On Friday 12th April Newcastle United secured yet another ‘against all odds’ style victory. The 1-0 win away at Leicester City was, in a way, quite remarkable. We’d lost the previous two and were in danger of being dragged back into the relegation fight. Leicester, on the other hand, had won their previous four and were keen to let us know about their confidence via any available media outlet. We’d lost Florian Lejeune to another knee injury while they had Jamie Vardy in the form of his life. And so on and so forth.
As ever our lads put in an amazing shift, covering the ground, sticking doggedly to Rafa’s instructions and throwing themselves headlong time and again into tackles and blocks. Meanwhile, off the pitch, our travelling support were simply magnificent, turning out in vast numbers, out singing the home support throughout and then staying in the ground afterwards to show their appreciation for Rafa and his boys as well as just having a bit of an impromptu party.
That night tributes were payed to the team and the support – and rightly so. Sky pundits congratulated everyone concerned and social media was awash with videos of 3,000 Geordies asking ‘Who’s that team we call United?’ as loudly as their throats would allow, given their performance over the previous couple of hours. Rafa and some of the players joined in and Salomon Rondon even asked if we’d been playing at home. Magnificent.
However, as great as it all was, I was left wondering – in the very back of my mind – if anyone had spared a thought for me. In fact, I wondered if anyone would spare a thought for the thousands who would have had to go through the kind of trials I had gone through just to watch the game.
Now before we get started let me explain that this article isn’t quite what it seems. I’m playing the fool a little bit and laying on the sarcasm in quite a heavy dose. I’m not in any way making a parallel between myself and the people who took time off work or travelled through the night and stood in the cold and who do so every time we play. In terms of away trips I’ve been there and done that many times; I know the hardships but I’ve also shared in the joy. And I know that plenty of people will regularly have to go through a lot more just to watch us play on the telly. I’m simply talking about what should be the simple act of watching the match at home on my own telly on Sky. Let me explain…
On Friday I finished work after what was an extremely long, arduous term. I’m a teacher. I came home quite fancying a pre-match nap, but found that my family were indulging their passion for X-Box, or as I call it, shouting at each other with headsets on. So the nap was going to be impossible. Instead, as a little treat and a way of trying to take my mind off the match, I left them in the front room and disappeared into the kitchen to do some dishes. La vida loca, I know. Later, at the peak of excitement, I cooked the kids their tea. Beat that.
I don’t enjoy the build up to games and I never have. If I’m at work I have plenty to take my mind of it, but if I’m at home it’s always there nagging away at me and making me think ridiculous thoughts about whether my choice of pants, shirt or even mug will affect our performance. Stupid, I know and as Stevie Wonder once said, Superstition ain’t the way. It’s a habit that I can’t break though.
So on Friday night it was a case – as usual – of just doing anything and everything both to stay awake and to take my mind away from the game. The importance couldn’t have been lost on any of us and if, like me, you often take a pessimistic view, then you could have been excused for worrying that we could easily get beat and be pulled back towards Cardiff.
After a while though the build up to the game was on the telly. My family however were still hogging the living room like travellers on the local fields. Minus the alleged petty theft and casual violence though. Although my wife is quite handy at times.
Undeterred, I turned the telly on and was dismayed at the amount of coverage Leicester were getting. Vardy this, Rogers that, Maguire the other. So the usual type of Sky coverage then. Guessing that this was set for the long haul I ducked out and grabbed the ironing board, because when I said I’d do anything to take my mind of things, I really meant anything.
And so I set off ironing while watching images on a screen with the sound muted. Images of Carragher and Neville bigging up Jamie Vardy. This is Extreme NUFC watching, after all.
As a bit of time passed I started to feel a form of mild outrage though. Why were my family insisting on staying in the living room? Could they not naff off out for a walk or move their (metaphorical) caravans into the kitchen? Mild outrage turned to mild temper and, wait for it…I turned the sound on. Luckily just in time to hear Kelly Cates announce that they’d be back after the break to focus on Newcastle. Time to stop ironing, take the chair in front of the telly and focus on the Toon.
By this point my family are knee deep in the middle of a game of Monopoly. No, really, they are. And with Monopoly comes competition. And with competition in our house – surely in any house – comes shouting. Actually, in our house shouting seems to be the default setting. Whatever had prompted it, it was just more to get in the way of my enjoyment of the match.
Now at this point some people would be forgiven for wondering why my family don’t seem to care. Why, for instance at the risk of blatant sexism and gender stereotyping, my son hasn’t joined me. Well, this is because the rest of the family are all Leeds United fans. I moved here in my mid-twenties, married a Leodensian (that’s someone from Leeds, not a posh word for a lesbian or a lion tamer) and settled here. I’ve now lived in Leeds for twenty years or so. And at the risk of outraging many Geordies, I simply let my kids decide who they wanted to support, when the time came. Both plumped for Leeds, their local club. In essence they’ve swapped one misery for another, really. But more of that another time, eh?
The game is now creeping ever closer. We’re mere minutes from kick-off and I am well and truly settled in front of Sky Sports. I know our team and at the very back of my mind there’s a lingering sense of optimism. It is however, competing with an ever present planet sized chunk of pessimism that comes with being a Newcastle fan. So while I sense we can get something, I fear it’ll be a hiding.
Alongside the optimism/pessimism conundrum I’m now starting to get slightly irritated by the others in the room. As mild-mannered as I am, I’ve had to turn the volume up. Apparently the issue of going to jail and not collecting £200 is way more important than what’s going on in Leicester. I can’t really hear what’s being discussed on screen anymore, but I suspect it’d only make me more nervous anyway. But it’s OK, I think, because both kids will have to have showers soon, in preparation for bed and my wife will be off cooking the tea. It’s almost 8 o’clock for pity’s sake and I’m starving.
Needless to say at kick-off nothing has changed. No one is off showering, no one is cooking and none of the squatters has left the room. I attempt the odd subtle ‘Howay the lads’ in order to drop a hint, but to no avail. My son has bought Mayfair and now can’t afford much else – classic mistake. He’s blaming everyone else and asking for the rules to be bent. The Monopoly volume has actually raised while I’m subtly displaying the quietest outrage ever witnessed.
As the clock on the game ticks past 10 minutes though, I’m beginning to get more than a bit irritated. There is literally no sign of Monopoly finishing. No sign of children starting to get ready for bed. No sign of my tea. And no chance I can concentrate on what’s unfolding before me in Leicester. We’re holding our own though. I can’t relax however, as in my suspicious mind the moment you think a positive thought Toon-wise is the moment Manquillo misses a tackle or humps an over-hit backpass towards our goal. And of course off to my right three of the loudest people I’ve ever met are attempting to have a conversation about a bloody board game while all talking at the same time.
I repeatedly turn up the volume which piques the interest of my son who starts to ask questions. Bloody questions! I’m trying to concentrate on the game! He knows the players, the score is on screen, he can see who we’re playing! Aaaaagh! This truly is extreme NUFC watching!
The half is now ticking by quite nicely and we’ve got a foothold in the game. In fact, we’re the better side. Things are settling down a bit. My wife has departed for the kitchen and strangely, my son is now quite placid. And then my daughter starts dancing. The Monopoly board is still on the floor so she’s improvising somewhat, twirling ever closer to me in the armchair. After probably not even a minute it’s too much.
“Will you bloody sit down?!”
Her outrage is palpable. She’s 12 and has mastered the art of answering back. And after all, what’s a living room for if it’s not for dancing around all the garbage on the floor while swinging dangerously close to an enormous Smart TV?
The tension has become too much for me. We’ve now reached the stage of the game where you can almost reach out and touch half time, but when there’s actually still quite a while to go. The half hour mark, as it’s known, when sometimes, just sometimes, even Newcastle fans can relax. But this game is so important. And as with every occasion I watch Newcastle on the telly I have to get up. I can’t sit still any longer so I’ll stand. Maybe if I wander around for a little bit time will miraculously pass. Whatever it is, the dancing has snapped something in me and I’m up.
My son decides that he’ll have a little wander too and between him, a now sulking pre-teen, a Monopoly board and three piles of fake money, it’s quite the job to actually find somewhere safe to place your feet. I turn my back for a second and my son chooses this time to engage me in conversation – probably asking who we’re playing again. I’ve momentarily left the game behind.
Luckily the volume has had to be turned up to a silly level so I just here the commentator’s voice go up in tone significantly. Something’s happening and it involves Matt Ritchie, a man in possession of a magic hat and a wand of a left foot.
Instinctively I spin round. Miguel Almiron has just lost the ball, but it’s heading back to Ritchie. My son is practically standing on my toes for some reason and it’s tempting just to push him over. Instead, I place my hands on his shoulders and hold him still. All this to watch a game of football. But this is extreme NUFC watching.
On screen, Ritchie feints, drops his shoulder and pushes the ball past a Leicester defender before delivering a great ball into the box. I can see Ayoze Perez moving towards it, but two small hands are also grabbing at my midriff. I scream at the telly.
“Get across him!” as Ayoze does just that. As he meets the ball with a powerful glancing header I simultaneously pick my son up and deposit him onto the armchair in front of the telly, while my feet leave the ground. Kasper Schmeichel’s dive is futile and in a flash the ball is in the net. I’m a foot off the ground punching the air and screaming again. I land on a pile of Monopoly money and skid, somehow keeping my balance, but scattering my son’s savings and property portfolio all over the living room. Who cares!This is no time for Monopoly!
My son – we’re his second team – leaps up into my arms as I celebrate. I attempt the trademarked Ayoze fingers-in-ears celebration with a child hanging off me, only to look utterly stupid as for once Ayoze doesn’t bother with it. It doesn’t matter. We’re deservedly 1-0 up.
The rest is now history. We won. Thirty eight points makes us look safe. However, that wasn’t the end of my headache. Oh no. As the second half got underway my daughter finally decided to have a shower which created more problems. Even with the volume pumped up high I still found myself competing – and frankly losing – with her shrieking the latest R&B dirge like a tortured animal channeling Beyonce. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Maybe I’m a little bit odd or maybe I’m just a grumpy old man, but I feel like I need to be concentrating fully on the game, almost as if I might spot a runner and be able to warn someone on the pitch – ridiculous, I know – and my daughter’s singing meant that I just couldn’t focus on matters on the pitch.
And then, just after half-time, my wife decided that tea was ready! Nine o’clock at night and I’m faced with a plate full to the brim of Mexican food. Chicken, salsa, rice, soured cream, all waiting for me to clumsily knock it off the plate as I watched the match with it on my lap. Would a half time tea have been too much to ask? I now have an X Factor audition upstairs and Speedy Gonzales’ tea in my lap when all I want to do is watch my team on the telly!
I try in vain to eat without throwing rice on the floor and also manage to drop soured cream on my jeans and all the while I struggle to really watch what’s unfolding in front of me. However, by the hour mark I’ve finished and despite the mess that I’ve made, we’re still 1-0 up.
Thankfully, we’re into added time before my next problem arises. But extreme NUFC watching has one last twist for me. Just before the fourth official holds up the board to announce our now traditional 5 minutes of added time my daughter arrives back on the scene. I’ve managed to see off my son who thought it best he watched the second half while perched on the arm of the chair, leaning on me and asking a series of inane questions. He’s now gone to bed. But then my daughter returns from her shower and decides that, despite her dad’s obvious tension, she has a few questions of her own. The main one of which will almost see me completely blow my stack.
With three points on the line and her dad watching his team, the team he’s spent forty odd years watching and frankly, obsessing over here is what she asks me.
“Is Alan Pardew still the manager?”
My family and football really don’t mix..