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Top 5 Benefits of having a pacemaker.

(I’ve added a couple of bonus positives to my Top 5 too. I always manage to think of more than I need!).

Since having my pacemaker fitted in early November, there have been quite a lot of dark times. Some if them have lasted for days, others hours and lots of them mere minutes when I’ve felt really sorry for myself before snapping out of the fog of it all. Ultimately, I can always fall back on the fact that I feel quite lucky to still be here, however dramatic that might sound.

Today though, I’ve decided that this pacemaker lark can’t all be doom and gloom. Obviously there’s a good side – it’s making my heart work properly – but there must be a lighter side too; a side that makes me laugh a bit. Because the lighter side of life is the one I’ve always liked to be on.

So, I sat down and gave some thought to what might be the positives of the fact that I’ve had a little machine surgically embedded into my chest! Because everything has to have a positive, otherwise what’s the point of bothering, right?

So, as a result of having my pacemaker…

  1. I can now tell people I’m part robot. That way, I sound cool, futuristic and I am easily the closest thing I know to Steve Majors, the $6m Dollar Man. When I get back to work I can tell amazing stories about what I’m/it’s capable of. I can make up ridiculous tales to tell classes because experience tells me that they’ll believe practically anything you tell them as long as you can keep a straight face. Come to think of it, I can easily get away with this type of thing with some of my younger colleagues too, as they tend to be quite gullible. I don’t mean that as an insult, they just are and I know this because of the sheer amount of bullshit I’ve told them over the years!

2. I got to grow a beard. I’d never had any interest in growing one before, but during my hospital stay, I couldn’t really shave on account of being attached to a heart monitor. I could have taken it off, but then I ran the risk of having nurses knocking on the bathroom door. I found this out to my horror one time when they were frantically hammering on the door because my alarm was going off and the panic was so evident that even I thought I might be dying, even though I was stood on the other side of the door just having a wash! So, I didn’t bother shaving. Then, once my pacemaker was fitted my left hand side was rendered useless, again ruling shaving out. Before I knew it, I had a beard and to my surprise I really liked it. Thanks, pacemaker!

3. I may be able to get work as Santa later on this year. My cool beard is a great deal more white than I’d like. But, if I can work on my “Ho, ho hos” and other such stereotypically Santaesque dialogue, I might have a rather rewarding sideline come December.

4. I’ve watched a lot of daytime TV, especially in the first four weeks or so of my recovery when my days consisted of getting tired out by washing and eating breakfast and napping. I mean, there had to be something in between. And so, I’ve become a connoisseur of shows on Discovery and Sky History, as well as every show that revolves around buying a house somewhere sunnier than England. I still can’t bring myself to watch ‘Come Dine with Me’ though.

5. I can move to the wilderness with my new found skills. For the first few weeks of my recovery I made a regular 10am appointment with the Raney family and their show, ‘Alaska Homestead Rescue’. From doing so, I’ve realised that all you need to survive in the wilderness appears to be a good roof, a gun to shoot bears with, a greenhouse (who knew?) and probably some sturdy fencing. With a good 7 years on my pacemaker battery, I’m toying with the idea of buying some land in Alaska and moving off grid!

6. I’ve discovered a love of pyjamas. For years, I had refused to wear them. But, having lived almost exclusively in them for weeks, I can tell you those PJs can be a hard habit to break. Even when proper clothes became an option again, I’d regularly head upstairs in the middle of the afternoon to pop my pyjamas on again. And while I feel like, months later, I’ve broken my addiction, I’m still strangely fond of wearing those comfy beauties!

7. I’ve been given a bit of time to re-evaluate – work, fitness, lifestyle, food and drink. Serious stuff now. Although there’s no damage to my heart and I’ve been told that there isn’t a risk of heart attack, I’ve decided to change a few things. Although I wasn’t a big drinker, I’m cutting right back. I’ve been forced to anyway, so I may as well just carry on. I’m trying valiantly to watch what I eat as well and last week I created a new milestone in my life when I cooked a stir fry (the first I’ve ever cooked) that had three (count ’em) different types of vegetable in it. Three! I felt like a proper adult as well! Also, with my fitness now completely gone, I get to stage some kind of Rocky style comeback. I won’t be punching anyone, but I will faced with some kind of training regime, which I actually like. If I can just get over my fear of going running again… Having time off work has also enabled me to sample retirement. And it’s fantastic, if you take away the pain, anxiety, nausea, confusion and exhaustion! But, I’m hoping that actual retirement won’t feature any of this! So now, I have an age in my head that I’d like to semi-retire by and for the first time in many years I’ve done some research into my pension. I love my job, but it clearly hasn’t helped my health, so there has to be some kind of plan, however tentative. It’s no good vowing to change and then doing all of the same things all over again, however much you loved them.

So there we have it. Apologies for ending such a silly, lighthearted piece with such a serious few sentences, but it’s all true. And even the serious stuff has come about because of my pacemaker, so it had to be mentioned as a benefit, however unfunny it was!

I hope you enjoyed reading.

Fighting fit: The mind boggles!

As I write, it’s been 62 days since having my pacemaker fitted. A rough estimate puts that at 1492 hours or 89,543 minutes. That’s a lot of time to think. A lot of time to worry, to feel low or even just to find yourself giving up. However, there have been positives in that time too and I hope that from today, I’m going to start feeling the positives outweigh the negatives.

My last ‘fighting fit’ update was a few weeks ago. In the time since then there have been good and bad days. Christmas and New Year came and went and if anything, they slowed my progress down. Not only was my diet a bit worse, but the festivities take up so much of our time that I didn’t manage to fit in anywhere near enough exercise. Turns out no one wants to wander slowly around the streets keeping an eye on a wobbly, wheezing middle aged man dressed in a long coat and a bobble hat when there’s Christmas films to be watched or left over turkey knocking around.

However, I enjoyed both Christmas and New Year. We managed to see some family and despite the fact that my kids are a bit older now – 13 and 16 – it was still nice to see them open their presents. And I always enjoy seeing what my wife makes of the gifts that I’ve bought her. It’s nice to give gifts and it was nice this year that I bought my wife something she really wouldn’t have expected, but really liked. It was a print based around The Fairytale of New York, her favourite Christmas song. If you’re a music fan and enjoy artwork you might want to check out where it’s from – www.stuffbymark.co.uk – his art really is ace!

Once all of the celebrations were out of the way and the kids were back at school, there was a lot to think about. Given the return of a quiet house, the bonus of having the ability to think returned too! My main conclusion has been that I need to do more exercise and to do it regularly if I’m going to get my normal life back.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve had a few more visits to my favourite park and gone back to look at the two animal sculptures. This time I made sure to read the inscriptions and one of them gave me a lovely glowing feeling. It was on the Harry the Hare sculpture and it was about the fact that a local business had commissioned it. One line in particular got me. It just read, “For the people of Morley.” What a great gift! I hope others appreciate it and take time out to go and have a look. It’s literally a work of art! Whether it’ll succumb to vandalism, who knows? But I sincerely hope not. Anyway, here he is below.

And here’s the owl that I visited again the next time I was in the park.

The mental side of my recovery is something I’ve found really tough going. I’m not used to being poorly and not used to being unable to do the things I want to, physically. I’ve found it all very frustrating. I enjoy my work, but haven’t been in since all of this started. Furthermore, I’m faced with another month off sick now too. It’s led me to see pretty low days and I joined an online support group to see if it would help me.

Talking about my problems isn’t really me, but I’ve managed to ask a few questions and listen to what other people have been through and it’s really helped. Apart from anything else, it’s comforting to know that there are lots of people going through the same as me and lots of them who know a lot more than me and are happy to pass on advice.

The support group has also encouraged me to read a bit about pacemakers and what’s happened to me and that’s been a real positive. It was explained in hospital and on the visit to the cardiologist, but I suppose understandably, I didn’t really take it all in. Anyway, reading about my pacemaker and its genius has really made my mind boggle. It’s about the size of a matchbox but it has the technology to store a ton of data about what’s going on in there, while also pretty much making my heart work properly. I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised by the capability of modern medical technology…but I still am.

Another form of support came as a Christmas gift. My daughter bought me the book below – with her own money for the first time ever – and told me it was so that I could read it and not feel like I was going through it alone. Even typing that feels emotional, so you can imagine how I felt on Christmas day!

It’s quite a remarkable book by a poet called David Toms, who was born with a rare heart condition and faced up to his problems in many ways. In the book he talks a lot about the power of walking and, as this is something I do a lot, I could really relate to his story. He also eventually had to get a pacemaker, so what he had to say about that felt really useful too. Reading the book also helped me to see that I could get through what’s going on with me. David Toms has faced up to a great deal more than I have and despite whatever setbacks or challenges, he’s found the strength to just keep going. So, keep going is exactly what I’ll do.

I’m beginning to realise how long it’s going to take me to feel better both physically and mentally. Two months on and I’m still tired out very easily, especially compared to the way I was before and the level of fitness I had. The area around my pacemaker and my scar is still sore and my movement still restricted and I’m left breathless much more often than I’d like. And mentally, testing myself out terrifies me, but I’m just so incredibly frustrated by how weak I feel. Even when I get back to the normality of work, I know that I’ll still be nowhere near fitness and nowhere near feeling confident. It seems it’s going to be a long road.

And with that, I promise to update you whenever something interesting happens. Fingers crossed that it’s not any kind of setback though!

Another FA Cup nightmare: About last night…

If you’re a Newcastle fan of a certain vintage, you’ll have half expected that result last night. Similarly, if you’re of a certain mindset when it comes to our club, nothing really shocks you anymore. So crashing out of the FA Cup in an early round to lower league opposition is all part of the deal really. But it doesn’t make it any more palatable.

If the truth be told, I’m gutted. In fact, I’m almost thankful for my present health worries, otherwise I’d have really fixated on what we all watched unfold last night. At least I’ve got genuinely better, more important things to think about, even if they are a right royal pain in the arse.

I love the FA Cup though. Despite the many changes over the years, for me it still feels special. Newcastle United have played a big part in the history and the drama of the cup over the years, with a chunk of that being hugely positive. In my lifetime though, it’s been largely negative and at times it’s felt like a competition where we actively strive to plumb new depths. As I said, I was gutted to go out early again.

Last night was the just latest in a long list of underwhelming episodes. After all, we’ve won only four of our last ten third round ties with three of those victories coming after replays. It’s not even a new phenomenon for Eddie Howe, having watched his team go out with a whimper this time last year against Cambridge United. And oh, how football fans loved that one as the ‘richest club in the world’ were beaten by a team where the city is more well known for its university than anything else.

For me, there’s no need for anger after this latest failure. Embarrassment, yes but no point in getting irate and filming yourself shouting at a phone or a webcam all red faced, sweary and reduced to making noises rather than forming sentences. Please, leave that to fans of Arsenal or Everton or that daft mackem that dresses like an 11=year=old and spends lots of time in his videos with his head in his hands making noises like a tortured animal. If you insist on being that Toon fan though, then maybe up your life insurance premium and do some reading about heart health. Shouting and screaming like a child isn’t going to change what is really just a bump in the road.

Eddie Howe said that he thought “the performance was ok” and was of the opinion that we had more than enough chances to win the game. He was right, as he is most of the time. We had a number of good chances that on another night we would have converted and gone home happy. It’s still a worry that we missed so many sitters though. It was the same story against Leeds and to a lesser extent Arsenal and it’s to be hoped that it doesn’t continue.

For me, a bigger worry was the passing. We gave the ball away far too much and wasted possession on a number of occasions. Given that we made eight changes that might be expected, but changed team or not, these players train together every day and most of those who came into the side have been regularly involved this season. It wasn’t like Eddie had thrown a load of kids in. Even the bench looked solid last night and personally I’d have liked to have seen the likes of Turner Cooke and Stephenson given another chance. However, as the coach of an Under 14 team that are currently bottom of their league with no points and a heavily negative goal difference, I have no wish to offer Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall any footballing advice whatsoever. If only certain NUFC related Twitter accounts would take note…

A few players stood out and strengthened the argument for greater squad depth. And while not wishing to dig people out and come across like one of the ‘I told you so’ brigade that lurk around every corner of social media, it’d be remiss of me not to mention them.

I love Matt Ritchie. He’s been my favourite player since Nobby Solano and I think he’s been absolutely vital for the survival of the club in recent years. He’s one of those lads that’s come in and shown that he gets it. He understands the fans and loves the club. However, his presence in the starting eleven last night was indicative of our lack of depth. I actually thought his performance was pretty solid, but having steeled myself for his departure over the last few windows, I was surprised to see him starting.

It’s a similar story with Jacob Murphy. I actually rate him and I think he’s done well when called upon this season. Last night was pretty much an abomination from him though. He just didn’t seem to be able to do anything right. It felt like he gave the ball away far too much and as ever there was a huge question over his decision making with him repeatedly hanging onto the ball for a few seconds too long when there was an obvious pass just yards away. As for his finishing, let’s just say last night wasn’t his first rodeo in terms of missed one on ones. He was a young player that promised much when he signed. He’s not anymore and I for one haven’t a clue where his future lies.

Jamal Lewis was another that promised much when he signed. And while I have sympathy for a player that was so obviously ruined by the previous regime and its emphasis on neglecting training and tactics in favour of days off, it saddens me to say that he just doesn’t look good enough. The lad just looks terrified every time he sets foot on the pitch and it’s just not working out for him as a Newcastle player. I thought he might turn into one of those players that Eddie performed an Eddie miracle on, but sadly, it doesn’t look likely. And if he can’t cut it against League one opposition, then he’s never going to cut the mustard.

I was also disappointed with Elliot Anderson last night, but I firmly believe that his time will come as he seems to have obvious quality. Prior to the game I’d read some of Eddie’s comments about Anderson and the fact that he’s had niggling injuries and illness this season and maybe that was exactly what we watched last night; a player struggling for consistency in a stop start season.

And then there was the elephant in the room: Chris Wood. I’m not keen to say anything too bad and his history in the Premier League suggests that there’s a player in there, but maybe we all have to admit that he’s not got the quality we’re going to need if this team is to keep evolving. It feels like there’s a glaring miss from him with every appearance and perhaps it’s a confidence issue. But perhaps that’s just me being kind for the sake of it. Last night’s glaring miss felt horrible and on the end of a sweeping move like that one was, what you want is a clinical finisher. It wasn’t a particularly difficult finish and if we really are going to win something in the next few years – or ever again – then we need a quality of player that doesn’t miss sitters like that.

So, when push comes to shove, last night just wasn’t good enough. But a bit of perspective is clearly needed here and thankfully I’m not the only one who can remind you that we’re still in the Quarter Final of the Carabao Cup and that we’re third in the league (third, man!) and firmly in the hunt for a place in Europe next season. Everything about our club is on the up, everyone is together and we are at the very start of what promises to be an exciting future. Sheffield Wednesday pretty much deserved the win. Let’s leave it at that, not get too down and look forward to what’s still to come.

Eddie’s Mags: About last night…

Tuesday January 3rd 2023 might well go down in footballing history. Newcastle fans may well remember it for the fact that we kept our sixth clean sheet in a row, with Nick Pope equalling the club record for such a feat. We might also remember it for the fact that we gained a hard earned point against an Arsenal side who many are beginning to view as serious title contenders.

Apparently though, according to a lot of what I’ve read online and to an extent from the reaction of Sky pundits last night, football fans will remember last night as the night that Newcastle United invented what some will refer to as shithousing, others will label cheating and a few will term game-management. And let’s not forget that it was also the night that Dan Burn single-handedly (pardon the pun) invented shirt pulling.

In fact, what actually seems to have happened is that we put yet more noses out of joint. Once again, we kept up our record of not rolling over in the face of one of the top clubs (you know, the ones that didn’t want to stay in this league not so long ago). We showed grit, determination and grafted like tigers. And yes, we employed some tactics that you might say weren’t in the spirit of the game, but then who doesn’t do that these days? I’ve watched football for a long time and if someone’s going to tell me that shirt pulling doesn’t happen at corners, goalkeepers don’t regularly take their time with goal kicks and that players don’t bend the ear of refs in order to gain an advantage, then I’d seriously question their eyesight.

It can’t be that we can happily let Manchester City get away with those ‘tactical fouls’ we’ve all heard about. We can’t just be expected to allow the likes of Salah and Kane to throw themselves to the floor at even the hint of a touch from an opposing player. And you surely can’t believe that VAR should consistently favour the bigger clubs and that pressure can only be put on refs and fourth officials by a select group of managers and players?

Last night, Newcastle United did the kind of things that teams have been getting away with for a long, long time. I know that some of our fans were outraged at Leeds doing it against us just the other day too, but they need to approach the season with a little more realism as well. Everyone does it. We’ve had to grind out results for a long time now. Pardew’s teams did it, as did Rafa’s. And let’s not forget that it was Plan A, B and C for Steve Bruce as well as for Dalglish and Sounness on a regular basis.

Before the game, I think many fans and pundits imagined that Arsenal would make quick work of us. They’d put us in our place. And that feeling would have increased substantially given how quickly they started the game. But we defended like…well, we defended like Newcastle United this season. It was funny to hear Dan ‘ShirtPuller’ Burn intimating that we can’t be expected to just let big clubs beat us because that must be exactly how a lot of us fans feel. Before kick off, Sky reminded us that we’d been beaten 7-3 at the Emirates not too long ago. Plucky Newcastle, having a go and getting precisely nothing out of the game, then being laughed at for conceding seven. I think I prefer the kind of team display that got us a point last night. It was a joy to watch. Sorry, Arsenal fans.

Let’s not forget that Arsenal committed their fair share of fouls. Dan Burn was furious that we weren’t awarded a penalty when his shirt was pulled and he was hauled to the ground in the box in the first half. This of course, was highly mysterious, given that Dan himself hadn’t even invented shirt-pulling yet. Our law abiding opposition also picked up a number of yellow cards, with Granit Xhaka being fortunate to stay on the field after one foul too many. Lucky for him that the ref had lost the plot a good while previously.

If these big clubs and top teams are so good though, they’ll surely be able to play through whatever they’re faced with. Yet, I don’t remember Arsenal cutting through us too much last night. Nick Pope made one save of note, our defenders made blocks, but that is simply a group of footballers doing their jobs, surely? Having watched a bit of Arsenal this season the song they sing about centre half William Saliba hasn’t escaped my attention. Do they sing that on repeat because he’s a good defender who defends well or just because his name fits a song and they’re happy enough to pat themselves on the back because they think they’re funny?

As it happens, Eddie’s Mags showed a side we actually all knew about last night. Six clean sheets on the bounce and the meanest defence in the league suggests that defensively, we’re very good. We haven’t just defended well against Arsenal. We’ve defended well everywhere we’ve been this season. So the outrage that I’ve seen online this morning and on the touchline last night is laughable really. They said that Eddie Howe couldn’t organise a defence and now that it seems they were wrong and that he can, those same people are crying. Grow up.

What happened last night was that one team adapted to get something from the game, while the other team didn’t. No outrage required.

Christmas Films: Five Underrated Gems.

It’s that time of year again. The nights have closed in, there’s a fair chance of snow and really, you should be out doing some Christmas shopping. But, out there in the not too far distance you can hear the annual call of the Christmas film. Or, if you’re American, the Christmas movie. It’s telling you to ease your way down onto the sofa, snuggle in with family or the dog, grab some snacks and something warm and cast those eyes over something you’ve seen umpteen times before.

So off you go, repeating all of the catchphrases in Elf, signing along to The Grinch and howling at the festive funnies in any or all of the Home Alones. But what do you do when you’ve exhausted those old favourites? Allow me.

I thought I’d offer you some Christmas film options that you might not have heard of or even have rejected if you’re one of those people who rely on reviews. Here, in no particular order are my 5 most underrated Christmas films!

  1. A Christmas Carol (U). Yes, I know that this is not an unknown film. I’m more than aware of the popularity of the film and of course the Dickens novella. However, I’d suggest that you watch a different version of A Christmas Carol than you possibly already do. Lots of people will watch the animated version with Jim Carrey being brilliant as Scrooge or even the Muppets Christmas Carol. Plenty more will enjoy the brilliant old Alistair Sim version too. But what about the 1984 made for TV version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge and Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present? I mean, the bloke who played General Patton and the bloke who played the original Equalizer! What’s not to like? Scott plays Scrooge perfectly; gruff, cold and with a little bit of a sadistic twist in the way that he seems to thoroughly enjoy telling people “Humbug!” or when he’s just scaring the bejeezuz out of random children on the street. Better still, Scott is equally brilliant in redemption, carrying Tiny Tim around town on his shoulders and laughing like a drain! And then there’s Woodward playing his ghost like some kind of deranged Yorkshire Santa Claus! Trust me, it’s great stuff and well worth a watch.
  2. Daddy’s Home 2 (PG13). With a 6.0 out of 10 rating on IMDB and a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 21%, you might well ignore this one. But, in my opinion, you’d be missing out on some fantastic comedy and a bit of a classic Christmas tale. Co-dads Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) take their families away for Christmas, along with their own dads Don and Kurt, with disastrous and often hilarious, if a little bit predictable results. If you’re a fan of Will Ferrell, you’re going to get what you’d expect here and alongside the comedy, there’s a heart warming Christmas tale, just as soon as everything that could go wrong, goes wrong. A must watch for us, every year!
  3. Fred Claus (PG). Another one where you’d be better off ignoring the reviews. This one is another 21% scorer on Rotten Tomatoes and only gets 5.6 on IMDB. However, all I can say is that the ratings are wrong. Vince Vaughn plays Santa’s slacker older brother Fred, who couldn’t give a figgy pudding for Christmas, but ends up in the North Pole against his better judgement. And just when it looks like that Christmas spirit might fall flat, Fred is there to save the day and see the light. Another family film with a big chunk of redemption running through it. A comedy with some interesting takes on what Santa’s home and workshop at the North Pole might actually be like. The kids will love the elves and hopefully you’ll laugh along too.
  4. Arthur Christmas (PG). This time, we’re focused on Santa’s son, Arthur, who while he’s a well meaning, friendly sort of chap, is a bit of a disappointment when compared to his dad. Mind you, who wouldn’t be? So when Arthur and a team of oddballs end up on a mission to deliver one last forgotten Christmas present at the last minute, perhaps this is the very time that he proves himself worthy of the Claus name. A fantastic cast, an excellent and at times ridiculous story and some amazing animation. This is a funny and original feel good film that puts a twist on the Santa Claus story and comes out as a classic underdog tale. Well worth your viewing time.
  5. Bramble House Christmas. A bit of a different one to end with. I suppose that in amongst the cheesiness in this film, the overall message would be something about showing good will to all men. But in between that, this one’s got a lot going on. When a wealthy man leaves his young nurse a big chunk of money in his will it leads to suspicion, fear of treachery, a mystery Christmas trip to what would appear to be the perfect town and at then end of it all, a love story. In the end, Christmas cheer is the big winner and your cheeks might just ache from all of your smiling if you’re so inclined! I like this one – even though I’m not that big on smiling – because although it’s a little bit cheesy and a little bit predictable, it’s just a nice, harmless film to watch at this time of year. A good one to watch with the kids too!

Hopefully, there’s at least one film on my list that you’ve so far overlooked, meaning that you might get the chance to add a little bit of variety to your Christmas. So here’s to, picking one out, settling down with some hot chocolate and snacks and enjoying a good, new Christmas film on me!

Cramp, a head like a tomato and lots of aches and pains – an introduction to running in middle age.

What do you do when you wake up one day and realise that you’re now somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50 and you have no idea how it all happened? Well, there are of course lots of answers to that question. If you’re a man, you may consider some form of mid-life crisis, be it buying a sports car, dressing like a teenager or flirting with people half your age. Actually, if you’re a man you might well do all three and then some, pushing hard to ruin your life! If you’re a woman, you might feel regretful about missed opportunities or low about your appearance, but ultimately you’ll be OK!

Whatever you are, you might want to make positive changes and a really popular change is to start becoming healthier. With the hedonism of your twenties having taken its toll and the hard work of your thirties now bearing fruit in the form of a mortgage, kids and an expanding waistline, you may well decide that you want to reclaim some of your youthful good looks and energy.

There are lots of things you can do. You may go back to a team sport like football, rugby, hockey or netball. You may try a new sport like squash or tennis. You might even fling yourself into the kind of pursuits you’d so far avoided like the plague, like yoga or pilates. Or, if you’re like me and many others in their middle age years, you might just go out running.

Running and health and fitness have been a major part of my blog. They’ve also been a huge influence on my middle age. The two things collided when I fell ill with heart problems aged 44. They advanced somewhat during lockdown and now, six years on, they’re a major part of my life.

So how might you get started with a pursuit like running when you’ve hit middle age? Well, I’m certainly no expert, but let me offer a few suggestions.

The first thing that I would recommend is a change of mindset. I see a lot of people, especially on social media, bemoaning the fact that they ‘can’t do’. That might be because of time and the perception that they’re too busy or because they feel that their fitness is too poor to try. When I was younger this was always my mindset. I wanted to get fit, but would tell myself that it was too rainy, too windy, my back hurt, my knee felt niggly, I was too tired and found it really easy to convince myself not to run. Even when I went out I’d hear a tired little voice in my had telling me I’d done enough and then I’d convince myself that I’d ran a few miles, when probably what I’d managed had been a very slow mile. Often, I’d not even make it out, convincing myself that I’d go when I felt just right. All too often, I’d find another excuse not to go or I’d go out and find myself settling for just a section of a planned route.

Needless to say, it didn’t work and I rarely found running a pleasure. My fitness didn’t improve and as a result, my running dropped off until it was non existent.

I started again following a health scare a few years ago. Despite telling myself – and probably anyone who’d listen – that I was ‘naturally fit’ I found myself in hospital with heart problems. It terrified me and speaking to a patient who had suffered multiple heart attacks seemed to flick a switch within me.

Once I was fit enough again I went out running with my kids. My mindset at first was that we’d run as far as I could. To start off with that’d be 10 minutes and I learnt to love the fact that I was able to do even that. But, by changing my mindset, I managed to keep making progress. I’d celebrate our runs, often posting on social media and I’d tell the kids that we had to run further next time and not just another minute or so, a decent amount. Within a year we did a 5km fun run in Roundhay Park and I’ve never cherished a finisher’s medal so much!

Nowadays, I don’t allow myself to have excuses. Reasons are fine; so recently I’ve been struggling with a back injury and was able just to tell myself to rest. I know I’ll be back out soon enough. Similarly, if I’m too busy, I’ll find time, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Unless it’s ridiculously windy or rainy, I’ll force myself out, whether I feel like it or not. My changed mindset says it’s a huge positive to get out and run. So, my first tip would be to change your mindset – don’t allow excuses and see every step and every minute as a positive. You could say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

If you’re beginning to run in middle age you’ll also need to set yourself small goals. At first that might be a lap around the block or a circuit of the park. You can build from there. When I ran with my kids we had a circuit around our estate and we’d always end up doing laps of the football field. Our goal was to do another lap every time, more if we felt we could manage. It worked. If your goals are realistic, you can reach them every time and it’ll feel great. Have a plan, set a small goal and then…out you go.

A good way of setting goals might be to download a running app. I use Strava and while I’m running I might well be thinking of other roads on my route that I could run down in order to lengthen my run next time (a good trick to keep your mind off how your legs are feeling, that one!). Failing that, I’ll look at the map on the app when I’m finished and target a route for next time. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll set myself a simple goal of running just a little bit further next time.

In terms of starting off and setting smaller goals, the ‘Couch to 5k’ app looks ideal. It’s free, easy to use and automatically sets the goals for you, working you up to a 5km run in manageable steps, which at our age is a really good thing!

Another good tip is to invest in some decent gear to go running in. When I first got back to running, aged 43, I simply bought a cheap pair of Nike runners from an outlet store without any real thought about what I was buying. They were there, they were in my size, they were cheap. They actually lasted me for a decent amount of time and were falling apart by the time I replaced them.

This time though, I’d done some research and read up on what I needed. I still didn’t shell out a huge amount of money, but made sure that I read reviews and took into account things like cushioning, weight and the heel to toe drop. The results were great. Firstly my times improved, but much more interestingly, especially given my age, my recovery time between runs got noticeably better. My legs ached a lot less and I wasn’t frequently waking up in the night after a run with shocking cramp! Furthermore, I didn’t feel 30 years older the next day either. So, I’d thoroughly recommend doing a bit of research and spending a bit more money on trainers that are going to be of more benefit to you.

This led to me spending a little more money on kit like shorts and running tops, which if I’m honest just make me feel better because they fit better! As a middle aged runner whose face turns tomato red after about a mile, having nice kit could be an essential distracting factor as I run past people in cars. In short, if my kit’s better, they might not notice my hilarious face! That said, even having better running socks feels like it’s of benefit, so a slightly bigger spend is a great idea. And if you’re worried about money then just keep an eye out for the sales when it’s easy to grab yourself a bit of a bargain. Oh, and buy shorts with a pocket; handy if you’re taking a key out or you just want to take a bit of fuel. I always make sure I have pockets to put some jellies in, which I find give me a much needed sugar rush at certain points in my runs!

As a new, middle aged runner you’re possibly going to feel a bit self conscious. I’m not a fan of my body and it’s safe to say that it’s got worse as I ticked over into my fifties. So, the idea of the horror show that is this tall, skinny middle aged man with a little pot belly running around the streets clad in clingy material haunted me from the word go!

One good idea for this problem would be to find some like-minded individuals. You might have friends who are keen to start running, but if not, there’s always a running club that you could join. A quick Google search is almost certain to reveal some kind of running club in your area and from what I understand, they’re always a friendly bunch. Being a bit of a grump, I still run on my own, but even I can see myself joining a club at some point. It’s got to provide a boost and maybe looking forward to meeting up with your running pals might help you resist the urge to stay in watching telly and resting your still aching muscles! Running as part of a group is also a lot safer too, so it’s definitely a good idea if you can find the right people.

The final piece of advice I’d give you if you’re starting to go running in middle age is to listen to your body. I’ve found running to be quite addictive, particularly as I’ve got fitter and been able to achieve certain goals. But I’ve really had to temper that readiness to go out running. The simple fact is that if you’re starting to run in your middle age, your body isn’t going to bounce back like it used to do! Rest is absolutely vital at this time of life, particularly if you’re pushing yourself. And the more you ignore your body, the more likely you are to pick up niggling injuries that will only get worse. So my advice would be to enjoy your running, but make sure that you not only give yourself good recovery time, but recover properly too; drinking lots of water and getting the vitamins back into your body is vital to being on top of your fitness when you go back out again. I find that eating cranberries or bananas gives me back that limited feeling of vitality that I have in my fifties!

So, there you have it! Hopefully that might give some people a bit of a push or maybe even some inspiration. Personally, I can’t recommend running enough and I genuinely feel like I’m, in a way, revitalised by going back to it in middle age. And given that none of us are getting younger, maybe we all need a bit of revitalisation!

The Morley 10k

Bright sunshine, blue skies, a chill in the air and a slight breeze. Some – including me – would say these are perfect conditions for running.

And so it was that on Sunday 9th October, 2022, in bright sunshine, myself and my family left our house at just after 8.40am to make the short walk down to the start line of the inaugural Morley 10k.

Despite my usual case of pre-race nerves and self-doubt – usually put down to having hairy skinny legs and combining them with shorts while other people are around – I had an inkling that this was going to be a good race as soon as we arrived. As I’ve already mentioned, the weather was lovely, but it was the atmosphere that struck me more than anything.

Whether it was because I’d never seen this stretch of road so busy, I don’t know. But there was an unmistakable buzz about the place. As well as race officials and over 700 chattering runners there were lots of spectators at the side of the road, people in their gardens, others just sitting on their front step with a cuppa, all combining to make for a really positive atmosphere and sight.

As 9 o’clock struck, the race was started and off we went on the steady climb up Middleton Road that would mark our first kilometre. Spectators continued to line the road, some out of curiosity (probably just to find out who in their right mind was out running so far on a Sunday morning) and many there to support relatives and friends that were out there having a go.

Personally, as a keen runner, I’d ran the course a few times and so I was able to make a steady enough start, easing my way past a few slower runners as I went, while allowing others to pass me by. After all, at my age there’s no point whatsoever in a fast start when I know that there’s an enormous hill at the end of the 10 kilometres!

Morley town centre marked the start of the second kilometre and there were more people milling around and clapping our efforts. The course then swooped down a big hill where I was careful not to get too carried away for a couple of reasons. Firstly, these big hills can see a runner topple over, unable to handle their own momentum and secondly, with a while still to go and a long uphill section ahead of me, energy preservation was at the forefront of my mind!

At the bottom of the hill lies Morley Bottoms, so named because…well, you can work it out, surely? We would cross this point a further couple of times but there were already plenty of people around, which again was a lovely boost. Every so often there’d be a friendly marshal telling you how well you were doing too, which as someone who’s generally a solo trainer was a nice change. Normally I just have people like dog walkers staring at me, no doubt wondering why I’ve chosen to make myself look so knackered, sweaty and red!

Around the next mile or so would be spent running uphill and while this was a steady rise for the most part, I knew that it was going to be quite challenging. When you possess legs like mine – imagine a stork in trainers – then hills are going to be an inconvenience at best! However, I must admit today surprised me and when I got to the top of the climb and we turned to head back down – hurray – I was still feeling strong. The nagging injuries I’d taken into the run weren’t troubling me, which was a relief, but I was still careful to take things fairly steadily back down the long stretch of hill to the 3 mile point.

I knew that my family would be waiting for me back down at Morley Bottoms, having walked round from the start. And given I’ve lived in Morley for around 25 years, I thought I might see someone I knew too. In short, this meant that as I got there I was running at a pace of a minute quicker per mile than I would have liked as excitement got the better of me!

Emerging at the bottom of the hill my eyes darted everywhere, searching for my wife and children or even just a friendly face. But at first, when I couldn’t find them, it was the noise that hit me. It felt like half of the town had come out, all armed with bells, whistles, tambourines and anything else that they could make a racket with! It felt fantastic running through! And then as we ran through the crossroads I spotted my family – I heard my kids first, in truth! – and now, having ran just about half of the route, I was flying! That is, flying in terms of a tall thin, 50-year-old man flying…so probably moving at a fast jog to those who saw me!

The next part of the route took in a stretch of road where I regularly run, so I was comfortable here and began to try to move through the runners as best I could. However, as we turned to head down Middleton Road towards MacDonalds, the fact that this was a long hill that I’d be running straight back up, was at the forefront of my mind! I knew that this was the place on the route where I would probably begin to feel it in my legs…and of course the rest of my ageing body, lucky me!

Heading back up towards Morley was very much a case of trying to stay smiling and keeping my pace somewhere near respectable and I tagged on to the back of a much younger, much taller runner on this section just to give me something to concentrate on. Then, as we turned again to head up Albert Road and I knew I was close to the final mile, I realised that my legs still felt reasonably good. I got myself to the 5 mile mark and decided that with just over a mile to go, I was going to pick up the pace, while still keeping in mind the mountain that we’d have to climb near the finish!

As I approached Morley Bottoms again for the final time, I’d increased my pace and although my legs were now understandably a little shaky, I was confident of a strong finish. Morley Bottoms was still completely alive with noise and I must admit to feeling a little bit emotional as I ran through, listening to cries about how well I was doing and encouragement to keep going. As the road curved left though, I allowed myself a little look up, just to confirm how steep this final hill was. Sadly, nothing had changed…it still looked huge!

I’ll confess to feeling sick as I got close to the top of the main part of the hill. And, as I suspected they would, my legs felt a great deal more jelly-like! But, with the magnificent town hall now in my eyeline and the finish only a few hundred metres away, I knew I needed to grit my teeth and finish as strongly as I could.

My family were stood opposite the Town Hall – there’s a video where my son shouts, ‘You don’t even look tired’, bless him and his terrible eyesight – and again their support gave me a massive, timely boost. In fact though, there were people everywhere at this point and the support was wonderfully loud. It was at this point that I realised that I was completely on my own in the race. A quick glance over my shoulder showed the nearest chaser about 50 yards back and the next runners on from me were slightly closer.

I pushed myself to what I’ll laughingly describe as a sprint finish, almost catching a few people in front of me on the line. It was a blessed relief to get there though, so gaining one or two extra places didn’t really matter. I’d done exactly what I’d set out to do, finishing in 54.34, almost a minute quicker than I’d ran the course before. The winner finished in 34 minutes, but let’s not dwell on that too much…

It was wonderful to see so many people come together on the day. Hundreds came out to shout themselves hoarse and encourage a load of people that they probably didn’t even know, to run a distance that must have seemed like some kind of madness, so early on a Sunday morning! The race was a victory for community spirit and I’m really thankful for those that had the idea and then put all the hard work in to make it a reality. I really hope that the race goes from strength to strength, year upon year. As we try to forget a pandemic, isolation, austerity and the fact that everything in our lives may just be getting harder and harder to afford, this was the type of thing that the town needed and maybe the kind of thing that we all – runners or not – needed too.

Huge thanks to @morleyrunningclub and Morley Town Council (and anyone else involved that I don’t know of) for all of their hard work. The inaugural Morley 10k was an absolute triumph!

Newcastle United: What did the takeover ever do for us?

As I write, it’s been almost a year since our beloved Newcastle United was taken over by the Saudi PIF group, Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and the Reubens brothers. Almost a year since #cans became a reality. So naturally, and I imagine like many, many others, I found myself sitting reflecting.

I think we’d all share the view that it’s been an incredible year. And while there have been some nay sayers and doom merchants, I’d prefer to just file them under the headings of either ‘Idiots’ or ‘Attention Seekers’. So, if you’re sitting there still quietly seething at the fact that we haven’t bought Haaland, Mbappe or Neymar or even that we didn’t just fund the invention of robot footballers so we could win the league by Christmas, this isn’t the blog for you. Maybe shout down and tell your mam to get a wriggle on with your tea or do something else that you class as productive. Anything that makes you feel right, I suppose.

So, what did this takeover ever do for us then?

Well, I think the first thing we got was hope. As the saying went, ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, just a club that tries’. It was never all that much to ask really, was it? Surely the whole point of any sporting club is that it tries to compete? And yet, for 14 years we clearly didn’t have that. Cup competitions were deemed a waste of time and the stock line that came – infrequently – out of the club was that our season was about survival and that we couldn’t compete.

The takeover changed all that. And while the talk is quite rightly of evolution, not revolution, it would be easy to argue that after so long without hope and belief, to now have it once again is pretty bloody revolutionary! A year ago, the majority had decided that this was the year we’d be relegated again and almost all hope had gone. In fact, all we had left was the hope that it would all be over quickly. Now, by contrast, we simply hope it will never end! Many of us have rediscovered our love of the club, having had that feeling numbed by a bored owner who had more interest in balance sheets than anything positive like entertainment, love or glory.

The arrival of the new owners basically booted the club awake. Changes were made more or less immediately and the owners showed that they knew the value of easy wins. So surfaces were re-painted and what felt like 15,000 gaudy Sports Direct signs were consigned to the skip. A smart move; as a fanbase we were now even more onside with the owners.

No one can describe us as sleepwalking anymore. We are very much alive and one of the benefits of the last year has been that all of us can dare to dream again. However, it’s better than that just being something for the fanbase. The management have bought into the dream, the players sense incoming success and the owners are backing these dreams on what feels like a daily basis, while also living the very same dream and backing the team regularly, in person. Our owners are no longer reminiscent of the Ghost of Football Past.

Suddenly, there is a renewed professionalism about the club, a drive and a desire from everyone connected to it and these ingredients have built up over the past year, leaving even the most hardened cynics having some sort of tangible sense of belief. I’ve experienced too much Newcastle United flavoured heartache over the years to get too carried away, but even I’m beginning to think that given time we could be a trophy winning football club once more.

The past year has witnessed the addition of a certain level of quality and class that had been absent – or at least only ever seen fleetingly – over the previous 14 years. The most blatantly obvious sign of that has been the players that we’ve signed, with seasoned internationals like Kieran Trippier being joined by the likes of Bruno and Alexander Isaak; the like of which we all probably thought we’d perhaps never see again in black and white. But class comes in different forms too and so while we’ve signed some excellent players, Eddie Howe has brought in some excellent people too. Think of players like Dan Burn and Matt Targett and I can’t be the only one who thinks they seem like great blokes too?

This idea of class and professionalism extends to the bench and the backroom too where sometimes it can feel like we’ve appointed someone new on a weekly basis. Dan Ashworth was the classic example. A man at the absolute top of his game, in a great job who we decided we wanted and went after patiently but with focus, until we got him. The biggest compliment I can pay that particular appointment is that it’s a whole world away from the likes of Kinnear, Jiminez and Wise. And then you think about the owners. I mean, can you imagine them taking the players out for cut price pizza and then giving fans the sly Vs as they leave in the back of a car?

The coaching team seems big too. Only this week I read an article where Craig Bellamy pointed this out – there’s just more staff, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense given the size of the squads involved in football these days. Then behind the scenes. the medical team has grown as well as areas like the Sports Science team and while I have very little idea of how it all works, the impression that I get is that it’s a whole lot more professional these days. Again, you get the feeling that the club is being run properly once more. And when you think about what the future might hold in terms of the playing squad and staff involved in helping them out, the mind might just boggle!

Those of us of a certain age might remember The Fast Show and a character played by Paul Whitehouse called ‘Brilliant’. His thing was to walk across varying landscapes extoling the brilliance of anything and everything, usually beginning with a line like, “Aren’t *insert brilliant thing here* brilliant?” And then he’d be off on an enthusiastic riff about said thing being brilliant and the many, usually inaccurate, reasons why it was brilliant. He’d end by simple shouting, “Briiiiiiilllliiiiaaaaaaannnnttt!” Funnier than I’ve made it sound, I assure you! Well, supporting Newcastle United for the last year has been just like being ‘Brilliant’.

Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant?

Imagine you’re ‘Brilliant’ and then just have a think about what you could shout about. It could be an endless sketch, couldn’t it?

“Aren’t Newcastle United brilliant? Black and white stripes like zebras, brilliant! Kieran Trippier over the wall, Amanda Staveley, Wor Flags, Jason Tindall’s tan, brilliant. Team photos, laps of appreciation where they walk around the pitch…appreciating. Bruno’s f***ing magic, Alexander Isaak, so many As in his name, it’s brilliant! Full stadiums, Maxi’s volley against Wolves, mackems fewmin’, who’s that team we call United? Brilllliiiiiiiaaaaaannntt!”

The takeover has also managed to bridge a gap that was embarrassing, but could have got to shameful levels. The womens’ team was left to their own devices under Mike Ashley and as a result it looked under-funded and it under-performed. There seemed to be a general lack of interest in the whole thing. In fact though, it was a team that had been going for ages and been ignored and neglected by the club for most of that time.

It’s to the owners’ credit that they have now brought the womens’ team under the wing of the club. It’s something that could easily be viewed as a PR exercise, but you get the impression that our owners are actually fully behind the team and want it to work.

It brings back memories of Sir John Hall’s ideas about Newcastle United Sporting Club and I personally see it as a good thing. It’s certainly managed to add to the general good feeling about the place and earlier this year the Lady Magpies, as they’re known, smashed their own attendance record when playing at St. James’ Park. The interest is clearly there so it’s just another good thing that we’re all operating under the same roof, so to speak and also another sign that the penny-pinching of the previous regime, has gone.

Speaking of penny pinching, the arrival of Matt Targett got me thinking about the benefits of the takeover in a slightly more subtle way. Matt is not the star name that some would have wanted. You’ve only got to cast your mind back to the summer speculation about Renan Lodi to see that, with social media pundits going mad for a man that probably 80% of them had never heard of. However, we signed Matt Targett. Now, some of us will remember that Targett was meant to sign for us when he was a Southampton player, but we missed out on him and he ended up on loan at Fulham. A familiar tale, sadly and no doubt another last day of the window rumour put out as a smokescreen for our usual level of inactivity. Once again, this was down to the owner’s unwillingness to spend money and we’d have been fed the usual line about ‘just not being able to get it over the line’, so it’s a subtle reminder of the changes that we eventually got him after all, regardless of what some may have made of the signing!

I’d find it hard to believe that anyone could have any real problems with how things have changed in the last year. We may feel conflicted by moral issues connected to the owners, but looking at what they’ve done for the club in the last year, any complaining would be churlish. Where a storm had been raging over Newcastle for years, these new owners have been a breeze that cleared the clouds and brought sunshine where there had been rain. It’s safe to say that it’s been a hell of a year, but it’s almost as much of a sure thing that the next 5 or 10 years promise much, much more.

So, after a year of living the dream, it’s definitely time to look forward, but also to say thank you, because we’ve got a hell of a lot to be grateful for. So far, it’s been an amazing ride – here’s to the future and whatever treats it might bring!

Tracking, swooping and discussing: Welcome to the world of transfer window jargon!

As fascinating as it is, the transfer window can be a frustrating and baffling place. As a fan of Newcastle United, during the Ashley years I lived in hope, despite the fact that every fibre of my being told me that it was a fruitless exercise. As if any of us didn’t learn our lesson after we signed Shefki Kuqi!

Yet still, we feel our hearts skip a beat at the mere sight of the yellow ticker at the bottom of the Sky Sports screen and we can’t stop ourselves from refreshing Twitter (and especially the NUFC hashtag) every minute of every day at certain times of the year! And don’t get me started on ITKs! I’m guessing it’s exactly the same with all clubs at this time of year though.

Although things have very much changed for my team on the transfer window front, one thing has stayed very much the same; the amount of hilarious jargon used in the reports relating to the window.

Recently, while I was having a scroll through the BBC Sport gossip section, I found that it was out of hand. And then when combined with places like the Chronicle Live website and listening at any length to Talksport, the language just seems to enter an entirely new dimension. Here’s a selection of what I found.

‘Tracking’ was something Newcastle did a lot while Ashley was owner and as far as I could tell, at most it meant watching a player and generally it seemed to just mean building your hopes up a bit but not buying a player. The verb tracking though brings to mind some kind of cowboy film scenario where native americans are using special skills to find the foot marks from a player’s Gucci trainers on a pavement outside a nightclub somewhere or a broken branch in a hedgerow where the player they’re searching for has passed. At best though ‘tracking’ seems to have meant scouting, which if I’m not mistaken has been going on for years! But, reading newspapers and websites, the amounts of players being tracked was quite something.

I also read a lot about clubs having ‘made contact with’ various players. Now firstly, I thought that was kind of against the rules. ‘Tapping up’ they called it. You’re not supposed to just make contact if a player has a contract with another club. I get it that clubs do, but it’s actually against the rules. Secondly though, it’s funny, because making contact could mean almost anything from sending a letter, a text, an email or even just shaking his hand when you played against him. Sadly, I have a feeling that during the Mike Ashley era, we probably attempted to make contact with players via carrier pigeons…blind ones.

Some new jargon seems to have emerged in recent years with phrases like ‘maintaining an interest’. Another ridiculous one for me, this. Basically, it sounds like a club have said they’re interested in a player and then a bit later, when they’re ‘maintaining an interest’, well they’re just still interested. So, all in all, a pointless report to make really. Great for those ‘clicks’ though eh?

Staying with matters of interest, it amuses me when I read that clubs have ‘cooled their interest’ in a player. How is that interest cooled? Does the coach get forced into a very cold shower? Are they subjected to the ice bucket challenge or just asked to make their minds up while sitting under the shade of a nice big parasol? A weird phrase really. Sadly, again I think that Newcastle’s interest was often cooled in the past when it looked like that carrier pigeon hadn’t been able to make contact with a player. Or just when Mike Ashley realised that he couldn’t sign said player for a bargain bucket price or traded for a box full of Lonsdale tracksuits.

One of the more vague expressions I read concerning transfers was that a club was ‘weighing up a bid’ for a player. Almost like a manager would go to the chairman, let him know that they’d been ‘tracking’ a player, had ‘maintained an interest’, but didn’t know whether to actually sign them. So the two of them were just going to sit their and ‘weigh up a bid’, looking quizzically at each other. Similar to this in terms of vagueness was reading that a club were ‘discussing the possibility of a deal’. Not the deal, but the possibility of a deal. Weird.

It amused me to read that a club was ‘exploring a deal’, conjuring up images of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola in a big canoe going up the Amazon or Ralph Hasenhutll wandering round the jungle in the Republic of Congo, looking for a right back. Come to think of it though, Ralph Hasenhutll sounds way more like an old time explorer than a football manager so maybe it’s a more accurate phrase than we imagine.

Similarly vague is the new kid on the block as clubs are now often described as ‘preparing an offer’ for a player. I mean, how much preparation is needed? It makes transfers sound like one of those property shows where the house hunters really want the property but are encouraged to make low-ball offer after low-ball offer, pushing the money up by a thousand pounds every time until they get to a ;point where the seller will actually let the house go. Or is it just that so much money is involved in transfers these days that everyone at the club is encouraged to search down the back of their sofas to club together any pound coins they can find? Or do some managers just not really know what to say when it comes to transfers? Maybe there are some painfully shy bosses that we just don’t know about yet.

Some of the more old school phrases still get used around transfers today. One of them revolves around the idea that clubs have ‘swooped’ to make a signing. Again, it’s ridiculous, implying as it does that there is some kind of eagle-like quality to managers or even football clubs. Personally, I’d love to see some managers being urged to run off the side of a cliff wearing some home made wings, but that’s got nothing to do with the transfer window.

With a day or so still to go in the summer transfer window there’s still time for someone to invent some new jargon with which to entertain us. It’s certainly allowed me to conjure up some strange scenarios over the last couple of months. Anyway, here’s to my club Newcastle pouncing tiger-like or maybe even ambushing their way into one last signing before midnight on Thursday.

NUFC Season Tickets

So, another new era NUFC milestone was reached this week as the club put around 1000 season tickets on sale. It was reported that over 30,000 people were sat in an online queue at one point, all patiently waiting, Willy Wonka-like for the chance to get their hands on a golden ticket.

Given the hysteria around the club for the last year or so, the numbers weren’t that much of a surprise. If you take into account the whole feel good factor created by things that range from being as small as team photos and painting the concourses in the stadium to being as big as signing world class players or indeed any players in what I’m reliably informed is called a ‘transfer window’, then it’s no wonder people want to watch their team again.

However, while it might seem simple that people want to see attractive football again, a lot of people still aren’t particularly happy.

For me, it seemed a simple equation. If you sit in a massive queue – nothing like the numbers that Everton get for Under 23 games or the launch of new mugs at the club shop mind, but massive all the same – trying to get something that’s available in a limited amount, then you might well miss out. And yet, still people seemed outraged.

Some said that they had a greater right than others to getting season tickets, while others bemoaned the size of the stadium. So here’s my take, for what it’s worth.

First of all, I’m not that sure that anyone has a greater right to watch a football team than anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for supporting your local team, but even then I realise that people from other parts of the UK and the world have a connection to the club. And that connection makes it perfectly natural to want to go to St. James’ Park and see your team. It might not be perhaps as obvious a connection as being local, but it’s a connection all the same.

I was born and bred in Newcastle, growing up in Blaydon while spending a considerable amount of time with family in both Byker and Walker. I never thought I’d leave, but then a combination of university and Margaret Thatcher deciding the region didn’t deserve investment or jobs happened and I moved away, first to Stoke and then back north to Leeds. So was I only passable as a season ticket holder or even a supporter to some while I lived in Blaydon? It’s a silly argument really, but I guess some people are a little blind to real life at times.

Then we come to the question of what some see as loyalty. Some will tell you that season tickets and indeed any kind of matchday seat should go to those deemed the most loyal. But then, how do you define loyalty? Is it a simple matter of attending every game home or away? It can’t be, surely because again this is an area where life can get in the way. What if you work shifts or occasional weekends? What if work takes you away for periods of time or what if you live too far away to make it practical to get to every game? And what about the fact that there’s only a finite certain amount of people that can fit into the stadium or an away allocation. What if you can’t be ‘loyal’ because of that?

And as for loyalty, what even is it? If you’re going to every game because we’re successful – probably difficult to imagine, I know – then that’s an easy version of loyalty. I’d hope I was loyal during enough of the awful football that I’ve witnessed over the years to be able to be respected for boycotting when I’d had enough of seeing how badly my club was being run and the foresight, perhaps, to see it was going to get worse. So while I’d salute (not literally, that’s be daft) those who stuck with it, I’d argue that the reasons myself and many others had for stepping away were equally admirable.

Lots of people have had a real issue with those of us who boycotted because of Ashley’s ownership. It was an early and reasonably easy choice for me to make. Having held a season ticket for years, I was driving up from Leeds and my first thought on taking my seat was often, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of ambition and by what I felt like I could see was going to happen to the club. To paraphrase a now famous banner, I didn’t want a team that won all the time, I wanted a team that tried and from the owner downwards, I couldn’t see that. Everything came to a head for me at the fateful home game versus Hull, just after Keegan had resigned again. Here was my childhood hero being roundly abused by Ashley and his cronies. In fact, we were all having the piss taken out of us. I’d had enough. That was my last game. Even during Rafa’s time, despite the pull of something a bit brighter, Ashley kept me away.

Staying away has genuinely hurt. There’s something missing in my life every time we play. Tears have been shed over all manner of issues – various protests, Rafa leaving, Wor Flags displays, the takeover, Wilson’s goal against Spurs after the takeover was done, sometimes even just the sight of someone like Justin Barnes was enough to bring a tear to the eye! I’ve missed the social side of games, I’ve missed the atmosphere, the expectancy, the hope, the sight of The Angel signalling that I’m nearly home again on the drive up, Local Hero…all sorts of things. But I knew it was important to stick to my guns.

For people to now be telling me (or us, the ones that walked away, heartbroken) that I have no right to a season ticket is a bit of a joke. In walking away, what we did was incredibly difficult, but it had a purpose and I’d argue it had to be done. I couldn’t continue to give my money to Ashley and the thought that if he was denied our money he might sell up seemed reasonably sensible to me. So, I gave up one of the biggest things in my life and something that I’d been utterly in love with from an early age. It wasn’t a simple matter of having had enough and waiting for us to start winning and signing big names again. It felt like it had broken my heart.

As it happens, I’ve not applied for a season ticket. Somehow, I’ve got to the age I’m at and found that I lead a bit of a busy life and the thought of driving up and down the motorway to get to games just felt a little bit too much at the moment. My health hasn’t been fantastic over the past few years and so this was an extra strain that I felt unwilling to put myself through. I suppose I’m finding out that sometimes in life, the time just isn’t right, no matter how much you want to do something. But, I’d defend anyone’s right to try and go back, who’s been in the situation I’ve been in. Ashley’s season ticket giveaway of a few years back suggests that there’s a lot of us too. Like me, a lot of those will have been long term season ticket holders when they decided to boycott. Like me, a lot of them would have done plenty of time following Newcastle home and away over the years. That love, that loyalty and that history can’t just be switched off. Nor can it be ignored or cheapened.

As Newcastle United fans, it seems odd that so many are determined to have us divided. I understand that everyone has a view, but I’d also suggest that people don’t criticise or judge too much when they haven’t walked in the shoes that they’re so eager to denounce. Everyone has a view, but everyone has a story too, whether it be about why we love Newcastle United or why we had to loosen our grip a little bit. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing; the hope and the pride that comes with supporting a competitive and ambitious Newcastle United.