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Asked to review We Are The Geordies – This was a relief

5 months ago
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There’s always a slightly awkward element to being asked to look at the work of your fellow fans.

You want them to do well and present a valuable and honest effort, but there’s always a concern of a backfire where the subject could come over as clunky or even a little bit embarrassing.

This was especially relevant given that the focus of ‘We Are The Geordies,’ is the Newcastle fans, and you don’t have to look far for an example of how fan focussed documentaries can make the supporters in question look less than dignified.

I’m happy and a little relieved to say that We Are The Geordies does not fall into any of these traps, coming over as a warm and professionally produced study on the collective persona of us, The Mags, against the background of the 2016-17 promotion season. Obviously the lengthy post-production has meant the season in question is a bit of a distant memory, but to be honest I found it to be a nice bit of nostalgia, in the midst of the hopeless distant Bruceball I’m not watching from the suffocation of various stages of lockdown.

I actually got a bit of a pang during the opening sequence capturing the stunned euphoria when Rafa Benitez decided to stay on for the Championship campaign. Players were bought, the ground was always full and there was a real sense of optimism for the season ahead. This optimism was initially dashed of course by consecutive defeats to Fulham and Huddersfield and there’s a slight Sunderland Til I Die vibe about the disgruntled crowd shots afterwards. Fortunately, it goes sharply uphill after that.

I have to say mind, its easy to forget what a long, drawn out business a season in the Championship is. As the steady run to top of the league plays out through autumn and winter, I lost track of the amount of times I thought “Can’t remember this game” or “Were they in that league that season?” This may partly be due to the limited on-field action shots, which I assumed were out of scope until the welcome sight of Gouffran and Gayle sinking Norwich in injury time surprised me a bit. I think the film makers preferred the focus to be on the fans for most action shots, which is in-keeping with the theme of the film (the fans are the subject here, goals available on the end of season review DVD) but does start feeling a bit repetitive by the time we’ve beaten Preston in October and you’re looking at the hundredth pair of wobbling tonsils.

Each game features a wrap around looking at the story of some of the selection of Newcastle fans adding their personal touch to the film. They do an amazing job of conveying the role Newcastle United plays in bringing people from this region together, as Scud and Whistler rattle off the list of pals from around the country they’re waiting to meet for a pre-match beer, the game providing that important focal point to keep in touch. There’s a great story about Elaine, who starts off telling tales of her dad taking her to sit on Gallowgate barriers, then later takes her new grandson Bobby to his first match, having paid a visit to the statue of the man he was named after of course. It’s not often that the spotlight falls on how much of a family club this is, and I really enjoyed this angle.

There’s also more diverse stories from across the fanbase. Sima talks about being unable to tell her strict Asian family of her love of football in her youth, and is now convinced she’s some kind of Jonah for her habit of attending home defeats (it’s not you pet, it’s my mate Hutch). Matt commutes from Cumbria, Fordey from Hayes and Erik tries to catch what games he can in Norway. All drawn to the club despite not growing up in the area, with various reasons including following Les Ferdinand and a penchant for black and white. George doesn’t have as far to travel, but his son Neil, a.k.a the Geordie Dentist, takes a vacation from breaking takeover news to head over from Dubai for a game and a few cans.

There’s nice touches going off in the background too. The sight of a bustling Newcastle at Christmas made me audibly sigh, given the prospect of the flat fart of a month we have coming up. On the other hand, I’d completely forgotten about how alarming things got when the 2017 January transfer window passed unused, with a disappointing draw against QPR followed by a press conference from a visibly p.ssed off Rafa, then sound bites of the fans clearly concerned that he may walk. As a footnote here, I would add that the role played by Daryl Murphy in steadying this wobble should never be forgotten.

As the season goes on, emotions started to stir a bit. The sheer euphoria of Brighton away hasn’t dissipated in 3 years of not being able to beat them in the Premier League. The rage bristles straight back up at the ref who doesn’t know the rules for a penalty infringement against Burton. The interviews with the people afterwards help bring back the feelings, as Fordey bristles with hope and excitement post-AMEX, while Scud’s extensive Burton rant takes me right back to that night (“they’re out to get wer y’knaa”).

I got a bit of a shock when the Easter defeat to Ipswich has a few of the contributors panicking about defeat in the play-offs, as in my mind it never got that bad. Maybe I’m just blocking things out, as we soon arrive at the cathartic promotion-sealing victory against Preston on a balmy Monday night. Relief abounds after the 4-1 win and everyone pretends they’ll be happy with second place.

When it comes to vivid memories being reawakened though, there is nothing to match the moments where Gayle makes it 3-0 against Barnsley and amid the celebration news gradually emerges of Grealish’s equaliser against Brighton handing us the title. The crowd shots are perfect for capturing the crazy uplift of this moment and lead nicely into a standard trophy lifting shot.

In a way, this might be where the post-production lull affects the film a bit. The euphoria of that summer and the optimism of promotion momentum with Rafa and a raft of new signings made for happy magpies, but as we know, since then we have reverted miserably to type. This is covered briefly in some postscript notes, which serve to emphasise the comedown a bit. I wonder how many of those enthusiastically navigating this happy and successful campaign have abandoned their routines long before Covid forced the issue?

Overall, this is a great little film about an ultimately enjoyable season. I would imagine the cynical view would be that the typical Newcastle supporter is male, working class and from Tyneside and to seek out a wider representation of the fanbase is not typical, but how many times could you tell the same story? Everyone involved here gets over their affection for the club and every single one of them comes across as a genuinely canny person. I did not once feel like I wanted to punch anybody in the face, which is a feeling I generally get at most matches (if you don’t, I reckon you’re not looking hard enough) so I would applaud the film makers selection of participants and thank them for giving airtime to Newcastle fans who come over well, as opposed to the likes of Geordie Ric Flair embarrassing the club all over the internet.

I would definitely recommend this to United fans (which I assume most readers here to be) as a well constructed nostalgia trip made with tangible emotion. I would be interested to see how it lands among the non-Newcastle audience though, as a campaign from four seasons ago may not grab neutral interest, coupled with the unfortunate fact that most casual viewers would likely rather watch the agony of a club sliding down the divisions than a happy little tale of moderate success. However, I won be confident that anyone watching this from outside of the area would at least take a more positive impression of the Newcastle fanbase than the typical Talksport nonsense we seem to be getting again lately.

A couple of moments got to me that I think epitomised where the film intended to go. I probably identified most with Dr Dave, who took the most convoluted route imaginable from Edinburgh for the match at Huddersfield. Dave seemed about my age and, like me, had a child during this season, causing a bit of match juggling (I had to miss that Norwich game). At one point, buoyed by the prospect of Rafa being allowed a 5 year project, Dave timidly wonders if he might be allowed to see Newcastle win a (proper) trophy before he’s 60. No expecting to win the Champions League here.

The other moment was Davy, whose health had deteriorated to the point he was now wheelchair bound. Davy was moved to tears when talking about how his life has become so limited in recent years, but the one thing he can always do is follow Newcastle United, the thing that has always been with him. I hope he’s doing alright in this lockdown and I hope some people might take this as a classic example of how everyone’s story is different, when trying to dictate how fans should behave under the Ashley era.

This is a great snapshot of a moment in time when we were briefly happy. Watch it, enjoy it and hope there’s a similar sequel.

Watch the official trailer below:

We Are The Geordies is due out on 11 December 2020 and you can pre-order DVDs from Cargo Records and via the We Are The Geordies official website. It also can be ordered digitally VOD (Video On Demand) from iTunes and Apple TV.

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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