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Italian journalist got in touch and I showed him around St James Park and we talked Newcastle United

3 years ago

If you took your information exclusively from certain elements of the mainstream media, you could be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle United were of no real concern outside of the partisan bubble in which our far-flung tribe exists.

The usual accusations of delusional fans following a set-up that is purportedly not a “big” club will no doubt generate overblown media attention from people who seem to take an irregular interest in such an also-ran.

It is encouraging whenever contrary opinions are evident from outside of Tyneside, showing that the name of the club still holds some resonance, no matter how much mud it has been dragged through in the past twelve years or so.

One such incident emerged at Mag Towers recently, when an Italian journalist named Giorgio Coluccia got in touch.

He was over from Rome to do some research for a book on English football stadia and must have asked for the best-looking writer (ED: as it happened though, only Jamie was available…) from The Mag to show him round, as he was swiftly put in touch with me.

I spent an afternoon with Giorgio showing him around the area round St James Park and adding colour to the connection it had with the city. I couldn’t help but think of the pride in the place when Bobby Robson showed Gary Lineker round some 15 years ago and how so much of that has dissipated.

I still felt the pride in the club’s history and the people who have built it, as I took Giorgio to the Alder/Sweeney memorial garden and past the statue of Sir Bobby. But then the caveats started, as I showed him the plaque commemorating our last major trophy and explained that it has been paid for by friends and well-wishers of our FA Cup lifting captain and European trophy winning manager, with the club’s only contribution being conceding to it being bolted onto the Gallowgate end wall.

When I showed Giorgio the statue of our record goalscorer I had to apologise for walking around the corner to the site of a former public toilet, before further explaining the pub we were passing had been unceremoniously renamed “Nine Bar” in a typical display of spite some years earlier, although I still call it by it’s original title. We walked past it and I introduced him to a bottle of Brown Ale in the Strawberry instead.

I felt there was more I could do to help our guest’s research as the outside of the ground did not give the full story.

So, I broke my own rule of spending money on club wares and asked Giorgio if he’d like to do a tour of the ground the next week. He was indeed interested, as was my friend Andy, whose two sons have benefitted from years of work from me in converting them into Newcastle fans, despite their living in York and originating from Somerset. I also brought my own son Blake along and there we were, a right motley crew being shepherded around the famous old ground by a nice lady called Carol.

The tour was smashing and hopefully gave Giorgio some extra perspective for his book, but like everything about the club at the minute, it was bittersweet for me.

The views across Tyneside from the top of the Milburn remind you of the prominence this place has within our area, but equally, of the disconnect currently felt between the two.

The trip to the away dressing room is accompanied by tales of where Shearer, Ferdinand, Beardsley and Keegan used to sit when it was the home dresser, whereas the trip to the current home one feels a bit flat, given that no such illustrious names dwell therein any more. Being told which seat Rafa preferred in the dugout just reminded me that he won’t be occupying it ever again.

Throughout the time touring our stadium both inside and out, I regaled my new Italian friend with stories of my personal experiences.

I pointed out the seat in the far corner of the Strawberry that always makes me think of my late brother, who chose to sit there after a match to meet me, with only the whole entire crowded pub to navigate.

I showed him the cheesy picture of me and Mrs S in matching stripes at Stamford Bridge that is included in the fans collage near the statue of Sir Bobby, just next to the very steps Blake climbed up, holding my hand, before his first game in the incredible 3-2 win against Everton last season.

This place has my life written all over it, as it does so many others, but now it is tainted with the stench of recent bitterness. The powerful silence felt in the empty ground when the tour reaches the high points, should be a contrast to memorable sounds of days gone by. Tino eviscerating Barcelona, Shearer’s 200th v Portsmouth, looking for number five with Philippe Albert. Instead I could imagine the future echoes of in-fighting and recrimination.

I hope Giorgio’s book is part of a world that recognises and remembers the good in this area. As I told him the stories of our club and fans, I repeated the famous old Bobby Robson quote about a small boy clambering up stadium steps gripping his father’s hand and without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love. It captures the essence of Newcastle United’s importance to the people of its region beautifully. However, in the current day and age, it is Kevin Keegan’s more recent famous quote that holds prominence.

“One day, you will get your club back, and it will be everything you wanted it to be. Newcastle United is bigger than anyone. He is only one man, we are a city.”

To Giorgio Coluccia, arrivederci e buona fortuna amico mio, it was great to meet you. Please spread the word in Italy, I think I really need my club back.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf


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