Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but the ending to the season, winning the division in the final minute, must have heightened the relief at promotion into unbridled leaping about for the vast majority of us. It would take a hard heart to temper that final minute with a ‘Premier League shopping list or bust’ caveat.
And in an intriguing parallel, wouldn’t it have been great if that final minute was the beginning of a story about your first ever match? If that game was your first, then gerrin! You are clearly very good luck, and it’ll be a gripping story to tell in years to come.
Rewind a few years to her first match, and the eldest asked me, as we shuffled and funnelled away from St James Park, if it had been a good one. It was, but it was not her first Newcastle match.
“Well, sweetheart, let’s just look at the day. You’ve just watched a Quarter Final of the Olympics, Brazil v Honduras, and you’ve seen Oscar and Neymar fall down a canny bit. There were five goals, loads of Brazilian samba bands, and understood the injustice of a man sent off. There’s been a penalty, a good game, and a peppered steak slice,” I listed.
“Yeah, dad, it’s been great! But dad, you ate the steak slice. It was a bit peppery for me. I am only seven and that was very, very peppery, but there was a football pattern on it so that was good.” A most considered observation for a seven year old. Best get her something to eat before we go for the bus, I thought.
“You know what?” I cheerily decided, to avoid the peppered steak slice becoming a downer on her day, “I think it’s been brilliant!”
“So do I, dad. Thanks for taking me!” This was a big moment. “Can we go a Newcastle match, please?”
“Yes. Yes, we can!” What a parent!
And when we did, for her birthday and the young ‘un’s first match, I taught the smaller folk of my family the value of disappointment and frustration. They watched, nay, endured, Newcastle losing 2-1 to Swansea, with a last minute penalty to Swansea to making Alan Pardew mutter some cobblers, like, “We was lacking that bit of quality.” Aye, Alan. Thanks for the insight.
Now, all of this reminded me about a conversation I had with a mate called Pete, a Sheffield Wednesday fan, a long time ago. We were discussing the perfect first football match. We had been drinking grown up pop, and our conclusions are reproduced here for you join in, worded slightly differently, but in exactly the same spirit.
We decided that, as this was the perfect first match, you team would probably win. But how? Well… we reckoned… an early lead, just to build up excitement and hope, would be good. It would help with the atmosphere, and solidify that connection with the team and whoever you were with. Your team plays well. You are Brazil 1970. Sort of. Optimistically, as the half ends, the prospect of some pop, either grown up or fizzy, would give an extra bounce to our perfect match. Maybe a Waggon Wheel, just to top up your energy levels.
You join us for the second half kicks off, amidst roars and the promise of more goals; though when the second goal comes, five minutes in, it silences the crowd. You now understand the stomach churning sight of the other team arrogantly running back up the pitch, cheering like the end of a long war (your team did exactly the same earlier, though with a degree of elegance and grace that this other lot lack)… and after a few seconds of silence, you become part of a banshee hollering that almost restarts the match itself.
But what’s this? You’re suddenly 2-1 down, after a breakaway from a corner, earned from the non-stop pressure you have applied since the equaliser. No! What is this abysmal feeling of gloom! You sing, you shout, you kick every kick, challenge for every header. It’s like watching a cat dream about chasing a bird.
I reckon by about now, Pete and little me were probably telling each other, “Yamebestmateye!”
Anyway; with ten minutes to go, the endless pressure and a substitution, bringing on a new wonder kid from the youth team, a local lad, results in him selling their captain a dummy on the outside edge of the box, and swerving a shot in off the post. A bit like Norman Whiteside’s goal in the 1985 FA Cup final, but obviously even better. Obviously.
It looks like the match is going to wobble out into a well-earned draw. Good feeling in the stomach, and that stuff near your throat and eyes… that’s pride.
One minute to go. A speculative ball over the top from your ice-cool captain releases your star centre forward, who is scythed down in the box. Thousands of voices scream for a penalty, and there is no hesitation; the referee points to the guaranteed spot of excitement and stress.
Up steps wonder kid. Silence. Agony.
And the cheeky little blighter puts the experienced goalie the wrong way. Cue Bedlam.
Floating away from the ground, singing above the smell of onions from the hot dog sellers, you try to reproduce this feeling every week. Sometimes you get very close.
Me? I was happy enough with my half time Waggon Wheel, and 1-0 win against Wrexham in 1979. Alan Shoulder from a penalty. Bukta kits.
Romantic? Maybe. You can tell me all about it in a minute. I’ll just get the pints in.
Fancy a peppered steak slice while I’m at the bar? I hope we’ll be here a while.
You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby
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