"Can I get two big breakfasts please and a couple of pints, flower?" That was a regular phrase used by my father, we'd sit and talk not just about Newcastle United but life in general, although the conversation always got back to our beloved club. It's been quite fascinating watching how much that has changed in a way, complete strangers used to chime in if we were talking about a specific game, they would then share their experiences of the day. I always enjoyed spending quality time with my father, he taught me a lot and still does now. What I really learnt when I was growing up was how good it feels to chat about Newcastle United with your friends, family or even a complete stranger.
"Did you see Shearer's goal? A thing of beauty wasn't it?" One lad said with a glint in his eye, his name was Arthur, he had been attending Newcastle United games for over 50 years, he told some great stories that day, we drank a few pints with Arthur and continued to talk about our heroes in black and white until the cows came home. I look back now and think, imagine doing that now? It rarely happens. You'll go to the pub with your mates for a pre-match pint or 12, look around and there are so many people with their faces in their phones. When did it get to this? Back then though it was different, it was all face-to-face and a lot more personal. Sure, there were always disagreements that's only natural but somehow it never seemed to boil over too often. Match days were different too, you'd share the experience with those you were attending the game with, maybe a few comments about the game with someone at the bar or in the toilets. That was it, you had your own little Newcastle United bubble and anything outside it didn't matter. Social media? It sounded like some kind of strange new TV channel, ironically people were actually being social in those days.
Those brisk nights sat on my father's shoulders as we made our way to our cathedral on the hill will always be close to my heart. Just a father and his son chatting about football and in my case, learning more about life with every step forward. Often we'd stop by the Quayside and admire the stunning views of our city whilst munching on a burger. I can still smell those onions in the air and see my breath in the dark Newcastle sky.
It's the little things that made me fall deeper in love with Newcastle United. The walks with my father, being lost in a sea of black and white, that very first sip of Brown Ale, the excitement of getting hold of a match day programme. I feel as though some of that has been lost. We're in a time now that's all about likes and views, who is more popular than who and a "Look at me" culture. The very essence of football has been lost which makes it harder to enjoy and appreciate the small things.
Away days were different too, me and my father would make the trip in his busted up Volvo 260 Estate. I was always surprised we made it there and back in one piece, the windows were taped shut and there was always a strange rattling sound coming from the back, I was always told not to worry about that. My father would put a cassette tape in named "Away Day Megamix" there were all sorts on that tape! We'd follow the sea of black and white into the nearest pub, often bumping into our next door neighbour, Jimmy and being puzzled as to how he managed to beat us there having left one hour later.
My father would always get giddy over a tough tackling central midfielder, "See him, son?" Pointing at David Batty, "He'll run through a brick wall for this team, he does all the dirty work and gets little credit for it." My father provided me with my footballing education, a decent centre half himself back in the day, he'd always talk about the shape and balance of a side. His finger would point at numerous times during a game, followed by a lesson in what went wrong or what someone did well.
One of the last games I attended with my father before he retired in France was a 3-2 victory over Everton in December 2014 at St James' Park. We walked into town, black and white from head to toe, my father pointing out different places and reminiscing about times gone by. "Look! That's where you slipped and smashed your head off the bollard after your first few bottles of Broon, your Mam still blames me for that!" I'll never forget one of the things my father said during the game... "Why do so many people have their phones out? They'll regret it later, they'll not get the full memory of this day."
Such is my father's influence on me, I always switch my phone off before entering St James' Park in order to experience the game to its full extent. Although, this now annoys my father as he calls straight after the game wanting to know exactly what happened. My father attends the local Sunday league matches, providing a footballing education to French youngsters, whether they like it or not! Last year my father called me, claiming he'd spotted the "French Gazza" and told me he would contact Newcastle United about him. Needless to say, my father wasn't successful in persuading one of the ladies in the box office to patch him through to Steve Bruce!
I look back on those days and I'm thankful I got to really live it and experience a match day for what it is. Long before we knew what a keyboard warrior was and when we thought a troll was, well just a troll. You'd walk out the stadium looking around you, chatting to those you bumped into, the dark Newcastle sky wasn't lit up by mobile phones only by cigarettes and we'd talk about football. The conversations would continue into the pubs and we'd all fall silent as we gazed up at the small television to listen to Kevin Keegan's full time thoughts. The fortunes of the club may have changed since I started attending games, however, I do wonder if the youngsters will look back as fondly as I do. I dare say most would have missed a fair few chances to make memories because of the technology around today.
I'll leave you with one of my father's many inspiring quotes... "The best thing about a match day is, I'm there with you, my little lad and we can get lost in a moment... We can laugh, cry and scream together because of the thing we love most, Newcastle United. Never ever lose sight of that passion, cling on to it and use it in life."