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Newcastle United are for life – not just for Christmas

5 years ago

You know why football fans have unlikely and unrealistic hopes for their football team? Christmas. You better not shout and you better not cry…because I’m telling you why.

A while ago, I got one of my old Christmas presents from the loft. Subbuteo. Tom isn’t actually that good at it, although he does like flicking eleven tiny footballers off the table. He laughs like Mike Ashley after a bowl full of Brown Ale jelly, then takes an age to find the centre forward again. Who said these games aren’t realistic?

And he’s even worse when he plays FIFA. On a whim, he’ll change players, but then as a little lad, doesn’t have much understanding about the problems of playing Obertan anywhere without him running straight into bother.

Dunno about you, but when I was a kid, I loved a new Subbuteo team from Santa. One year, he brought me Newcastle United and Sunderland. I made my brother be Sunderland, but he was better at it than me and thrashed Newcastle about 17-0. No Michael Chopra-esque bottling it from my bro; he was showing me who was boss. And he’s younger than me, so the humiliation was final.

That the match ever took place was a miracle. I would inevitably leave the box somewhere ridiculous, with my mam and dad nearly standing on the lot of them. A glued Subbuteo player is never the same again, and slowly drifts through the lower leagues before finally being used as a plastic human sacrifice under the grill, when He-Man and Skeletor were playing chicken while my mam popped out to the shops.

Flicking players was good – but pressing their heads was better. ‘Striker’, or ‘Super Striker’ as it was by the time Santa brought one to our house, was my favourite. Subbuteo looked pretty good but, if the pitch wasn’t flat, it was a bit of a let-down. Striker, on the other hand, was brilliant.

Mine had teams that seemed to be Newcastle v Manchester United. You famously pressed their heads to make the player kick the ball. All was awesome until my granny pressed one of the players’ heads too hard. I’m sorry to say, he was no Bert Trautmann. He never played again, but at least he was spared the grill.

One year, Santa brought me the Subbuteo stadium and some floodlights. It was amazing, until I realised that unlike the brochure, which had lots of these stands put together, one crowd funded stand on its own would look like Workington rather than Wembley. You could probably build Wembley for the price of all of the stands it would take to line the pitch.

Perhaps the best thing about these games was partly their basis in some kind of glorified reality, but also the total control you felt over a whole moulded world.

You could change the players to another one who looked exactly the same.

You could change the goals to goals like off the telly.

You could be any team you wanted to be.

You can do the same thing on FIFA, Pro Evo and any other football video game. And this is why Christmas is the most joyous frustration for young football fans: we, and they, learn very early what is wrong with our club. Dangerously, these toys give us the means to fix it.

The glue might be wobbly, the formation might be slightly ambitious, but the intent and passion to make something good is what makes us get our mams to iron out the pitch problems and persuade a little footballer with no heed but good legs to play just one more game.

But in the real world, you can’t. You have no control. You are at the whim of grown-ups who will accidently, incompetently or uselessly break the heads of your team, or snap them at the shins.

So remember this when you help Santa sort out FIFA, Subbuteo or whatever will come next: a football team is for life, not just for Christmas.

Happy new year.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby

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