The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return
“I’m away to the match pet… I’ll see you later tonight, order a Chinese takeaway – I’ll have the chicken chow mein, egg fried rice and some curry sauce… just in time for the highlights” I remember saying this with just a little more enthusiasm than normal.
Tonight was special; this night was going to be written about.
I slammed the front door behind me. With verve and coil I began walking the 15 minutes it took to get to the Metro Station. It was warm and my scarf that night was missing, not for the weather but for some strange reason I wanted to feel free of any constriction to my abiding forethought of memory.
Too much of that white wine from Netto carousing with the chaotic butterflies was giving me no end of heartburn. Guinness will put that right, it is milk of course. The wife had bought me a new Paul Smith shirt and I was scared of getting it stained so I thought of avoiding the jam packed pub next to the Metro and just meet the lads in the Crown Posada, in the snug, nice and quiet.
That thought did but last no more than a second … She was a lipstick boy, she was a beautiful boy … thrusting out of the entrance to the boozer, squeezing my way to the bar I shouted – “Guinness please”, how could I avoid this, this moment, this feeling…….. the build-up.
The thing about that era was that at my age I was still naive enough to think that we had a chance of greatness yet I was whimsical, everyone was the same, it was a movement of positive dynamism that I’ll never forget. I actually believed that we would win something, the dream of lifting a cup, the thought of over 40,000 kinsmen at Wembley elevating me along with our version of McCartney’s Hey Jude… la la la la, Geordies…
I remember drowning in my musings only to be startled with a slap on the back.. “What do ya reckon then?.. hat-trick the neet?.. It was one of the lads; he couldn’t resist a quick pint before the journey, a little pink in the cheeks, clammy with beads of golden sweat on his brow.
“I don’t know about a hat-trick but just the one would dee me”… We exchanged our plans on how and when the goals would inevitably happen and together we made our way to the station.
You had to have been there to understand the atmosphere, everyone with an enormous sense of wellbeing, of pride and passion and this was just on the metro. Puffed out chests, straight backs, wide eyes, loud voices, all bursting out and echoing around the carriages as we hurtled towards Central Station.
This is Central Station – please change here for national rail…. “Please change here, for the match and more beer” someone quipped. We headed up the escalators and onto the concourse, through the exit and onto to the streets. Strewn about with happiness and tabs, pasties and staggers, bare chests and pints were black and white flashes of revelry. It was a sight to behold with merriment, fervour and lust, all alive with the dusk, the ground, the sky.
“Prowgremme!! Prowgremme!!” shrieked the ear splitting one-eyed seller. It was not often I did, or have since, but that night I bought a programme from him, rolled it up and stuffed it in my back pocket. It was after all, an event, a date to be savoured for future generations. We stumbled down to the Crown Posada bumping into the compartments of crowds as we anxiously awaited the next pint and the eventual approaching kick off. On entrance, the snug was exactly what was needed, the lull before the storm, a retreat to gather minds, tactics, predictions and the fact that the lads had bought me a pint. Get in.
Excited and busy with conversation to and fro, talking over the top of everyone, a mingling of opinions, of opportunities, of optimism, of onslaught we were nearly there, almost ready to roll, killing us all softly with consternation and in trepidation. A few of the away fans were in the pub and tried a few befriending renderings of …Jules Rimet still gleaming… …coming home… Our minds were elsewhere, the stage was set to leave for the pre-match passage.
There were six of us that evening walking up a steep Dean Street, onto a meandering Grey Street eventually reaching the Monument, walking with and passing the growing throng of buoyancy. Frayed ends of what was left of my nerves began to reach my legs as they put one foot in front of another on autopilot. Through Old Eldon Square and the noise was beginning to simmer before the sporadic volcanic eruptions … Hello, Hello, We are the Geordie boys..
Up, up and up… On toward Gallowgate, the swarm of masses now moving as a unit, up the bank, up next to the Strawberry, too full to get in the door, then up the stairs and through the turnstile, losing myself in the blue star emblazoned crowd, it was one more time up the stairs and….. the time had arrived. I was there.
To hear was sublime but to see was deific, the exuberant rush of roar multiplied the existence of witnessing the night, this brilliant canopy fretted with platinum light complementing with the impressive green. The air thick with anticipation, mouths were suffocated with pumping hearts, every single person in the stadium that night were euphoric, ecstatic, tense, almost disbelieving on what was about to happen.
It was 21st August 1996.
In a black and White shirt, back home, in our city and in our arms.
Alan Shearer walked out onto St James Park.
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