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‘Amanda Staveley – thank you : I do have one request though’

1 month ago
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FAO Amanda Staveley

Newcastle United Football Club, St James Park

Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 4ST

Amanda,

You’ve brought back the excitement in supporting Newcastle United.

I do not think that ‘The takeover’ quite does justice to the significance of what occurred in early October 2021. It was far more than the passing of shares between one man and a consortium of individuals, companies, and investment funds.

It was a late afternoon-come-evening in which an entire city was given its life back. A second chance, so to speak.

I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear that night, of pure happiness. It was overwhelming.

In a way, I have been fortunate to have missed the last three years of football, having been stuck outside of the UK in Singapore, and unable to return due to Covid… that’s not only because I never physically watched Newcastle United under Steve Bruce.

What I mean is though, is that having been away from SJP and my city for so long, I was in a unique position to compare the difference in atmosphere, attitude, and mood between the two periods. This has been far more striking since I returned to the UK for work this Christmas.

Newcastle United had become a hollow shell. It no longer represented the city it towers over.

There were good times over the past 15 years, it wasn’t all bad. There were great away days, fantastic goals and the odd, good season but everything was missing. The love for the game, not necessarily the team, but the love for the game had gone.

We now have our club back, and to a greater extent, I feel like we have our city back. I’d even go as far as saying, based purely on the importance of the club to the wider region, and when you factor in the football, the city and the music scene… that the region is slowly starting to gain its mojo back.

When times are tough though and the chips are down, you’ve had a hard week, stress, anxiety, loneliness, it can all go away on one Saturday. For some, including myself, that Saturday afternoon, at St James Park, or any away end across the country, can be that thing that gets you through the week.

Ironically, it’s not even the game itself that does it, it’s the hope, the excitement, the anticipation of the possible drama that might unfold.

I think to truly know, or experience the change the takeover has made, I’d absolutely recommend the owners just ditching the Directors Box benefits for one game. Sure, take your normal seat come kick off but take it all in prior.

For me, it’s getting up at the crack of dawn, Jubilee from Canary Wharf, switch to the Victoria at Green Park, pick up your Greggs before heading North from King’s Cross. It’s seeing your family, friends, extended family.

The morning hustle of Grainger Market, before heading to the Beehive for a pint or two with family and friends, or if we can’t quite get our usual standing place in the corner of the Beehive, then The Old George next door. Coming out of the winter days, with its outside area… and the usual songs from Sam Fender to specific NUFC classics. Busker’s Coming Home rings a special bell, perhaps even more so, for those of us who have spent time outside of the region.

Ok, I don’t expect to see you in the Beehive at 1pm necking pints.

I do have one request though – if you do get the chance – just step outside your suite 30 minutes before kick-off. There’s something magical about people watching, seeing the faces of supporters entering the stadium. Kids seeing the hallowed turf for the first time, men and women seeing each other for the first time in sometimes a couple of weeks, finding the flag attached to your seat, taking it all in. Just sit there, enjoy it. Take it all in. You’d be amazed, but amongst the madness and loud music, it’s pure peace and happiness.

Perhaps one other thing you may notice is that one of the great beauties of supporting NUFC in the modern era, compared to visits to other football grounds/and teams around the world, is the lack of mobile phones. I’m all for my Saturday accumulator, but what drives your match day is the sound of voices, music, and laughter. When Chris Wood stepped up to take his penalty against Wolves last Friday night, I could barely watch, neither could the bloke next to me, or behind me for that matter. Our brief eye contact full of fear was what made the tension palpable, not whether I was going to get the right shot for my twitter or Instagram feed.

Of course, the beauty of football is that all supporters probably have their own version of events on their own matchdays. I don’t claim that Newcastle is special or truly unique from any other football team, or one-city clubs. It’s not, but it is different.

Why is it different now? Well, for the first time in over 15 years, everybody wants to be there.

We’ve always been football crazy, the success of the team, has always been the cornerstone of most our lives. However, the television will no longer do, nor will streaming the games either at home or on the go. For me, watching from afar, from Southeast Asia, was no longer good enough. It simply wasn’t an option. I’ve been driven by that insatiable desire to come home, and no matter how it goes, to truly be a part of it.

The days of anticipation are back, the build up, the noise, the flags, the black and white, all at once is slowly harnessing its own gravitational pull back to Tyneside.

(*As a side note, that reminds me Amanda Staveley, you’re going to need to build a bigger stadium!)

To be a success at Newcastle United you must want to handle the pressure. You must revel in everything that comes with this fantastic club. Immerse yourself.

I was 11 when Michael Owen signed for Newcastle United, my dad took me to the stadium for his unveiling and I got my new shirt with ’10 Owen’ on the back. I was 14 when I took the day off school to go to SJP to see my hero, Alan Shearer, unveiled as manager in front of the Milburn reception.

We all know how both of those events turned out. However, they both said the same thing on those two days which will always ring true. If you can’t handle pressure, then you shouldn’t be here.

I don’t quite think you can really know what you have given our supporters, but that’s probably because it can’t be measured. It’s not even the football, the 90 minutes, the league table, the three points, goals scored etc.

You can’t measure hope, anticipation, excitement. Sure, you can try to describe it as I have done here, but rarely do words do justice.

You must feel it.

It’s the people, it’s seeing your family, it’s the travel, it’s getting up before the sun.

The biggest misconception amongst the media, football owners, and let’s call it ‘wider society’ is that at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter because it’s just a game of football. It’s just a sport, it’s not health or wealth, nor is it life or death.

Yet, it matters. It matters because, at least here in Newcastle, for many of us, it’s one of the most important things in our lives. The connection between the self, the city and the football club are unbreakable. Mike Ashley certainly tried to break it, and he did a hell of job at times, but it is unbreakable.

What you must understand is that, again in Newcastle anyway, the football club is the main identifier of what it means to be a part of this city, to be a Geordie (irrespective of whether you are from here).

This has been touched on before within the national press, but in entirely the wrong way. It’s not true to suggest that ‘The North’ no longer has industry, there’s no jobs, our town centres are falling apart and we’re all poor and miserable. That’s not true, and it’s not the reason why our football clubs (yes, Sunderland too) play such a strong role in our communities.

Of course, investment is dearly needed but it’s not about the money. To lean on the great words of a certain famous Geordie, it’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.

Incredible though if we are to win something in the near future, it’s not the winning that will really matter. It’s the journey – the hope, the despair, the madness, and most importantly, the people who are there to share it with you.

It’s not about points, or minutes. Football, and Newcastle United is about moments, and who you share them with. Thank you for already providing us with one night not to forget.

Here’s to many more.

HWTL.

You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @jonnyinsg

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