It will be an emotional occasion at St.James’ Park today when the two Geordie victims of flight MH17, Liam Sweeney and John Alder, won’t be in their usual seats when the new season kicks off.
The pre season tragedy has cast an overwhelming shadow over the close season.
The experience has almost been surreal for most Newcastle supporters, you know that the Ukraine plane tragedy has actually happened, but it will be only at the match today when for most fans the reality will hit home.
The club have done a very good job in dealing with this difficult situation and the official tributes today will undoubtedly be remembered for a long time by all of those in attendance.
As for John and Liam, I’m sure they will be looking down and still feel a part of the football club that they loved, though very bemused at all the fuss going on in their names.
Two normal unassuming people who loved their football, just like the rest of us.
I only knew John Alder on nodding terms but I was lucky enough to know Liam well, my first contact being when he helped to run coaches to away matches.
It turned out that I also knew Liam’s mam, having previously come into contact with her over a number of years through a work capacity. Both of them lovely people.
Long after the connection with away coaches to matches had passed, I would regularly still see Liam.
He wasn’t a best mate but I’m sure many of you will identify with this terminology when I say he was a ‘match mate’.
Liam Sweeney was somebody who I would regularly see on matchdays, no pre-arranged meetings but I’d often meet him and his mates in the Strawberry pre-match.
A few drinks and a laugh before whatever the ninety minutes throws at us.
A matchday experience that most of you will be able to identify with.
When it gets to that pre-match time I will be thinking of John Alder and especially Liam Sweeney, somebody who was regularly part of my matchday experience, but will be no more.
I will also be specifically thinking of friends of Liam’s such as Adam and Michael and others, pre-match regulars who would also share beers on the Strawberry ‘sun’ terrace, as well as Liam’s brother Marc who would also sometimes be there before the game.
Two Newcastle fans will no longer be with us today and so it is left to the rest of us to follow the team with the kind of spirit and passion that Liam and John showed for the black and whites.
Gone but not forgotten.