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Behind enemy lines…with a massive grin all over my big fat face

5 years ago

Match day could have started more pleasantly.

My son arrived with grandson No1 just before 8am for his weekly childcare visitation. That’s always good news but his dad had some unwanted tidings; a dog had, overnight, emptied the contents of its considerable bowels directly outside our front gate and at least one unwary pedestrian had spread the mess over most of the pavement. Six buckets of hot water and two plastic bags removed most of the evidence within half an hour, though my mood took rather longer to pick up.

Here’s a topic for some gormless PhD student determined to research the bleeding obvious: trace the correlation between wet weather and dog owners’ refusal to clear up after their adored pets. Yes, I know walking in the rain with the one you love is not as much fun as Neil Sedaka would have you believe. But is that a legitimate excuse to leave a substantial health hazard on a dimly lit path that children walk along to school?

In the words of D:Ream, things can only get better after that low point. And how! The archetypal six-pointer had been occupying my feeble mind for months.

Living in Hove for the past five football seasons, about half a mile from the old Goldstone Ground, I cannot but notice the blue-and-white Seagulls scarves, car stickers and stripy shirts. Those stripes are given the occasional airing at the County Ground in the cricket season. Nothing wrong with that; I guess Toon Army members can be seen in all their glory at the Riverside each summer. The world’s two greatest sports are always capable of attracting like-minded aficianados. Which perhaps explains why one black-and-white top sometimes catches a few rays at Sussex cricket HQ.

Anyway, back to the main event, with one question still unanswered as kick-off neared.

There was no chance of securing entry to the American Express Community Stadium, so how would I follow the action?

By listening to BBC Newcastle coverage on in the privacy of my home? Or by visiting a Sky Sports local hostelry?

You might believe the latter is far superior but for football fans of a certain age the magic of radio commentary cannot be overstated. Until Keith Rupert Murdoch and his cronies called the shots, domestic football was shown live on television only twice or thrice a season. If you couldn’t go to a particular match, you pictured the scene through the eyes of a radio commentator or two and, perhaps, an expert summariser.

Football being a simple game, it works well on radio (unlike, for example, rugby union). Once you had attended a few contests in person, you understood and could interpret the words coming over the airwaves, even if nearly every BBC and Talksport waffler insists on saying “on the left-hand side of the pitch” when they merely mean “on the left”.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Newcastle United was, though, likely to be no ordinary match. The top two in the Championship, only one point between them, the hosts boasting the best home record, the visitors the best away record. There was no way this Mad Mag could reject the chance to infiltrate a pub rammed full of Brighton fans and cheer for Rafa’s men.

While wearing one of my classic NUFC tops (more or less hidden under a nondescript jumper, mind. Mad I might be; but not that stupid. Winter nights can be a bit parky on the South Coast).

To say the first 15 minutes or so were a bit dog-mess would be putting it mildly. Brighton dominated the early exchanges and could have scored twice before Robert Madley gave them a helping hand. Not exactly an unexpected turn of events. Yes, Clark was grappling with Murray. But Murray was also grappling with Clark. Perhaps we were unwise to give that particular ref the chance to demonstrate his understanding of the laws, considering his performance at Sunderland last season.

My affiliation was apparent even before that penalty. Whenever we conceded possession cheaply, a loud moan bounced like a pinball off the pub walls. Whenever Madley made a questionable decision or ignored a Brighton foul, a lone voice amid the 50-odd home fans was calling him. And when we did start to build promising attacks, only to squander gilt-edged openings, the groans were worse than a seasick sailor’s while suckin’ sickly sausage rolls.

Which reminds me of the most important reason for going to that particular Hove boozer (the Poets Smoke House, fyi): the thought that my attendance would materially benefit Newcastle’s chances. Here’s the logic: a few years back I invested in a jumbo pack of four piping hot large sausage rolls in the Haymarket Greggs, scoffed the lot before I reached the ground, then watched us stuff some hapless team. Obviously, if I had repeated that trick ad nauseam we would never have been relegated . . . and I would probably have had no need for an emergency angioplasty and a cardiac stent.

Earlier this season I watched us on television at the Poets for the first time. We utterly dominated Leeds, put on what was until this week our most impressive display (QPR away notwithstanding) and I had a great natter with a Liverpool fan. The clear conclusion is that all three points might hinge on my returning to the Poets, exchanging pleasantries with the locals and giving it large. Which is exactly what happened.

When Diame’s deft flick guided the ball unerringly into Brighton’s net, just the one clenched fist punched the strangely silent air at that pub.

And when Perez steered the winner into the bottom right corner of Stockdale’s goal at the end of a brilliant move involving a worldy pass from Ritchie, followed by precise control and passing by Atsu, my reaction was . . . stunned disbelief. And a quick look at the clock to work out how long was left for Brighton to recover.

Final score – Brighton 1 Newcastle 2.

A couple of random thoughts to finish:

Dummett’s goal-line clearance was massive. And we won without Shelvey being much more than moderate.

A long way to go but, for the first time since that win at Elland Road, there is at least one Mad Mag in Hove feeling distinctly confident. Trust in Rafa.

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

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