Picture Credit: The Mirror
Wednesday 28th August 2013
Morecambe 0-2 Newcastle
In 2008, study and career reasons took me to Lancaster. Of the many changes in my personal and professional life, it was important I got one thing straightened out immediately - who were my local team and where did they play? During four years of enjoying the hedonistic lifestyle of a scruffy student, I developed a strong affinity for both Morecambe and Lancaster City. At this point, neither of these teams had any connection with the Toon which meant I had no qualms about watching the Newcastle match one week and then using Lancaster or Morecambe as a handy placebo the next. Things were about to take a dramatic turn for both team’s relationship with NUFC in 2013. Firstly (to my utter delight) Lancaster City appointed Toon royalty Darren Peacock as their new manager. Secondly, Morecambe were drawn at home against us in the second round of the League Cup.
This match provided the classic lose-lose situation for me. If Newcastle won then the fact that Morecambe play three divisions beneath us meant that I would hold very little (if any) bragging rights over the locals. A defeat however would lead to relentless taunting that I would never be able to live down. As soon as the draw was made, it was clear that the shrimps were massively up for this one. They’d recently moved to their new stadium ‘The Globe Arena’ and were pushing all available outlets to ensure it was not only a sell-out but also a record crowd. Newcastle were allotted just under two thousand tickets which were instantly snapped up. There was no way I was missing this and I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the terrace behind the goal with over a thousand black and whites (a further six hundred Toon sympathisers were in the adjacent stand).
Newcastle hadn’t helped the nerves ahead of this all-or-nothing clash with their early season form. A shocking 4-0 defeat away to Man City was followed by an inept 0-0 draw at home to West Ham (that featured one of the worst misses I have ever seen!). Not only had NUFC scored precisely no goals, we’d also had very few chances in one hundred and eighty minutes of uninspiring play. Our preparation was disrupted further by Yohan Cabaye disgracefully refusing to play in either match in an attempt to force through a move to Arsenal. The team was in disarray, the form was poor, the performances disorganised, formations confusing and manager deeply unpopular. The very last thing we needed was a lower league team, away from home in front of the Sky TV cameras.
I started the day by going out for lunch with one of my best friends Craig Murray - who happens to be a huge Morecambe fan. My black and white stripes clashed horribly with his red Morecambe top. Most pubs in Lancaster seemed to be doing good business throughout the day, it felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb however being the only away fan in town. Thankfully, it was soon time to jump on the bus and find a couple of pubs in Morecambe full of both sets of supporters. As the day went on, it was clear that there was a friendly camaraderie between the two groups who were mingling and drinking together freely whilst organising Morecambe v Toon pool and table football matches. This match was a real occasion for everyone associated with Morecambe and outside the ground, vendors were making a profit selling one-off scarves and badges. Ninety nine percent of the time, I’m wholly against the concept of half-and-half scarves, just this once though I picked one up as a souvenir to celebrate my affinity for both teams.
I’ve been to the Globe Arena the best part of one hundred times to support Morecambe, needless to say I’d never attended as an away fan. The narrow entrance made getting into the ground a bit of a struggle and provided proof that they may be used to hosting one or two hundred away fans but a thousand inebriated Geordies was something of a challenge. The almighty scrum around the bar was also a sight to behold for the poor staff who’s most recent clientele was a handful of Exeter City die hards just a few days previous. Morecambe hadn’t quite managed a complete sell-out but nearly five and a half thousand fans was a new record attendance for the stadium (a record that still stands today) and every single shrimp was desperate for a famous victory. Sky TV were there for one reason only, to see an historic upset so Newcastle were cast into the role of pantomime villain.
Come kick off, the atmosphere was electric! Morecambe fans roaring on their heroes only inspired a similar response from the travelling Toon Army hoping to avoid an embarrassing defeat. The referee seemed to buy into this occasion by allowing a succession of niggly fouls from the home team to slide which did nothing but encourage further punishment. We put out a side consisting of expensively assembled flops and inexperienced reserves, hardly the mixture of players we needed in such an intense environment. As the game settled down, it became clear the Morecambe were going to impose themselves on their more glamorous opponents in an attempt to gain the upper hand. This almost paid dividends in the opening exchanges when Dan Gosling was forced to clear an effort off the line. Newcastle struggled to find any rhythm and when they did manage to attack, it wasn’t clear at all who was supposed to be playing upfront. If the first goal line clearance was a warning, it wasn’t heeded and United needed Dan Gosling to repeat his heroics on twenty one minutes. Morecambe fans and players were up and celebrating at this point, some felt the ball had crossed the line whereas others appealed for a handball that would result in a red card and penalty. With all eyes on the referee, he waved play on and the match remained goalless. At the other end, Newcastle didn’t make much headway against a stout Morecambe defence but a Bigirimana freekick forced a good save and Yohan Gouffran had an effort correctly disallowed for offside. At halftime, there had been no goals for either team and the grumbles of discontent from the away fans were just beginning to become audible over the songs of support.
In an attempt to bolster our attacking options, Alan Pardew brought on Shola Ameobi for Haris Vuckic. This half, the Toon would be attacking the end that housed their travelling support and the hope was that this (along with fitness and experience) would carry United through to the next round. Not long after his introduction, Shola had a glorious opportunity to fire Newcastle ahead. Having been played through on goal, our striker had just the ‘keeper to beat. His shot however was wild and he succeeded only in blazing the ball high over the bar. At this point, the Toon fans began relentlessly chanting for Hatem Ben Arfa to be brought on. It was clear the eleven on the pitch were struggling and an additional injection of class was needed to break down the plucky underdogs.
Newcastle were playing better this second half (to be honest we couldn't have been much worse) but created very little clear-cut chances. With just nineteen minutes left, the away fans got their wish and Ben Arfa was introduced. It would take less than quarter of an hour for him to weave his magic and finally ease United into the next round. With extra time and penalties looming, a perfect through ball allowed Shola Ameobi the chance to turn and crack a fine effort into the bottom corner. Cue manic celebrations behind the goal born out of pure relief. Scoring so late in the game was a demoralising blow to brave Morecambe and Ben Arfa hammered the final nail into their coffin in injury time by threading another perfect pass through to Shola's brother Sammy to complete the scoring and wrap up a 2-0 victory. This remains the only time a pair of brothers have both scored in a competitive match for NUFC.
I don't think any away fan thought they'd be quite so relieved with a narrow victory over a team three divisions beneath them. I stumbled home tired and pissed to find an email asking me to do the match report for NUFC fanzine 'The Mag'. This is now framed in my flat having been autographed by Darren Peacock (but that's a story for another day.)
This week, my beloved Newcastle United will once again be going toe to toe with my local team Morecambe in the league Cup. Due to lockdown restrictions, I'll be watching at my flat with Morecambe fanatic Craig Murray. He'll once again insist on wearing a Morecambe shirt. I'll just about be able to bring myself to shake his hand before kickoff. May the best team win… as long as it's Newcastle!
Picture credit: BBC