Diary Of The Armchair Fan – ‘I’m experiencing the best night of my young life…’
Another one from The Armchair Fan.
Boycotting Newcastle United through the 19/20 premiership season.
Here is part eight as we progress through February:
Wednesday 17th September 1997
Newcastle 3-2 Barcelona
I’m eleven years old, attending just my fourth ever live match.
I’m wearing a Brown Ale Toon shirt with ‘Aspilla 11’ on the back and I’m experiencing the best night of my young life.
St James Park is rocking like never before, the players come out for the second half and the roar that greets them causes me to cover my ears.
The first half couldn’t have gone better, Newcastle 2-0 up against the mighty Barcelona and playing them off the park, looking like we could score with every opportunity. My sister asks what I think the score will be and I have to yell to make myself heard – “five nil with Tino scoring all!”
The second half kicks off and once again we swarm all over one of the best teams in the world, a few minutes later and Gillespie skins his man before whipping in an inch perfect cross. Tino leaps in slow motion and slams a header into the top corner. Newcastle 3-0 Barcelona and a hat-trick for Asprilla! This is the stuff that dreams are made of! The jet engine roar shakes St James Park to its very foundations.
With the amount of time left in the match, we’re now looking like we could score five or six, unbelievably we’re hammering them and this could genuinely be a cricket score. There are further goals in the match, two late strikes for Barca however can’t take the gloss off one of the most famous nights in our history.The outpouring of emotion at the final whistle is such that I’ve never experienced before. Excitement, relief and pure joy.
If I could bottle this feeling I’d be a millionaire. I join in with the wild celebration screaming into the night sky. This eleven year old boy can’t stop smiling. This is amazing. I love this football club.
Saturday 1st February 2020 3pm
Newcastle 0-0 Norwich
The last time Norwich rolled into town, we experienced one of the most dramatic and exciting matches in living memory, United coming from 3-1 down to win the match scoring two goals five minutes into injury time. I was lucky enough to be in the Leazes End when Dwight Gayle smashed the ball into the bottom corner, one of my all time favourite Toon memories made even more special by the fact I was with my American Uncle who was attending his first ever match.
Unfortunately, today would prove to be the exact opposite of that famous night.
The bare facts (unbeaten in seven matches and up to tenth in the league) are beginning to paper over some pretty gigantic cracks.
Today we were at home to the team bottom of the league, a team who have the worst away record in the division and are swimming against the tide of an inevitable relegation. They should have been there for the taking. What we got was a disjointed and jaded performance from the Toon who were grateful (once again) for Dubravka and his superb saves keeping the score even. Have we ever had a goalkeeper who has saved us this many points?
We’ve been lucky enough to have some absolutely class keepers down the years (Pav, Given and Krul to name three) but it’s hard to recall one who has so consistently been our man of the match. I honestly think without him we could be marooned at the bottom of the league. At the other end, we didn’t have much to shout about but Almiron really should have done better when planting a free header wide of the post, all the more disappointing given his recent goal scoring streak.
There’s been an awful lot of talk about a potential takeover this past week but once again St James Park was full to capacity. More than one hundred and four thousand fans have seen the last two home matches (against supposedly inferior opposition, both ending up 0-0). If you were Mike Ashley and were generating that much wealth (after taking into account the 10,000 free season tickets…) during a well publicised boycott, would you have any inclination to sell? Me neither.
Tuesday 4th February 2020 8.05pm
Oxford 2-3 Newcastle AET
FA Cup 4th Round replay
The BBC turned up to this one, happy to waste taxpayers’ money in the hope of providing belly laughs at the expense of another Newcastle United humiliation. That they ultimately ended up with a wasted evening doesn’t begin to tell half the story of the two hours of pulsating football that was enjoyed by neutrals whilst the rest of us ride the rollercoaster of emotions that only Newcastle United can provide.
Things were going to plan in the first half, Joelinton set up Sean Longstaff for a well taken opener before bursting through to score the second himself within the first thirty minutes. Both of these players have had their fair share of flak this season so hopefully a goal and an assist apiece will help signal brighter things to come.
Once Joelinton was forced off with injury, United lacked a focal point upfront but there still seemed very little danger to our two goal lead until four minutes from time when Oxford bent in a superb freekick, 2-1 then and the script was written for a grandstand finish that duly came with such inevitability that it appeared planned from the very start.
Extra time was nerve shredding and just as it looked like we’d be competing in a dreaded penalty shootout, Saint-Maximin danced past three defenders and unleashed an unstoppable effort into the top corner.
All credit to Oxford who gave a wonderful account of themselves but for now we won’t be adding them to any lists that include Hereford, Exeter and Stevenage. NUFC are the team in the next round with the prize being a trip to the Hawthorns to battle it out for a place in the quarter-finals. Saint-Maximin’s stunning effort was voted ‘goal of the round’, the award will look great on his mantle piece alongside the cup winner’s medal he’s sure to pick up in May.
Sunday 16th February 2020 4.30pm
Arsenal 4-0 Newcastle
A certain A.Carroll scored the only goal of the game the last time we beat this lot away from home, our only victory here since we first competed on this ground in 2006. Since Kieron Dyer opened the scoring in a 1-1 draw, our thirteen matches at this newly built stadium have had very few precious memories.
Unfortunately, we’ve also had some absolute horror shows (a 7-3 defeat in 2012 being the very worst of an incredibly bad bunch). The only crumbs of comfort going into this one came from the fact that Arsenal appeared to be set up as negatively as we have been recently, drawing four of the last six league matches. With both teams turning up to the match with the objective of ‘not losing’, the smart money seemed to be on a low scoring draw.
When halftime came and went with the match goalless, hope was raised that United would hold out for at least a point. In fact, I spent these fifteen minutes proudly exclaiming that our wonderful overall play was clearly unsettling the gunners and confidently predicting a 2-0 victory for the black and whites. That’s why I don’t bet on football.
Friday 21st February 2020
Gabby Agbonlahor joined the long list of complete non-entities lining up to discuss the fortunes of Newcastle United.
The fact his career had absolutely nothing to do with NUFC didn’t stop him from sharing a few ‘pearls of wisdom’ about why Steve Bruce has done a ‘magnificent’ job so far this season.
During this interview, he appeared to have as little grip on reality as conspiracy theorists claiming little green men live on the moon.
First we had the opinion that Almiron (four goals since late December) “couldn’t hit a barn door”, Saint-Maximin (fourth highest completed dribbles in premier league) “acts like he’s playing in a playground doing tricks in the wrong places” and Joelinton (second most headers won in the entire league this season) has been “dreadful”. If he’s not going to actually watch the matches or analyse the stats then he can keep his ill-informed and wildly unsubstantiated opinions to himself.
Maybe he’d be better off discussing his beloved Aston Villa whose fickle fanbase currently see their joke of team just a point above relegation having won just once in the past five league matches. Fingers crossed they go down this season and stay down for a very long time. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Saturday 22nd February 2020 3pm
This has proved something of a strange away day experience for Toon fans in recent times. Rare goals for Tomasson, Kluivert and Riviere have all contributed to victories whereas an early headed effort for Papiss Cisse in 2015 set us on the way to a somewhat bizarre 5-1 defeat under Steve McClaren. Last season was less eventful with a 0-0 draw not helping either side.
Today we had the very worst performance of the season as a team that haven’t been able to buy a win in ages turned us over with alarming ease. Don’t let the 1-0 scoreline fool you, this flattered us massively, especially considering Dubravka made at least two world class saves in the first half and Palace hit the post at the start of the second.
Many fans are worried that Steve Bruce’s luck has ran out. I however am more concerned for his sanity!
Someone call him and tell him that two long range efforts in 90 minutes (our only shots on target) does not constitute ‘three or four excellent chances’.
If that was the case Steve then John Carver really is the best coach in the world, Joe Kinnear really did win ‘manager of the year’ three times, Mike Ashley really does have the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and I live in a house made of pizza where free beer comes out of every tap.
It may be fun to fantasise about untrue things but passing them off as fact makes him a bare faced liar and attempting to rewrite history whilst its happening does him no credit. A dreadful performance all round and we got exactly what we deserved. Nowt.
Saturday 29th February 2020 3pm
Newcastle 0-0 Burnley
Happy ‘leap year day’ everyone. The one day every four years where things turn upside down for twenty four hours. Ladies propose to men, sandwiches eat people and Newcastle United (in 2004) allow their own strikers to play against them and score crucial last minute equalisers that go a long way towards depriving us of a champions league place.
Steve Bruce even joined in the merriment of this topsy turvy day by playing a much more attacking formation and leaving our most potent threat on the bench for the first seventy eight minutes. Madness!
What other madcap events would happen on this historic occasion?
Would the lads come out in red and white stripes? Have an impromptu match of rugby? Only run backwards for the entire 90 minutes? With all these strange goings on in the air, I wondered if NUFC would do something they hadn’t done all season and try to win the match through attacking means, holding possession of the ball, passing to teammates, scoring goals, all the things that other clubs do to such good effect. In the end we had an astonishingly drab 90 minutes where neither keeper was seriously tested, 0-0 and we now haven’t scored a league goal in six long hours.
So how would you describe this February?
Drab, dull, boring or just unacceptable? Whatever words you use can only portray the fact that with thirty two points from twenty eight games, we are now looking over our shoulder with a pivotal month ahead. If the highlight of February came in the cup with Saint-maximin’s winner sending us into the fifth round then the lowlight came in every single league match, failing to score in any of them.
By the end of March we could be safe with forty one points and into our first FA Cup semi final since 2005. We could however also be deep in a relegation dogfight with FA Cup dreams dashed for another year. The month that will define our season is upon us. Hold tight, this could be a bumpy ride.
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