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A special time of the year

5 years ago

Aaaaaaaah, Easter. That special time, those few vital days when titles are decided, relegation becomes inevitable and you offer the children their first taste of football at the Cathedral on the Hill (copyright John Gibson).

Your sons and daughters will remember forever that unique experience. Unburdened by the demands of malicious employers, there’s even the chance for exiled Geordies to make the long trip north and with luck take in two home games, perhaps even squeeze in an away trip for good measure.

But not this year. The traditional climax to seven or eight months of huff-and-puff, thud-and-blunder football has been scrapped. It has gone the way of Christmas double-headers, emergency keepers, two points for a win, 10 minutes for half-time (most people under 40 are probably unaware the 15 minute interval beloved of commercial broadcasters was for decades the preserve of cup games) and many more apparently incidental characteristics of our national game. The sort of characteristics that once defined football.

And what are we given in exchange for the two or three crucial showdowns?

A veritable plague of unwanted friendlies that will at best enhance the chances of a few fringe players hoping to make the European finals; and at worst knacker your team’s MVP for weeks if not months.

Before you dismiss such complaints as nothing more than the predictable ramblings of a boring old fogey, show a bit of respect. I’m by no means old.

To support my case, I’ll cite the recollections of a Newcastle supporter far more senior, one long enough in the tooth to have seen Jackie Milburn in action at The Valley (a 1-1 draw with Charlton) a few weeks before we last won the FA Cup. And his experiences are genuine, unlike those of Tony Bloody Blair.

David (for that is what we shall call him) has fond memories of watching the Magpies three times in four days a few years later during what some other believers classify as the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

He says:

“The first Easter I lived in Newcastle we played West Brom on the Friday (2-2 after we led 2-0 at half-time), Burnley (1-0, a Jackie Sinclair screamer) on Saturday and then lost the return fixture at West Brom on Easter Monday.”

Take a bow if you realise that was 1968, dear reader.

“I also remember seeing us at Crystal Palace, when they were still called the Glaziers, on the Easter Saturday after we had just clinched promotion from the old Division Two by beating Wyn Davies’s Bolton on a very Good Friday in 1965. Despite looking the worse for wear after a night on the lash Newcastle still managed a 1-1 draw.

“Three matches over Easter was pretty standard fare until the Premier League came along. Another Easter Monday classic I remember is our 5-1 destruction of Carlisle in the 1983-84 promotion season, with Keegan scoring straight after a Kevin Carr penalty save.

“Good Friday was the first to go, ironically just as it became a normal shopping/newspaper publishing day. Easter Monday went next because of the build-up of midweek European games but to have nothing on Saturday so that Ingerlund can play a meaningless friendly beggars belief.”

Maybe we should all be grateful for the two-week hiatus between the Sunderland and Norwich games (so soon after the 18-day hiatus that followed the Chelsea debacle).

You could argue that a fortnight of intensive input from Rafa Benitez before the £100m showdown at Carrow Road must be a good thing. Then again, the current line-up seemed to benefit not at all from the previous interregnum, whatever McBrolly said after the Stoke defeat.

But, of course, this dreadful season is caused by the countless failings of our owner/directors/previous coaches/deluded fans. Or so the players would wish you to believe.

From this distant outpost in the People’s Republic of Hove and Portslade, I want the final eight matches of our appalling season to be played at regular intervals, on Saturday afternoons and maybe Wednesday evenings.  That’s what happens once you become a boring middle-aged fogey.



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