Updated: Aug 24
At 4.15 am on Saturday 27th August 1988 I got the bus from Alnwick, abandoning a family holiday and arrived at Richardson Road by the RVI for the 6 am depature to Goodison Park. I met three of my mates, all of us 17, and boarded the Armstrong Galley which would be our home for the next 5 hours. 50 coaches were going to Merseyside that day as part of the 6,000 strong Geordie contingent. The rumours were that we'd asked for up to 9,000 tickets, such was the demand to see the lads play that Saturday. Even more than our usual passion this was a special match and everyone wanted to be there. Why? Becasue we were going to win the league...
Newcastle had sold Gazza for £2.2 million to Spurs, Paul"Sarge"Goddard to Derby for £425,000 and Neil McDonald, so long a target for the Gallowgate boo-boys would face his former team mates after just over half a million had been paid by the Toffees.
Newcastle invested the money on 4 players, the defensive duo from Wimbledon, Dave Beasant (the first keeper to save a cup final penalty) and his centre half Andy Thorn, plus two exciting Scottish prospects to add flair to our attack, John Hendrie and John Robertson. This was it. Newcastle had finally spent big, although it's worth noting that the net outlay was actually £0; some things never change...
As my battered programme shows, Everton had also added to their ranks with Stuart McCall, Pat Nevin and Tony Cottee joining McDonald in the squad. The match itself (Cottee scored the first of his three goals after 34 seconds and we lost 4-0) and the subsequent surrender to relegation that season aren't my focus in this piece.
The raucous, unconditional away support, rooted in a shared sense of pride and indentity in our team, our club and our area was breathtaking that day. Marc Corby's (@NUFC_1980_1994) excellent montage of NUFC chants, and songs is worth a full watch, but from 11.30 - 13.01 the focus is on this Everton game. https://youtu.be/MGEIocazs4A We are getting battered (and this would happen "everywhere we go" that season) and still our fans are flooding the TV audio and drowning out the Bluenoses. We were proud. Proud of being from Newcastle. Proud of supporting Newcastle United FC. Proud of the lads who had tried their best but came up short. We felt a connection. Most importantly, in my opinion, we bellowed that pride into the Merseyside air with a range of songs That were (nearly) all about Newcastle. Not Adam Johnson, not the IRA, not about "sniffing all your gear", or S**derland getting battered (they're not btw).
This is not a blame game (well, actually it is...)
I'm not criticising our fans, (although some may want to think about the relevance of some of our current chants) but at both the West Ham game and at Villa away the full scale of our current predicament was written largely by the attitude and actions of our fans.
When West Ham took a controversial 3-2 lead at SJP our support stopped (bar the Strawberry Corner - maybe 300 still singing). No roar of encouragement, no defiant chants to rouse the lads. At VIlla away the atmosphere was better, but once Villa scored the non-Newcastle chants grew in number and after their second we were pretty quiet, only raising our voices to join in with "Sweet Caroline..."
I'm not on my high horse here. I think that if I was under 25 and following us, I would probably sing about Adam Johnson and the great unwashed on Wearyside (although I'd draw the line at flutes and the IRA, having been an avid "Celtic" shouter in the mid 80's Corner).
If all you've known is the Mike Ashley death ray sucking the soul out of your club, then outside influences become more appealing; "Whatever happened to the heroes?" Asked The Stranglers in 1977, and here is part of the problem. Apart from fleeting turns from Cisse, Ba, Ben Arfa and the yet-to-really-do-it ASM who are we identifying with? Who are our cult figures?
Compounding this is an owner who has mothballed the club and a manager with the tactical acumen of Mike Basset - "5-3 fucking 2,” making it hard to feel a deep connection with the club. Only £8m spent on infrastructure in the past 12 years, and £165 hoodies in the club shop; A perverse way to run a community service, and a galaxy away from the open training days at Maiden Castle. Add in Charnely "the mute Harry Hill" and the feelings of disenfranchisment are huge.
Bruce's baffling selections, the style of play (Please give me a list of 3 improvements in our phases of play since he started) and his refusal to accept any sort of responsibility for yet anther sub-standard performance all create a barrier to total engagement with the team. We are the skirting board of the Premier league; Purely decorative and pretty pointless really. This is not an "Over the top" reaction based on just 2 games - like many of us, I've seen the same "Performances" many many times in Bruce's 89 game reign. Carbon Copy. No fight. No reaction. No Plan B. So why not distract yourself with a chant about the Pallion Paedo?
The football is largely irrelevant on match days now, because we don't really play any. Getting pissed up with family and friends is the prime focus, with an incovenient 90 minutes marring an otherwise splendid day out. Like taking an Aldi carrier bag into Harrod's we are no longer proud of our identity; Because we no longer have one. I hope that one day I will stand in the Gallowgate shouting "United are back, United are back, wayo wayo" but I fear a long wait.