I use to live and work down south. Even though I lived there for much longer than I did on Tyneside, I always say “down south” rather than mention specific locations.
It’s just a natural thing for me to say. I’d never say “up north”. Which probably explains why I moved back. Gateshead, if you need to know.
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Like many exiles, I made the trip back for home games, and even got to a lot of away fixtures, as they were always much closer to where I lived.
Get a map of the UK put a pin in the middle of London. Draw a circle with a radius of 25 miles, and you’ll be putting a ring around thousands of people who were born hundreds and thousands of miles away.
Inevitably, I developed friendships with fans of all sorts of teams. All the usual suspects of course, but also Airdrieonians, Gillingham, Deportivo (those boys like to party!) and Slough Town, to name a few. So of course, there was always plenty of banter. Someone had always had a madman red-carded or received a 5-0 spanking.
I probably didn’t notice at the start, but twenty-odd years ago, the level of interest in my trips to watch Newcastle started to rise. And it kept on rising. I don’t need to tell you that this coincided with Kevin Keegan et al, but to an outsider, it was obvious the something exciting was happening 300 miles up the road.
One of the clichés that people come up with to describe events of that time is that Newcastle were everyone’s second favourite team. Well, I’m sure it didn’t apply to mackems, but I can vouch for the fact that it was the case with a whole bunch of others. It might sound mad to say it now, but it was cool to be a Newcastle fan. Even people who didn’t like football knew who we were.
I managed to get a second season ticket which I used to invite friends to come up for the weekend and watch the match. Some had never been to a game in their lives, but the reaction was always the same.
Every single one of them had an absolute ball. They loved the city, the people, the stadium, the atmosphere, and it didn’t seem to matter much how the match went. Newcastle – in its widest context – always put on a show for them.
It’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that I wasn’t just being nice to people. I was showing off. I knew that they’d have a great experience, and that made me feel good about myself. If you talked to any of the friends that made the trip, they’d instantly be able to bring details of their trips to mind. And that makes me proud.
The thing is, a lot of the good times I am recalling happened when the fans weren’t best pleased with what they saw on the pitch. But whether we were struggling with Gullit’s bizarre team selections, Souness’s miserable tactics or Dalglish’s Spartan regime, there was something that was worth showing to people.
I don’t know if you would call it hope, spirit, willfulness or blind optimism, but the city was always an uplifting place, the club was held in high regard, and the team was supported with unrivalled intensity. Everyone I ever took to the game “got” what being a Newcastle fan meant.
People still come up for the match, and probably always will. But I can’t say I feel the same as I did. I’m certainly not showing off any more. And it’s not just because the team is rubbish, or because the coach is a buffoon. We’ve been there before.
To me, it’s because this feels like a chronic illness as opposed to an acute pain that a new manager and a couple of decent signings would cure. Much of the humour and all of goodwill towards the club has evaporated. The whole city is in despair.
Mike Ashley’s parents lived about a mile from where I worked. On a trip back to the area a couple of years ago, I even met an old school friend of his at a party (he told me something about Mike Ashley that you won’t believe…read HERE).
It’s annoying to think that our future owner and I probably walked past each other in the street when being a Newcastle fan was about as good as it got.
I wish he’d struck up a conversation with me, and expressed an interest in coming to the match. If he’d had a few jars in the Percy, sat on the terraces with me, my mates and 50,000 other Geordies, I bet he’d have “got” what it means to be a fan. Not a supporter; a fan.
Someone who – for no logical reason – regards a football club as one of the key contributors to his or her levels of happiness. And I bet if he’d done that, he’d be a better owner, we’d be a better club, and I’d be a prouder Geordie.