less jovial “you’ve been less happy in certain other parts of this ground as I re-call” he re-clicks his fingers and we’re sitting right in the middle of the Leazes End in actually the same seats I had season tickets for six years. Pardew looks me in the eye, his expression is serious now, pleading even “I know I’m not everyone’s choice but a future without me could be so much worse, look into my eyes, we both know who my replacement will be” I hear a faint ringing in the background, a clock chiming twelve times. Pardew announces it’s his time to leave. “The next spirit will teach you my lesson far better than I ever could, it’s him or me and it’s high time you and your kind settled for the sensible option”. The snow stops yet the temperature becomes more and more biting. A faint fog seems to be rising from the pitch, I’m all alone in the Leazes…and yet, I feel as I’m not the only one here.
St James’ Park is shrouded in mist, it rises all around me ‘til I can’t see a thing, this spirit – the ghost of Christmas yet to come – is the one I fear above all others. The weather takes a turn for the worse, rain falls steadily, temperatures drop and the whole place is giving off a putrid stench of decay.
Out of the darkness an unmistakably cockney accent pronounces “Alright geez, just on the blower to my mate Fergy, he was congratulating me on captaining Brazil to a world cup win last year, I scored a hat trick in the final!”…oh no! not him! Please anyone but him. He’s wearing a Newcastle manager’s jacket with a hood pulled over his head, I can’t see the face of the future but it seems pretty clear who’s pulling the strings at the Toon. “Let me take you round a tour of the stadium, careful on those apple and pairs, 200,000 were in last week for our derby with Barcelona, we won 5-0, I scored 4!” oh Jesus, how has this been allowed to happen?
The tour takes me past the dug-out, Di Canio’s skid marks (!) are still visible near the touchline. I look up to the director’s box and see Mike Ashley setting fire to a fifty pound note to light a giant cigar, laughing and joking with what appears to be a poison dwarf “oh Dennis? Don’t mind him. He helped me sign Shearer, Ferdinand, Ginola, Robert, Solano, Krul, Coloccini, Pele, Ronaldo, Messi and Bale. They helped a bit but it was my coaching that won us the Champions League in my first season here, Mike Ashley did his part too, 10 billion is a lot of money these days guv’nor.” This spirit is clearly off his rocker, I’m appalled at the empty seats, the ruined turf, The sports direct logos, it’s all I can do to croakily reply “how?”
“Oh that’s easy” says the spirit, “seems like you time4change guys were right, I’m a much better fit then Pardew, besides we don’t need fans anymore. TV money has rendered them useless. Should have been careful what they wished for, them lot. I’m off now, need to get on the dog and bone to Arsenal vengaboys, he wants to buy remygel for a fiver, money money money! Easy Geeza”
I wake up with a start! I’m at my parent’s house in Northumberland. Oh thank God! It’s boxing day 2013 and my Toon shirt is laid out with my ticket for the Stoke match. I have a sore head from Christmas day celebrations but as relief consumes me and my heartrate slows as I realise, thankfully, it was only just a dream…or was it?
Happy Holidays lads and lasses!
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