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My geography wasn’t great when I chose Newcastle United to be my club

5 years ago

Thanks for the special moment Rafa at Newcastle United.

As a football fan, and more specifically a Newcastle fan, you endure a lot more lows than highs.

Teams can’t win trophies every year (or any year as it would seem for us), so for most sets of fans the only joy to be garnered comes from victories, comebacks, hard fought displays, spectacular goals and special moments.

What do I mean by special moments?

I mean moments so unexpected and exciting that they stay with you forever as one of the pivotal moments in your years supporting your club. Moments that surprise not only us as Newcastle fans but the footballing world in general. These are moments that transcend what happens in 90 minutes.

Obviously many of us would look to the 8-0 against Sheffield Wednesday, 5-1 Sunderland and 4-4 Arsenal as special moments but the moments I speak of, are beyond that.

I have read about Keegan first coming to Newcastle and the bemusement of our fan base at the time that we’d enticed the two times European player of the year into the Second Division. Him returning as manager and the journey he took the club on was pretty incredible too.

Alan Shearer signing for his home town club goes down as a special moment.

For me, this was the moment that led to me being a Newcastle fan, so in a way it was special but I didn’t realise just how significant it was at the time.

I had never been into football until Euro ’96. At the age of 8 this tournament graced our country (and television screens) and I found myself wrapped up in the europhia of it all. (The real) Super Al was outstanding that tournament and when it was reported that he’d signed for Newcastle, I decided that they would be the team I supported.

My geography wasn’t great back then and I didn’t know that, living in the South West, Newcastle United would literally be the furthest Premier League team from me. I also didn’t appreciate at the time how big a deal it was that Alan Shearer was turning down Manchester United to play for his hometown club. It was literally a case of my mum saying, “Newcastle have just signed Shearer,” and me saying “Okay, I’ll support them.”

Bobby Robson coming home would have been a special moment to so many. Being 11 years old, though, I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t realise the significance of this prestigious Geordie manager getting the top job for us. Of course, over the next five years, Sir Bobby gave me plenty of great memories and will go down as my favourite manager of my lifetime.

Keegan’s return (again) was a special moment I did fully feel the benefit of but what happened not long after soured the whole event and we’ll never know how things may have turned out had Mike Ashley backed his man and allowed him to get on with his job.

In fact, in 20 years of supporting Newcastle I’d say my only truly special moment would be the moment Alan Shearer broke the all time goalscoring record at our club. That was a really special moment. I still remember where I was when he smashed in number 201 against Pompey as I’m sure many fans can. I was bouncing around a hotel room in Dublin with Football Focus on the TV. Not quite the matchday experience many will be able to boast but I was still buzzing. Hard to believe that was 10 and a half years ago.

However, nothing before or since. Winning the Championship was great but would I put it on the same level as the events I’ve mentioned above? I don’t think so. Winning a major competition; that’d be up there.

Rafa Benitez at Newcastle. This has been a special moment. When the news came out that we planned to sign Rafa I, like many I’m sure, instantly dismissed it. Why would a man of his accomplishments and standing in the game come and join the Newcastle United circus? It made no sense. Surely if Ashley was going to sack McClaren we’d be looking at another washed up English manager with more arrogance than achievements. Maybe a Warnock or a Bruce.

But come he did and he very nearly saved us. It was such a shame to be relegated on the back of a six game unbeaten run. If only he’d been brought in sooner! The moment of Benitez coming to Newcastle would have lost all it’s glory had he walked after we’d gone down.

When we beat Tottenham on the last day of the season, Sky picked the match as their ‘Game of the Day’. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is, it’s where Sky show the full 90 minutes of the game they perceive to be the best on that day. I watched the entire game and was almost in tears at what I heard. For the entirity of the match the fans sang and shouted their support of Rafa. I told anyone that’d listen, after witnessing that, that Rafa was going to stay and see us through the Championship. He’s done the first part of that and I have full confidence he’ll achieve the second too.

The recent hysteria around the transfer window and our performances has been laughable. How anyone can question Benitez I really don’t know. The transfer window was disappointing and after making a profit in the summer it was surprising to not see a couple of additions but nobody knows what really went on. The hopeful, and probably naïve, part of me thinks that we may get another war chest in the summer to get the required reinforcements when/if we’re in a position to get the right players to take the club forward.

People have been speaking about Brighton as if they are the 1970 Brazil team. Brighton are good and I hope they come up with us but I am confident we’ll win the league. You only have to look at last season to see that they are just as capable as anyone of having a collapse of form.

I originally was going to write this before the Brentford game and I was tipping them to lose two on the bounce. That didn’t happen, thanks to a resolute double comeback, and they are a dangerous and talented side. But I think we’ve got enough in this squad to come out on top and I really can’t see us slipping out of the automatic spots. A lot of our fans say, “Brighton are too good, they’ll win it easily.” However, I’m fairly sure Brighton fans, and most others, will be saying that about us.

We need to have faith in Rafa and keep up the noise in the home games. We’ve all experienced something incredibly special in seeing Rafa take on our unforgiving challenge of a football club. That moment became even more special when he stayed with us in relegation. Let’s not allow the moment to be short-lived or tarnished. Let’s keep singing for Rafa and let’s see how far he can take us.

I’d love it if there were a few more special moments to come.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin


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