A Life Less Ordinary.
The problem a football fan has, is that he or she can’t go backwards. It’s the same with cars, holidays, wine and a load of other things.
If you buy a Mercedes, it’s hard to go back to a Kia, even if you were perfectly happy with it once. The annual caravan holiday in Cleethorpes no longer appeals after 2 weeks’ all-inclusive in the Caribbean. And the £2.99 Co-op plonk doesn’t slip down as well as it did once you start bringing home £15 bottles of the fancy stuff.
That is why Manchester United fans are so frustrated these days. They were the best team in England for more than a decade, and could even claim to be the best in Europe for a time. They had the most money, the most successful academy and the best players. They don’t any more and that hurts. The Ferguson era gave them a sense of entitlement, and an arrogance which – now it is evaporating – rival fans take great joy in reminding them of. At the time of writing, they are 2nd in the league, a position most of us would jump at, but what went before makes it feel like failure.
It wouldn’t matter if you pointed out that their first Premier League trophy came 26 years after their previous (old 1st Division) title, or that they were relegated for a season during that time. They tasted life at the very top and nothing can ever taste as good. Liverpool fans had to swallow the same bitter pill after their (arguably greater) era came to an end.
In a way, it’s a similar thing for me, and a lot of the people I know.
If I’m honest about Newcastle United, they haven’t been that good, on average, since I stood in the Paddock with my dad for the first time in the promotion season of 64-65. If I look at where we ended up among the 92 clubs in each of my 53 seasons, our average position is 15th. 15.3 actually, so if history repeats for the rest of my time as a fan, we should finish 15th or 16th on average. We’ve only finished in the top 10 in 16 of my 53 seasons, which doesn’t tell me I’ve supported a successful side.
I’m guessing that if I was a fan of Plymouth, Preston or Partick Thistle, and had been watching football for a similar amount of time, I might see Newcastle in those terms.
Maybe the pundits and journalists who say Geordies have unreasonable expectations genuinely wonder why fans of the 15th or 16th best team of the last 50 years aspire to more. Add in the fact that we’ve won one solitary trophy in all of that time – and for a decade before that – and someone without a feel for the club and the city might be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about.
Mike Ashley could show me a graph that demonstrates we have placed slightly higher, on average, under his tenure than we did in the 40-odd years before that. Hard to believe, but true.
I’ve seen us relegated 4 times, endured umpteen cup ‘upsets’ and seen a hundred abject performances. I’ve seen players who didn’t try, players who couldn’t play, and I swear I once saw one who turned up drunk. And don’t get me started on the managers…
But none of that matters.
I have seen us beat Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and all the others.
I have seen us compete for the Premier League title and watched us at Wembley.
I am lucky enough to have been to the Camp Nou, the San Siro and the proper Stadium of Light to see us play in Europe.
I’ve seen world class players like Shearer, Beardsley and Keegan in a black and white shirt.
And that’s what I remember. It’s the way my brain – everyone else’s I suspect – is wired. I will never forget the joy I felt when Tiote made it 4-4 against Arsenal. I have virtually no memory of the first half. I remember what I was doing before, during and after the 5-1 win over the mackems. All I recall from the subsequent defeats is some idiot punching a horse.
My memory of us beating Barcelona is 50 times sharper than that of the defeat(s) at their place. And so on through scores of happy times. It’s just no use telling me the club is pretty much where it always has been – I remember good (great!) times and I want more of them. I can’t believe they are impossible to achieve.
Blame Sir John Hall, blame Kevin Keegan, blame Sir Bobby Robson, but I want a life less ordinary.
I know this club can be so much more than it currently is because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Look at the stadium, the city, and the fans that turn up time after time and tell me we don’t deserve better. I’m not suggesting we attempt to catch Man City (a mate of mine does a bit of work for them, and reckons their training and medical facilities are like something out of Star Wars) and their like, but I do want to be ahead of the likes of Brighton, Watford, Huddersfield and Burnley (insert the customary ‘no disrespect…’ clause here if you wish). Surely it’s not delusional to aspire to that. I can’t accept that their finances have moved tens of millions ahead of ours.
And I’d like to give at least one cup competition a go. Since we were last in a final, Tranmere, Millwall and Bradford – among a whole host of other ‘smaller’ clubs – have been there and given their fans a day out. Even followers of the smoggies and the mackems have gone down Wembley Way in their new shellsuits since we last brought some class to North West London. Surely a club of Newcastle’s stature should see the cups as an adventure rather than a chore.
If we get new owners – and I sincerely hope we do – let’s hope they have ambitions that extend beyond the average, and see 15th / 16th place as the minimum requirement, rather than the goal.