Newcastle United Friendlies Don’t Matter…Remember Leyton Orient
Receiving updates from United’s successful tour of New Zealand got me thinking about this strange time of the year and how, after nearly 2 months without a Toon game, almost anything of the black and white persuasion can act as a placebo!
Some of my fondest early memories of going to the match include various pre-season games, especially back in the days before our stadium extension when tickets to the league matches were like gold dust and hard to get your hands on.
I remember the entire Leazes end applauding Alessandro Del Piero as he came to take a corner on a night when Didi Hamann and Stuart Pearce both smashed in first half goals to give United a very credible 2-1 win against the Italian giants Juventus.
This wasn’t the only time we’ve hosted Juventus during pre-season, Andy Carroll announced himself as a first team force by cracking one in during another 2-1 win. I remember Big Al smashing in both our goals in a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich back in 2003 and Barcelona giving us the run around in a 0-3 reverse the previous year (made only slightly better by a Shay Given penalty save). Other memories of friendlies include being near the Toon ultras as we threw away a 2 goal lead to draw with PSV in 2008.
A criticism often levelled against friendlies is that they don’t actually count for anything and therefore it is harder to get worked up about them.
The benefit of hindsight however has proven that some friendlies can have huge significance and directly change the fortunes of a club or an individual player.
I remember my mate ringing me from Leyton Orient’s ground as we were 4-1 down on the way to a 6-1 annihilation. At the time I felt embarrassed and generally miserable about the state of NUFC (the Toon had been relegated just 2 months previously).
History though has shown it to be one of the most significant matches of my entire time supporting the club, with it being heralded as a watershed moment when senior players pushed those who didn’t want to be there out of the door and we rebuilt into a team that would be 5th in the premiership only 3 seasons later.
Also, who could forget Nicky Butt’s phoenix impression, being booed off the bench one friendly in 2006 but scoring twice to turn his fortunes around, a few years later even captaining the club on occasions. I’m sure he sees that match as very significant to his time on Tyneside.
Actually 4 of my 51 Toon away games have been for non-competitive matches, a low point being struggling to find Doncaster’s Keepmoat stadium on a scorching hot summer’s day. The match wasn’t much cop either with the Toon losing 1-0 due to a late goal.
Perhaps there isn’t much at stake on the surface short-term, but ask any of the lads and lasses in attendance at Leyton Orient in 2009, when you turn up to a pre-season friendly you might just be witnessing a pivotal moment in the clubs history.
PS As this is my first article since the recent tragedy, I think it’s only right that I too offer my respects to John Alder and Liam Sweeney.
I can’t claim to have known either of them personally (although I quite possibly met them on occasion at away games) but my thoughts have been with their families and friends since their untimely passing.
Fair play to all the Sunderland fans in particular who have raised money in memory of John and Liam (including one of my closest friends Mik who is red & white through and through), a real credit to the north-east. RIP
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