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After 54 seasons of Newcastle United I have no alternative but to agree #IfRafaGoesWeGo

3 years ago

A Brief History of Mine…

I thought I’d give an abridged history of my time as a supporter of Newcastle United, where I’ve gone from wide-eyed youngster to disillusioned old man who understands completely where the “If Rafa Goes, We Go” (#IfRafaGoesWeGo) campaign is coming from. I’m sure others have a similar tale to tell, others will have a different story, but this is mine.

My first ever trip to a football match was in March 1965, a couple of months before my 8th birthday. My dad took me to St James Park, where Newcastle beat Swansea 3-1. A fella called Willie Penman scored the goals, and a few weeks later, Newcastle were promoted from the old second division back to the first. When you are seven, you don’t know anything about the owner, you don’t care about club politics, and you like all the players. You figure everyone connected with the club must have its best interests at heart, and so it was with me.

At some point I became aware of names like Stan Seymour and Lord Westwood (he had an eye-patch, so he had to be cool) but it was the players I cared about. I have no idea to this day whether Tommy Gibb or Keith Kettleborough were good players, but I loved them because they wore the black and white shirt.

The next summer, England won the World Cup, which, looking back, was probably the point at which the game got its claws into me completely. There was no going back. The North Korean team were staying at the Five Bridges Hotel in Gateshead (I lived up the road). Some friends and I went to get their autographs. The North Koreans looked bewildered at the fuss, and of course I have no idea whose autographs I got. It could have been kit men, a doctor and a journalist, but I told my mates it was Pak Doo Ik and co, and the town sort of adopted them, especially when they beat Italy. I was at that game, and a few others, which were played at Roker and Ayresome Parks.

I am now going to admit to treachery. My father was a merchant seaman, and therefore spent 6 to 9 months away from home at a stretch. My best friend at school and his father were Sunderland fans and so they used to take me to Roker Park with them in my dad’s absence. In the 1960s It wasn’t unusual for men in the north east to go to a game somewhere when their own team weren’t playing. My dad had time for all the north east teams and wanted them all to do well. Obviously, Newcastle were the priority, but he didn’t despise any of the others, and to be honest, neither do I.

When I was 10 or 11, it was agreed that I was old enough to get the bus with my mates and go to the game unsupervised. That was an adventure in itself. I remember being in the Leazes end when we beat Sunderland 3-0. It was so packed, I didn’t get to see much of the game, even after I was picked up and passed overhead to the front of the terracing (a common practice at the time).

I went to every home game of the Fairs Cup winning season except the last one. Rangers fans had kicked off in the semi and my mother reasoned that it could only be worse in the final. Needless to say, only a handful of Újpest Dózsa fans turned up and the first-leg win passed off without incident. The daft thing is, we’d qualified for the competition (a rough equivalent of the UEFA Cup / Europa League) by finishing 10th the season before. But none of that mattered. England had won the World Cup, Newcastle had won a trophy, and being a football fan was all good news for me. If we lost, I’d be disappointed but never angry. Everyone looked like they cared.

The 1970s went OK for a while as well – Supermac, a couple of cup finals (and an epic semi-final against Burnley – still one of my favourite football memories), but then relegation in 1978. It was around this time that I started to realise that supporting Newcastle United wasn’t plain sailing, and that it wasn’t just the players that affected my attitude towards the club. We allowed players like Malcolm MacDonald, Terry Hibbitt, Alan Kennedy and Terry McDermott to go elsewhere, and at one point the entire team threatened to go on strike unless Richard Dinnis was given the manager’s job. He was, and disaster ensued. This was also the time when hooliganism started to become synonymous with the game (and yes, I know it started 100 years before then).

Events conspired to see me attending games less frequently over the 70s and 80s. Stadia were crap, trouble was always brewing, and the country as a whole was falling out of love with the game. I studied in Manchester and played football for a team that required me to be available for a 3pm kick off most weekends. Then I took a job down south and continued to play the game at the same time Newcastle were doing battle.

The 80s were a bleak time for Newcastle United, with the exception of the period when Kevin Keegan – unexpectedly – signed for us. We got promoted with a team featuring him, Terry McDermott (again), Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley, but that team was disbanded, and the manager went elsewhere. But for a while, optimism, joy and a lot of supporters returned to St James Park. I realised then that Newcastle United could be a huge club. But it wasn’t.

Let me share a quick anecdote which may resonate with today’s support: The company I was working for sponsored the England football team and my director – a fellow Geordie – got to mix with the players after a game at Wembley. He asked Chris Waddle what led him to leave Newcastle United. Waddle’s reply was that Spurs were paying him £1,500 per week; Newcastle had refused to go over £500 (I know!).

Of course, it wasn’t long before another relegation hit us, and – for me – the next few years saw the low water mark of my time as a supporter. But when things were going badly, I didn’t have too many issues with our owners. It could have been naivety on my part, but I could see there was very little money in football, least of all at Newcastle United. We’d had Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough, and the whole game was losing its public. Newcastle United, as far as I could tell, were doing about as well as they could on limited resources. Many of you will recall Ossie Ardiles – a good man – having to field a team made up of kids and journeymen.

Then a whole bunch of things happened within a few short years, and for once, Newcastle got ahead of the game. The country fell in love with the England team at Italia 90, John Hall bought Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan was appointed manager, and money started rolling into the game via Sky and the Premier League. We managed to avoid relegation to the old 3rd Division by the skin of our teeth, and for the next few years, things were great. We got a stadium upgrade, we sold it out, Keegan built a team that played with skill, passion and bravado, and for the first time since I was a kid, Newcastle seemed to be a club that had the whole city united behind it. Not only that, but the club seemed to think that counted for something, and did its best to give us success.

Of course, some of the managerial appointments over the next few years turned out to be mistakes, and some of the big signings turned out to be duds, but at least we acted like a club that attracted 50,000 passionate fans every week. It seems crazy now, but the season we finished 5th under Bobby Robson was considered a failure after we’d achieved 4th and 3rd at the end of the previous two. Over the period of the Hall/Shepherd years, we spent money, but Freddie Shepherd did not die poor, and John Hall was still minted the last time I checked. And I got trips to Wembley, Barcelona, Turin and Milan amongst others. I spent money too!

And so here we are in 2018, and I’m considering throwing in my lot with Newcastle at the end of this season, the 54th in my time as a supporter. This website and others, national and local press have printed millions of words about the Ashley regime, and there seems little value in recycling them here. But if I try to sum up where I am as a fan, and how the current owners have soured my feelings towards the club, then it goes something like this…

Even when things were going badly for Newcastle in the past, I felt that the people at the club wanted to do their best for the supporters, the team and the city. It seemed that – by and large – the investment I was making in Newcastle United was being reciprocated. And over my 50+ years as a fan I have invested a huge amount of time, money and energy in Newcastle United. I long ago accepted that living with disappointment is part of the lot of a Newcastle fan, but for the majority of my time, I felt that my interests were part of the equation in the board room.

But for the last 11 years, it has been one-way traffic. I’ve put the same amount of dedication into my club, but at no point have I felt like my club is trying to pay me back. We have a world-class manager who is likely to walk out of this job straight into another in 10 months’ time, and a team that could be half-decent with some sensible investment. But the owner doesn’t care about Rafa, doesn’t care about team progression and doesn’t care about me.

So I’ll go if Rafa goes (#IfRafaGoesWeGo). I would never criticise anyone for continuing to watch their team, and I don’t think anyone has the right to criticise those of us who are planning to follow Rafa out of the door. It’s a personal decision, and one I never thought I’d make, and it will come as a relief to make it.

Like a long-term relationship that has broken down, I’ve spent far too long hoping I was mistaken and looking for ways to believe it could work. But I have accepted it is over, and it’s best to end things and hope we can still be friends.


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