Why do we follow our football clubs? The answer is that there are loads of answers. For me, primarily it’s a regional thing. I support my club because it’s where I’m from. Born a Geordie, it was always going to be black and white for me.
Family comes into it too. Sometimes this is believable and acceptable and at others it’s clearly just an excuse for something else. Supporting Manchester United because your gran was from Ireland and that connected to George Best is utter rubbish (but one that I’ve actually heard). The same goes for following the same team as your glory hunting dad who, despite living in Essex/Castleford/Luton/Devon/York or any other far flung location, supports Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and the like. In my case family came into my thinking. My dad was a loyal follower of Newcastle and he was never going to let me get away with supporting anyone else. I would have to follow in his footsteps whether I liked it or not. Fortunately, I liked it having looked on forlornly every Saturday as my dad set off for the match without me, home or away.
And then we have reasons like glory hunting – see family stories above – , love of a particular player (again, not good enough), love of a kit and other miscellaneous reasons such as just picking a team, regardless of success or location.
We stick with a team largely because of success or blind loyalty. Since I started supporting Newcastle United I’ve seen us win the Intertoto Cup. Now defunct and even in its heyday a bit of a joke, we didn’t even really win it. We were awarded it because we were the surviving Intertoto entrant left in the UEFA Cup. Bizarre. But I’ll never forget Scott Parker’s not quite smiling face as he held the trophy – more of a big wall tile – in front of home fans. It’s safe to say I don’t follow the Toon for trophies. Mine, as with countless others at my club and many others throughout the country, is a tale of ridiculously blind loyalty.
With this in mind, I don’t want to be told by people that I can’t celebrate this potential takeover. I’ve spent days worrying that it might not go through, mostly because of other people’s problems with it. I’ve spent the same amount of time trying to quell my excitement. So don’t tell me not to do so – I’ve earned this.
Since I started following Newcastle United twenty seven teams have won at least one trophy in England. That’s either the title, the FA Cup or the League Cup. Several in the list have won all three, as well as European trophies. Some have won two, three, four in a season. None are clinging on to Intertoto Cup memories. West Ham, Villa and Fulham have won it, however. The list also includes the likes of Ipswich, Southampton, Coventry, Wimbledon, Portsmouth, Wigan, Forest, Blackburn, Leicester, Wolves, Norwich, Oxford, Luton, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesborough, Birmingham and Swansea. Even a Welsh club have won an English trophy since I started supporting my team. We haven’t.
My point? My point is that no one has the right to deny us at least bit of excitement at this takeover and what it might well bring. We’ll deal with human rights issues at another time, although why it’s the job of football fans to highlight these type of things, I will never know. Stopping this takeover won’t represent a victory for human rights activists. It’ll just move the problem somewhere else. But still still be a problem and Newcastle United will still be left with an owner who doesn’t give a damn about human rights.
Let me list for you, off the top of my head, the five highlights of following Newcastle United for over 40 years. I’ll put them in no particular order, because I’m genuinely remembering them as I write.
Newcastle United 5 Manchester United 0. I wasn’t even at the game! I was living in Stoke at the time, earning a paltry wage. I couldn’t get a ticket and didn’t have the money for one. We didn’t have Sky, so we drove to my wife’s brother’s house in Bradford to watch it on the telly. Without any real detail it was other worldly. It was bizarre to see my team make Manchester United look so poor. It didn’t win us a trophy.
Newcastle United 5 Swindon Town 0 (FA Cup 4th Round 1988). Amazing result, brilliant game, we were crushed getting in as there were so many people outside the Gallowgate, we got separated and ended up in different parts of the ground and a mate who managed to stay with me had this as his first game. I was 16 and had been going for years. The whole thing was unforgettable. We didn’t get a trophy for this.
Newcastle 0 Sunderland 0 (Play-Off Semi Final 1st leg). I wasn’t at this one. I went to the ill-fated second leg at St. James’ Park and had skived school in order to queue up to get a ticket for the first leg at Roker Park. Having failed to get one I stayed in the queue and purchased a ticket for the live beam back of the game at Whitley Bay Ice Rink of all places. It was an eventful game – John Burridge saved a Sunderland penalty and was then kicked in the face by a Sunderland player. I was there with my two best mates and as the penalty was taken we sat with our hands on a picture of Uri Geller’s hand chanting ‘We Three Are One’. Because that’s what Newcastle United will do to you – reduce you to a ridiculous shell of a human who grabs on to the slightest hope that might help us out. We saved that penalty, not Budgie. Nothing had ever seemed so important. History shows we lost the home leg and didn’t get promoted, but I’ve rarely had so much fun watching football as I did at the ice rink that morning. We didn’t get a trophy for this.
Leicester 1 Newcastle 3. This was in the Premier League in August 1994. Leicester were newly promoted while we were fairly attuned to life in the big league. This was at the old Filbert Street ground and we dodged stones and bricks being thrown trying to get into the ground. The place was jumping by kick-off. We completely outplayed Leicester that day. I’d never witnessed a centre half that played like Philippe Albert. Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley played up front. Scott Sellars had a wand in the place where his left foot should have been. Three goals was kind to Leicester and it felt amazing to be supporting this Newcastle United side. We didn’t get a trophy for this.
Liverpool 1 Newcastle 0 (Ronnie Whelan Testimonial game) This was a pre-season game and another brilliant memory. I went with my best mate, travelling by train on the day of the game and being guided up to the ground by friendly Liverpool supporters. The main things I remember are Peter Beardsley getting a fractured cheekbone in the first few minutes and Mike Hooper – who had been savagely abused by us travelling fans – saving a penalty for Liverpool. Strangely, it felt like the result really mattered, although clearly it didn’t. We didn’t get a trophy for this.
My five, random favourite memories of following Newcastle. Inevitably if anyone asked me for my five favourites another time I’d list five more. And five more the time after that. I probably wouldn’t remember a great deal about any of them, but enough to know that they were brilliant in their own way. What I can definitely remember though is that none of them would have involved us winning a trophy. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter, because I’d given up hope of a trophy years ago. It’s never been a reason to support my team. It never will be.
I don’t follow Newcastle United for any moral reason either. We do some brilliant community work these days, but I don’t find myself arguing with people about it, as if it makes us a better club than theirs. So any human rights issues that have been brought to the forefront of matters concerning this takeover can, at the very least, wait. And while the moral compass is out, why wasn’t it being waved around in the hope of finding support when Mike Ashley bought our club? Why weren’t Newcastle United fans being targeted on behalf of those suffering because of zero hours contracts and terrible working conditions? Not to mention being forced to sell Slazenger polo shirts.
If the likes of Richard Keys and others in the media care so much then surely this fight is theirs. As it happens I’ve read a lot of common sense being written by our fans over the last week or so concerning Saudi Arabia and their human rights record. But for now, we’re all focusing on the one thing – the excitement, the hope and the potential of this takeover.
It’s been said a million times in the last week, but I’ll say it gain. No one had a problem with human rights issues when Russians invested in Bournemouth or Chelsea or with Chinese money buying Wolves or investing in Southampton Barnsley or Birmingham or Reading, UAE investment in Manchester City or Charlton, Iranian money at Everton or Saudi owners at Sheffield United. The list could go on and on. So why is the takeover of Newcastle United a step too far?
Football is all about dreams. As a little kid you dream of being a footballer. As you get older you dream of a season ticket, a job that allows you to follow your team. If your team signs even a little bit of quality you dream about trophies, flowing football, success. At St. James’ Park we’ve been dreaming for decades. So just for now, excuse my dreams and excuse my excitement. Keep your agenda and let me and thousands of others enjoy something that could provide the kinds of memories that we probably never imagined we’d ever have.
Every football fan in the country might be about to witness something so special you daresn’t even speak about it happening to your club. Some of us might be about to sample it first hand. I can’t believe it might happen, but let me get at least a tiny bit excited.