These are of course very bleak times for Newcastle United and the club’s loyal followers. We all know what’s wrong and what might happen this Sunday. So let’s peek through the clouds and look for something a little more positive.
On the 18th January 1992 I stood with my friends on The Gallowgate End – The Scoreboard, K Section if I remember correctly – and watched Newcastle United play Charlton. The cold that day was bleaker than it is now; the darkness that day was far more formidable than it is now. It was a season that felt like eternal winter.
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It was a Second Division fixture. That’s The Championship for all you whippersnappers whose time came after the simplicity of Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4. If the crowd was bigger than 15,000 that day I’ll buy you all a drink (Ed: 15,663 – mine’s a large one!) .
Indeed SJP looked an awful lot different than it does now. There’d have been a capacity of around 30,000 in those days and that included around only 11,000 seats. SJP had open terraces at each end and the home of Newcastle United was a cold and vulnerable place when the elements were as cruel as the results.
Ossie Ardiles was the Manager and he fielded a team of local lads who were so young that the Players Car Park by The Milburn Stand looked more like a Halfords, there were so many bikes in there. If the first team had been any younger the club would have had to postpone midweek games because half of the side had to be in bed by 9:30pm.
Newcastle were having a terrible season. Defeats were thick and fast; points were like spare change thrown to a beggar in a doorway and when Charlton came to Tyneside for that January fixture, the team languished in 23rd place in a 24-team league.
Newcastle boasted form of just 1 win in 9 games as Ossie’s team took the field. The Argentinian didn’t play the kids by choice; the club had no money.
We didn’t have a rich owner who wouldn’t spend any money; the coffers were absolutely empty and the banks were a more dangerous threat to the club than the other 23 Division Two teams. As is the case now – and seemingly always has been on Tyneside – there was boardroom unrest.
The sleeping giant was so deep in a coma that the funeral pyre was being prepared. On that day in January 1992 Newcastle’s youngsters raced to a 3-0 lead and things felt just a little warmer for a short while.
Then before half-time Charlton pulled one back. Early into the second-half Charlton got a second goal back and at 3-2 everybody in the home end of that ground knew what the full time score was destined to be.
Surely enough, The Addicks equalised in front of a tormented Gallowgate End and come the final minute so came the inevitable. With 4-3 to the visitors all but sealed, Newcastle defender Steve Watson made an astonishing goal-line clearance to save United a valuable point.
With the frozen home fans still applauding the lads’ effort the ball was smashed back into the box for Newcastle midfielder Liam O’Brien to stick out a leg and send the ball flying past Watson and into the back of the net. Newcastle had lost a 3-0 lead and the game finished 3-4.
There was only one team beneath Newcastle in the Second Division at that time: Oxford United. We played them in the next fixture. And we lost 5-2. The decline looked terminal; the demise, inevitable. That was on 1st February 1992.
One year later Newcastle were hurtling towards promotion, steamrolling the Second Division and battering teams left, right and centre on a march to winning the title and a place on the money-spinning Gravy Train that we find ourselves clinging to this weekend. A year after that the side was well on its way to finishing 3rd in The Premier League under Kevin Keegan.
Just for a second, think about that.
February 1992, doomed, broke and heading for relegation to Division 3 (League One, whippersnappers!).
February 1993 top of the League, playing in front of a full house of partisan fans, charging towards promotion and splashing out record transfer fees on the likes of Andy Cole (£1.75m).
February 1994, on course to be – officially – the 3rd best team in the land and to qualify for The UEFA Cup.
We hadn’t won at Boro (Ayresome Park) since 1964 and we hadn’t won at Sunderland (Roker Park) since 1956. By January 1993 we’d done them both (Premier League Boro in the League Cup), in the space of 11 days as it happens. Even our woeful derby record was turned on its head.
The point I’m driving at is that perhaps one of the reasons we love football is because just like life, things can change so quickly for the better.
If you don’t know how the club got from second bottom of Division 2 to third place in The Premier League then go look it up, or better yet get your hands on the footage. It is one of the best times in the club’s modern history. If you too were part of that era, then maybe this weekend is a good time to remember it.
This Sunday of course sees Newcastle facing the very realistic prospect of being relegated from The Premier League. The manner in which this season has unfolded means that regardless of the clubs fate come the final whistle, it has been a shameful campaign.
I’m not claiming for one minute that the good times are just around the corner, but things can change, and things can change quickly. All I’m asking is that you face Sunday with no fear. And no matter what happens, don’t give up hope.
Maybe things will get darker this weekend. But trust me; the clouds are going to break.