NUFC Away Days: Zulu, Leeds United and Benny Hill
Like many others, I have become numb to the pain and suffering that goes with supporting this club. So much so, I have began to wonder just what it was about Newcastle United that used to make me put it before everything else going on in my life.
What until recently kept me coming back for more, no matter what the results.
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It certainly wasn’t to watch a successful football club, because our record of no domestic honours and just a handful of top four finishes in the past 50 years, is beyond miserable.
It certainly wasn’t to see wonderful football being played on a weekly basis, because apart from a few seasons here or there, we have endured some pretty damn average stuff. Rafferty, Whitehurst, Pingel, Cort, the list of our Gallowgate ‘stars’ is endless
So the answer is simple. It never was about winning things. It was about belonging to the very special group of people who followed the club.
It was about that feeling on a Saturday morning where I am counting off the hours until I could set off to the match. Experiencing that surge of adrenalin as the train comes over the bridge and you see the stadium. The walk up to the ground (especially at night). Talking football related bollocks from midday until last orders with lads who really mattered to you.
But more than anything else, it is away days that have etched so many wonderful memories into my brain.
So please indulge me in my romantic reminiscing about the good old days but at a time of turmoil and disillusionment, these three anecdotes about trips to Leeds help remind me just why I loved supporting Newcastle United for 45 years, and hopefully will do again.
I for one really miss playing Leeds. Over the years the relationship between our clubs has been boisterous, while Elland Road is still a ground that provides the visitor with an ‘interesting’ day out.
My first visit was way back in 1976. As a scrawny teenager, I was neither big enough, hard enough or cool enough to gain a seat on the Chester-le-street bus that regularly left the market square for away trips, therefore the only option for the ‘second team boys’ was to get the train down.
This seemed a pretty good idea until we arrived at Leeds station to discover that the ground is not in the city centre but is actually a bloody long walk away; especially when you have drank 5 cans of McEwan’s Export.
Newcastle United were a decent side in 1976, but Leeds had made the European Cup final the year before, therefore a 2-2 draw was a pretty good result. ‘F*k*n hell its Paul Cannell’ scored, if I remember rightly.
On the way out of the ground we were herded back through the park. This meant going through an underpass. As we came out the other side, a scene from Zulu awaited us, with hundreds of Leeds fans standing on top of surrounding hills, baying for our blood. To be honest, their fans weren’t actually wearing loin cloths, nor were they carrying spears, but you get the picture.
The scene quickly changed from Zulu to Benny Hill as we were first chased one way and then another, before we finally escaped our angry hosts by scampering over a 6 foot mesh fence and onto the motorway. As we finally made it back to the train station, I vowed never to go to Leeds again.
However, 7 years later, it was now seemingly acceptable to be given a seat on the Chester bus, so off we went for the first game of the 1983 season.
After watching the pre-match entertainment of some Oz type characters turn a poor bloke’s hot dog stand upside down, just because he ran out of ketchup, we settled down for the match. God knows how but United won 1-0 with Chris Waddle in goal and John Anderson scoring!
Memories do play tricks with your mind but I am convinced that Newcastle had nearly 10,000 at Elland Road that day. It was truly amazing support and being part of it made you feel very special.
On the way out, some bright spark decided to set the bone dry grass embankment alight. No doubt the lad who did it is now a Sales Manager, with 2 grown up kids and drives a VW Passat, but a year before the Bradford fire, this wasn’t your finest moment mate!
In 1989 we met again in Division two, with both sides challenging for promotion. I could not get a ticket through Newcastle but I had a cunning plan. A lad I worked with in Catterick was a Leeds season ticket holder, who after being pestered from morning to night, agreed to take me. This was providing that I did not wear colours and kept my mouth shut.
I really don’t know what I was thinking; because it was never going to work out. I didn’t even see them kick off.
Leeds came out and warmed up in front of our stand. Vinnie Jones did what Vinnie Jones did best. He stood in front of us, legs spread, face contorted, fists clenched, screaming “come onnnnnnnnnn” at his adoring fans. Instinctively, I stood up, copied his stance and screamed back at him “f*** offffffff”.
1000 people fell silent and in a scene reminiscent of a zombie movie, all their heads swivelled around to look at me. It was at that moment I believed my life was about to end. I reckon I must have taken a dozen kicks and punches before I made it to a couple of Coppers at the back of the stand and to safety. Well not quite. I then took another dozen punches from these pair of pointy headed gits before they threw me out of the ground. No wearing of head cameras and carrying of mobile phones in those days.
Watching this club home and away has been a pivotal part of my life and I guess that applies to so many of you as well.
The bad times of 1978 and 1988 nearly finished me off and the current shambles is taking me to the brink once again, but whether I like it or not, this is my club
So just remember. Mike Ashley is transient, we are not.
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