Southampton fan Pete (AKA as The 92 Grounds Man) is aiming to visit all 92 league grounds and has even set up his own website linked to his quest, last month it was St James Park where he headed to.
This being the 73rd stadium of the 92 to be ticked off, Pete was at the Newcastle v Leeds match on Friday 14 April. This is what he had to say about the experience…
Ground: St James Park (73/92)
Game: Newcastle United 1-1 Leeds United
Last summer when I was planning the assault on my 92 over the 16/17 season, Easter was a weekend earmarked as a 2-in-1 opportunity. With games from the top 4 divisions of English football split over 4 days including a double round of EFL action, it was the perfect chance to get 2 ‘long haul’ grounds ticked off; providing the matches fell kindly. With pockets of grounds to tick off in Wales, London and the North-East I waited for the fixture release with baited breath.
The fixture computer must have been listening too, as it worked its magic with both Newcastle and Sunderland due to play at home on Easter Saturday.
With no chance of both of them playing at home on the same day, closer to the date Newcastle’s home game with Leeds was moved to 7:45pm on the Good Friday. With permission from the wife granted, a Travelodge was booked and it was game on!
Not having been to Newcastle before and with an evening kick off, I was eager to get there and explore the city. There was the potential to do Hartlepool on the way up who were playing at 3, however this wouldn’t have left time to discover the city.
With title rivals Brighton kicking off at 5pm away to Wolves, the pubs around the ground were packed. The atmosphere was tense with 2 points separating the pair at the top of the table; if Brighton slipped up and Newcastle took advantage the Toon would be back in pole position for the league.
Rosie’s Bar. Sat on the edge of Chinatown next to the Arch, the match on Sky and in view of the Gallowgate the small traditional corner pub was the ideal pre-match location.
The Groundhopping Community
And it was here that I met my local tour guide, Colin (@colinpodge). Running the92.net it has been great to build up a groundhopping community on Twitter over the past few years and hear about fellow fans’ journeys. When sharing my plans for Easter, Colin got in touch. A season ticket holder for decades at St James’, he kindly offered to get me a ticket for the Leeds game when they went on sale and through a contact source a free ticket to the Stadium of Light the following day.
Over to you Newcastle
With Championship Player of the Season Anthony Knockaert bagging a brace at Molineux, it was back over to Newcastle. Colin and I finished our pints and headed off to the match. After walking through the (Chinese) arch Colin gave me a whistle stop tour of the outside of the stadium taking in statues of Sir Bobby Robson, Alan Shearer and Jackie Milburn, the old St James Park gates and the Alder Sweeney Memorial Garden. The latter a lasting tribute to the 2 fans who were killed on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
For the game I was in the East Stand. With season ticket priority for ticketing, Colin was able to secure me a ticket with a great vantage point in row G, midway between the halfway line and the Gallowgate. Coming out of the concourse for the first time and seeing the vast structures of the Milburn and Leazes Stand lit up under the lights was quite something. With closed corners and steep stands the stadium is a fantastic arena for football and soon to be packed with over 50,000 fans.
With a warm welcome from the block E regulars we discussed Newcastle, Southampton and grounds, sharing stories over a pre-match pint before taking our seats.
An Enthralling Game
As a neutral it was an enthralling game of football to watch. Even the most hardened Leeds fan must have to admit they stole a point in a game Newcastle dominated. Despite possession being fairly even with 22 shots and 19 corners, the home side should have won comfortably. But with only four of those shots being on target and from what I recall those being straight at the keeper, it was clear they were missing the finishing of top scorer Dwight Gayle.
Atmosphere 4.5/5: There was a real buzz throughout the game from the highest Championship crowd of the season; 52,301 (I like to think I was the 1)
Location 4.5/5: Excellent, right in the city.
Value for money 3/5: £35 for a ticket, but that was for a seat with a great view at what was a huge game.
Pint rating 3.5/5
Stewarding 3/5: Not noticed where I was but should have dealt with the pitch invader much quicker.
Often, I get asked when talking about doing the 92 why I go mostly as a neutral nowadays and this was the perfect example. The North East is known for being a community with football at its heart and going to the game as a neutral I was able to experience the match day as a home fan; discussing the game with the locals’ pre-match plus getting a ticket in a great position.
This wouldn’t have been the case had I visited with Southampton, where I would have been up in the gods a quarter of a mile plus from the pitch and certainly wouldn’t have been able to get into Rosie’s, especially wearing red and white stripes!