On 13th March 1976 my life changed forever, as I walked with my dad and brother to see my beloved Newcastle United play for the first time.
We were a couple of little lads adorned with brand new black and white scarves that my grandma had given us early for my birthday, as she knew how excited we were. She was in hospital at the time fighting a losing battle with leukemia but she wanted to make sure we had our scarves for the game before my birthday, which was a week later.
As we walked through the streets on that clear day in March, we took in the smells of the pubs and breweries, and the sight and sound of the crowds making their way up to Gallowgate. I remember the queues and the steps up to the top and then that view. The view we all fall in love with, as one of our famous family of supporters once said.
My dad was a quiet man, didn’t drink much, didn’t swear or smoke, but I saw a different dad that day. He became something different, something special. He lent down and told us what the fans were singing about Mickey Burns, he swore when West Ham took the lead and I saw utter joy on his face when Tommy Craig’s penalty went in off the post for the winner.
When the whistle went he was delighted that we’d seen our first win. We rushed down through the streets to Central Station and back to Darlington on the first train. Everyone seemed so happy. All the smiling faces.
I was over the moon on the way home. I’d done it. I’d seen the lads. I’d seen Supermac. But above all I’d forged an unbreakable bond with my father. My dad had told me stories of Jackie Milburn, of beating Sunderland 6-1 away, and of the cruel end to the career of Tony Green. He loved Newcastle.
Naturally, all I had ever wanted to do was to play for the lads, but as my dad put it “I tackled like a girl and had no chance”. He was right unfortunately but as the years rolled by we shared more trips to SJP experiencing the highs and lows of supporting our club.
Unfortunately, as the onset of Alzheimer’s took hold of my dad, the trips from our new home in Nottingham became less frequent, but I will always remember the game against Everton in 2002. The scoreline of 6-2 was fantastic but for me what was special, was that my first son was there too. Three generations of my family. The continuation of the love affair with all things black and white.
The day we play Burnley is the anniversary of my dad’s death. Although he is no longer with me now, there will always be a bit of him at SJP in the Leazes End, up on level 7. I made sure of that when I scattered some of his ashes. He would have liked that. We won the game and I got him in for free!
To me this is what supporting our club is all about. It isn’t about money, the transfer window, or who owns the club. It’s about passion, belief, joy and sadness, and the continuation of our shared love affair with Newcastle United.
I have always said to my kids that I don’t mind who they bring home, what their political views are, or what their religion is, but they WILL support Newcastle. And it’s worked! My two Midlands born and bred boys are black and white through and through. My daughter also loves football and the middle name of ‘Shearer’ that I gave her will ensure that she doesn’t stray from the cause when she marries.
I can never thank my dad enough for that day 40 odd years ago.
(There were two things that prompted me to write this article. One of those was obviously my dad – but the other was my wife. She is a dementia care worker and said that there is a man she is helping who is a Newcastle supporter, so she wore her shirt for him yesterday and it made him happy.)