Opening Day At Home – Kevin Keegan August 1982
Back in the summer of 1982 I was an excited eleven year old.
I’d been to the odd match with my dad before but this was special. Kevin Keegan, the England captain, had signed for second division Newcastle United and my dad had decided it was time to part with some hard earned cash from working at Swan Hunter’s shipyard on some season tickets. Back of the net and a reality check for those who think the Premier League is the be all end all, believe me it’s not.
I still remember the walk from the car down to St James on that opening day. We parked behind the breweries, the sun was beating down and there was a strange noise I’d never really heard before as we made our way through the back streets. “What’s that noise dad?” I probably said. “That’s the crowd son”, and my Bobby Robson moment of falling in love was belatedly about to hit me.
The view from the wooden seats in the old West Stand wing section at the Gallowgate End was right on the goal line, magic. The place was packed, the crowd swaying, Keegan cuddled by a bowler hatted fella on making his entrance, a half-time streaker in luminous green socks (more of that later) repeated that feat before the second-half kicked off. Grown men in butcher’s coats, people smoking in wooden stands (blimey), ten minutes for half-time and finished by 20 to five, a scoreboard to check the half times in other games, players numbered 1 to 11, pogoing down the terraces to the Blaydon Races, The Scoreboard versus The Corner and a whole host of other reasons why old school football was simply better in many ways.
Then, on the hour and in the words of the Don Juans…
“And it’s Keegan on the ball, to Varadi, Varadi back to Keegan, he’s got a chance, he’s done it, Kevin Keegan has scored on his debut for Newcastle United, and just listen to that St James’ crowd.”
Cue bedlam and since I wasn’t the tallest given my age, my dad started the ritual of being allowed to stand on the seat so I could enjoy watching the celebrations. An opening day victory in a season that ultimately fell just short.
Once home, another ritual was born. Some older lads I knew and used to play football with around the streets of Stella, were off to buy a copy of The Pink. There was a bloke who used to stand outside the Plaza bingo hall in Blaydon selling them, which was almost a mile walk away but 14p was handed over for a copy I still have today.
It makes interesting reading. Only Imre Varadi might be classed as foreign among both teams but was in fact UK born. A former Mackem called Clarke (Jeff) making his debut for us too. Mick Martin still playing for the Toon. The new England manager Bobby Robson in the directors box. The soon to be vilified Trelford Mills the referee. Future Newcastle captain and manager Glenn Roeder was injured for QPR, who were managed by yet to be England boss Terry Venables. The detestable John Gregory and future Obertan like performer Ian Stewart also in the opposition 11.
The Pink claim we won the toss and attacked the Gallowgate first which isn’t how I remember it and is contradicted and confirmed by their description of the second half goal. Wharton came on as sub after 32 minutes due to an injury to John Trewick which would be ok if you could still use another 2 but not back then, one substitute each picked from a pool of, well, one!!
The Pink report the half-time streaker incident with, and I quote,
“The streaker was escorted away by two policemen with one of the officers lending him his helmet to spare his blushes.”
Surely that is no behaviour for a constable to join in with, fnarr fnarr.
The Pink even tells you who would be on TV that night since Tyne Tees would show highlights one day and Match of the Day having to wait until Sunday for their turn on this occasion. You would only get to see highlights of around 2 or 3 matches. In 1982 there was no guarantee even top division fans would get to see their team on TV. Not like today with every goal straight to your mobile phone by the time you’re having the first post-match beer. I think BBC and ITV used to alternate Saturdays and Sundays each season but I might have just made that up.
As my mate Bilbao often says,
“Why let the truth spoil a good story.”
Fortunately, due to the nature of this opening day they couldn’t ignore events in Newcastle. Just a shame there was no SKY+ and we didn’t have a video recorder so no reliving the moment in them days. YouTube helps now like. Ok then, so some things may be better, other than SKY ripping apart the fixture list. Amazingly, every team in all four divisions kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday then.
(Ed: Sorted – watch KK debut below, what a moment when that goal went in)
A selection of results that opening day include:-
Villa 1 – 3 Mackems
Man Utd 3 – 0 Birmingham
Liverpool 2 – 0 West Brom
Notts County 0 – 0 Swansea
Stoke 2 – 1 Arsenal
Watford 2 – 0 Everton
Cambridge 0 – 1 Chelsea
Derby 0 – 3 Carlisle
Sheff Wed 3 – 1 ‘Boro
Cardiff 1 – 2 Wrexham
Lincoln 2 – 1 Wigan
Bristol City 2 – 1 Hull City
Darlington 3 – 0 Rochdale
How times change. The previous season in division one, Liverpool won the title with Ipswich second, Man City finished 10th and would be relegated this time. Chelsea had finished 12th in division 2 behind 9th placed Newcastle. Liverpool would again retain their title in the monotonous way Man Utd have done recently and why I don’t really care much for them winning anything, yes I’m very jealous. Incidentally, Watford would be runners up. Newcastle eventually finished 5th in division 2 behind promoted QPR, Wolves and Leicester with Fulham pipping us to 4th. The following season would see it all come right with automatic promotion in 3rd place nudging out… Man City.
Good times and great memories of just enjoying football without being too fixated with making money. My father passed away not long after Micky Quinn’s opening day heroics in 1989. I sometimes wonder what he would make of modern day football?
Opening day games at home were usually something to look forward to in my book. A clean slate and you never know, this could be our year. Leeds in 1989 and those 4 for Micky Quinn, Spurs in our first ever Premier League game in ‘94, Sir Les in ’95, Uriah Rennie and Villa in 1999 for the wrong reasons, a 4-0 smashing of West Ham on a Monday night in 2002.
My memory seems to recall more opening day away games ending badly (Tony Cottee a stand out nightmare in ‘88) while the continuing divergence of the league in the current game generally means all we have to look forward to is reaching 40 points, especially given the club’s current stance on (ahem) competing, despite Pardew’s increasingly psychotic drivel about Champions League. I expect nothing on this year’s opening day. Anyway…
18.07.14 – I’m on holiday in Italy with Mrs H and having a look around the Vatican when I get a couple of texts from the lads. The first one simply read,’“I’ve just seen on .com that the Undertaker was on the Malaysian plane that crashed, f***ing hell.’ I stood there for a few moments trying to make sense of that terrible news. Later while sitting in St Peter’s Basilica it seemed appropriate to think of what had happened that day despite my general ambivalence to religion.
In life it seems that every week something dreadful is happening in the world but I guess we never really consider it too much until it affects someone you have a connection with. I didn’t know Liam and to be fair I didn’t know John personally, but like many others knew exactly who he was, after being an away traveller since the mid 80s.
It feels ironic that I made reference to The Undertaker in issue 266 of The Mag, about luck and his match attire, that made him instantly recognisable despite his inconspicuous nature. It feels like only bad luck that their devotion to NUFC to attend what many would see as a meaningless friendly on the other side of the world, ended in an unnecessary tragedy. For them though the pull of supporting NUFC saw no limits. The others on flight MH17 probably had similar personal reasons for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s just unbelievably heart-breaking for all concerned.
So this is my dedication to John and Liam, but also to all those other mags who have passed during the close season, and leave a space in the world for all those that knew them. Spare a thought as to why there is an empty seat or strange face next to you this opening day, that is not just caused by someone losing interest by the current state of NUFC. There will forever be the likes of John and Liam who will follow this club regardless. It will be a sad opening day knowing they won’t be there. Gone but not forgotten.
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