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Opinion

I’ll never forget the dread of seeing the TV cameras at St James Park

2 years ago
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Before the days of a magnificent all seater stadium, and before the magnificent all seater stadium went to the gym and pumped up a couple of extra tiers, St James Park didn’t look quite finished.

In the late 70s, the old Leazes End was demolished to make way for a development that would not happen for many years. And in the middle of that vastly reduced, underdeveloped terrace, was a scaffold. Every now and then, the Match of the Day TV cameras would find their way up north. More likely would be highlights on Shoot! as Newcastle United were a sleeping giant having a kip in the old second division, there would be more chance of edited highlights of losing at home to Barnsley, than a Sunday afternoon, Greatest League in the World, live match against, err, Swansea City.

While I do enjoy my rose-tinted spectacles of those years of going to the match as a young ‘un, I also remember the dread of seeing those TV cameras. We didn’t just lose at home to Barnsley when we were on the telly. We seemed to lose a lot when we were on the telly. My dad, who hardly looks at the footballing world with any optimism, used to think as much.

I’ve spent half of my adult life thinking pretty much what he doesn’t, but his declaration that, “We’re on the telly, we’re going to lose. It’s like the telly people want us to lose!” just sounded like a bar stool conspiracy theory. But could he, like a grizzled old detective with a week left on the force, a mystery, and a hunch as to the answer, have a point?

Thinking back to Liverpool v Newcastle United in the FA Cup, 1984, we were a sleeping giant making some waking up noises, on the way to promotion. The BBC were full of it; Kevin Keegan going back to his old club, memories of ’74 (not for me, I was more interested in rusks and going for a walk in my pushchair), and Liverpool were at the peak of their powers. Perhaps not surprisingly, we were taken apart, live on a Friday night.

Looking back, I can’t help but feel that we were deliberately televised as the whipping boys. Let’s watch this lot get thrashed by the big lads. Mind, I also remember watching the telly and only hearing Newcastle fans. Must have been amazing to be there.

Surely the BBC weren’t just setting us up to fail? Jimmy Hill was very excited about a new talent called Chris Waddle. Nah… it’s all in my head.

Sky TV used to love us. ‘The Entertainers’ they called us, maybe after we came back from 2-1 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 4-2. And they loved us for a while longer; but the love turned to pity following Kevin Keegan’s now famous rant after the Leeds match. And following our last Premier League season of amazing away performances, our away matches seem to be on a surprising amount. Surely this is good? Surely it’s better than being on Shoot!?

Well, this brings us to their pundits, who don’t seem to have a lot of time for Newcastle United. To be fair, some of them don’t have a lot of time for anyone. It’s a bit like a football version of the Jeremy Kyle show. So it’s just in my head.

Frustratingly, I’m always amazed at the slightly defeatist attitude of pundits. When a team goes two goals down, the pundit, who, having usually played in the modern era with some experience of sports psychology and a positive approach to sporting difficulty,  generally think that there is no way back, and the losing team might as well start selling their stuff in the club shop because no one will ever want it. Michael Owen is the worst for this and his approach explains his ‘efforts’ to help us survive in 2009.

And yet, the BBC pundits seem so grudging in their praise.

Is it because Newcastle United parted company with Mark Lawrenson and all of the other pundits seemed to be his chums?

Is it because they genuinely believe we are deluded?

This would be lazy punditry at its most dismal.

I’m not giving up. I’m being too sensitive. I’ll go on thinking that it’s just a coincidence, and that the pundits are maybe just a bit miserable, creating a TV character of themselves. They think everyone apart from about seven teams ‘are going to struggle’ or are ‘in a relegation dogfight.’

How could we possibly feel so singled out? Anyway, soon there will be the FA Cup to take our mind off it all.

Hang on… Ronnie Radford. Every. Year.

The plot thinkens.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby
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