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Supporters Clubs

Newcastle United Supporters Clubs – Introducing Toon Army Chicago

3 months ago
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Welcome to the latest addition to our new feature on Newcastle United Supporters Clubs.

This is now a regular feature and after Toon Army Minnesota and Toon Army Baltimore (Mobtoon Mags), we now welcome Toon Army Chicago. Our thanks to Beverly and everybody else from Toon Army Chicago.

We want to feature Newcastle United Supporters Clubs from all over the globe, whether in the UK or overseas.

If you help to run one of the Newcastle United Supporters Clubs and would like to see your club featured on The Mag in the future, please drop a quick email to contribute@themag.co.uk and we will send you the questions and other info, then once we get your replies we will schedule your NUFC Supporters Club to go up.

Name of your supporters club?

Toon Army Chicago

Our flag was designed as a way to honour both our hometown of Chicago and Newcastle in a single go. The base of the flag is the City of Chicago’s flag, with each stripe and star having symbols honouring Chicago’s heritage. You can read about that on Wikipedia if you’d like.

The flag itself is white with two blue stripes, and we switched the background to black with white stripes instead. We took the 6-pointed stars, changed the colour from red to blue as an homage to Newcastle Brown Ale’s logo. In each star has alternating Chicago and Newcastle landmarks:

Sears Tower
Tyne Bridge
John Hancock Building
Angel of the North

In the bottom stripe, we have the year Toon Army Chicago was formed, 2014.

How big an area do you cover, drawing fans from?

Most of our group lives in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, we have seen supporters visit our home pub from as far as 60 miles away.

We always have a meet up in the city on match days and sometimes we get tourists from Newcastle join us but we also organise regular meetups in Naperville and St. Charles as it can take over an hour to drive into the city.

Year it was formed?

It was formed in 2014 by Adam Snider.

How / why did it get started and who were the main people responsible (tell us a bit about your / their background)?

The group was first organised by Adam Snider.

His girlfriend at the time (now his wife) got fed up with him waking up early on the weekends, shouting at the telly, and keeping her awake. She “gently” encouraged him to find others to watch matches with.

Through some chatter on Facebook groups, he found one who was equally eager to meet up. They met at the Globe Pub (a mostly Arsenal pub), and they found others in black and white shirts scattered around the pub. He knew there had to be more Toon supporters around the city, and he set off to find them. 2014 was a perfect year to gauge interest for a couple reasons: 1) The US Men’s National team made it out of the World Cup. The watch parties all over the city grew with each game, starting in a large park to a city block to a watch party at Soldier Field, the Chicago Bears’ NFL stadium! 2) It was the first year of NBC’s Premier League coverage. It was the first time in the US where every match would be broadcast live!

Adam now heads up most of the suburb meet ups and joins in the city when possible but it helps widen our net of supporters.

Beverly Crichton now heads up the city meetups, she is an expat from just outside Newcastle and an ex season ticket holder during the Ashley era, she moved to Chicago in 2016 and met Adam a few times on match days. It wasn’t until the Summer Series when they accidentally had seats at the Philadelphia game (NUFC vs AVFC) next to each other that we started to work together.

(Tony Gentile) I believe it was originally from watching with Tony Egizi, original founder of Toon Army St. Louis! He then told me about the Chicago group and when I would visit home for the holidays and finally when college was over, that was my weekend sanctuary or church as you will!

(Sunny Verma) I had been watching games alone whenever I could, then before the season opener one year I saw a post seeing there was going to be a gathering and launch of Toon Army Chicago and I decided to attend.

(Jonty Young) I moved to the US permanently 10 years ago. I’d researched NUFC supporters groups prior to my move and was impressed to see something already set up. Weekly visits to the pub to watch with the group were always a highlight, and it was great to see the group grow each season.

Toon Army Chicago

How many people are part of your supporters club? What is your presence online, do you have Twitter account, Facebook, website, whatever?

There are no requirements to officially join our group. We welcome anyone who wants to support the team with us, whether they are new to football or new to supporting NUFC.

We currently have around 1,000 followers on Facebook, 675 on Instagram, and 2,100 on Twitter.

Facebook – www.facebook.com/toonarmychicago
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/toonarmychi/
X/Twitter – www.twitter.com/toonarmychicago
Website: https://toonarmychicago5.godaddysites.com/

If somebody lives in your area and wants to join up with you, how do they get in touch (or somebody who might be visiting your area)?

The best way is to follow our social media on Facebook and Twitter as we usually post meet up information a few days in advance, we also answer all DM’s to help any tourist from back home and here in the US who want to watch the game with us.

Tell us a bit about your people / membership, what kind of split is it of Geordies / ex-pats and locals, also any other way you would describe your people and the mix?

The group has a few ex-pats, but many of the supporters are locals from Chicago or the Midwest. Chicago is such a diverse city so there really are people from all over… if they can stand the winters.

We have our regulars and seem to be growing every week, the exposure from having every game on TV over here has helped. We all get together to watch the game, drink beer at sometimes obscene times (6am) and take a half time or full time photo with scarves and flags that we post on social media to encourage other supporters to join us.

When it comes to people who had no previous connection to Newcastle United / Newcastle Upon Tyne, what are the typical things that have led them to start and follow NUFC?

(Adam Snider) I started following Newcastle United in the late 90s. My grandparents made their first trip to England and my grandfather’s top priority one day was to bring me a football shirt. He was well-read and the story of Alan Shearer breaking the transfer record must have resonated in his mind. He spent several hours wandering around London, with the goal of finding me an Alan Shearer shirt. From the moment I got it, I started watching the Toon whenever I could. We got the occasional match on Fox Soccer Channel, and I rushed home from school to catch midweek Champions League matches when we were in the competition.

(Tony Gentile) I started supporting Newcastle United back in the fall of 2012, my friend and I met someone from Consett, County Durham. Dave was a season ticket holder and the very first time we met him he was wearing a Newcastle United top and the rest they say is history.

(Jonty Young) My mum is from the north east and growing up, they were the team favoured by the owner of a local snooker club. A place my dad would take me as a child to watch big games.

Do you have a regular meeting place to watch matches? If so, what’s it called, where is it and what kind of numbers turn up?

Our home pub is AJ Hudson’s Public House in the city. Their address is 3801 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago. When we are on TV for the late kick-offs, we have been able to find a handful of suburban bars and breweries that will open for those who do not wish to drive into the city.

We get anywhere from 10-20 (sometimes more if it’s a big game) to watch the games, smaller numbers on weekdays and Champions League as the games can be on during work hours.

Toon Army Chicago

A suburban meet-up celebrating a Newcastle win in 2022

 

What are the very best and very worst UK kick-off times and what time are they in your area?

We’ve been pretty lucky this season as our earliest game so far has been 9am, we are 6 hours behind the UK, so the 3pm or night games are great for us.

Kick-off times are:

UK 12:30PM – 6:30 AM Chicago
UK 3:00PM – 9:00 AM Chicago
UK 5:30PM – 11:30 AM Chicago
UK 8:00PM – 2:00 PM Chicago

The early kick-offs mean a lot of whiskey-infused coffees and the beers are flowing for all match times after that.

Have there been group visits from your supporters club to Newcastle / England for matches?

A few of us travelled over to matches in past years.

The last group travelled over for the 4-0 win at the end of the 2018-19 season, and they were on one of the boats that made up the first “Geordie Armada”.

When we started, one of our members, who has since moved, worked for an airline. He took full advantage of his flight perks and was at matches at least once a month!

Any planned for the future?

Not as a group again as of yet, a few of us will be going individually. Beverly is going in March and will try to get a couple of tickets and take a Toon Army Chicago flag to represent.

What would be involved in travelling from where you are based to Newcastle Upon Tyne? How would you make the journey, how easy / difficult would it be, what kind of rough costs involved?

Chicago is home to one of the busiest airports in the country, O’Hare. That gives us plenty of opportunities to make connecting flights to Newcastle. The best options are:

Flying on United, American, or British Airways to Heathrow or Manchester, then take a connecting flight to Newcastle.
Fly Aer Lingus through Dublin, then a short flight to Newcastle once clearing customs. The benefit to this option is clearing US Customs in Ireland on the way back, making for an easier experience once you land.

Flights, depending on the time of year, can range between $650-1000 per person.

When it comes to people in your NUFC supporters club, which local football club(s) do they also support, if any. Or maybe supporting teams of other sports in your area?

The majority of our group are also supporters of the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer.

Chicago is a big sports city and has lots of teams to follow:

Chicago Cubs and White Sox for Baseball – the last win for either team was the Cubs World Series win in 2016 and their firs in over 100 years. It was estimated that 5 million people celebrated in the city which is the 7th largest gathering of people in one place in the world ever, Newcastle might top that if we ever win something again. Both teams are going through somewhat of a rebuild.

Chicago Bears in the NFL (American Football) which have only won the Super Bowl once in 1985 and it can be a painful experience but the fans are loyal and full of hope.

Chicago Blackhawks – Ice Hockey and they were very successful from 2010-2015 in which they won the Stanley Cup 3 times, they are currently rebuilding and have one of the best young players in hockey, definitely a team to watch for the future.

Chicago Bulls – Basketball – everyone knows the Bulls from the success of the 90s and the legend that is Michael Jordan (watch The Last Dance on Netflix, it’s worth it) but sadly today the team is struggling, mainly down to ownership, a story Newcastle supporters know too well.

How much did it mean to have Newcastle visiting the USA this past summer? What kind of distances were involved to each of the venues, did any/many of you travel to the pre-season games? 

The pre-season tour meant a lot to everyone we spoke with, but still a lot of our supporters did not travel due to the cost and distance. Each match was 700-800 miles away, and plane tickets were $300/return per game.

For those who did attend, and several attended at least one match, they had a great time. Each local supporters’ club did a fantastic job of working with the Club for sanctioned events, such as the Q&A sessions with Darren Eales, Shola Ameobi, and Shay Given. They were all very hospitable, eager to take any photo asked, and signed every autograph asked of them.

The other events set up by the groups, such as the tailgate events outside each stadium, were well-organised, amply stocked with beers, and they created a great atmosphere.

Toon Army Chicago

The only thing that soured the experience was the lack of merchandise (shirts, scarves, etc) available at any match, while supporters of every other club had the opportunity to stock up without issue.

Ticketing, like at St. James’ Park, had its challenges. Other clubs were able to provide organised ticket pre-sales, ensuring they sat in their designated supporters’ section. Newcastle fans, in many cases, fell into a second or third-tier presale. Season ticket holders of each town’s MLS/NFL teams received first priority, and supporters groups had to work together and help each other find tickets near each other.

It was amazing to meet the other Newcastle Supporters Groups and Geordies in person, some for the first time and it felt like one big family had descended upon the 3 cities. For some it was the only opportunity to see the team play live and that has become even more difficult now with the rise in popularity.

Talk us through the Mike Ashley years, how it affected your supporters club?

(Adam Snider) It was a very rough go to bring people together for matches. A lot of people were very disillusioned with the results on the pitch, so it was hard to encourage people to join us at a pub, with the expectation that we were about to watch something dreadful. Those who did come out had a good time commiserating together, and I think we drank a little heavier in those days!

The lone bright spot? It was easier for us to find tickets, so we had no issues buying spares that floated around!

(Beverly Crichton) I was there at St. James for some and here in Chicago for the later stages, it was hard to get people in Chicago to root for them as they were playing the Championship so games were harder to watch on TV and it was just awful football to be honest.

(Sunny Verma) It takes a certain level of fan to wake up at 6am in the morning to walk over to the pub in freezing weather knowing NUFC was going to have little to no chance at a victory but a select few of us constantly did it. While things have turned around for us now, it’s not that long ago we all wondered to ourselves if this was all worth it.

(Tony Gentile) As not a lifelong supporter it was something to bond with my friend over so I didn’t really understand what Mike Ashley was doing until my friend in England described how bad it actually was. It reminded me of supporting my local Chicago teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago White Sox, two ownership groups just “ticking along” as Steve Bruce famously said. I think it was tough for the group to show up on a match morning and hope for a draw. But that was just us stateside, I can’t imagine the feeling of those who spent their hard earned money week in and out.

(Jonty Young) Newcastle fans are just happy to be together, whether that’s in the Championship or not. We bonded through the Mike Ashley trauma but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There isn’t support like it, wherever that is on the planet.

Toon Army Chicago

Tell us about when the takeover happened in October 2021, how did your club / members react, did you have a special celebration?

(Adam Snider) The takeover was announced during our work hours, so we didn’t have the opportunity to get together for a formal celebration. Our group texts all erupted at the same time, and we all shared photos of our celebratory cans (or bottles) that were opened when the work day was done.

A local brewery called 3Floyd’s, started by a Geordie expat, previously brewed a beer called Geordonnay, a tart brown ale. I bought bottles to send other Toon supporters across the US, and I saved a couple for special occasions. I cracked one open after work that day, and the last bottle I have will be opened when we win a trophy!

(Beverly Crichton) I found out on twitter first and sobbed, the club is so connected to the city and people, it felt like a cloud had lifted. My phone was blowing up with texts from my family and friends back home. We did blast some Sam Fender, open some champagne and had a few cans to celebrate in our place, think the neighbours thought we were crazy.

(Tony Gentile) I remember being on twitter at work and the news came out. We had a meeting during the day and I cracked open a can at work followed by meeting people from my Mile High Magpies group at the bar we’d watch at on weekends. I couldn’t believe it, it was an interesting moment. We actually lost a supporter based on PIF’s involvement so that was difficult to deal with but I understood.

(Sunny Verma) Let’s just say my friends who don’t even follow soccer knew the exciting news of the day. After what had seemed like years of lifeless support, it looked like our club was finally going to have an opportunity to compete.

What kind of impact (if any) has the takeover and these past couple of years had on the numbers of people and interest in your club?

The takeover has not had a significant impact on our numbers, but it has been easier to invite neutrals to join us for matches, and eventually the cause. In the suburbs, we have been meeting at a brewery called Riverlands, and one of their owners recently bought his first Toon shirt!

Any amusing tales to tell of your meetups, your members, your club’s trips to Newcastle for matches, or whatever?

(Adam Snider) During the Championship season in 2016/2017, I noticed Ryan Taylor was in Chicago through his social media posts. He was granted permission to join the Chicago Fire on trial, but it unfortunately did not work out. I reached out to him from Toon Army Chicago’s account, inviting him to join us for our next match that Saturday. The Friday prior, the pub’s owner informed me he stopped in to check out the place, and he confirmed Ryan would join us the next day.

I posted on every supporters’ group page in the Midwest, and we had a massive (40+) turnout for him. Some joined us as far away as Youngstown, Ohio (400mi away)!

(Sunny Verma) A year or two after meeting everyone that first day, some of the fine gentlemen in the group all put a pot together to take me to my first Newcastle game in England. We spent the weekend together. Those guys are some of my best friends today.

Toon Army Chicago

Adam Snider, Jonty Young, Sunny Verma, and Brian Billick with DeAndre Yedlin

(Tony Gentile) I’d say my favourite memory was beating West Ham to stay up. I remember it was such chaos to get us on the tv at The Globe and for us to win the way we did… my goodness that was such a rush.

In your area, what is the level of interest in Newcastle United compared to other Premier League clubs, their local supporters clubs in your area etc?

I would put our support as a second tier behind other large clubs, mainly because of their success on the field. The largest supporters’ groups in Chicago are Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal. Other supporters groups similar in size to us are West Ham, Villa, Everton, and Spurs.

(Last week it was Toon Army Baltimore who were featured – Go HERE to read their article. Toon Army Minnesota were the first club featured – Go HERE to see their piece)

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