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Opinion

A visit to Middlesbrough opened my eyes as a 13 year old Newcastle fan in the 1970s

2 years ago
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Well the season is over and everyone is now generally bored, Newcastle United have been linked with all and sundry, but I can’t get overly excited until someone actually signs on the dotted line…

The end of the season brought apparently joyous scenes to St James Park. I use the word apparently, simply because having missed only 17 home games since ‘my’ debut in 1970, I contrived to miss the last two home games due to reasons that were out of my control.

To make matters worse, as Sky were showing the happenings at the bottom of the league I was reliant on rubbish Internet, and due to the excitement at SJP, I was unable to get anyone to pick up the phone back in Blighty.

I must have been the last person on the planet to know that Villa had equalised – I hope you all enjoyed!

Congratulations to Huddersfield Town as well, who in all honesty probably were the best team out of the rest. Oddly enough, back in 1970 my first ever home game was against Huddersfield, where perched on a concrete barrier in the A Wing paddock I witnessed an exciting 0-0 draw.

First game, seeing a green pitch, forget the grass always being green as I had only ever seen snippets on Shoot or MOTD ( if allowed to stay up late). This was some two years before we had a colour TV so in my eyes the grass was grey, memories…then to my left the heaving mass that was the Leazes End. It would be some years before I stood on that famous terrace but the sight is as clear now as it was then.

Anyway, a few articles on here touch upon people’s first home game and why they were hooked, it’s a habit I certainly can’t give up and never will.

As time progressed I yearned to go to an away game but my dad did not drive and being a Brighton fan, he was not that fussed. Until one day in August 1977 he came home and announced ‘we are off to Middlesbrough tomorrow for an away game’!

He had two tickets and a trusted uncle was driving, before I knew it there we were, five of us wedged into a Hillman Avenger for the trip to Ayresome Park.

We parked somewhere in the labyrinth of streets close to the ground, where I was told by my dad to take off the Newcastle United silk scarf I had removed from my bedroom wall early in the morning.

This was a wise move as my first away game featured not just a two nil defeat where Tommy Craig missed a first minute penalty, but seeing masses of both sets of fans going head to head right outside the ground with very few Police present.

In all honesty, it was quite frightening for an excited 13 year old. As the fans separated we were spat on by the Boro fans who had realised we were not Teessiders, as we sought sanctuary from the fighting masses!

The fighting started and stopped for what seems like an eternity until eventually the police forced back the Boro fans into one of the streets opposite the ground. The fact it was the street we sought sanctuary in made things more unpleasant, as the spit and the odd stray punch was again aimed at the adults in our small group.

This was not the first time I was to see trouble when we played Middlesbrough home or away because as the years went by I learned that the place had quite a reputation.

Many years later, as a responsible adult I had my revenge because I was employed to inspect houses in the Middlesbrough area for abstraction of electricity (meter fiddle) – so there was plenty of revenge as houses were plunged into darkness (legally) by yours truly. Doing this job for five years meant I got to know the really bad areas and some really colourful people in and around Teesside.

Getting back to the car after the game was also a challenge given that there is street after street of terraced houses all around the ground, and as it was in those days, both sets of fans exited together – leaving the streets open for more mayhem. One particular sad memory of that day in 1977, was seeing an elderly Boro fan  being relieved of his scarf by a Newcastle fan as his grandson stood next to him crying.

Our aim was to get back to the car and out of this place, which we duly did without further molestation, and on the Monday at school I exaggerated the happenings as I relived the events of the day with my jealous friends.

These are vivid memories for me, I can’t remember what I did yesterday but I can remember every away game I have ever been to: the highs, the lows, the funny, the sad and yes in some cases, the nastiness that went with being a football fan in the 70s and 80s.

Everyone has their own memories of away games, I know I have plenty, but my first away game won’t ever be forgotten, later that season I was to visit Roker Park for the first time……but maybe that is for another day!

Enjoy the summer, we are back where we belong and while at an age where I dare not wish my life away, I can’t wait for the big kick-off.

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

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