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Newcastle United and birthdays – It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

2 weeks ago
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A sunny October afternoon for a Newcastle United visit to Anfield.

Liverpool were the defending champions and champions elect. Many suggested the side that had won the league the previous season had been the best English team of all-time. They’d since added Ian Rush and were naturally unbeaten.

Conversely, Newcastle United had since sold our best player (Paul Gascoigne) and were naturally without a win. Thrashed 3-0 at third division Sheffield United in the league cup in midweek, this suitably dampening any meagre value in a draw with ten man Charlton the week before, which had at least lifted us one place off the bottom. Unlike now, nobody was happy with that.

An early and simple Liverpool goal from a corner was so inevitable as to be boring, a game killer, to all present. Yet, whey ye bugs, roared on as ever by the away contingent there, result irrespective, with Mirandinha effervescent and Beasant having his one good game for the club, traction was found. Then John Hendrie ran the length of their half to prod in an equaliser and Mira himself converted a second-half penalty before vehemently letting the Kop know in lieu of a scoreboard that it was ‘two’.

It was manager Willie McFaul’s birthday back then in October 1988 and I’ve wondered if there was something ordained about the result that day, standing out as it did between two 3-0 defeats, the second of those at home to Coventry a week later. An illogical oasis of a reprieve, not least because it was my birthday too.

Birthdays can be tenuous things. An especially, or even typically, bad day feels inappropriate, even personal. Bad news gets an unwanted association and weather can alter plans and moods.

Having developed this football fan sense early on, that defeat was a sort of default and anything else mitigating, I see a fixture on your birthday as potential hazard rather than a nice treat. Like bulging apples this time of year ready to go splat. Stemming maybe from disliking the attention and lack of attention equally, I’d prefer to defer game if not result. That bottle of spirits, that SNES game, the new shirt, that planned night out all in jeopardy at the behest of the footballing powers that be. They won’t taste, play, feel the same beneath the bitter cloud of a defeat.

One of our number recently celebrated his birthday with a visit to the city and first risky excursion to St James Park. No longer bothered about losing on any day such is the desire to end this regime and renew, I was a lot more happy for Barry to avoid defeat than the club.

On the occasion of Sir Bobby’s heralded 70th birthday we had the matter of a second group phase Champions League tie at Bayer Leverkusen (finalists the previous season). Deprived of both Shearer and Bellamy we nevertheless won and won well 1-3. It felt only appropriate despite the high risk.

The club’s 100th birthday seemed inextricably and perversely like it would be remembered for the humiliation of being relegated to the third tier for the first time until a wonderful man, a Saint born on Valentine’s Day, as if meant to be loved, pulled back his bow and fired life into the club, transforming everything by season’s end.

These anniversaries chart growth for club and person alike. The next time we played on the date (1 October 1991), we were back on Merseyside for a ZDS cup tie with Tranmere. Newcastle’s debut on Sky Sports (discounting Sports Scene, the previous season). By an incredible coincidence we were second bottom of the league on this occasion too. League two. Famously, or not (a mate didn’t believe me when I told him the score years later looking through my tapes) this finished 6-6. There were several happy returns and several unhappy ones as the lead and apparently momentum and result switched back and forth, continuing on into the subsequent penalty shoot-out. The first team to not only lose two penalty shoot-outs in the same season but cursed enough to have them both televised for posterity like baby’s first birthday gone wrong photos. Something we’d all look back on and laugh heartily at.

The Keegan era commenced five months later. Six years later a sign of his effect was exemplified when we next played a cup tie on this date (1 October 1997). From just over 4,000 at Tranmere for a ZDS cup tie to 100,000 in Kiev in the Champions League. Keegan had by then left and goals were at a premium, partly due to Shearer’s absence, mostly due to Dalglish’s presence, averaging one a game by this stage. Messy game, 2-0 down, then minus the injured and over-relied upon and man for the European occasion Tino, when a point as unlikely as it was undeserved, was salvaged by two ugly late goals (so luckily no ’18 with a bullet’ pun) accredited to top scorer John Beresford. It had a present too much slightly guilty feel but I’d take it, like it might be cursed.

Having conquered the group favourites, a point in our second hardest remaining game before a double-header against PSV, felt likely we’d be heading through and Shearer would join us there. Alas two Dalglish classics followed and a year later, courtesy of a handy cup draw and turning up to the final we were losing on away goals in the Cup Winners Cup in Belgrade. A few full cycles of the world and one cycle of world class management later, we were back in the Champions League, an ahead of schedule growth spurt, at Juventus (1 October 2002). Just playing them in that competition was fortune enough.

A third Mersey excursion brought the only televised win, 1995 was an Indian summer, Keegan yanked down another Indian sign after the previous season’s difficulties at Everton. A wrenching narrow cup loss where football should have won but head basketball prevailed and a clean league defeat in probably our worst performance of the season. Ferdinand smashed in the first, missed an open-goal, Lee put away a penalty and Kitson bundled in the third by which time last season’s tensions were long since forgotten about in that comforting feeling a scoreline (1-3 on 1 October 1995) matching the performance brings, only temporarily re-emerging for a blatantly off-side Limpar goal to stand out of apparent sympathy.

The prelude to Cantona’s comeback from an 8 month suspension for assaulting a fan (regularly assaulting players was perfectly fine). Man United were subsequently played off the park by Liverpool but salvaged a draw with a, I know this will be hard to believe, contentious late penalty award with the small matter of whether it was a foul or in the box up for debate. Observers concluded there was only one title threat to us on display. They were right.

The fixture computer working overtime delivered on the day before, day of and day after in the space of 4 years, 3 games with Villa. Suitably the final game was 4-3 (30 September 1996). A retrospective classic like every high scoring game has to be (did they not see the Tranmere game?) though it seemed just another game to us. The other ties were also won 0-2 in record and scores at Villa Park. The best of the three for me was the 1993 (2 October 1993) variant that many think firmly established us as a Premiership force preceding as it did the start of national recognition of such. Deserving all of the 2-0 win at the previous seasons runners up to go alongside the point that was the least we deserved at Old Trafford a month earlier.

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, as are football results and win rates.

On the date in question (1 October), in my time, I’ve done okay, considering it’s us. With a Played 13, Won 6, Drew 3* Lost 4* record and alternatively a 57.9% or 61.54% win rate depending on whether we use the Bruce method or count losing on penalties. Or a 30% loss rate, which is more satisfying to me.

One of the defeats was on penalties in the minor ZDS cup, two more were in Europe, one on away goals (does the Duck egg Bruce method also discount these?) one at Juventus. The only domestic defeat in a major competition (any outside of pens) coming at Old Trafford under Souness and 2-0 arguably felt like a result. Like expecting socks but getting pants. 70% domestic win rate.

Including games played the previous or next day there’s a further record of won 6 (including the oft repeated Rotherham game of Keegan four goal fame), a draw and a loss, for an overall played 21, won 12, drew 4, lost 5, 66% win rate (33% loss rate).

Last time could have been the best. A 1-1 draw with Liverpool in what has been the only game played at home on my birthday (don’t know what to make of that) was reassuring, in the face of the usual oppressive restrictions that brought us the likes of goalscorer Joselu, but mostly because of the presence of Amanda Staveley in the crowd.

Much discussed afterwards where I’d have just as soon put it down as the four thousandth forlorn piece of takeover conjecture. A genuine dash of hope for the first time in years. Soon after, an official bid was launched. For the first, and last, time I really bought it.

Shame nothing else was bought and we still await NUFC’s rebirth day, the present we all want.

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