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Born too late…Newcastle fans and Life on Mars

5 years ago

In no particular order, my three favourite TV programmes, ever, are: The Sopranos; The Simpsons; and Life on Mars.

The Sopranos and The Simpsons had precious little football in them – although in one episode, The Simpsons did have an international match featuring Mexico. Kent Brockman didn’t really see what the fuss was about…

Life on Mars, however, did have an episode about football fans. Opening in a post –millennial, bureaucratic, target driven system of bland existence, it constantly compared the past and the present. The good and bad of history and the now, making us question whether or not society, culture, and in that one episode, watching football, had got any better.

Well, some things had and some things had not. Sounds familiar. If you never saw it, the series told the story of a DCI who gets a blimmin’ huge knock on the head and wakes up in 1973. A year after I was born.

So I was one of the Newcastle fans who missed out on the Fairs Cup by three years. I missed out on ‘74 because I was more interested in rusks. I missed out on ’76 because, while I had started to like football, I had no idea what the League Cup was. Unless you could drink milk out of it, I wouldn’t have been that bothered. And our record in the Milk Cup, as it became, was less than brilliant. I’m guessing that some of you missed out on the better bits of the 70s. Who do you wish you had seen?

My dad goes misty eyed and slightly fuzzy around the edges when he tells me about the history of his little slice of Newcastle United.  Jinky Jimmy and Tony Green. And then he says, “You never saw them, did you, son?”

No dad. You know fine well that due to the time-space continuum, my first match was in 1979 against Wrexham. And while I look at this with way more romance than most people probably remember that match, I can see how anyone who had been a regular only a few years earlier might have felt like the good days were gone forever.

But at least I got the best of ’96. At least I got the first wave of Keegan-mania in 82-84. And for every false hope, there were the Champions League memories.

What for the fans in their early twenties? What for the teenagers taking the black and white road to the future? Just like my dad reliving Tony Green and Terry Hibbitt, I’m desperate for these generations to be telling their kids about the first rays of class we’ve had for a while.

“Aye, Gouffran… Rafa turned him into a genius! Started him on the run to six hat-tricks in a row against Sunderland. We got T-shirts with six in a row printed up…”

“Jonjo Shelvey… he could ping a sixty yard pass and save kittens at the same time…”

The past is always better than you remember. Or worse. But if you ignore it, then you don’t have a future. Newcastle United hasn’t been grounded in trophies for a while but we weren’t short of our generational heroes until just a few years ago. This is the first time we’ve had players who might be remembered with some exaggeration based in real memories for a while. Is Matt Ritchie the next Jinky Jimmy or Ginola? I’d like to rephrase that. Can’t he be the first Matt Ritchie?

I love the nods to the past on the flags. I love the fact that younger fans now have access to media that shares their heritage and that they understand it, with relish. And that the new players seem to respect the legend of the club they play for. This appreciation, and some big personalities, pulled us out of the Championship the last time.

As confidence grows, our team is pulling together. We’ve just seen off Brentford, a solid team who hadn’t let in loads of goals before they appeared at Barrack Road. You can almost feel a chapter of our story being written; one that we might want to read again. That the younger fans today can tell the fans of tomorrow. I like that. It’s called pride and we are getting it back.

Some of us never got to see those legends of Newcastle United, be they goals or players.  To this, I am doomed, but I don’t care. I’m going to enjoy living in the present while we keep alive the past.

Santa might bring me ‘The Big Match’ DVD. That’ll do; or a jacket like Sam Tyler’s from Life on Mars.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby



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